1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years
2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).
Some other housecleaning:
A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.
B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.
C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.
D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.
As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.
If you didn’t recognize the title, then I know at least one thing about you: You've never been in the U.S. Marine Corps, nor anyone in your family. It’s Latin for “always faithful,” and it’s the motto for the U.S.M.C. (often shortened to “Semper Fi”).
Faithfulness is the seventh aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit. MacArthur has a pretty simple definition: “loyalty and trustworthiness.” It’s similar to honesty, but we’re not going to get into that because we’re going to examine that virtue in a few days.
All around us we see the results of the rarity of this. The divorce rate is a measurement of it. Politicians and high officials are caught violating their oath and public trust. As I write this, there’s a PFC in the Army who’s accused (pretty credibly) of passing along thousands of classified documents to an internet provider who made them public, to the very probable harm of personal lives and the efforts of the U.S. government to keep us safe.
Of course none of us can claim real innocence in this. We’ve all broken our word and disappointed someone who intimately trusted us at some time or another.
And of course that’s a great segue to the only One who’s the exception to that almost universal rule. And it leads us to today’s passage.
Paul here was discussing the advantages the Jews had, and their national rejection of the Messiah whom God had sent. We just finished going over all that before, so we’re not doing it now. But we need to know the context of the point he was trying to make.
They had the Scriptures and other advantages over every other group in human history. Yet they rejected Jesus (or Yeshua, as they called him). Does this mean that God’s plan had failed? As the apostle put it, “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” And there’s that phrase again which we talked about before: Me genoito. It’s translated as “Not at all!” and that really understates the impact. It’s the strongest possible negative in the Greek, and there’s no simple English word or phrase that captures it. But the closest would be “Not no but heck no!” in the unedited version.
It doesn’t matter what people do or don’t do, because the Lord is always faithful to his word. When he promises something, heaven and earth will collapse in on themselves before one syllable is proven false. The Jews were unfaithful, but that doesn’t mean that God had dropped the ball on what he'd pledged.
I love the next phrase that Paul uses—“Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” It’s not true that “One man and God makes a majority.” It’s much more accurate to say that “God plus no one makes a majority.” He is the majority. If all of humanity—past, present and future—could testify with one voice with the opposite opinion, then that would mean that all humanity was lying or confused.
Why? Because he is Truth. Our Savior is the Truth made flesh. The abstract idea, the principle of truth? It took on human form and has a name. Everything is true or not true inasmuch as it conforms to him. As C.S. Lewis put it, he could no more be wrong and you right than water could flow uphill.
This is all well and good, but what does it have to do with me? Well, there’s a good practical application in the last verse of this passage. One day all of humanity is going to be judged. Every person who stands before this bench will be stripped naked of all pretenses, every excuse, and every mask we’ve worn. They'll be judged by Truth Incarnate, namely Christ.
On that day, if you’re not covered by the blood of Jesus, you’re cooked (literally). His righteousness will be the only thing that can save anyone on that day. Are you covered? If you're not sure, check this out.
The second practical application is pretty comforting compared to the first one. When Jesus says something, we can believe it. For example when he says that if we believe in him we’ll never be condemned, we can rest on that. Any other promise that he makes is much surer than the sun rising tomorrow.
And finally, this is a call for us to examine ourselves. Are we showing ourselves to be followers of the One who is the Truth Incarnate? Is that on display with how we keep our promises? On how faithful we are to our commitments? On how well people can rely on and trust us?
Lord Jesus, I thank you that you do keep your promises. Please make me like you.
Now we come to goodness, the sixth aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit. By the way, if you have something against John MacArthur, then you might as well skip this blog for the next couple of days. In his commentary on Gal. 5:22-23 (the passage on the Fruit), he gives a great definition of each of these aspects, and I’m probably going to keep referring to it. Keep in mind that the word in Galatians for “fruit” is singular, not plural: There's only one Fruit of the Spirit, but there are at least nine aspects of it which can be distinguished from each other. So what’s MacArthur’s definition of “goodness”? It’s “moral and spiritual excellence manifested in active kindness.”
I chose today’s passage to jump into a discussion on this subject because it strikes home with a solid point on this virtue. At first it might seem like an odd passage to use, but please bear with me.
If you’re familiar with the Gospels, you probably know the story. A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked him the question that every evangelist would love to hear: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now, if we were reading this story for the first time, we'd probably never expect Jesus to respond the way he did, because we never would. Any evangelist worth his salt would undoubtedly start into a recitation of the Roman Road of salvation or some other formula. Not that I’m knocking formulas necessarily, but that’s not how Jesus responded at all. We might also expect him to provide a pretty simple response, like “You want to know what to do to inherit eternal life? Believe in and follow me.” That certainly would've qualified as a good answer, but that’s not what he said either.
Here’s his response: “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” Now there are at least three good theories I’ve heard which explain his pretty mysterious response. First, some interpreters say that Jesus was so concerned about the honor of his Father that he couldn’t bear the term “good” being applied to anyone else. It’s certainly true that zeal for his Father’s name consumed him. The other possibility is that he’s trying to get the young man to think a little harder about who he’s talking to. If you follow Jesus’ line of reasoning (No one can be called ‘good’ except God), and mix it with what the young man called him, it might be that he’s subtly claiming to be more than just a human teacher, that he’s claiming to be divine.
The third theory is that he’s attempting to get the young man to think a little deeper about his own righteousness compared to God’s. This certainly would dovetail nicely to Jesus’ further approach in showing the young man his spiritual bankruptcy.
We won’t go into the rest of the story, since we covered it before.
But why do I bring this up? What’s the point I’m trying to make? Whichever theory you hold regarding Jesus’ opening statement, the fact remains that he did say it. In the final and most meaningful sense of the term, only God is good. He’s the standard for goodness. He’s the yardstick against which everything else is measured. And compared to him, everything and everyone else falls short to some degree or another.
Does this mean that it’s always wrong to say that someone or something is good? No. The very first chapter of the Bible tells us that God proclaimed his creation “good” and “very good.” Does it make sense that the Lord makes absolutely no distinction between a good man and a bad one? I don’t think so.
But again, this is talking about relative goodness, not absolute purity. I can be a better man than X in a relative sense. But when compared to the Lord, it’s really not right that the same term “good” is applied to both the Holy One of Israel and me.
Does this mean I’m off the hook, that I don’t need to be concerned about goodness in my life? Um, no. We are called--we are expected--to constantly strive to be morally excellent. We see our Lord as the ultimate goal line. Even though we’re never going to be perfect in this life, we need to continually put effort into being a better follower of Christ, to let his goodness shine though us and out of us. As we spend time with him, talk to him and let him speak to us, be plugged into his Body, and let his word soak into our heart, we will.
And he'll be good through us.
Lord Jesus, I want to be satisfied and not satisfied. I rest in your goodness, but I want more of it. Whatever I need to do, let’s do it.
Sorry, couldn’t come up with any catchy title—If you’ve read this for a while, you know that titles are my weakest suit. This is one that also needs some explanation, but that’s what I’m here for!
Kindness is the second of the aspects of love which Paul uses in his classic description of the great virtue. That’s because kindness is an essential element of it. Here once again I turn to MacArthur’s definition, since it crystallizes it so well: “Tender concern for others, reflected in a desire to treat others gently, just as the Lord treats all believers.”
I thought about it for a bit, and decided that today’s passage gives the best illustration of what we’re talking about. Matthew was addressing the collision between the Jews’ popular expectations concerning the Messiah and who Jesus actually turned out to be. He knew that if word got out about him prematurely, then that could precipitate a confrontation between him and the religious leaders and/or Rome, and that wasn’t his plan. He wasn’t there to set up a physical kingdom (this time around). Instead, his agenda was to establish a spiritual Kingdom, and part of that was showing kindness to the “least of these” in society.
Verse 19 addresses his aversion to a political agenda, but verse 20 is what I really want to focus on today, because it’s such a beautiful picture of what he came to do, and most of us miss it because we’re not familiar with that time period. You know what reeds are, right? Those tall hollow things that grow in shallow waters. People of that time commonly cut a piece off and used it as a musical instrument, commonly like a flute by shepherds. Over time, it was worn out and useless, and since they were a dime-a-dozen, most people threw them out and promptly replaced them with a new one. A “smoldering wick” was a candle wick in its last stages before it burned out. Of course, the most natural thing in the world is to just snuff it out, since it was on its last legs anyway.
My friend, can you think of any better description of how the world treats its own? Ask the person nearing retirement age who’s replaced by a younger employee because the company is looking for “new blood.” Ask an aging female movie star who used to get male blood pumping and who now doesn’t get any calls from her agent because she’s “over the hill.” Think of the people in nursing homes who are abandoned and forgotten by their families, who are just waiting to die.
That’s how the world treats people, but it’s not what Jesus does. He looks at the ones who are worn-out, considered useless and ready to be thrown out and replaced, and instead of casting them out, he gently picks them up, cleanses them from their past and finds vital use for them in his Kingdom. That’s his kindness in action.
Once again, we need to be careful about how we approach this. Although the world isn’t kind at times, it does sometimes overemphasize this virtue over others like truth. Remember that in Paul’s description of love, he tells us that it “delights in the truth.” Yes, you can make a case that it’s kind to protect someone from unpleasant realities. But that’s not the full picture of love. All of us at times needs some "tough love," right? So sometimes the kind thing is not the loving thing.
However, in spite of how the world overemphasizes this at times, that doesn’t negate the fact that it is an aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit. As we grow closer in our relationship with Christ, sometimes the work he does on us is to “smooth” some of the “rough edges” so that we’re more considerate of others’ feelings. Some people have a more natural gift in this area (like my wife), while others (like me) need Christ to work on us some more.
So how about you? Do you need the Spirit to work on you as well?
Lord Jesus, I praise you because that’s what you do with people. I thank you because that’s what you’ve done with me. Please guide me with your Spirit to be as kind to others as you are with me.
So now we get to patience, the fourth aspect of the nine-sided Fruit of the Spirit. This is one that just about everyone acknowledges that we need, and most of us are missing it when we really need it. I remember this story (who knows if it’s true or not) about a time that a woman in a congregation went up to her pastor and made a pretty big claim. She actually claimed that she was without sin, that she had matured in her faith to the point that she was perfectly like Christ. The pastor considered her for a moment, then spat right in her face. The next words out of her mouth pretty much disproved her claim to be just like Jesus!
Webster’s defines “patient” as “bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint; manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain.” That’s the key: It’s easy to be “patient” when things are going your way, but most of us lose our patience pretty quickly when we’re provoked. Let’s look at what Scripture has to say.
First off, did you notice the connection between love and patience? In Paul’s classic description of love (which we read just a couple of days ago), the first word he uses to link to it is “patient.” If we love someone, we’ll be patient with them. We won’t be easily angered or provoked by them. We won’t count records of wrongs done to us, and we’ll be quick to forgive.
Although the word's not in the verse itself, I think that the James passage is a great description: quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. I don’t know about you, but I get so impatient in conversations, waiting for that other guy to finally shut up because what I have to say is soooooo important. I find myself thinking about how I’m going to respond while the other person is talking. I don’t believe that qualifies under what James is talking about. We’re to be quick to listen to other peoples’ hurts and thoughts and ideas, and not so quick to foist our own upon others. And finally we’re supposed to be slow to become angry, which I think is crucial. Why? Because human anger doesn’t bring about what God wants for our lives. It doesn’t produce righteousness. In fact, human anger produces the exact opposite.
Of course this doesn’t mean that all anger is wrong. Just about 90% of it, by my guesstimate. Notice that he’s careful to call it human anger, as opposed to God’s. If the Holy Spirit produces within us a holy, righteous anger against injustice or sin, then that’s fine. It’s just that most of the time we have a really hard time distinguishing between God's anger and our own selfish version.
But one clue that helps us tell the difference? Is it easily provoked, especially when one’s own honor is concerned? Then that’s not God’s anger. That’s not how God gets angry. The Psalmist (along with several other O.T. writers) tells us that he’s “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” He proved that in the O.T., with the multiple times he was patient with the knuckleheads that he had to shepherd. He demonstrated that in the Person of Christ during his earthly ministry. And he certainly showed that in my life, by giving me enough time to receive Christ before I left this earth.
But we need to be careful in our thinking here about God. His love has no end, and his mercy has no limits. But his patience does. If he doesn’t give someone what they deserve right now, that doesn’t mean that everything is fine. Let me remind you of my favorite quote from Matthew Henry: God’s reprieves are not pardons. If I’m not forgiven, then the punishment for my sin will eventually fall upon either me or upon Christ.
And even as a believer, his patience comes into play every day. I’m still his child, but it seems like some days I’m as deaf as a post to what he’s trying to tell me. But he’s patient with me, not giving me what I deserve: “All right child, let’s go over this one more time.” Aren’t you glad he doesn’t treat us like we treat each other?
Father, you truly are the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. You proved that in Scripture, and you’ve proved that in my life, over and over and over. Please let that Spirit flow out of me into my personal relationships. I will never be called upon to be as patient with anyone else as much as you’ve been with me.
The word “peace.” Along with “love,” I vote for that word to be the misused term in modern times. People used to sing about it and wear a symbol for it on their shirts, and they claim to be “for peace” and “peace activists.” Of course, whether we wear the symbol or not, most of us aren't against peace, but that's another story. . .
The problem, once again, is that people get their definitions from the world and not the Scriptures. Our Lord actually addressed this in his last intimate talk with his disciples before the Passion. In the two verses from John’s Gospel, he tells us something about the world’s “peace,” and contrasts it with what he offers.
He promises us peace as what he’s leaving us, and he says it’s not “as the world gives.” What type of peace does the world offer? It’s transitory. Countries that used to be as friendly as two nations can be with other are at each other’s throats at a moment’s notice. And it’s often fake even when supposedly we have it. The world calls something “peace” when really it’s just a cease-fire or the absence of all-out conflict. Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of a certain Person.
That’s why one of his titles is the Prince of Peace. When he’s in charge, we have peace. The Hebrew term for peace, Shalom, has a lot of insight for us here. It means that everything is in its proper place. Where’s there’s disorder and chaos, you don’t have true peace.
So what does bring peace? Well, Jesus said that he told us these things so that we’ll have peace. But even when we have his peace, that doesn’t mean there’s no conflict. On the contrary, in this world we will have trouble. But we can take heart, because even though we have trouble in this world, it’s a conquered enemy. Our Lord has overcome it, so there’s nothing to fear.
I think that’s the key. Peace and fear are incompatible with each other. That leads us to the last passage for today. Paul presents a stark contrast for us: Fear and Peace. What’s the difference between the two? How do we move from fear and anxiety into peace? What’s the source of peace? The Presence of our Savior!
When you’re feeling anxious or worried or fearful, take it to your Shepherd. You bring it before his Throne. But there’s another thing to keep in mind which I think really helps us keep perspective. You bring your petitions to him with thanksgiving. Before I ask anything from him, I like to acknowledge his goodness and what he’s done for us so far, along with a glorious truth which he’s revealed to us that relates to the situation. For instance, if I’m praying for someone to recover from sickness, I start with “I thank you Father, because I know that all healing comes from you. You are Yahweh Rapha, the God who heals us.”
And as we submit our requests and thanksgiving to him, his peace will guard us. Specifically it’ll guard our hearts and minds, so that anxieties and worries have no hold on us.
I want this for myself. Do you?
Lord Jesus, you truly are the Prince of Peace. As I submit to you, all fear goes. I repent of all worry and anxiety, and ask you to forgive me. Please help me to trust.
The second aspect of the Fruit (singular) of the Spirit is joy. Of course this is a very special characteristic for me, since it also happens to be the name of my wife! And a more aptly-named person I’ve never met: She brings her namesake into my life every day.
So what do we mean by this term? Here are some thoughts. . .
• It’s not the same as fun or even what we usually mean by the term “happiness.” Those things are heavily dependent on outward circumstances. If you’re enjoying your favorite activity, then you’re having fun. If you’re life is going pretty much the way you want it to, then you claim to be happy. This is not what we’re talking about.
• MacArthur says it’s “A happiness based on unchanging divine promises and eternal spiritual realities. It is the sense of well being experienced by one who knows all is well between himself and the Lord.”
• That’s why I picked the passages I did. The Apostle of Love also had a few things to say about joy as well. What was it that brought John joy? Yes, he enjoyed his own relationship with Jesus, but according to today’s passage he notes two things: 1) The faithfulness he hears about concerning Gaius, and 2) That his spiritual “children” are walking in the truth.
• Paul was in prison, probably chained to a Roman guard 24-7. His outlook was bleak, at least from a human perspective. And to top all this, he heard that some other believers were taking advantage of this. Apparently they were trying to make him jealous by outdoing him in the field of evangelism. Some undoubtedly were preaching from purer motives, but some were preaching out of envy or other bad motivations. How much did Paul care about this? Not a bit! He cared about one thing: That the Good News of Christ was being proclaimed. As long as God’s kingdom was being advanced, he couldn’t care less about peoples’ motives or about his own circumstances. In this he found his joy.
• That brings us to the last verse from today’s reading. Nehemiah was facing a people whose “Morale Meter” was on empty. They were downcast, because—again—they were focused on their circumstances instead of the divine promises and eternal spiritual realities. Once they focused on what’s really important, then the joy of the Lord would be their strength.
• I think that Jonathan Edwards, probably the greatest theologian that America produced, had a good point about joy. He considered despair a sin and joy a virtue. If you don’t see any joy in your life, then something’s desperately wrong.
• Again I want to remind you that this is not something you need to manufacture or “rustle up.” As you cultivate your relationship with your Savior, you’ll see joy sprout up as a natural result. It’s not so much a feeling but a settled focus of your thoughts.
Have I mastered this? I wish! I let my circumstances get me down as well. But I’m trying to keep my thoughts focused on God and his truth, and I find it a bit easier when I do.
Lord Jesus, you found joy in the presence of your Father, and I want that. Please draw me in, and never let me go.
I know we talked about love yesterday, but since there’s so much confusion about this virtue, I decided to spend another day on it.
I really think that this word is waaaaaay overused. We say we “love” hotdogs and we “love” our spouse and children. That’s because we tend to view love as a feeling we have towards something or someone. That’s not the biblical definition of love.
John’s been called the “Apostle of Love,” and with very good reason. The Gospel which he authored uses the word 39 times, and the epistles he wrote (minus Revelation) employ it 34 times. No one else even comes close to using the term so often, so it’s obvious that the man had the issue pretty high on his priority list. But most of the time, he’s using the term in very practical terms, not as a feeling we have.
This is illustrated by a story I heard once. The church deacons came to a pastor and said “Pastor, we’re tired of you preaching about hell and about things that are so controversial. Why don’t you preach about love for a while?” The preacher agreed. The next week, his sermon was about “Love the Lord your God.” The next week was “Love your neighbor as yourself.” After that was “Do not love the things of the world.” Next was “If you love me, you’ll keep my commands.” After that, the deacons came to him and asked him to quit preaching on love.
You see, love is a very practical thing. Take a look at today’s passage, just one of several I could have picked from John’s writings. How do we know what love is? What can we point to as the ultimate expression of love? God was not up in heaven sighing to himself saying “I love those people soooooo much! I think I’ll send them a Valentine Day’s card.”
No, he sent his one and only Son down to earth. This Son had to put up with the nasty rotten atmosphere of sin which pervades this world like water fills an aquarium. Just like fish wouldn’t have a word for “wet” if they could talk, we don’t recognize how bad this world is because we’ve never known anything different. But the Son did.
He put up with the demands of his ministry, every day looking after the needs of others: Healing, teaching, providing. But that’s not the ultimate expression of love.
That came when he willingly went to the cross and laid down his life for us. In another passage John says that he was the “atoning sacrifice for our sins.” That means that he turned aside the wrath (the righteous anger) away from us and onto himself. He carried our sins upon his own back. And died in our place.
And that’s the standard for you and me.
That’s why John doesn’t talk a lot about feelings here. He talks about sacrifice for the good of others. He says that if you see a brother (or sister) in need and look the other way, then the love of God is not in you. This doesn't mean that if someone is low on money that the best way to help them necessarily is to hand them cash. If someone is poor because of bad financial decisions or because of addictions, then it’s not loving to enable them. But we need to take the time to find out what they really need and do our best to help them, using God’s word and guidance.
And to cap it all off, he reiterates what he’s been saying all along. It’s easy to talk a good game about loving someone. It’s easy to love someone with our “words or tongue” but not so easy to love them “with actions and in truth.” Again, just handing out cash is usually the easy way, not the way to show them love “in truth.” Love has both hands and a brain, and its mouth is used sparingly.
That’s one of the signs that we belong to him and are in good fellowship with him. Is it there?
Lord Jesus, I want to follow your example, and I want to be generous and a good steward. I can only do that by your grace. Please change me.
Ok, so the first on Paul’s description is “love.” By the way, I forgot to mention this yesterday, but it's important to note that the word “fruit” in Galatians is singular, not plural. The characteristics are plural (nine of them), but there aren’t nine fruit. There’s only one fruit which has nine aspects to it.
So let’s talk about love. Some of what I’m about to say might be familiar to you, but I figure the worst things that’ll happen is that you’re reminded of some stuff you need to keep in mind.
The first thing we need to understand is that this word is one of the most overused in the English language. We say “I love baseball and pizza” and “I love my wife,” using the same word in both situations. The reason is that English only has one word for love, while Greek had four. They had Eros (from which we get the word erotic, so you get the idea), Phileos (from which Philadelphia gets its name) which was an affection or friendship bond, and Storge, which is a natural bonding like those of a parent/child relationship. And of course you know Agape, the self-sacrificing love.
That’s the love which is described in today’s passage. What’s it like?
• It’s patient with the beloved.
• It’s kind, caring about the other person’s hurt.
• It doesn’t envy what others have. In this case, it cares about the well-being of the beloved as its first priority.
• It doesn’t draw attention to itself by boasting.
• It has no room for pride.
• It doesn’t seek only its own interests, but puts the interests of others first.
• It’s not easily angered.
• It keeps no record of wrongs. That quality alone could help a lot of marriages.
• It doesn’t delight in evil. In other words, it wants to improve the moral quality of the beloved.
• It rejoices in the truth.
• It always protects the beloved, willing to “take a bullet” if that’s what it takes.
• It always trusts. Nope, you can’t truly love someone if you can’t trust them.
• It always hopes for the best.
• It always perseveres. No matter what happens, true love will remain steadfast.
Feel guilty yet? It’s pretty likely that you do, if you hold this mirror up to your own life. None of us love God or others like we should. That’s not the question. The question is “Am I improving?” "Am I becoming more like Christ?" "Am I displaying his character more today than I did last year?"
I guess this is a great time to remind you: This is a product of your relationship with Christ. This is not a product of your efforts to try harder.
It’s also a great test of the “love” we tend to display in our relationships with others. A boy tells a girl that he “loves” her as he’s trying to seduce her. He might be sincere in what he’s saying, but what he’s displaying is not love. If you claim you love your child and yet have a quick temper, then at that moment you’re not showing her real love. If you claim you love your spouse and yet don’t trust them, then your love is deficient at that point.
So how’s it look in that mirror?
Lord Jesus, my "love" is so cold and self-seeking and impatient at times. Please change me. I want to talk more like you, act more like you, and think more like you.
OK, now we’ve got a little bit under four weeks until the end of the year. I planned after we were done with Acts to start on some of the Epistles, but it didn’t turn out that way. I felt it was necessary to clarify some things about relations between the Church and the Jews, since that came up often in Acts. So really I didn’t think we could give the Epistles any kind of justice. So as of now, here’s our plan: We’re going to go through the prophets starting early next year, and then round it out with an overview of the Epistles.
So what about the rest of this month? Well, it’s times like these where I wish I was a whole lot better at titles. I thought about calling it “Keith’s Book of Virtues,” a takeoff from Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues which he authored several years ago. But then I realized just how pretentious that sounded, so I nixed the title. Basically what I’d like to do for the rest of the year is to focus each day on a Christian virtue, a characteristic which we’re supposed to cultivate in our lives as believers. So we’re going to start with a little talk today about the Fruit of the Spirit, and then cover them individually.
Before we talk about it, I need to give a very brief summary of the point of the book of Galatians, since it’s extremely relevant. Early in his ministry, Paul had to repeatedly face down legalists who were infecting the churches. These legalists were spreading the teaching that Gentiles need to follow the Law of Moses in order to be true Christians; particularly they needed to be circumcised and keep the dietary laws in order to please God. Paul reacted to this heresy in the strongest of terms: We have freedom in Christ, and we’re no longer bound to the Law in order to please God.
But at the same time Paul didn’t want anyone to fall into the opposite error: Antinomianism. Remember that word? It means “No law,” and it’s the teaching that since we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ, we no longer need to be concerned about our lifestyle. I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, so why not live as I please?
Again, Paul hated this heresy as much as he hated the opposite one. His response? “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
That’s why we need to understand the balance Paul calls for in order to grasp what the Fruit of the Spirit really is. We're not to follow either legalism or antinomianism, but instead we need to walk by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.
In other words, we need to develop our personal relationship with Christ. You know the old saying that people who are married start acting like each other after a while, picking up each others’ quirks and habits? It’s the same here. As we spend time with Christ, he'll change us from the inside-out.
This is absolutely vital to understand as we start this study on the Christian virtues. Paul calls these nine things the “fruit” of the Spirit, right? Look at a fruit tree. Does it produce fruit by straining and pushing and putting a lot of effort into it? Of course not. The procedure is: 1) You plant the tree, 2) Water it, 3) Make sure it gets the proper nutrients and enough sunshine, 4) Keep predators away from it, and Voila! At the right time you’ll see fruit coming out of the stems.
Yes, there are some hard decisions you need to make. This is not an issue of God working and you just sitting there. In order to produce the proper fruit, you have to cultivate your relationship with him. Primarily that means you read his word, pray (singly and with others), fellowship with other believers, and tell others about him. This takes effort! But the focus is always on developing that relationship, not on the fruit itself. As C.S. Lewis put it, "If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire. If you want joy, peace, eternal life, you must get close to what has them."
So why does Paul even talk about the fruit? Because that’s a sign that the tree is alive and flourishing. When the Bible is talking about "fruit," it's using it as a metaphor for visible results of an inward process. There's no such thing as invisible fruit. If an apple tree's not producing apples, something’s wrong. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus and are not producing these qualities, something’s wrong.
You need to examine yourself, actually let the Spirit examine you, and ask yourself some hard questions: Am I showing these qualities? Can people see that Christ is changing me? If not, why not?
Father, is your Spirit producing fruit in me that way he should? Am I growing? Am I letting you change me?
Today we’re wrapping up the study on how the Church relates to national Israel, sort of. Quite frankly, yesterday I said all I mean to say directly on the subject, at least for now. But since Paul’s great discourse on this sensitive topic (Romans chapters 9-11) ends with this passage, I’m going to use that as an excuse to look at these verses.
You see, these verses don’t just wrap up his discussion on God’s plan for the Jews. They wrap up everything that precedes the passage. If you’re familiar with the book of Romans, you might know that the first eleven chapters are mostly theological in nature. Chapters 12-16 get intensely practical, following Paul’s classic pattern of thinking: X is true, therefore the Christian ought to do Y.
Chapters 1-11 deal with God’s plan of salvation for the world. To put it briefly, he explains our problem (1-3), God’s solution (4), our proper response (6-7), and some ramifications of all this (8).
At the end of all this theological discussion, he ends on what’s commonly called his doxology, or hymn of praise. This is an outburst of praise for the Being who put all this together and has carried it out. It’s as if he’s saying “OK, I’ll get to how you’re supposed to live in a minute. But before we do, we need to bask just for a moment in the God who did all this.”
Let me make just a quick point before we get into the actual passage. Good theology ought to produce praise. Yes, it undergirds our lifestyle, but before it does that, it should generate hearts full of praise, people who just can’t contain themselves. If you’re listening to someone talk theology and you’re bored, then something’s incredibly wrong with either you or the teacher.
So what does these verses tell us about him? Well, instead of using poetic questions, I’m going to just state some things.
• We should meditate on both the knowledge and wisdom of God. Both were necessary to bring about our salvation. He had to have omniscience in order to know all the different factors that went into play, and wisdom to put all the pieces together in perfect lockstep. Everything from earthly kings and spiritual forces (good and bad) down to little molecules had to be dancing to his tune down to the last step in order for this to work.
• His judgments are unsearchable, his paths beyond tracing out. What does this mean? Well, think about this. People often complain about God’s providence: “Why did he allow this to happen?” If the Almighty actually sat down with that person and set out to explain why X happened, before that he would have to explain why W, which was the event that led to X. Then he would have to go into why event V occurred. And of course I’m vastly simplifying things for this complainer: One event is not the result of A, but the result of A, B, F, G, H, I, Q, and countless other factors happening. Are you starting to see why he doesn’t take the time to explain things to us? He’d never get anything else done!
Simply put, we’re never going to figure out what he’s doing. We might get little glimpses of his workings years after it comes about. As the old saying goes, however, “If I could understand him, I'd be him.”
• No one knows what he’s thinking, and he doesn’t need advice from anyone. No, he really doesn’t. Guys, you think figuring out how a woman thinks is tough? And let me tell you, if the Almighty actually showed up and said “Keith, I really need to bounce some ideas off you for your approval,” you might as well pack it in at that point. Humanity is doomed.
• I guess I really need to say this, since a lot of people seem to be confused on this point: God doesn’t owe you anything. You owe him everything. If the Lord allowed Satan to do to me what he did to Job, he wouldn't be taking anything from me that wasn’t already his. Remember, that was Job’s attitude: God gave all this to me, so it’s his prerogative to take it all back. If Jesus called upon me to sell all my possessions and give it to the poor, he wouldn’t be demanding anything outside his rights.
• All things are from him. All things are through him. All things are for him. You know what I think of when I read this one verse? Everything revolves around the Lord. He’s the center of it all. He created everything from the smallest atom to the largest supernova. And everything passes by under his watchful care. And everything is for his glory, for his renown, for the worship of him.
I’m sorry I couldn’t come up with a better title for this blog entry, but I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate. Could you?
Father God, truly you are the center of everything. I want my entire being, everything I am, to please you and honor you and thank you and worship you and glorify you. Please.
OK, I’m well aware that I’m heading into dangerous territory here. I’m also well aware that there are plenty of Bible teachers I respect highly who disagree with me on this issue. We finally need to confront the elephant that’s been in the center of the room. It’s the question that I’ve been dancing around but never fully answered, but I can’t avoid it any longer. The question is: Has the Church permanently displaced Israel as the center of God’s plan? Up until the time of the apostles, God primarily used the nation of Israel to push forward his plan for redeeming humanity. Yes, there were a few Gentiles who were saved under the Old Covenant, like Rahab and Naaman, but they were few and far between. Most of the people on earth who had a right relationship with God were Jewish.
But then it changed. God’s plan on redeeming humanity and carrying out his will is centered on the Church, which is made up of every race, every culture, every people group, and every ethnic background. The only thing that matters is faith in Jesus Christ. There are Jews who trust in Yeshua (as they call him), but they make up a small minority of Jews in the world.
So is that ever going to change? Is God going to bring national Israel back to himself? And if so, in what sense?
My short answer to that question is, yes, he will. There will come a time in the future in which God causes national Israel to repent and return to him.
What do I mean by this? Does this mean that every Jew at that point in time will be saved? No. That’s never been the case.
Let me—very briefly—make the case. Remember what we said about this paradigm shift from Israel to the Church? The “hardening,” as Paul calls it is not total. There always have been--and are to this day--Jews who are right with God and who trust in the Messiah. But this gulf between Israel and the Lord is not only not total, it’s not permanent either. I just don’t see how I can interpret vss. 25-27 any other way.
I know that there are whole schools of thought that claim that the Church is now the “New Israel,” but I don’t think so, at least not in this context. Once the right number of Gentiles have come in, “All Israel shall be saved.” I have my theories about how that happens, but that goes into details beyond the purview here.
Once again, I want us to try to find a practical application. If I didn’t think we could, I wouldn’t bring up this topic. What can we learn from this? Well, nothing entirely new, but I do have this. . .
• Once again, we see the fact that—until this life is over—there’s no such person as someone who’s without hope. Let’s take this from the macro down to the micro level. If you have a relative or friend who doesn’t know Christ, please don’t give up on them. Paul’s point about Israel is the same as about that neighbor: Before Christ redeemed you, you were just as much without hope as they are. He saved you, right? How do you know what God has in store for that person? Keep praying for them, and keep showing and sharing the truth in a loving way. You never know what might happen.
• Second, we need to quake in fear and bask in love. Just a few verses above Paul tells us to “consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you.” Of course I don’t mean we’re supposed to be afraid of God. But we need a godly fear that trembles in awe at what we were saved from. And think about what it took for him to do that. And then think about the love that motivated him to do it. And that’s the type of love he’s showing us right now.
Father God, thank you. You truly are the best friend and worst enemy anyone could ever have. Thank you for not giving up on me. I want to return that favor for someone. Who shall it be?
A couple of days ago we went over some of the things we owe the Jewish people. Of course Paul was only talking about the spiritual blessings God has given us through them: The Scriptures, the foreshadowing pictures we have of our Savior, and our Savior himself. He’s given us one big reason why God has shifted his focus from Israel to the Gentiles, namely in order to provoke the Jews to jealousy and bring them back to himself.
This is a huge principle that overlays today’s passage, and we need to get it thoroughly ingrained into our heads: God will accomplish his purposes one way or another. He sent his Son to his own people, and they (for the most part) rejected him. The Good News was presented first to them, and although there was a huge influx on Pentecost, for the most part Israel didn’t respond positively. The religious leaders especially were the main enemies of the Message, at least in the first few years of the Church.
And so we see the transition in the book of Acts from Israel to the universal Church. Please keep in mind that this was not “Plan B” as far as God was concerned. He knew all of this in eternity past and everything has its part in his plan. But as far as humanity is concerned, he gave Israel their chance to “get on board” with the New Covenant, and the vast majority of them refused it.
That’s the main point here. If I don’t willingly participate in God’s plan, then God’s plan will still go forward. Paul, like O.T. writers before him, compared Israel to an olive tree. It was the “natural” tree: God first revealed himself to them like he did to no other people. Israel as a nation was “cut off” and the Gentiles—continuing the horticultural image—were grafted in as a “wild” branch.
So what lessons does Paul want us to grasp from this?
First, there’s no room for pride for us as Gentiles. We’re the “Johnny Come Lately’s” as far as his plan is concerned. Jews knew about God (and several had a personal relationship with him) for thousands of years before we were grafted in. And what happens if we (as a people group) stop listening to God? We can be cut off too.
Let’s be clear here. The Scriptures are clear that you can’t lose your personal salvation. Remember, the whole context here is about God’s dealings with groups of people, not individuals. A person could be faithful in ancient Israel and have a great personal relationship with the Lord while most of the surrounding group was turning against him wholesale. And the converse could be true: You might be in the midst of a group of believers and not be saved. The Lord's dealings with nations and other big groups are not always under the same “rules” as his dealings with an individual.
But God can shift his blessings from one huge group to another, especially if the first group isn't doing what it’s supposed to be doing. I think you might guess where I’m going with this, since I’ve talked about it before. America has an incredible spiritual heritage, and I have a theory (open to disproof, of course), that his blessing and usage is shifting away from the American Church to the Church in Asia, such as in Korea.
The good news is the second thing Paul wants us to know. There’s hope, both for national Israel and for the Church in America. This “cutting off” by no means has to be permanent. If a group turns back to doing things God’s way, he can “graft” them back in.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to pray for the Church in my country right now.
Father God, like the old song says, please send revival, and let it begin with me. Yes, I’m begging.
Yes, I admit it. Not only am I a comics geek—ur, collector—but I’m also a big Simpsons fan. One of my favorite lines comes from an episode in which a character asks advice on how to break off a relationship with someone easy without hurting their feelings. Homer, ever the picture of sensitivity, proposes his method of cutting off a romantic relationship: “Five words--Welcome. To. Dumpsville. Population: You!”
Having read the Gospels and Acts, you might get the impression that this is God’s response to the Jewish people. He'd sent the Messiah, his one and only Son, and they had not only rejected him but had nailed him up on a tree. The crowd, spurred on by the religious leaders, asked that a murderer be released instead of Jesus. After his ascension, the majority of the Church stayed for quite a while in Jerusalem (actually longer than they should have, if you ask me), and only left when the Sanhedrin launched a wave of persecution against them.
So that raises the obvious question: Has God abandoned Israel? Has he given up on them?
Paul has a simple and resounding answer to this: “Absolutely not!” I’m sorry if you’ve read this before, but in case you haven’t, let me give you a short lesson on Greek. The term Paul uses here is Me Genoito. This is the strongest possible negative in the Greek. The KJV translated it “God forbid.” That’s not bad. The NIV actually softens it way too much in my opinion by rendering it as “By no means.” My Greek teacher, as I’ve mentioned before, translated it as (let me give you the edited version) “Not no but heck no!”
What’s Paul’s reasoning here? He presents two counterpoints. We’ll look at one today, and the second one in a couple of days. For the time being, God has shifted focus from Israel to the Church as far as his tool for reaching humanity. But this shifting is not total. You’ve always had within national Israel the true followers of the Lord who try to be faithful to him.
Paul points to the time of Elijah. After the great encounter/confrontation between him and the followers of Baal on Mount Carmel, the queen issued a threat against him. It looks like he was hoping for a nationwide revival and repentance away from Baal and towards the Lord. But that didn’t happen, and the dispirited prophet fled into the wilderness. He finally came face to face with the Almighty and complained that he was all alone. He alone was faithful to God, and everyone else was just going along with the prevailing idolatry.
But God’s gentle rebuke is a great inspiration to all of us who are trying to be faithful while living in an unfaithful culture: “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” You don’t have the big picture, Elijah. I do. You don’t know how many people are on the respective sides in this conflict. I do. And there are more people who are mine than you think.
So how does this apply to the Jewish people? Even today, while there’s a “hardening” of most of Israel and most aren’t responding to the Good News, there are some. We went over the statistics of Messianic Jews the other day. There are Jewish people who are believers in Yeshua. And each one of these is evidence that God has not abandoned the physical descendants of Abraham. He’s reserved for himself, even in this time of spiritual darkness, a “remnant chosen by grace.”
And once again, I see a big application for all of us, even if we've never met a Jew personally. It’s easy for God’s faithful people to feel like they’re on the losing side in the war. Especially in this godless culture, it’s very easy to think that you’re all alone and the only friend you have is God. Now, if that were true, it would still be enough to keep fighting. You might’ve heard that “One man and God makes a majority.” That’s not true. It would be better to say “God plus no one makes a majority. God is the majority.” But it’s also true that we have more friends than we think we do. We don’t have the full layout of the battlefield, nor do we know the true numbers of those on our side.
Please, if you’re tempted to give in to despair, don’t. Our Father really does know what he’s doing. Trust him.
Father, it’s really easy to feel like Elijah at times. I want to trust you, I really do. Please help increase my faith.