Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man."
Archimedes of Syracuse was one of the most highly regarded inventors and thinkers of ancient times. He devised an ingenious test devised to satisfy the demand of King Hiero II who had given gold to be made into a crown, but suspected that a dishonest workman had mixed it with silver. Archimedes was not allowed to melt the crown to do the test, so working from the principle of displacement of water (discovered in his bathtub) he constructed a scale to place into water to test the genuineness of the crown by checking its balance and revealed the fraud.
Balance is a vital need in our lives, and perhaps no balance is more important than the one between mercy and truth. Letting either mercy or truth weaken produces error. Mercy without truth leads to sinful living. Truth without mercy leads to harsh judgment. When the two are balanced, our relationships are strengthened as we “find favour” with others.
Perhaps the greatest illustration of this balance is found in the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8. The leaders brought this woman to Jesus in an attempt to trap Him into either violating the law of Moses or the law of the Romans. Yet Jesus saw through their scheme and responded in a way that convicted them so greatly that they walked away without a word. Then Jesus turned to the woman and said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). In mercy He offered her freedom from condemnation and in truth He instructed her to change her ways.
The balance of mercy and truth is vital to the Christian life, and it is greatly needed in our relationships. As we grow in Christlikeness, we will also grow in developing both mercy and truth.
"For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth."
According to Bloomberg News, the richest man in the world is Carlos Slim of Mexico. His ownership of vast telecommunications companies added more than $15 billion to his net worth in the year of 2012 alone. Suppose that this immensely wealthy man invited you to meet him and told you that he had made the decision to give you anything you asked to receive. Knowing that his resources would be able to back up his promise, what would you request?
Solomon faced that decision. Only in Solomon’s case, the offer was backed by the promise of One who owns far more than the resources of the world’s richest man. “In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee.” (1 Kings 3:5) Solomon was a young man, about twenty years of age, when his father David died and he became king. A young man presented with the vast array of possibilities God offer could have been tempted in many different directions, yet he simply asked God for the most important thing he could think of—and God answered his prayer. “lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:12).
Why did Solomon ask for wisdom? Because as part of preparing Solomon to follow him on the throne, David had taken the time to instill in his son’s heart an appreciation of wisdom. Although you and I do not run empires, we are in just as dire a need for God’s wisdom as Solomon was. We need the wisdom of God to navigate successfully through the Christian life. Like Solomon, we should ask God for wisdom. And like David, we should be teaching our families how valuable this commodity is.
"For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword."
Mel Trotter, the famous rescue mission worker, wrote that his father was a bartender who “drank as much as he served.” Trotter followed in his father’s footsteps, losing job after job because of his addiction to drinking and gambling. Each time he lost a job, he promised to reform and start doing better, but each time he failed. After the death of his baby son, Trotter made his way to Chicago where he intended to drown himself in Lake Michigan. He had sold his shoes to get money for another drink, and was walking barefoot through the snow toward his death when he went inside the Pacific Garden Mission and was saved. For the next forty years, Trotter did everything he could to help those like himself who had fallen prey to the deceptively alluring temptations of sin.
Satan’s advertising is never realistic. He paints beautiful pictures of immediate pleasure, ignoring the real consequences that its participants must endure. If the beer companies ran ads filled with crashed cars, paralyzed drinkers, and the tiny caskets of babies killed by drunk drivers, it would not help them sell their product. So they focus on the beginning rather than the ending.
Every sin is sold with this tactic. Satan knows that if we look on the pleasurable part of sin, we are vulnerable. But no matter how beautiful the temptation appears, it is only a cloak for the reality that sin always ends in pain and heartbreak and judgment. As James said, “…sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). You are not going to be the exception to the law of sowing and reaping. Despite the devil’s lies, if you persist in following sin, you will eventually come to the bitter end. It is far better to see through Satan’s gimmicks to sin’s ruinous end than to swallow the short-sighted advertisements of the devil.
"How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man."
Washington Irving was the first American writer to become internationally known. His best known works were written just after the War of 1812, and published in both America and England. One of the stories for which he is most famous, “Rip Van Winkle,” tells of a lazy man who does almost anything to avoid work. Eventually Van Winkle wanders into the mountains and falls asleep for twenty years. When he returns, he gets into trouble because he does not know that the American Revolution has taken place and that King George III has been replaced by President George Washington. Ironically, this famous story about laziness and sleep was produced by Irving in a marathon, all-night writing session.
Today we have an epidemic of laziness. The values of hard work and diligence that are so commonly praised and commanded in Scripture are often avoided in society. People search for the short cut to success and are ever searching for an easier way than God’s plan of diligence to make it in the world. Even the government promotes laziness by providing money to many people who have the strength and ability to work but would prefer not to do so.
It is a shame for anyone to be lazy, but it is especially shameful for a child of God. Jesus left a pattern of diligent labor for us to follow. He said, “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4). There will come a day when we will lay down our burdens and cease our labor, but today we should be busy about the Master’s work.
"Say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister; and call understanding thy kinswoman: That they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the stranger which flattereth with her words."
King Canute ruled over Denmark, Norway, and England more than one thousand years ago. A wise ruler, he worked diligently to make the lives of his subjects better. As is often the case, he was surrounded by those who sought to gain influence and prominence with him, and according to the ancient story, he grew tired of their continual flattery and determined to put an end to it. He ordered that his throne be carried out to the seashore and gathered his courtiers about it.
By the sea, the king asked his courtiers to repeat their flattery concerning his power and might, and they did. Canute then commanded the tide not to come in. Yet soon the waters were lapping around his legs as the tide did not heed him. According to one historian’s account, King Canute rose up from his throne and said, “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom Heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”
Flattery is so effective because it appeals to our pride—we want to believe the wonderful things that are being said about us, even if we know that they are not deserved. False praise has led to the downfall of many Christians. This is especially true in the area of moral purity. Proverbs abounds with warnings about the words of the “strange woman” to guard those who are committed to remaining pure. Anyone who approaches you with flattery is attempting to get you to do something, and though it is not always the case, most of the time that something is not going to end well. Do not be swayed from following God by flattering lips.
"Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold."
The Burro Schmidt Tunnel near Garlock, California, is half a mile long, six feet tall, and ten feet wide. It was dug entirely by hand through the solid granite of the El Paso Mountains. William “Burro” Schmidt, a gold miner in the early 1900s, faced a difficult journey over the mountains to get his ore to the smelter at Mojave, so he begin constructing a tunnel with a shovel, a pick, and a hammer that would allow him to avoid the dangerous mountain passes—at least that is what he told those who enquired.
Even after a modern road was built in 1920, removing the need for Schmidt’s tunnel, he continued to work on his project. He said that he was obsessed with finishing the work he had begun, and continued to dig until he finished the tunnel in 1938. In reality, Schmidt had discovered an incredibly rich vein of gold ore that led back into the mountain. His story of digging a tunnel was just to ensure that no one would try to take his gold claim. No one ever found out exactly how much gold ore Schmidt found during his work.
William Schmidt devoted much of his life to the search for gold. Though gold has great monetary value, its worth is only temporal—in fact God uses it for pavement! “…The street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass” (Revelation 21:21). Rather than spending our time acquiring things that will perish, we should be focused on those things that are eternal. When the tally of our lives is taken, our net worth will not matter. But whether we acquired and followed God’s wisdom will matter. The Christian life is meant to be lived with our affections set on things above. They are truly precious.
"Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding."
Even though it occurred more than eighty years ago, the run by Roy Riegels of the California Golden Bears during their game with Georgia Tech in the 1929 Rose Bowl remains one of the most famous football plays in all of history. Georgia Tech had the ball on their own end of the field during the second quarter when a fumble gave Riegels his chance to help his team and win glory. Scooping up the ball, he began a dash for the end zone.
But during the play Riegels had gotten turned around, and was heading toward his own end zone. A teammate finally caught up with him after nearly seventy yards and turned him around, but it was too late. The mistake set up Georgia Tech for a safety that provided the margin in their 8-7 win over California Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels went down in history but for the wrong reason.
Many people are focused on their rate of progress without stopping to consider whether they are headed in the right direction. Management guru Peter Drucker described this as “Being more focused on doing things right than on doing the right things.” Rather than simply focusing on our speed and output, we would do well to stop and focus on whether we are walking according to the truths of Scripture.
The life of Christ gives us an example of continually walking in God’s way. Jesus said, “…I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). He never took an action that was contrary to the plan of His Father in Heaven, and even though He was God, He did not insist on doing things His way. As we follow His steps as revealed in the Word of God, we can be certain that we are headed in the right direction.
"Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins."
Bible teacher Harry Ironside told a stirring story of the power of love to cover sin. One Sunday, a group of missionaries and believers in New Guinea were gathered together to observe the Lord's Supper. After a man came in and sat down, a missionary recognized that a sudden tremor had passed through the young man seated next to him that indicated he was under great nervous strain. Then in a moment all was quiet again. The missionary whispered, "What was it that troubled you?" "Ah," he replied, "The man who just came in killed and ate the body of my father. And now he has come to remember the Lord with us. At first I didn't know whether I could endure it. But it is all right now. He is washed in the same precious blood." And so those two men who had so much separating them took the Lord’s Supper together in peace.
Love plays a vital role in strengthening and maintaining all of our relationships—and especially those relationships within the body of Christ. Because we are imperfect people, we will at times both give and receive offense. When that happens, we must make a choice. We can opt to hold on to the hurt, nurturing it and allowing it to grow, or we can decide to forgive in love just as we have been forgiven. We do not have to exact vengeance for the wrongs that are done to us—we can choose to forgive.
It is only because of the forgiveness that we have received from God through His grace that we have ability to forgive others in this way. The love of God toward us should be repeated in how we treat others. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
"He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace."
I read about two neighboring farmers who were embroiled in a bitter dispute. One of them had built a fence between their farms, and the other contended the fence was built on his side of the boundary. After several efforts to resolve the matter, a protracted legal battle ensued. Finally the farmer who had built the fence tired of the dispute and sold his farm. Immediately the aggrieved farmer went to meet with the new owner.
“I want you to know that along with your farm you have bought yourself a lawsuit,” he said. The new owner asked about the source of his frustration. “The fence between our two properties was built two feet on my side of the boundary line,” the farmer explained. Immediately the new owner said, “Then I will move it four feet back to be sure you are not cheated.” “That is more than I ask,” the old farmer said.” “Yes, but I would rather have peace with my neighbor than a few feet of land,” the new owner replied.
The natural tendency is for us to seek only what is best for ourselves and look out for our own rights and interests. God’s direction is different—that we seek what is best for others. When we give up our rights for the sake of someone else, we demonstrate love for our neighbors. James said, “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well” (James 2:8). When we fail to love our neighbor as we should, we are revealing not just disobedience, but also a lack of wisdom. James calls this the “royal law” because when we truly love our neighbor, we are living like children of the King.
"A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones."
There is an old story that beautifully illustrates the principle of honor within marriage. A drunkard husband, spending the evening with his jovial companions at a tavern, boasted that if he took a group of his friends home with him at midnight and asked his Christian wife to get up and cook supper for them, she would do it without complaint. The crowd considered it a vain boast and dared him to try it. So the drunken crowd followed him home, and he made the unreasonable demands of his wife. She obeyed, dressed, came down, and prepared a very nice supper and served it as cheerfully as if she had been expecting them.
After supper one of the men asked her how she could be so kind when they had been so unreasonable and when she did not approve of their conduct. Her reply was: "Sir, when my husband and I were married, we were both sinners. It has pleased God to call me out of that dangerous condition. My husband continues in it. I tremble for his future state. Were he to die as he is, he would be miserable forever. I think it my duty to render his present existence as comfortable as possible." Not long after, her husband was saved.
The notion of honor seems quaint and outdated to many in the modern world, but it is at the very foundation of any healthy and loving relationship. The Hebrew word for honor means “to give something weight—to treat it as valuable or important.” When we show disrespect in words or actions, we are revealing a failure of love. Marriages do not usually collapse suddenly. Instead they fall due to a long process of erosion that continues unchecked, and undermines the foundation.
"Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox."
According to Greek mythology, a sculptor named Pygmalion created an ivory statue of a woman who was so perfect and beautiful that he fell in love with her. In his mind, no living woman could compare to the statue he had crafted. Finally Venus, the goddess of love, brought the statue to life so that Pygmalion could marry the love of his life. Of course we know there is no truth to that ancient fable, yet at the same time it demonstrates a principle that underlies a serious problem in many relationships.
Our society promotes a view of romance that is destructive. Worldly advice is that we should find a perfect person and love them. Yet such an effort is doomed to failure before it starts. If we can only love perfect people, we can never love at all. Instead of fruitlessly seeking perfection, we need to adjust our focus. In every human relationship there are problems. Solomon uses the example of cleaning a stable where an ox is kept to show how we should deal with these problems. If you don’t have any oxen, you don’t have to clean up after them, but pulling a plow yourself isn’t much fun and it isn’t very productive.
Each of us has the ability to choose where we place our focus. Are we spending all of our time looking at the problems of the other person, or are we instead focused on the blessings and productivity that they bring to our lives? Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “Behind every tragedy in character lies a long process of wicked thinking.” As you make sure that your thoughts about those you love are focused on the good things about them, your love will grow stronger and stronger.
"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."
I read about a wealthy family in England who was taking a trip on the railroad back in the 1800s. They had three children, and the youngest boy was something of a terror. The nanny who was assigned to watch him was trying to keep him quiet, but he saw something that he wanted, and would not be quiet until he got it. The nanny tried to distract him with other toys, but his protests became louder and louder.
Finally the boy’s exasperated mother called out, “Just give him what he wants.” The nanny started to protest, but the mother repeated her command, “Just give it to him!” Seconds later the air was pierced by a shriek of pain from the boy. “What did you do?” the mother demanded. “I let him have the wasp,” the nanny replied.
While love always wants what is best for the other person that does not mean indulging bad behavior and wrong desires. Love overlooks offenses against itself, but it does not allow conduct that is destructive to continue without reproof. The fact that we are willing to speak up to correct someone who is in error is not a demonstration of a lack of love but proof of love’s presence. Proverbs 27:6 reminds us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”
Though we think of corrective love most often in the context of parents and children, the same principle applies in other relationships. Though we may not be imposing discipline, we should still be willing to speak boldly to confront sin. Paul exhibited this loving attitude toward Peter when Peter refused to eat with Gentile believers. “…I withstood him to the face…” (Galatians 2:11). We should not allow those we love to continue doing wrong uncorrected.
"The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good."
In 1984, one of the most famous and grim fictional futures every imagined, George Orwell described the totalitarian society of Oceania. The government controlled every part of life, and their rule was enforced by constant surveillance of the Thought Police. Every technological means of communication was monitored, and signs were posted throughout the land that read “Big Brother is watching you.” The government was constantly on guard to squash any hint of rebellion against its authority.
Unlike that mythical surveillance in a novel, we are constantly being watched by our Father in Heaven. It is true that God sees the wrong that we do and that His holy hatred of sin is to be feared and avoided. Yet we must never forget that God’s great love and mercy towards us mean that He is watching for opportunities to bless and reward us when we do what is right. As the prophet Hanani told King Asa of Judah, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
Sometimes, we forget how much God loves us. We know that He gave His Son to purchase our salvation, yet we do not remember that He delights in receiving and answering our prayers. Too many children of God live as if they were orphans. We need to be reminded that the very God of Heaven takes notice of our situation—and that He is looking for opportunities to display His power on our behalf. We should confidently cry out to Him and seek His help with our troubles because He is watching our lives. As one old preacher put it, “God loves you so much He can’t take His eyes off you.”
"Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established."
On October 30, 1938, the CBS radio network broadcasted an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ science fiction story The War of the Worlds. Though the program carried a disclaimer that it was a work of fiction at the beginning and again about two thirds of the way through, the broadcast was intentionally done in a convincing fashion as a series of news updates and bulletins following a breaking news story. “Reporters” gave updates from the scene before “dying” in Martian heat ray attacks and from poison gas. Finally, the Martians were defeated by their lack of immunity to earth germs.
At the end of the broadcast, Orson Welles, who directed the production, went on the air and reminded everyone who was listening that the production was aired on the eve of Halloween and that it was not real. Yet for thousands of listeners, the “news” updates were very real. They flooded radio stations and police stations with calls about the danger posed by the invading Martians. Their actions were governed by their thoughts, and their thoughts were filled with fear because of what they had heard on the radio.
Today many people’s thoughts are filled with fear. And while there are certainly real dangers in the world and things of legitimate concern, often the fears that do the most to keep people in bondage are not based on genuine threats. In every situation we face, whether a grave threat or an imagined danger, we can have confidence that God is in control. But such peace only comes as a byproduct of our faith. When we trust God fully with the results and outcomes from our work, we can know His peace as our thoughts are filled with faith rather than fear. Biblical thinking provides us a foundation for godly and successful living.
"He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends."
During World War II, the United States government became concerned that a number of German spies were operating in America, sending information back to Germany regarding Allied war plans and specific troop and ship movements. To keep them from impacting the war effort, the Office of War Information launched a national campaign around the slogan “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” It was a solemn warning to people not to repeat information that might be damaging or even deadly if it fell into the wrong hands.
In the same way, the Word of God warns us of the dangers of gossip. Repeating stories has a way of dividing the body of Christ. Gossip is even able to separate the closest of friends. Revelation 12:10 refers to Satan as “the accuser of our brethren.” Notice that it does not say he makes false accusations against us—the Bible teaches that he brings our sins to remembrance before God where Jesus serves as our Advocate. When we become sharers of gossip and spreaders of bad reports, even when those reports are true, we are literally doing the devil’s work.
There are some problems and sins so severe that they must be reported to church or even civil authorities and dealt with according to the law. In such circumstances, we should not fail to speak the truth regardless of the consequences. But there is a vast difference between speaking out in that situation and simply being the first to tell “the latest” to everyone we can reach. No bad report about another should be shared with those who are not in a position of authority to respond to it. God views creating divisions as especially heinous. One of the seven sins on the list of particular abominations to God is “he that soweth discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:19).
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof."
Sir Walter Scott’s tales of chivalry and courage made him one of the most famous authors in the world. But it is quite likely that he never would have become an author at all if not for a meeting with the noted poet Robert Burns. Scott was studying law at the University of Edinburgh when he attended a literary salon featuring the famous poet. Burns asked a question about an illustration, and the fifteen-year-old Scott was the only one present who knew the answer. Burns is said to have told the young man, “You will be a great man in Scotland, my lad. You have it in you to be a writer.”
Words have enormous power for both good and evil. Words can encourage and uplift someone who is struggling or they can tempt or wound. Because of the power of our words, we need to be extremely careful how we speak. We can bring people closer to God and have a positive impact on them, or we can allow our critical and harsh words to discourage people and tear them down. Words are powerful things.
However, this is not just true for the impact our words have on others but for their impact on our own lives as well. Many times we carelessly and critically speak of ourselves in very negative ways. While we should never give place to pride and boasting, we should also avoid being overly degrading in our self-description.
We would be wise to follow the instruction of Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt….” How would your conversations (in person and online) today be different if you continually remembered the power of your words and chose to speak with grace? You could be a difference-maker in someone’s life today!
"The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth against the LORD."
During the darkest days of the Second World War when England was standing almost alone against Hitler’s Germany, the German air force launched a massive assault against England in preparation for a planned invasion of the island nation. For fifty-seven straight nights, hundreds of German planes dropped thousands of pounds of bombs on London. At least one million homes were damaged or destroyed, and thousands were killed. Hitler hoped to break the will of England and force them to surrender.
Yet even in those difficult days, the British people did not give in to fear. One elderly saint was asked by her pastor how she was doing, and she replied that she was sleeping soundly every night, even as the bombs fell. When asked how she was able to sleep in such circumstances she replied, “Well, I give my fears to God, and He never sleeps. I figure there is no reason for us both to stay up all night!”
When we worry, we are in effect saying that we either do not believe that God is able to take care of us or that He does not love us enough to do so even though He could. Either one is an insult on His love and care and a sign that we are living in folly instead of in wisdom. Despite what some popular teachers promote today, Christianity is not a guarantee that things will always go according to our plans. Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the truth; and Paul was shipwrecked, stoned, and arrested many times.
Faith is not the belief that things will be easy, but that everything will work together according to God’s plan for our best and His glory. Worry undermines what is meant to be our close and personal relationship with God.
"It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling."
Several church members commented on how bitter the coffee was that Sunday morning at the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, Maine, in 2003. Soon a number of them became violently ill, and one elderly member died. When a police investigation began, another church member, fifty-three-year-old Danny Bondeson killed himself, leaving behind a suicide note apologizing for what he had done.
Bondeson and his family had apparently donated a new table for use in the communion observance, but some of the members of the church objected to replacing the one they had used for so many years. In anger, Bondeson placed arsenic in the church coffee pot. He claimed he only wanted to make people sick to get even for what he felt was his mistreatment rather than to kill anyone, but his refusal to make peace and forgive cost two people their lives.
In any situation in which we have been wronged or offended, we face the choice between holding a grudge and forgiving. But peace requires more than forgiveness—it requires that we work at restoring the relationship as much as is possible. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The clear implication here is that peace requires effort and work. Peace does not come naturally in response to the offenses of life.
Part of making peace is putting the past behind us. That is an integral part of ceasing from strife. If we are harboring bitterness in our hearts over what has been done to us in the past, there will be no true peace—in either the relationship or our own minds. The past cannot be changed. The only thing that can be changed is our response, and our response should be to seek peace.
"The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want."
When the Civil War began, one of those who answered the call for soldiers to fight for the Union was William Scott of Vermont. Along with four of his brothers, the young soldier traveled to Washington to join the Army of the Potomac. On the night of August 31, 1861, Scott, who had volunteered to take the sentry duty of a sick member of his company, was found asleep at his post guarding the bridge that lead to the nation’s capital. According to military law, the “sleeping sentinel” as he came to be known was tried and sentenced to be executed on September 9 by firing squad.
The harsh punishment was meant to be a warning to those given positions of responsibility to be diligent and careful in discharging them. Yet it also seemed too harsh for a young man who had volunteered for duty. The case was brought to President Lincoln, who personally issued a pardon to Private Scott. Scott gave his pledge that he would never again fail in his duty to his country. Seven months later during a battle at Lee’s Mills, Virginia, Scott, who had already saved several fellow soldiers from drowning, was shot and killed while carrying another wounded soldier to safety. His renewed commitment to diligently do his duty replaced his shame with honor.
In a world where “close enough for government work” is a common excuse for giving less than our best effort, diligence is a vital trait we need to cultivate. In every arena of our lives—work, family, and even worship—we need to be focused on excellence and completing what we are doing to the very best of our ability without allowing anything to distract us. God rewards those who are willing to make this commitment to diligence.
"By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life."
The legendary golfer Arnold Palmer described how pride once brought him low on the very brink of great success: “It was the final hole of the 1961 Masters tournament, and I had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. I felt I was in pretty good shape. As I approached my ball, I saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. He motioned me over, stuck out his hand and said, ‘Congratulations.’ I took his hand and shook it, but as soon as I did, I knew I had lost my focus. On my next two shots, I hit the ball into a sand trap, then put it over the edge of the green. I missed a putt and lost the Masters. You don't forget a mistake like that; you just learn from it and become determined that you will never do that again. I haven't in the 30 years since.”
That brief moment of pride—when he accepted congratulations for a victory not yet won—took a certain victory away from Palmer. His story holds a powerful lesson for us. There may be no human attitude more destructive than pride. Though we are tempted to take the credit for our efforts and accomplishments, every good thing that we do is the result of what God has given us, and we have no basis for taking credit for ourselves.
Pride places us on a dangerous path, and it harms our relationships with God as well. James 4:6 says, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” When we humbly acknowledge Him as the source of all of the good things we have and do, we continue to receive His grace to help us deal with the challenges and temptations of life.
"Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless:"
On June 1, 1796 the “Volunteer State”—Tennessee—entered the Union and became the sixteenth state. Formed from land that had once been considered part of North Carolina, the borders of the new state were recognized by Congress as part of the admissions process. But it was not long before a dispute arose between Tennessee and Georgia over exactly where the boundary line between the two should have been placed—whether it should be exactly along the 35th parallel or close to it.
The state of Georgia contends that much of the city of Chattanooga and a good part of the Tennessee River that flows nearby should not be within the boundaries of Tennessee but part of Georgia instead. For nearly two hundred years now, the two states have been unable to resolve the dispute. The boundary between them remains a point of contention.
There is great value in having established, settled, and certain landmarks. It is true in the political realm, and it is true in the spiritual realm as well. Though we live in a society where everything is open to challenge and change, there are timeless principles of truth that should never be moved. Though we should always be learning and growing in our walk with God, the things that were true yesterday are still true today and will be true tomorrow.
The ancient landmarks—those things that have been believed and held dear by Christians through the centuries—are not in need of relocation or revision. Today we hear “reasoned” appeals to re-examine our core beliefs. Those are the siren calls of the tempter meant to lure us away from what is right. The old landmarks were placed where they are for a reason, and it is the task of our generation to defend those truths, not change them.
"For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief."
Though he would later be acclaimed as one of the greatest inventors of history, Thomas Edison’s school career lasted three months. The teacher believed he was incapable of learning anything and sent him home. Edison’s mother taught him, and he was on his way to a lifetime of overcoming what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. Among his most famous inventions were the commercial incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and the fluoroscope. Most of his inventions required months if not years of dedication to overcoming obstacles before seeing any results.
In a 1921 interview, Edison described his persistence this way: "After we had conducted thousands of experiments on a certain project without solving the problem, one of my associates, after we had conducted the crowning experiment and it had proved a failure, expressed discouragement and disgust over our having failed to find out anything. I cheerily assured him that we had learned something. For we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn't be done that way, and that we would have to try some other way."
Very few things of lasting significance and value are achieved without overcoming serious obstacles. The story of almost every “overnight success” is actually the story of someone continuing to persevere in the face of great difficulty and disappointment. If things do not work out the first time we try to accomplish something important, that is not a sign that we should give up and find something easier. No strong family, no strong church, no strong business is built without the tenacity to overcome obstacles and failures. Completing the work God has given us to do does not come without cost. Those who are willing to pay that cost and continue in spite of setbacks are the ones who reach the goal.
"Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer. Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness."
When silver is mined from the ground it is commonly mixed with a number of other elements. In order to get pure silver that can be used for commercial or industrial purposes, it must be refined. Silver has an extraordinarily high melting point—it must be heated to nearly 2,200 degrees in order to be refined to complete purity. Only when it has been through that process does the silver become useful for its intended function. Beautiful service pieces, high tech equipment, and collectible coins all become possible once the silver has been refined. Without that process, it is largely worthless.
Satan is delighted when we allow wicked influences to remain in our lives, because they keep us from fulfilling the purpose and will of God for our lives. One of his most effective lies is that such influences won’t really have any impact on us. Believing this lie has destroyed many believers as they fell prey to an influence they did not recognize and guard against. As Paul warned the church at Corinth, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Sick people who are contagious don’t get well by being around healthy people. Instead they infect the healthy. The same principle holds true in the spiritual realm. The influences we allow to touch our hearts and minds—what we read, what we watch, who we fellowship with—will shape the way we view the world and the way we act. If we want to be established in righteous living, then we must do the hard work of refining our lives and removing the evil influences. Though this may be a painful process, the results are worth the cost.
"A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back."
We get our word tribulation from the Latin word tribulum. The tribulum was an agricultural instrument designed to help separate the grain from the chaff. It was constructed of several wooden boards nailed together. Pieces of stone, bone, or metal would be attached to the bottom. The tribulum would be weighted with heavy stones, and then pulled by horses or oxen over the grain which would be spread on the threshing floor. The attachments would break apart the hulls holding the grain and allow them to be separated for use.
None of us are eager to endure tribulation or difficulty. Yet when we refuse to listen to God, we receive His chastisement so that we will learn to heed His voice. (Of course, not every difficulty or trial is a chastisement from the Lord. Job, Paul, and others remind us that there are multiple reasons why God may allow suffering into our lives. According to Romans 8:28, regardless of the reason behind our suffering, God’s ultimate goal is to make it work for our good and His glory!)
Isaiah gives us a fascinating insight into God’s chastisement of His children. “For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen” (Isaiah 28:27-28).
Delicate plants like fitches—a herb used for seasoning food—were not threshed because the heavy tool would crush them. But the thicker grains used for making bread went under the tribulum. When our hearts are soft and we quickly listen to God’s Word, we do not require judgment to remind us to do right. When our hearts are hard and our ears refuse to listen, God is able to get our attention, though we will certainly not find that process enjoyable. God calibrates our circumstances based on what is required to get us to obey.
"Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips."
In his day, Charles Spurgeon was probably the most famous preacher in the world. The crowds of people who wanted to hear him preach were so large that before the church was able to erect a building with enough seating, they rented the Royal Surrey Music Hall which seated ten thousand people. For a number of years, tickets were required to get in to hear Spurgeon preach. The story is told that a visitor from America, eager to hear the famous “prince of preachers,” convinced a friend to get a ticket for him.
After the message concluded, the American stood in the vestibule of the church talking to his English friend. He did not know that Spurgeon was standing nearby listening. The Englishman asked what his friend thought of the service, and he replied, “What a preacher!” According to the story, Spurgeon began to weep. A church member asked him what was wrong and Spurgeon said, “I wish he had said, ‘What a Saviour!’”
Our purpose is not to gain honor, glory, or praise for ourselves, but to bring glory to the Lord. Yet often we fall into the trap of wanting people to recognize how special, gifted, hard-working, and devoted we are—so we tell them. The temptation to make sure our efforts are recognized by others puts us in a dangerous place. Anyone who is spending time bragging on himself is walking in the pathway of pride, and that path leads to destruction.
Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). That is primarily a statement of truth about His work through His death on the cross, but it is also true of our service for Him: when we lift Jesus up rather than ourselves, men and women are attracted to Him.
"They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them."
One of the most famous fictional characters ever created, the Lone Ranger, was the brainchild of a desperate radio station executive named Fran Striker. Radio had grown quickly after its introduction, but by the 1930s the Great Depression was making life hard for the entire industry. In an effort to attract listeners and advertisers, Striker created the story of a Western lawman who was the only survivor of an ambush and dedicated his life to the cause of what was right. The introduction to the program described him as: “The Lone Ranger…led the fight for law and order in the early western United States.”
God has not only given us the truth, but the responsibility to stand for it. If the truth is to be maintained from generation to generation, it must be defended. If we are not willing to confront those who oppose the truth, it is inevitable that it will be obscured. This is why Jude declared, “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” (Jude 1:3).
In our society, the very concept that there is such a thing as settled and absolute truth is under attack. From all sides we see people devoting their efforts to replacing God’s truth with something that is more suited to their whims and desires. We must not make compromises of the truth in order to be liked or acceptable to a culture that has turned its back on God. Much of the history of the church is the story of people suffering for their faith. If such persecution comes in our day, let it be said of us that we were faithful, if necessary even unto death.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Dexter Manley was known in the college football world as a fearsome defensive end, capable of wreaking havoc with opposing offenses. Though he stood six feet, three inches and weighed over 250 pounds, his speed and quickness made him a nightmare to block. Following four years of college, he went on to a brilliant career in professional football with the Washington Redskins. Yet throughout that time, Manley was hiding a secret—he had never learned how to read or write. He was missing a vital part of the foundation for success in life, and once his football career ended, he had nothing left to prepare him for the real world.
In the same way when we lose the meaning of the fear of the Lord, we are not prepared to succeed in the Christian life. This is a basic and foundational truth that underlies the study and acquisition of wisdom and godly knowledge. You cannot properly learn God’s principle for living apart from understanding His holiness and hatred of sin. Yet in our day, the fear of the Lord is downplayed or even ignored. This has had devastating consequences for the moral character and power of God’s people. His blessing comes as we walk in His fear. His judgment comes when we do not.
The two men in Scripture who recording their visions of Heaven, Isaiah and John, both revealed that constantly circling the throne of God are angelic beings crying out, “Holy, holy, holy.” God could have chosen any of His attributes to have proclaimed day and night in His presence—He selected His holiness. It follows then that we should give priority to this attribute He calls to our attention. When we fear God, realizing that though He loves us greatly His hatred of sin is intense, the foundation is laid for learning wisdom.
"He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly."
For many years Robert and Trudie Neighbour were missionaries in South America. God greatly blessed their work, and a number of people were saved. They told the story of how one of their converts, a baker named José, was eager to share his new faith with others. But the local priest objected and had him arrested. When the officials asked who authorized him to pass out tracts, José opened his New Testament and read the Great Commission! They threatened to kill José if he continued to tell others about salvation in Jesus.
Forced to flee from his hometown, José was pursued to the next village where another Christian hid him from the soldiers. This dear Christian lady drained the rainwater tank that sat next to her house and José climbed inside with his Bible. He sat there reading the Word and praying for deliverance while the soldiers searched the house. From the roof they could have looked right down into the water tank and seen him, but God blinded their eyes and delivered José from certain death.
God promises in His Word to be a defense to His people. As we walk in His way, we have nothing to fear. Not every child of God is miraculously delivered from danger or death, but everyone is protected until God is ready for them to come to Heaven. Faced with a furnace heated seven times hotter than normal, the three Hebrew children told Nebuchadnezzar that God had the power to deliver them—and that even if He did not, they would still not bow down to the idol Nebuchadnezzar had made. They were confident in their ultimate deliverance by the hand and power of God. When we have that confidence, we will not be swayed by fear into doing wrong.
"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
We were on vacation on a hot June night in 1986 when I preached at the Lancaster Baptist Church. Pastoring in the high desert was not part of my plan for the future. The church was deeply in debt, and only a handful of families were still attending. Their building was in foreclosure, and the church was meeting in an upstairs classroom so they could rent the lower floor out. Yet after a unanimous vote from the twelve adults present to call me pastor, I began to sense that God was leading me to do something that made no logical sense.
I had a young family to support, and of course, this struggling church couldn’t pay me a salary. But because God was in it, we made the decision to trust Him and follow Him even though we didn’t fully understand His plan. We moved to Lancaster and went to work doing what God called us to do. That first week in the Antelope Valley, we started knocking on doors and telling people about Jesus. All these years later, we are still doing the same thing—and God is still blessing the work and building His church.
Often we want everything to make perfect sense and know exactly how each step of a process will go before we start something for God. Instead God wants us to trust His Word and His promises rather than what our understanding is capable of arranging. Just as Abraham left his home and family without a clear understanding of where he was going to end up, we must be willing to walk in obedience to God even when the way ahead is not clear. Only when we put our faith in action do we receive His guidance.
"Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee."
It was a stifling hot morning that August in Hiroshima, Japan. In 1945, citizens feared a pending air strike from the allied forces of World War II. Many people were evacuating belongings from their homes and making preparation for their safety. Hiroshima was one of the largest cities in Japan that had not yet been hit, and most people expected a raid any day.
When the air raid siren sounded the morning of August 6, 1945 the city thought the attack had begun, but a few minutes later, the all clear was sounded. Japanese radar operators, seeing only three American planes, decided that this was not a serious attack. A few moments later, the first atomic bomb used in war was dropped on the city, killing tens of thousands of people instantly. They believed that they were safe from attack, not realizing the nature of what was about to happen.
Often Christians make the fatal mistake of underestimating our enemy. He is vicious and determined, and if we let down our guard, he will strike. The Bible warns us not to forsake wisdom. It is not enough to merely know and follow the principles our living God lays out for us in His Word. We must continue to live them out to be kept safe.
Tragically Solomon himself provides an example of what happens when we forsake wisdom. Though God gave him great wisdom in his youth, Solomon did not continue to walk in wisdom. His heart was turned away from God, and he lost the blessing he had once enjoyed. Following his death the kingdom was divided. When we forsake wisdom, we lose the safety wisdom provides.
"Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house:""
In September of 2012, a twenty-five-year-old New York man horrified onlookers when he jumped from the monorail train touring through the Bronx Zoo. Despite two fences, one of them electric, he managed to get into the tiger cage. He later told authorities he “wanted to be one with the tiger.” He came very close to getting his wish—being inside the tiger. Instead, he only suffered a broken arm, a broken leg, a punctured lung, and serious bite and claw injuries. There were measures to keep him safe from the tiger, but he intentionally placed himself in a position of great danger, and it nearly cost him his life.
Since this story does not have a tragic ending, it is almost funny. We may ask, “What was he thinking?” And yet, though we would never think of climbing into a tiger cage on purpose, far too many Christians intentionally and deliberately walk as close as they can to a roaring lion. They may not want to go completely across the boundaries into serious sin, but they keep walking past the fence and looking longingly to the other side.
The downfall of Lot can be traced to the day when he “pitched his tent toward Sodom” (Genesis 13:12). On that day this “righteous man” (2 Peter 2:8) would never have dreamed of the destruction of his family and his character that was soon to come. If he had seen the end result, he would have chosen differently, but Lot was so focused on the fertile land around Sodom that he missed the danger. And after days and days of looking that direction, he eventually moved his family to that wicked city, and tragedy followed.
If we stand by the door of sin long enough, we will eventually go through it. Don’t jump the fences or push against the boundaries God has placed in your life, and you will be safe.
A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth. He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers; Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.
In 1992, New York Jets defensive lineman Dennis Byrd was paralyzed following a collision with a teammate during a football game. The hit shattered one of the vertebrae in his neck, and even after seven hours of surgery to stabilize him, the powerful football player was left helpless, unable to move. It was not clear whether he would ever be able to walk again.
His physical rehabilitation began just two weeks after surgery. At first he was unable to move at all. Therapists began to stretch and flex his arms and legs, and slowly the muscles regained their strength. Byrd progressed to the point where he could stand in a pool and walk with the water supporting most of his weight. After weeks of painstaking effort, straining and using every fiber of his being, Byrd was able to walk again. Eventually he regained the majority of the use of his arms and legs and was able to resume a mostly normal life.
Contrast that level of dedication and commitment to doing something good with the wicked person described by Solomon. This man is also using every resource at his disposal—his mouth, his eyes, his feet and his hands—but instead of good, his purpose is to do evil and sow discord.
The truth is that whether we realize it or not, all of us are working each day for the cause of right or for the cause of wrong. No one is living a neutral life—everything we do has an impact on others. Paul wrote, “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Romans 14:7). Choose to invest your energy today in advancing the cause of Christ and serving others.
"He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life."
Alcatraz only served as a Federal penitentiary for twenty-nine years, but it became one of the most famous prisons in the nation. Because of its isolated location and the powerful currents that ran through the cold waters separating the island from the mainland, Alcatraz was deemed a place from which it was impossible to escape. “The Rock” as it was known became home to more than three hundred of the worst prisoners in the entire country including high profile criminals and those who had caused trouble in other prisons. Among its best-known inhabitants were Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.
Because the island prison was only a little over a mile from the city of San Francisco and because sound carries well over the water, the inmates at the prison could often hear sounds from major events in the city. Guards said that one of the hardest days of the year for the inmates was New Year’s Eve. They could hear the celebrations taking place, but because of what they had done, they were cut off from the happiness others were able to experience.
One of the main protections God has given us to help resist temptation is a careful awareness of the consequences of sin. Though we should do right because it is right, sometimes it is the fear of the Lord and the recognition of what we will lose that keeps us from yielding to temptation. Rather than looking at the allure of sin, we need to look at the end result. When we do, we will be motivated to walk in holiness.
"For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it."
In May of 2012, a 32-carat Burmese diamond ring—that was part of the collection of Lily Safra, one of the richest women in the world—was sold at an auction in New York City. The pre-auction estimate for the sale was $3–5 million, but the final sale price ended up at $6.7 million. It is believed to be the most expensive ruby ever sold.
As valuable as rubies are, the Bible tells us that wisdom is far better and more valuable. No earthly treasure can compare to wisdom because nothing else offers the same protection, benefits, and blessings that wisdom does.
Anything of value is sure to be counterfeited, and such is the case with wisdom. James warns us of wisdom that is not from God. “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:15). Godly wisdom can be discerned by the fruit it produces in our lives. James describes it this way: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).
We need to be sure that what we think of as wisdom in the way we act and interact with others is in line with God’s wisdom. The temptation we face is to make decisions according to our human reasoning of whether something is wise or not. Yet the standard is not our thinking but God’s declaration. Godly wisdom may defy logic and reasoning, but it will never defy Scripture. God has given us the principles for successful living in His Word, but they must be applied in our lives to have their intended effect.
Living according to wisdom changes our relationship with those around us and with God for the better—making it more valuable than rubies for our lives.
"Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee."
When Orel Hershiser was in his first season as a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he had great talent but had not been able to translate that into success on the field. Early in the 1984 season he was struggling with his control. Finally Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda called the young pitcher into his office for a verbal confrontation that Hershiser later referred to as “The Sermon on the Mound.”
Lasorda told Hershiser that he was capable of much better work than he was doing and that he owed it to the team to reach his potential. Hershiser took the rebuke to heart and approached the game with a new attitude. He went on to win the Cy Young award as baseball’s best pitcher in 1988 while leading the Dodgers to the World Series title. If Hershiser had not responded properly to his manager’s rebuke, it is doubtful that he would ever have achieved such success or helped his team so much.
I have yet to meet anyone who truly enjoys being rebuked and corrected. But the truth is that from time to time all of us need to make changes, and often God uses other people to point out that necessity to us. What happens next is crucial to our future. If we respond in pride and anger, we will miss the instruction and correction that we need. If we respond in humility and wisdom, we can be spared great heartache.
A person standing on the road waving a red flag is not an insult to your driving ability—he may be the only thing standing between you and disaster if you continue full speed ahead. Though a proper response requires us to admit we have been wrong, needed reproof is one of God’s great blessings to us.
"The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked."
When Hudson Taylor was preparing to go to China as a missionary, he knew he needed to learn to trust God. He was working for a busy medical doctor, who told Taylor to remind him when the salary was due. Hudson Taylor determined instead to ask God to provide for his needs. He told the story that once he had not yet been paid and was down to his last half crown on a Sunday night. A poor man came to ask Taylor to pray for his wife who was desperately sick.
When he arrived at their home Taylor saw they had nothing. He knew he could help, but hesitated to give up his last coin. He knelt to pray with the family and later described what had happened: But scarcely had I opened my lips with “Our Father who art in heaven” than conscience said within, “Dare you mock God? Dare you kneel down and call Him Father with that half-crown in your pocket?”
Taylor gave the poor man his last coin, with which he was able to purchase food and medicine for his sick wife. Taylor returned home with empty pockets but a full heart. The next day he received an anonymous letter in the mail with a half sovereign coin—worth four times what he had given away the night before!
As children of God, He has given us the privilege to go to Him in prayer for our needs to be met. We can be confident that as we walk in righteousness, we can expect His provision. Do not let the fact that you have needs kill your generosity. Instead continue to give as God directs, and believe in faith that He will hear and answer your pleas for help.
"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise."
A missionary to Africa told the story of an elderly woman who was reached with the gospel. Though she was blind and could neither read nor write, she wanted to share her new found faith with others. She went to the missionary and asked him for a copy of the Bible in French. When she got it, she asked him to underline John 3:16 in red and mark the page it was on so she could find it. The missionary wanted to see what she would do, so one day he followed her.
In the afternoon, just before school let out, she made her way to the front door. As the boys came out when school was dismissed, she would stop one and ask if he knew how to read French. When he said “Yes” she would ask him to read the verse that was marked in red. Then she would ask, “Do you know what this means?” and tell him about Christ. The missionary said that when he left the field years later there were twenty-four men pastoring churches who had been led to the Lord when they were school boys by that illiterate blind woman.
God’s plan for reaching the world is for each of us who have received His gift of salvation to share the Good News with others. Soulwinning is not meant to be reserved for pastors or full time evangelists. Instead it is a command for every Christian. Soulwinning does not require brilliant knowledge, gifted speech, or a charming personality—it requires obedience to tell the message. Each person we meet has a soul that will spend eternity either in Heaven or Hell. Recognizing this truth should motivate us to be faithful to do everything we can to bring people to faith in Christ.
"He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread."
Hudson Taylor was scheduled to speak at a large church in Melbourne, Australia. The moderator of the service introduced the missionary in eloquent and glowing terms. He told the large congregation all that Taylor had accomplished in China, and then presented him to the assembled people as "our illustrious guest." Taylor stood quietly for a moment, and then opened his message by saying, "Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master."
We live in a day that honors and encourages self-promotion. People are encouraged to “toot their own horns” and let others know how wonderful they are and all that they have done. We are seeing people go to incredible lengths to become famous. In this age of “reality TV” when anyone is willing to allow cameras to broadcast their every move—no matter how embarrassing—we have reached a new level of people seeking their own honor.
This is the opposite of God’s design for our lives. We should be focused on honoring and glorifying Him. John the Baptist had an amazing ministry. He saw huge crowds come to hear him preach, and many believed his message and were baptized. Yet when Jesus came, John willingly stepped into the background. Some of his enemies attempted to discourage John by pointing out that many who had once followed him were now following Jesus. John the Baptist replied, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
God is looking for servants who are willing to be servants for His glory rather than for recognition and fame. President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “There is no limit to what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” And this principle is true in the spiritual realm as well.
"Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom."
In 1731 the British ship Rebecca was boarded by Spanish sailors who believed the British brig was part of a smuggling operation. During the on-board conflict, Spanish captain, Julio Fandino, cut off the left ear of the British captain, Robert Jenkins. Fandino intended to send a message to England—and he succeeded. Jenkins was called to testify before Parliament about what happened, and he apparently brought along his severed ear as a demonstration of the truth of his account.
The incident was declared “an insult to the honour of the nation” and led to war between Spain and England—what came to be known as The War of Jenkins’ Ear. The two nations fought for several years, leaving thousands dead, and then the war spread to other countries as well until it involved most of Europe. The War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War followed, leaving hundreds of thousands dead. But it all began with an ear.
Today many churches and families are riven with conflict rather than blessed with peace. Proverbs identifies the problem for us—conflict comes from pride. If we are humble and not insistent that we are always right, we will not find it difficult to get along with others. While there are truths that should be held without any compromise, the majority of conflicts come not from such cases but from hurt feelings and wounded pride.
Peter said, “For he that will love life, and see good days…let him seek peace, and ensue it” (1 Peter 3:10-11). To seek and follow peace we must be willing to lay aside our desire to prove we are right or to get our way. We must be willing to extend grace and forgiveness, even to those who have hurt us. We can be certain that if we maintain our pride, we will never know peace.
"A faithful witness will not lie: but a false witness will utter lies."
Born to a prominent British political family, Jonathan Aitken made a name for himself as a courageous reporter and war correspondent prior to beginning his political career. He rose to the heights of power, serving as Minister of Defense and Chief Secretary of the Treasury. But after twenty years in office, a television news program threatened to expose illegal activity on his part. Aitken made the decision to take them to court, filing a libel suit. On the stand he testified under oath that the story was false—only to have the media company produce documents which proved beyond any doubt that he was lying. Aitken was sentenced to eighteen months in prison for perjury and lost both his political career and his family as a result.
People will sometimes say, “Honesty is the best policy,” but honesty is far more than the best policy. It is the only policy for those who wish to maintain their character, their integrity, their reputation, and their right standing with God. There is a reason why “a lying tongue” (Proverbs 6:16-17) is prominently featured on the list of sins that are an abomination to God. Dishonesty destroys relationships and reputations. It has been a tool of Satan since the beginning of time, and it is one he has used with devastating results.
A lifetime of honesty requires a commitment to tell the truth in every situation, regardless of the circumstances. There are no “little white lies.” There are no degrees of dishonesty—we are either truth-tellers, or we are deceivers. When we are dishonest, we are doing Satan’s work. Jesus said he “is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). In contrast, “God…cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). If we are to be like our Heavenly Father we must fully commit ourselves to honesty and integrity in every circumstance and situation.
"A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit."
Dr. George Truett told this story of a dramatic rescue from almost certain death. “There was a fire in the big city, and the firemen flung their ladders together, and went up in their brave fashion to the very topmost story to rescue the people that were trapped. One after another was rescued by the brave firemen.
“All had been rescued, it seemed, but No! As the firemen looked up they saw a face at the most upper window. They wrapped something about one of their firemen, and in the face of the fierce flames, he went again to that window, and put a robe around the little woman and started down. Then they saw him tremble as the fire raged around him, and it seemed that he would fall with his precious burden, but the fire chief cried to his men: ‘Cheer him, boys! Cheer him, boys!’ They cheered him with words of encouragement as he came down safely with the precious life saved.”
There is immense power in our words to either tear people down or build them up. The old playground saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is not true. Words of disapproval and discouragement can convince someone to give up. On the other hand, words of encouragement can make all the difference. One vote of confidence, one kind word, one expression of approval may be all a person needs to keep going in the right direction.
Mark Twain famously said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” A kind word costs us nothing, yet it can mean the world to someone who is struggling. Take the time today to intentionally encourage the people in your life—it will help both you and them.
"Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right."
At least Mary Butterworth was industrious. Unfortunately, for all her hard work, she was dishonest. When she went into business for herself in colonial Newport, Rhode Island, she did not take up sewing or crafting. Instead Mary Butterworth devised a clever method for counterfeiting currency at home. Since she did not have access to metal plates or printing equipment, she would take a starched cloth and place it on top of a wet genuine bill. Then using an iron she would transfer the outlines of the real currency onto a blank piece of paper and fill in the rest with a quill and ink. The cloth “pattern” could then be burned, destroying the evidence of what had been done.
It is believed that her counterfeiting ring, which included several members of her extended family, was in operation for nearly ten years. They produced so much counterfeit currency that the entire New England economy was negatively affected. Finally the family’s purchase of a large and expensive home raised so much suspicion that authorities began an investigation. Mary Butterworth was arrested and tried, but there was not enough evidence to convict her. After her acquittal, Butterworth “retired” from the counterfeiting business.
One of the most effective lies of Satan is that if we just had a little more, we would be content. As a result of a lack of contentment with what God has provided, many have abandoned their integrity and been willing to do almost anything for the sake of getting more. It is certainly not wrong to receive material blessings from God and enjoy them, but we should be happy regardless of whether we think we have enough. The consequences for dishonesty far outweigh any temporary benefits gained through accumulation of ill-gotten gains. When you are content, you have erected a powerful shield of protection for your integrity.
"Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding."
One of Aesop’s fables concerned a turtle who envied the ducks who swam in the pond where he lived. As he listened to them describe the wonders of the world they had seen, he was filled with a great desire to travel. But being a turtle, he was unable to travel far. Finally two ducks offered to help him. One of the ducks said, “We will each hold an end of a stick in our mouths. You hold the stick in the middle in your mouth, and we will carry you through the air so that you can see what we see when we fly. But be quiet or you will be sorry.”
The turtle loved the idea. He took hold of the stick and away into the sky they went. The ducks flew up above the trees and circled around the meadow. The turtle was amazed and overjoyed at his new perspective on the world. He marveled at the flowers on the hillside. Just then a crow flew past. Astonished at the sight of a turtle flying through the air carried by two ducks he said, “Surely this must be the king of all turtles!” “Why certainly…” the turtle began—but as he spoke, he lost his grip on the stick and fell to the ground below.
While there are times when we need to speak out and take a stand, more frequently we find ourselves in trouble because we talk too much. As the old saying goes, “A closed mouth gathers no foot.” When we talk much, the tendency to brag and speak of things we should not grows. Instead we should cultivate the wisdom of silence and guard carefully the things we allow to come out of our mouths.
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe."
During the War of 1812, the British forces that had already captured Washington D.C. turned their focus on Baltimore. Outnumbering the American forces by more than five to one and backed by their powerful navy, the British expected to take control of the key American port city. But they found their way blocked by an American force stationed in Fort McHenry. British Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane ordered an extensive bombardment of the fort in preparation for an attack.
Throughout the night of September 13 and into the morning of September 14, nearly two thousand artillery shells were fired at the fort. When the sun came up in the morning, Major George Armistead who commanded the defenders ordered the massive flag to be raised over the walls as a sign that they had not been defeated. This moment was seen by an American lawyer named Francis Scott Key on board one of the British ships and led to the writing of the American national anthem.
A strong place of defense is not just important to military forces. It is also crucial to those of us who face a spiritual battle on a daily basis. The Bible warns us that Satan is seeking to destroy us and commands us to “Resist stedfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9). It is vital that we remember that we are not to fight Satan in our own strength. Instead we are offered the mighty protection of God’s power through His name.
As believers, we have the right to run to the presence of the Lord and seek His defense when we are attacked. We do not have to fight alone. Like the defenders of Baltimore sheltered by the thick walls of Fort McHenry, we are sheltered by the name of our Saviour.
"Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbour."
When Howard Hughes died in 1976, he was worth more than two billion dollars, but his personal life was a miserable wreck. A brilliant engineer even as a teenager, Hughes assumed control of his father’s Hughes Tool Company at just nineteen years old, following his father’s death from a heart attack. Hughes became a major figure in engineering, aviation, and movie production, and his wealth continued to grow. Hughes became a recluse in his later years, living in a hotel he owned and not allowing his staff members to even look at him when they entered his room.
Upon Hughes’ death, a variety of people tried to lay claim to his estate. Fake wills began to turn up, and several people claimed they were related to Hughes. At least one woman even claimed a secret marriage gave her rights to his estate. The legal battles dragged on for decades—the estate was not finally settled until 2010, thirty-four years after Hughes died!
Money does strange things to people. Some abandon their principles in their quest to become rich. They cut corners and do things they know to be wrong in their pursuit of wealth. But even those who come by their resources through honesty and hard work face a dilemma—are their friends true friends, or is the relationship just about the money? The Prodigal Son learned this lesson the hard way. While the money he received from his father as his inheritance lasted, he had plenty of friends. When the money ran out and the famine came, “no man gave unto him” (Luke 15:16). We should not be friendly toward others because of what they are able to do for us or give to us, but because they are our friends.
The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.
Hudson Taylor was one of the great missionaries of history. When he arrived on the mission field in China, there were only a few hundred believers in the entire nation. By the time of his death, some fifty years later, there were more than 175,000! But Taylor’s story cannot be fully appreciated just by studying his own life. Taylor’s father was a lay Methodist preacher. His grandfather had been converted under the ministry of John Wesley.
These two men established a godly foundation that shaped the course of Hudson Taylor’s life. Though his parents had dedicated him to God before his birth, as a teenager Taylor had little interest in spiritual things. He left home at fifteen to work in a bank, and was surrounded by evil influences. One day his mother set aside a special time of prayer for the salvation of her son. Taylor was at home that day without his family, and entering his father’s study, picked up a tract and began to read it. Before he finished, he was convicted of his sin and cried out to God for salvation.
It is unlikely that the great things that Taylor accomplished in his ministry for God would have happened without the investments his parents and grandparents made in his life. Now that Terrie and I have grandchildren, I am becoming ever more focused on touching the future by leaving them a godly heritage. A crucial part of that heritage is that I walk with God in integrity daily. The faithful Christian life is not primarily large decisions, but a series of small ones—doing right day after day after day. Integrity may be revealed in our response to crisis moments, but it is built and maintained in the small choices we have made that lead up to them.
"The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want."
When it was riding high in the 1990s, Enron was one of the most successful and most admired companies in America. The energy and commodities conglomerate was one of the best-performing stocks on Wall Street, and Fortune magazine named them America’s most innovative company six years in a row. Company executives earned millions in bonuses and from stock options, and they spent corporate funds on lavish parties and outrageous décor for their offices.
Then suddenly, all of the wealth vanished. In 2001 Enron filed for what was then the largest corporate bankruptcy in history. It was revealed that most of the company’s “profits” were actually the result of accounting tricks and even outright fraud rather than from their business operations. Unknown to their investors, they had actually been losing tremendous amounts of money. A number of top executives were charged with insider trading and fraud. The shortcuts they took to achieve success brought about their downfall.
When we are willing to work hard and pursue honesty, God blesses the results of our efforts. Not every child of God will be fabulously wealthy, as some popular preachers claim, but everyone who is diligent will see rewards for their efforts. Yet for many people the thought of the slow route to success through hard work seems to daunting. Instead they look for easy ways to accumulate wealth. They may purchase lottery tickets, bet on sporting events, or “invest” in get-rich-quick schemes that offer a path to prosperity apart from work. In the end, all such efforts are doomed to failure. Many of those who win lottery prizes are in worse financial condition after a couple of years than they were before. Instead of looking for shortcuts, we need to simply continue to obey God and be diligent—and trust Him for the results.
"The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender."
Today the average American family owes over $8,000 on credit cards, more than $7,000 on automobile loans, and more than $6,500 in student loan debt. When mortgages and other consumer debt are added to the equation, the typical American family owes nearly $150,000. All together, total consumer debt in the United States is more than 11 trillion dollars. Truly we as a society are living in bondage to debt.
Christians are not exempt from this kind of bondage. Many families are struggling with the weight of paying back money long since spent. The culture around us is geared toward instant gratification. Rather than saving money to purchase something, we are enticed with offers of “no money down” and “low monthly payments.” But those payments add up over time, and the habit of spending more than we have only adds to the burden of debt.
There are people still paying on the pizza they purchased a year (or longer) ago. That is not the path of wisdom! Instead of reaching for more on credit, we should be cultivating an attitude of contentment. While there are some legitimate reasons for the careful use of debt, the vast majority of debt being accumulated in our society can be traced instead to our desire to have it all right now.
Many believers find it a struggle to give as they know God wants them to because of the massive debts they are trying to pay. If you are free from debt, do everything you can to stay that way. If you are currently in bondage to debt, take steps immediately to get out. The freedom you gain, for both your family life and your service to God will be enormous.
"When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat."
In the early days of Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford’s empire stretched far beyond the manufacturing plant where cars were being put together on the assembly line. Ford owned the steel mills where the metal was shaped, the iron mines where the ore was dug out of the ground, and the shipping companies and railroads that moved the materials from place to place in the process of car making from start to finish.
With such a vast array of companies to oversee, Ford needed skilled executives who could be trusted to manage the day-to-day operations of their area without constant supervision. After a job candidate had gone through the interview process, the final test was a dinner meeting with Henry Ford. When the food was served, Ford would observe the prospective employee. If he salted his food before tasting it, he failed the test, and would not be offered a job. Ford thought that approach to food indicated the man would also be wasteful with money.
God’s Word contains not just spiritual truth but also practical advice for daily living—even in areas such as interacting with those in authority over us. The principle of self-control spelled out in the verses above is a vital part of our character as Christians. It makes us more successful in every part of life, it protects us from temptation, and it changes the way we are viewed by those around us. Following the principles of wisdom prepares us to receive blessing and promotion.
"A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength. For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety."
In 1852, a young man wrote the noted Scottish writer and educator, Thomas Carlyle, and asked him for advice on how to better himself. In addition to his advice, he recommended reading good books rather than fluff. Carlyle wrote: “Study to do faithfully whatsoever thing in your actual situation, there and now, you find either expressly or tacitly laid to your charge; that is your post; stand in it like a true soldier. Silently devour the many chagrins of it, as all human situations have many; and see you aim not to quit it without doing all that it, at least, required of you.”
It is important to receive wise counsel, but that is only half of the equation. We must also heed and follow it. Being encouraged to study the Word of God or follow the principles of Scripture does not change our conduct—that only comes about as we purposefully adjust our habits through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we refuse to listen to good advice, we place ourselves in great danger. While there is safety offered by having a multitude of wise counselors, we only benefit from that safety to the extent that we take action upon the wise advice we receive.
We see this truth illustrated in the life of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. On taking the throne, he consulted his father’s advisors (and it is worth noting that the wisest man in history still had advisors to help him!) on how he should respond to the people. They counseled a conciliatory approach, but Rehoboam rejected their wise advice. Instead he followed the advice of his young friends to be harsh with the people. Because Rehoboam did not heed the good counsel he received, the kingdom was divided.