Christ, Our Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1)

I’ve been watching two competition reality shows—The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown and The Great British Menu. Both challenge the contestants to perform in their area of expertise according to very high standards, with a specific goal in mind. In the first one, the team members have to complete a particular task in a trial, usually to finish in the least time. In the second, the chef has to choose the best menu item for each of four courses to meet the specific banquet “brief” for the season, with excellent gastronomy that will please both the veteran competition evaluator and four judges at the end of the week. In both cases, the more experience each person has in the competition, as the week goes on, the higher their marks, with increasing chances of success in winning. Those who focus on their own ideas of what is required or will be acceptable don’t win for lack of focus on the clearly stated brief. In the Christian life, the longer our experience with Christ, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, with a focus on God, the more we can appreciate and apply the benefits of our atonement. The more we live by God’s precepts and reflect his holiness. The more we are living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, as he created us to be. God has given us his Word to instruct, guide, and correct our understanding, to serve as our brief or goal for life. We need to be accountable to his Word to refocus on his priorities, which he has clearly set before us. We win when we are fully prepared for eternity, and others notice that we are not living for ourselves and want to taste what God has “cooked” in us. God’s cowboys aren’t prideful, prejudiced, or passive—we go after the blessings of Christ with bold enthusiasm. But instead of proving ourselves with physical endurance, speed, or strength, we prove our spiritual growth with greater understanding, appreciation, and application of Christ’s atonement as taught in the Old and New Testaments.

Why study Leviticus?

“It is important to try to understand the rituals in Leviticus for two reasons. First, rituals enshrine, express, and teach those values and ideas that a society holds most dear. By analyzing the ceremonies described in Leviticus, we can learn about what was most important to the OT Israelites. Second, these same ideas are foundational for the NT writers. The concepts of holiness, cleanness and uncleanness found in Leviticus shed important light on how NT writers interpret the death of Christ…Certain themes are especially prominent in Leviticus. First, God is present with His people, a direct result of the tabernacle having been constructed. Second, because God is holy, His people must also be holy (11:45). Third, since people are sinful and ritually unclean, they cannot expect to come close to or dwell near the holy God. Contact between a sinner and divine holiness will result in death. Hence, atonement for sin through the offering of sacrifice is of paramount importance.” (1) In Leviticus Chapter 1, we find these ideas stressed: burnt offerings made to the Lord, a pleasing aroma to him, and the sprinkling of blood—all for the atonement of God’s people. God commanded Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord.” (Leviticus 1:2-3) “The word translated ‘bring’ in verse 2 is the causative form of the verb that means ‘draw near.’ God was telling His people to draw near to Him and to bring offerings to Him. Even when we turn our backs on God and break His laws, He loves us and pursues us to reconcile us to Himself. That’s the way the book of Leviticus opens. God provides guidelines for sinful people to come into His holy presence. The sacrificial system is God’s invitation for people to meet with Him. The one true and holy God is an inviting God.” (2) The Lord gave his chosen people, called Israel, God’s own son, specific instructions for bringing burnt offerings of atonement to the priest at the tabernacle. Do we highly esteem Christ’s offering of himself for atonement? How do we demonstrate our regard for Christ? Will we die to ourselves to live for him and his goals for us—to enjoy and glorify him forever?

God’s Brief For His People

“He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting…And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” (Leviticus 1:4-9) “‘Make atonement’ is of fundamental importance for what the ritual achieves by the shedding of blood, burning of the flesh, etc. While some take this Hebrew term as referring to expiation (the removal of sin) as opposed to propitiation (the appeasement of wrath), both realities seem to be involved. On the one hand, sin calls forth God’s wrath and results in the offerer’s needing to be ransomed so that the Lord’s wrath is appeased (propitiation). In this way, the sacrificial animal dies instead of the offerer. On the other hand, sin is also defiling and must be removed (expiation). The offerings that ‘make atonement’ are the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering, but not the grain offering or the peace offering.” (3) “When the NT writers sought to expound the significance of Golgotha, they most often did so in sacrificial terms derived from Leviticus and related priestly material…Whereas those animal offerings’ could not perfect the conscience of the worshipper’ (Heb. 9:9), Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary through His own blood ‘thus securing an eternal redemption’ (Heb. 9:12). (Indeed, it is only by depicting our Lord as both sacrifice and sacrificing high priest that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews can take account of the full implications of His death.)” (4) [The Lord] gives covenant laws to his covenant people so that they can be faithful members of his covenant kingdom. These laws helped them to manifest faithfulness in two ways. First, they let the Israelites know how to maintain covenant fellowship with the King now dwelling in their midst…Second, they let the Israelites know how to reflect the holiness of their covenant King, so that they could fulfill their covenant mission: being ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ to ‘all the earth’ (Exodus 19:4–6). In both instances, the goal was relational: to guide the Israelites in their relationship with their covenant King, as well as with those who live in his world. As Jesus would later affirm, the Lord’s laws always have this dual goal in mind (Matthew 22:37-40).” (5)

Jesus—Utterly Devoted and Consumed by God’s Wrath

Moses writes, “And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord…And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” (Lev. 2:9, 13) “The burnt offering was the most costly sacrifice: it had to be burned up completely on the altar. Unlike grain, purification and reparation offerings (of which the priests ate), and unlike fellowship offerings (of which the priest and the offeror ate), no one ate any of the burnt offering: it was all given to the Lord. The reason becomes clear once we understand the burnt offering’s purposes. At least two may be identified. The first is atonement…By giving the whole animal to the Lord, offenders acknowledged that their sinfulness before a holy God was so great that only a full and costly ransom payment would suffice. This in fact explains why the death of Jesus on behalf of sinners is described with the language of the burnt offering. Jesus is the ultimate burnt offering that ransoms guilty sinners (Heb. 10:1–10). (6) In his commentary, John Gill comments on how the burnt offerings specifically point to Christ. “Offer a male; and not a female, pointing at the Messiah’s sex, and his strength and excellency…the Son to be given…without blemish…denoting the perfection of Christ as man, being in all things made like unto his brethren, and his having not the least stain or blemish of sin upon him…The flaying of the burnt offering may denote the very great sufferings of Christ, when he was stripped of his clothes, and his back was given to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; and the skin of the sacrifice, which belonged to the priest, may be an emblem of the righteousness of Christ…… that robe of righteousness, and garments of salvation, which all that are made kings and priests to God are clothed with.” (7)

Our Living Sacrifice

“The burnt offering’s second purpose was to underscore the offenders’ prayers, a type of exclamation point to what they were saying. In either case – whether petition or praise – the burnt offering served as an exclamation point. Paul picks up on this idea in the context of praise when he exhorts Christians: ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship’ (Rom. 12:1).” (8) “We were buried therefore with [Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) “‘Living’ means that [we] will not be put to death as OT animal sacrifices were, for Christ has fulfilled what was predicted by those sacrifices. Whereas OT worship focused on offering animal sacrifices in the temple, Paul says that spiritual worship in a broad sense now includes offering one’s whole life to God.” (9) The Lord gave Israel specific instructions for bringing burnt offerings of atonement for sin to the priest at the tabernacle because they belonged to God. We who belong to Christ are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. It’s our ‘brief’ from him, not just for a day or a week, but from now until eternity. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Related Scripture: Genesis 8:21-22; Exodus 12:5; Numbers 15:22-26; Leviticus 4:26;5:15; 6:12; 9:22-24; 17:11; 2 Chronicles 29:23-24; Isaiah 56:6-7; Matthew 22:37-40; Luke 2:22-24; Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 5:1; 10:19-22; 12:18-24; 13:15-16; 1 Peter 1:2

Notes:

1. The Reformation Study Bible, Introduction to Leviticus, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.

2. Moseley, Allen, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, Christ-Centered Exposition Series, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.

3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Leviticus 1:3, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.Zondervan, Intro to Leviticus

4. Sklar, Jay, Leviticus, An Introduction and Commentary, The Offerings, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, IVP Academic, 2014.

5. Sklar, Ibid.

6. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Leviticus 1:2-17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/leviticus-1.html.

7. Sklar, Ibid.

8. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, Romans 12:1-2.

January 26, 2023

Moses, the Lord’s Friend

Is there someone in your life that you wonder how you managed to become friends with, someone in authority over you who is more of a friend than a boss, or someone very different from you, and you wonder how you are so close? Where I have lived for six years, some of the staff have become my friends because I can talk with them about almost everything. I especially appreciate meeting with them, my neighbors, and church friends face-to-face. It’s great to communicate and connect with many friends and family by phone, FaceTime, text, and email. But talking face-to-face is still the most intimate way to connect with those we care about. One day we who are Christ’s will be able to speak with him face-to-face—won’t that be wonderful? Now we depend upon the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to speak inaudibly yet perceptively to our minds and hearts. We are thankful for this, but we rely on him to help us discern his voice so as not to confuse it with the devil’s, the world’s, or even our own rebellious voices. However, there was no confusion about who was speaking when God spoke to Moses.

The Holy King of Israel’s Voice

Leviticus opens with this statement: “The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting…” “by an articulate voice, though it may be it was a still small one…out of the tabernacle of the congregation; from off the mercy seat, between the cherubim over the ark, where the glory of the Lord, or the divine Shechinah and Majesty took up its residence, and from whence the Lord promised to commune with Moses.” (1) The Lord spoke from the temple, from the place he designed for himself, and had Moses and his people build. God, holy beyond any human comprehension, designed the tabernacle with the Most Holy Place, the “Holy of Holies.” Here the Lord would meet with the high priest or speak from this holy ground to Moses. “Leviticus begins with the Lord summoning Moses to the tabernacle, much as a king would summon a servant to his palace. Indeed, many factors indicate that the tabernacle is not simply a tent, but the palace-tent of the heavenly King, dwelling in the midst of his people. The Israelites bring their tribute, just as a people would bring tribute to a king’s palace. They come and ‘stand before’ the Lord, just as one ‘stands before’ a ruler or person in authority. The tabernacle’s furniture and tapestries are incredibly ornate and unlike those of any other tent in Israel…The tent has a throne room – the Most Holy Place – in which the Ark of the Covenant is the Lord’s royal ‘footstool’, and the carved cherubim on top of it, his royal ‘throne’…The Lord’s holiness…does not depend on anyone else. It is completely independent. The Lord is set apart as distinct because of his very nature…Unlike anyone or anything else, the Lord is holy by virtue of who he is.” (2) How is it possible that Moses, a typical sinful human, could hear the divine voice of God? How is it that we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us? Only because of God’s grace and mercy and his loving liberation from our selfishness can we hear his voice accurately. The same voice that spoke creation into existence speaks his will into our hearts and minds. “And the Lord said…and it was so” (Genesis 1). “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).” (Deuteronomy 30:14; Romans 10:8) God will speak to us through Leviticus, and the Holy Spirit is more than willing to give us the insight we need to apply its lessons to our regenerated minds and hearts.

Leviticus in the New Testament

In the “Commentary of the New Testament Usage of the Old Testament,” I found 275 direct and indirect references to Leviticus in the New Testament. Beale and Carson write, “Many…instances confirm Leviticus’s importance, serving as the background for Christ’s teaching and atoning work. Leviticus also emphasizes our holy God’s covenantal relationship with believers. By studying its original intention for Israel and its theological principles, we can better appreciate God’s holiness and covenantal relationship with us.” (3) Since all Scripture is “breathed out by God,” it behooves us to study the content of every book of the Bible from a gospel perspective—the reality in which we now live. “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.'” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18; Leviticus 26:12) As we move through Leviticus, we will discover just how vital its record was to Jesus and the apostles who wrote through the Spirit’s direction. The Lord spoke to his people through Moses in Leviticus; today, he also speaks to us through it, with added insight because we have the mind of Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Moses, God’s Prophet

Every time God had instructions for Israel in the wilderness, he used Moses as his prophet to deliver his message. In Leviticus, there are thirty-five instances where we read, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying…” A few include God’s high priest, Aaron, but most are exclusively for Moses. In the New Testament, we see clearly that the Lord chooses who will belong to Christ. Jesus prayed, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (John 17:6) In the Old Testament we are told that God chose Israel to be his chosen people, forerunners of elect believers. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6) Just so, God chose all the prophets and leaders in a particular way to bring about his purposes through his grace, the pre-incarnate Christ, and Holy Spirit. Our holy, trinitarian God specifically called Moses to be his holy representative to Israel so that his word was followed in the wilderness. In the book of Numbers, we read of a time when Miriam and Aaron were jealous of Moses and questioned God’s sovereign choice of his prophet. They sought to hear the voice of the Lord, but when he spoke, it was of judgment for their rebelliousness (Numbers 12:1-8). “Christian readers may see in this description of Moses’ unique mediating role a foreshadowing of Christ, the prophet greater than Moses. [“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”] (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22; 7:37). This sets Moses apart from the ordinary prophets, who receive their revelations in vision and dreams. By contrast, God speaks to Moses mouth to mouth…like the trusted manager of a man’s household…someone with whom the owner speaks directly and explicitly, not in riddles (Num. 12:8)…Moses was allowed to see what most ordinary believers must wait for their death to see (Ps. 17:15).” (4) “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) As God speaks to us through Leviticus, let’s not only meditate on his truths there for holy living but embrace the wisdom of Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. Christ is the greatest, most faithful, loving, holy, and excellent friend we will ever have. God calls us to listen to his voice. “Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:15-18)

Related Scripture:Exodus 28:1; 30:1-10; Leviticus 1:48; 2:1; 3:1, 5, 11, 14, 44; 11:44–45 Numbers 4:1, 17, 21; 5:1, 11; 6:1, 22; 7:89; 8:1, 5, 23; 9:1, 9; 10:1; 11:25; 16:40; Mark 9:7-8’ John 1:1-3, 14.

Notes:

1. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Leviticus 1:1, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/leviticus.html

2. Sklar, Jay, Leviticus, An Introduction and Commentary, Page 37, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, IVP Academic, 2014.

3. Beale and Carson, Commentary of the New Testament Usage of the Old Testament, Digital version, Baker Academic, 2007.

4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Numbers 12:4-8, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

January 12, 2023

The Gospel in Leviticus

It’s 2023–now what? Will we continue our routines, work, family activities, church attendance, and service as if nothing has changed? Well, that makes sense since we should always e making good changes in our lives, not only when the year ends. But, there’s something about taking a break at the new year for a fresh examination of our lives, which sometimes results in new activities, goals, or priorities. Such is the case for my annual meditations, independent of any Bible studies I may teach participate in during the year. Whenever or however we study, God’s Word steadies us as we move through our lives, especially in circumstances that might otherwise unnerve us. This year I will be studying and writing about the New Testament view of two often quoted books from the Old Testament—Leviticus and Deuteronomy. How did I choose this study? It’s a bit of a mystery. I came across many passages from Deuteronomy toward the end of last year, pointing me in that direction. When I asked one of my pastors for a recommendation for a commentary on Deuteronomy, he mentioned that he had an excellent one on Leviticus. My pastors have always had, and I pray, always will have a powerful influence on my thinking and plans. So, with great trepidation and much confessional prayer regarding my reluctance to study Leviticus, I realized that it is where I should begin. I’m unsure now if or where Deuteronomy fits in. One compelling reason I want to focus on the Book of Leviticus is its importance as the theological background for the substitutionary, atoning work of Christ and our holy God’s covenantal relationship with believers. My prayer for this study is that we will significantly appreciate God’s holiness and sovereign unfolding of his covenantal relationship with his chosen people in Christ. Leviticus demonstrates this through his divinely ordered sacrificial system for Israel. As a former Jew, I am particularly interested in how the Lord will deepen my understanding of Christ’s loving sacrifice for us.

Preface—Knowing What to Expect

God gave his people specific instructions for that night when the angel of death passed over Egypt in judgment for Pharaoh’s unbelief and refusal to liberate the Israelites. Moses told the people to gather together, kill a precious specimen of a Lamb, spread its blood on their door frames, and eat it. The Lord brought them to their freedom through the Lamb’s blood, with unrisen bread and what they could carry to journey to Canaan. But when God delivered his people from Egypt to enter the wilderness for forty years, he did not tell them what to expect during their wanderings journey. Instead, he gave them principles of faith and obedience to follow (which they failed to obey). With this in mind, I thought you might like some idea of what to expect this year from this study, although I can only share what I know now, which, frankly, isn’t very much. I pray that I will yield to the Lord as he would have me write the insights we will need as we journey together through Old Testament Law and Doctrine. Given the subject and content of this study in Leviticus (and perhaps, Deuteronomy), I will post devotions only twice a month in 2023–usually on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. But since you may be expecting a devotion today, I thought I would offer this introduction to the study. As most of you know, I am not a theologian but a Bible teacher. I am not a preacher but a believer and a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. I am not a Bible scholar, but a former Jew who practiced all the Jewish traditions for the first 17 years of my life. I do not know Hebrew, Greek, or any other original Bible language, but I trust our faithful Christian theologians who translated Scripture into English. All that said, I will continue to quote from Bible commentators rather extensively to illustrate, explain, or expand on the focus of each passage as we study. But, unlike my past series, this one will be exegetical; I will write about a chapter or similar passage for each devotion, in the order they are recorded. What the Lord will do is yet a divine, lovely mystery to me, which I anticipate will bring us all conviction as to God’s sovereign, excellent plan of salvation in Christ.

In Jesus’s day, the Bible was the Old Testament—it was Jesus’s Scripture and that of the apostles and his disciples. If Leviticus and the other books of the Old Testament were important to them, shouldn’t they be important to us? “Leviticus describes the entire religious system of ancient Israel. If we hope to understand how religion worked in Israel, we must understand the book of Leviticus. Leviticus provides the theological foundation for the atoning work of Christ. The idea of a substitutionary sacrifice receives its fullest explanation in the book of Leviticus. Leviticus demonstrates how important holiness is to God. Holiness is the main theme of Leviticus—God’s holiness and the holiness God expects from His people…Leviticus is a record of the words of God in direct speech with His servant Moses…The book states 38 times that the Lord spoke to Moses and/or Aaron. Also, 18 times the book records that the Lord’ commanded’ Moses, Aaron, and the people. Leviticus is important because it contains the very words of God in direct speech. The New Testament frequently alludes to the contents of Leviticus. At numerous points New Testament writers seem to have assumed knowledge of Leviticus, and readers of the New Testament need this knowledge to understand what the writer was describing.” (*) I hope you’ll pray about and look forward to studying Leviticus with me. “So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the Lord who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 22:31-33)

* Moseley, Allen, Exalting Jesus in Leviticus, Christ-Centered Exposition Series, B&H Publishing Group, 2015.

January 5, 2023

Oh, and thanks to all of you who encourage me with your comments! Unfortunately, I don’t have time to reply to many of them, but know that it means a lot to me that you take time to let me know how these devotions encourage you.

The Blessing of God’s Presence in Our Future

ow do you celebrate the New Year? Do you think of putting aside the past year and all its challenges? The only way we can truly set aside the past without regrets is by learning from it or at least reconciling ourselves to the events that led to heartbreak, grief, conflicts, or disappointments. We don’t have to do anything about the blessings and celebrations of the past since they warm our hearts and minds whenever we remember them. Despite possible new challenges in 2023, God’s word instructs us to approach it optimistically. I love the African tradition of praying in the New Year with others overnight. Whenever I participated in the prayer vigil, I was reminded that we are Christ’s people, who have the promise of his presence, power, love, grace, mercy, and righteousness with us. Others who begin the new year as if they must conquer the world, succeed in competition with others, and achieve goals have little compared to us. As I close out this year of devotions on the blessings of God, I pray that we will more fully enjoy, appreciate, and eagerly obey God’s blessed commands, looking forward to our glorious future. Christ has liberated us from enslavement to our circumstances and the power of sin, Satan, and the world over us.

The Blessing of God’s Commands

When the Lord gave Israel his law in the form of the Ten Commandments, he prefaced it with a statement about his care for them. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2). God liberated his people from their enslavement to forced hard labor and religious persecution. The Israelites were under Pharaoh’s labor program to construct his buildings by hand while their children were murdered (Exodus 1). The Lord delivered his people through the blood of the lambs when the angel of death passed over Egypt. He kept them in his care through the wilderness and then in the land of Canaan. Unfortunately, instead of viewing God’s commands as a gift, revealing his character and desires for them to live holy lives, Israel—as a nation—disobeyed him. But God’s desire had always been to bless Israel with his presence and sacred statutes. In Leviticus, we read, “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.” (Leviticus 26:11-13) God provided everything necessary for “the good life” with him. I am especially thankful and blessed today to have discovered the wisdom in Leviticus and Alexander MacLaren’s commentary on it, from which I will quote primarily. “May we not apply that same thought of the unbroken continuity of God’s gifts to the higher region of our spiritual experience? His supplies of wisdom, love, joy, peace, power, to our souls are always enough and more than enough for our wants. If ever men complain of languishing vitality in their religious emotions, or of a stinted supply of food for their truest self, it is their own fault, not His…So far as He is concerned the flow is uninterrupted, and if it come to us in jets and spurts as from an intermittent well, it is because our own fault has put some obstacle to choke the channel and dam out His Spirit from our spirits…He who gives is ever pouring forth His own self for us to take, and there is no limit to our reception but our capacity and our desire; nor any reason for a moment’s break in our possession of love, righteousness, peace, but our withdrawal of our souls from beneath the Niagara of His grace. As long as we keep our poor vessels below that constant downpour they will be full.” (1) In 2023, will we more fully enjoy, obey, and appreciate God’s commands, looking forward to our glorious future?

Christ’s People Don’t Fear Change God’s Changes

“It is [God’s] to substitute the new for the old. It is ours gladly to accept the exchange, a task not always easy or pleasant. No doubt there is a natural love of change deep in us all, but that is held in check by its opposite, and all poetry and human life itself are full of the sadness born of mutation. Our Lord laid bare a deep tendency, when He said, ‘No man having tasted old wine, straightway desireth new; because he saith the old is better.’ We cling to what is familiar, in the very furniture of our houses; and yet we are ever being forced to accept what is strange and new, and, like some fresh article in a room, is out of harmony with the well-worn things that we have seen standing in their corners for years. It takes some time for the raw look to wear off, and for us to ‘get used to it,’ as we say…Accept cheerfully the law of constant change under which God’s love has set us. Do not let the pleasant bonds of habit tie down your hearts so tightly to the familiar possessions that you shrink from the introduction of fresh elements…for they all come from Him whose love is older than your oldest blessings, and whose mercies, new every morning, express themselves afresh through every change. Welcome the new, treasure the old, and in both see the purpose of that loving Father who, Himself unchanged, changes all things…The great central truths of God in Christ are to be kept for ever; but we shall come to grasp them in their fullness only by joyfully welcoming every fresh access of clearer light which falls upon them.” (2)

Freedom From Enslavement to Oppressive Duty and Circumstances

“Jesus gives freedom from a slavish relation to God…Sullen obedience becomes glad choice, and it is the inmost desire, and the deepest delight, of the loving child to do always the things that please the loving Father. ‘I ought’ and ‘I will’ coalesce, and so there is no slavery, but perfect freedom, in recognizing and bowing to the great ‘I must’ which sweetly rules the life…Christ [also] gives us freedom from the power of circumstances. Most men are made by these. We need not here enter on questions of the influence of their environment on all men’s development…So Christians are ‘free’ in all senses of the word.” (3) God called Israel to enjoy, obey, and appreciate his commands after he liberated them from enslavement. Jesus calls us to enjoy, obey, and appreciate his call to righteous living, liberated from enslavement to our circumstances and the power of sin, Satan, and the world over us. Sometimes our Bible study and devotions are limited by our comfort with Scripture. However, we are called to change—to allow Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to stimulate us and confront our fear of exposure. In this regard, I hope you won’t be disappointed or odious when you open my blog in 2023 to find devotions on how God’s commands in Leviticus and Deuteronomy call us to gospel faith.

Our Future Blessedness With God

As we transition to a new year, one day will not make any radical changes in us and will mark no change in God. But God spoke through Ezekiel to his people, Israel. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27) One day, we will experience God’s presence fully, visually, and directly. “All effects of former trouble shall be done away. They have often been in tears, by reason of sin, of affliction, of the calamities of the church; but no signs, no remembrance of former sorrows shall remain. Christ makes all things new. If we are willing and desirous that the gracious Redeemer should make all things new in our hearts and nature, he will make all things new in respect of our situation, till he has brought us to enjoy complete happiness.” (4) “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:25-27)

Related Scripture: Exodus 6:6-7; 20:45-46; Jeremiah 7:23; 24:7; 30:22; Ezekiel 11:19-20; 14:11; 37:27-28; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Galatians 5:1; Revelation 21:3-7.

Notes:

1. MacLaren, Alexander, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Leviticus 26:10, Baker Publishing Group, 1988.

2. MacLaren, Ibid, Leviticus 26:13.

3. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Revelation 21:1-8, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mhn/revelation-21.html.

December 29, 2022

The Blessing of Christ’s Friendship

A few days ago, a neighbor of mine died, losing her fight with pneumonia. Some of us feel she was physically weakened after her husband died about six months ago. Then, a few weeks ago, her daughter rehomed her beloved elderly dachshund because she couldn’t walk the dog, given her need for continuous oxygen. Maybe she gave up, which is understandable because she knew exactly where she was going—to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. And, unfortunately, a few weeks ago, my friend lost her grown son suddenly in an unusual construction accident that took four lives. Deaths around Christmas are brutal. But if they lead us to consider Christ’s death—the reason for his incarnation—we can redeem our sadness and grief. Jesus, whose death was our hope and life, didn’t die for everyone but only those he calls his friends. “Jesus did not have to die. That is not true of us. We are mortal. We must die. But Jesus was immortal and therefore did not have to die. Indeed, he was life itself; for he said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6)…when the Lord Jesus gave his life for us, strictly speaking we were not exactly his friends. True, he calls us friends. It is also true that we become his friends. But we become friends because of his act, because of his electing grace toward us manifesting itself in the atonement and in the ministry of his Spirit by which our natural rebellion against God is overcome and our hearts are drawn to love and serve Jesus…When we see ourselves as God sees us, then the surpassing worth of the love of Christ becomes evident…we have advanced man’s depravity…sought human autonomy…sinned…and hate[d]. Yet, in spite of our depravity, Christ came to be our friend and prove his friendship by dying for us. As Paul states, ‘At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:6–8).” (1) Jesus calls us friends; we are those he has chosen, for whom he laid down his life and demonstrated the Father’s love. As we celebrate Jesus’s incarnation, we rejoice in his love which led him to lay down his life for us, revealing his Father’s plan of redemption.

The Greatest Love for Friends

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:13-16a) “There is something charming about the word ‘friend’ or ‘friendship.’ It is due partly to our desire for a close friend or friends and partly, too, to our remembrance of them. We look to our past and can almost mark the major periods of our lives by friends we have had…When Jesus says, ‘You are my friends,’ it is evident that he is speaking to us on the human level in terms we can clearly understand. And he is doing so—we cannot fail to see it—so that we might contrast his friendship, which is great and perfect, to even the best of the other friendships we have known.” (2) What is your criteria for friendship? Are you friends with those who agree with you politically? Are your friends honest with you when you do something hurtful or harmful to someone? Are your friends those whom you have known the longest, based on a common experience years ago? In the context of John 15, “‘I have called you friends’ speaks of a custom which came from the courts of the Roman Emperors & the Eastern kings. (William Barclay)…At these courts there was a very select group of men who were called ‘The friends of the king, or the friends of the Emperor.’ At all times they had access to the king. They even had the right to come into his bedchamber at the beginning of the day. These friends of the king were those who had the closest & the most intimate connection with him, & who had the right to come to him at any time.” Look how Jesus let these [disciples] into His life. Sharing his future secrets w/them. Sharing His own struggles, pains, & emotion with them.” (3) We are his friends! He has chosen, laid down his life for us, and demonstrated the Father’s love in unmistakable ways. This blessing is worth celebrating, not only at Christmas but throughout the year.

The Finality of His Incarnation

In a few days we will celebrate the beginning of Jesus’s ministry during his first incarnation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Advent not only instructs and inspires us to celebrate Jesus’s first coming. When Isaac Watts wrote his poem, later put to music, “Joy to the World,” he had Christ’s second incarnation in mind rather than his first. “Although it clearly depicts the Second Coming of Christ, it doesn’t have any trivial connection with the Christmas story. However, contrary to popular opinion, there lies a correlation – a ‘Second Coming’ cannot be manifested without a ‘First Coming.’ The piece is all about fulfillment, depicting the notions of a supernatural phenomenon, of what could be achieved from its impact. Similarly, Christmas does not only dwell in the past attainments but also looks forward to the grace that was achieved subsequently. The song proclaims the ultimate joy that is yet to be revealed, establishing a strong connection with the festive period.” (4) We look back and then forward to Christ’s glorious end goal at his second incarnation. In between, he laid down his life for us. We have many reasons to be awed, singing alleluias. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14) “The character of ‘friends’, is applied to the disciples of Christ; and belongs, not only to his apostles, but to all that love him, believe in him, and obey him; to whom he has showed himself friendly, by laying down his life for them…whereby he has made them friends, and who appear to be so by their cheerful obedience to him.” (5) The Bible repeatedly calls us to praise the Lord. We are Christ’s friends when we do so. My neighbor and friend’s son’s life were taken by God rather than being voluntarily laid down (although elderly folks or those who are in great discomfort may wish to die). But their deaths should remind us of the sin that causes death—the reason why Christ died—to conquer death and sin. His life, atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming remind us how much our best Friend loves us! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3-10) Happy Christmas!

Related Scripture: Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 10:15; 14:2; Exodus 33:11; Isaiah 44:1; Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 15:2; 19:7-10; John 10:11; Romans 5:7-8; Ephesians 5:2; James 2:23; 1 Peter 2:9.

Notes:

1. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, John 15:12-18, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

2. Boice, Ibid.

3. Bell, Brian, Bell’s Commentary on the Bible, John 15:12-18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbb/john-15.html.

4. The Story behind the Christmas Carol, “Joy to the World,’ https://galaxymusicnotes.com/pages/learn-the-story-behind-joy-to-the-world

5. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, John 15:14, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/john-15.html.

December 22, 2022

The Blessing of Christ’s First Incarnation

This morning I was glancing at a TV show about a zoo as I prepared my coffee, fed the dog, and ate my cereal. I’m not usually interested in reptiles, but one clip caught my attention—a shot of a infant snake emerging from its egg. Given my general disinterest in snakes—unless they are near me—I never thought about how snakes mate and have babies. They are hatched in eggs, what a revelation to me. There are some things in life that we neglect or take for granted. The same thing can happen when we read the “Christmas” passages from Scripture, particularity Luke 1-2 every year, being unaffected much by the revelation of Christ’s incarnation as an infant. I’m glad our pastors chose John 1 for our consideration this year, to help us meditate more actively on the wonder of Christ’s coming in the flesh. But there is one passage in Luke 2 that draws me back every year—the account of Simeon and Anna at the temple when Jesus was brought for his circumcision, at the age of eight days. Perhaps these two individuals have captured my attention because I am of Jewish descent. Simeon and Anna were God-fearing Jewish believers who rejoiced in Christ’s incarnation while he was still yet an infant, with amazing faith. I pray that we will also rejoice in Christ’s first coming in the flesh. They praised God with relief that they were finally witnessing the promised salvation of Jews and Gentiles now. We look back on Christ’s perfect life as the God-Man who was willing to humble himself for the salvation of believers, past, present, and future, coming as an infant from his heavenly abode. Shall we not wonder in awe and joy, praising him?

Simeon’s Faith and Relief

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’” (Luke 2:25-32) “That same Spirit that had revealed unto [Simeon] that he should not die till he saw the Messiah with his bodily eyes…made known unto him that that child which Joseph and Mary then brought into the temple to present to the Lord, was the Messiah; wherefore, in a rapture of joy, he took him out of their arms into his own, embracing him with all affection and respect imaginable…and blessed God; praised him, and gave glory to him, for his great goodness, in sending the promised Messiah, and long wished for Saviour; for his grace and favour, in indulging him with a sight of him; and for his truth and faithfulness in making good his promise to him…[And] what he requests of the Lord is that he might depart in peace; signifying his hearty desire to die, and with what cheerfulness he should meet death, having obtained all that he could wish for and desire, in seeing and embracing the Saviour…but now being come, he could take his leave of the world, and his entrance into eternity, with the greatest calmness and tranquillity of mind, having nothing to disturb him, nor more to desire…For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…a sight which many kings and prophets had desired, but were not favoured with; and also with the eyes of his understanding, with the spiritual eye of faith, as his Saviour and Redeemer…fills the soul with love to Christ, and a high esteem of him, and with joy unspeakable, and full of glory; it transforms a soul, and makes it like to Christ; gives it inexpressible pleasure and satisfaction…as the Creator of mankind, he is that light which lightens every man with the light of nature and reason; and as the Messiah, he is come a light into the world: the light of the Gospel, in the clear shine of it, is from him…he is also of the light of glory and happiness, in the world to come.” (1) “As Simeon saw the Christ-child, he burst into song under the influence of the Holy Spirit, singing one of the earliest of all Christian hymns: Do you see what is behind the song? ‘O Lord, I don’t have to watch this child grow up, I don’t have to watch him talk with the doctors in the temple as a lad of twelve years old; I don’t have to watch him multiply the fishes and the loaves to feed five thousand people to be convinced. I don’t have to watch him walk on the water or turn the water into wine. I don’t have to be on the Mount of Transfiguration. I don’t have to be an eye-witness of the resurrection, or his ascension into heaven. I have seen all I need to see. Now, let me die in peace.’ One glimpse of the Christ-child, and Simeon was ready to go home to God.” (2) This God-fearing Jewish believer rejoiced in Christ’s incarnation while he was still yet an infant, with faith and relief that he was witnessing the salvation of Jews and Gentiles. Let’s join him in wonder with adoration this Christmas.

Rejoicing in God’s Authority and timing

“There’s another little detail in this song that is unusual. In the opening line, the word for ‘Lord’ is not the one usually used in the New Testament (kyrios). Instead it is a very unusual word, one used only infrequently for God: despoteis. This is the word from which we get the English word despot. It means one who has absolute power over someone. The word has a very negative connotation to us in the English language: a despot is one who rules by brute force and who exercises tyranny over people. That’s not the point here in the New Testament. God is seen as having absolute authority over his servant, Simeon, and Simeon addresses God as his despoteis, indicating his total allegiance and total submission to the authority of God.” (3) Anna also enjoyed God’s timing and sovereign plan as she came into the temple “at that very hour,” into the area where Mary and Joseph presented Jesus. She had lived to an old age, at least eighty-four years, if not longer. “And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38) “Just as Simeon was embracing him in his arms, and blessing God for him, and saying the things concerning him he had done; and who also came at that juncture, as he did, under the impulse, and by the direction of the Spirit of God; gave thanks likewise unto the Lord: praised him, as he had done, that he had sent the promised, and long looked for Messiah and Saviour; and that she had lived to see his blessed face, and this happy day; and that she should be directed to come in at this instant, and be favoured with this singular mercy of seeing the new born Saviour, and his honoured parents.” (4)

Two God-fearing Jewish believers rejoiced in Christ’s incarnation while he was still yet an infant, with faith and relief that they were witnessing the salvation of Jews and Gentiles. If they believed at the sight of the eight-day-old Christ child, how can we doubt him after his 33 years of sin-free, miracle-working living? How can we not wonder at his authoritative teaching and timing? Snakes emerging from eggs is an act of nature; Christ becoming flesh to live and die for our salvation is a supernatural act of God. “In [Christ] there is what is always matter and ground of consolation…being the mighty God, and so able to save to the uttermost; in his blood, which speaks peace and pardon, and cleanses from all sin; in his righteousness, which is pure and perfect, and justifies from all iniquity; in his sacrifice, which expiates all the transgressions of his people; in his fulness, which is sufficient to supply all their wants; and in his power, by which he is able to keep them from falling, and to present them faultless before God.” (5) “Let the example of the venerable saints, Simeon and Anna, give courage to those whose hoary heads are, like theirs, a crown of glory, being found in the way of righteousness. The lips soon to be silent in the grave, should be showing forth the praises of the Redeemer.” (6) “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13)

Related Scripture: Genesis 49:18; Psalm 98:2-4; Isaiah 25:9; 42:6; 49:6; 57:8; 60:3; 61:1-4; Matthew 21:44; Mark 15:43; Luke 1:5-6, 68, 78-79; 3:5-6; 19:9-10; 23:50-51; 24:45-47; John 1:4-5; 8:12; 9:39; Acts 13:47; 2 Corinthians 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:4-5; 1 Peter 2:8-9.

Notes:

1. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Luke 2:25-32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/luke-2.html

2. Sproul, R. C., A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel, Luke 2:29-35, Electronic Book, 2016.

3. Sproul, Ibid.

4. Gill, Ibid, Luke 2:36-38.

5. Gill, Ibid, Luke 2:25-35.

6. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Luke 2:36-40, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mhn/luke-2.html

December 15, 2022

The Blessing of Advent

Are you celebrating advent this year at your church or home? Our church lights candles with readings on the four Sundays of advent, and this year our celebration is making a more profound impression on me; the longer I live through the “holiday season,” the more I appreciate the liturgy of advent and its focus on Jesus. Who doesn’t need and appreciate medications on his hope, love, joy, and peace? Christians dependent upon Christ for these eternal blessings enjoy the break from materialism to focus on Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a particular view for us to consider: “‘The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” (1) We say, with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) “The church, during advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people…Scripture readings move from passages about Christ’s return in judgment to Old Testament passages about the expectation of the coming Messiah to New Testament passages about the announcements of Christ’s arrival.” (1b) We celebrate the advent season to remember God’s gift of Christ, our eternal hope, love, joy, and peace in him to some extent now and fully when he returns.

The Blessing of True Hope

Not all churches or denominations follow the same order for the readings during advent; I will use the order of my church. On November 27, we celebrated our hope in Christ, proved through his first incarnation, as we wait for his second coming. “Christ…who may be called the ‘light’, because he is the author and giver of all light, even of nature, grace, and glory; and a ‘great one, because he is the sun, the greatest light, the sun of righteousness, the light of the world, both of Jews and Gentiles; he is the true light, in distinction from all typical ones, and in opposition to all false ones.” (2) “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:2-7) “A gift of divine grace to sinners…[Christ] is the invincible figure striding across the world stage, taking gracious command…A ‘counselor’ is one who is able to make wise plans. He is a ruler whose wisdom is beyond merely human capabilities…Mighty God and…Everlasting Father. Jesus is viewed as our…benevolent protector..and Prince of Peace.” (3) We celebrate the blessing of hope that Christ alone offers for our existence here and the eternal security that will vindicate our hope in him upon his return.

The Blessing of Pure Love

Last Sunday, love was our focus, and I can’t think of a better passage to remind us of God’s precious love than John 3:16-17. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” One of the blessings of being alive during Christmas is our opportunity to worship Christ and celebrate his incarnation over two thousand years ago. “Here is the most famous summary of the gospel in the entire Bible…God’s love for ‘the world’ made it possible for whoever’ believes in Christ, not Jews alone, to have eternal life. God’s love for the world was not mere sentiment but led to a specific action: he gave his only Son, which John elsewhere explains as sending him to earth as a man to suffer and die and thereby to bear the penalty for sins…The purpose of giving his Son was to make God’s great gift of eternal life available to anyone–to whoever believes in him, that is, whoever personally trusts in him.” (4) As we consider our Father’s gift of Christ to us over the advent season, our enjoyment of his love rightly leads us to worship him more fully and lovingly through the fruit of his love in us.

The Blessing of Spiritual Joy

God’s people were exiled for their adulterous affections for false gods, having turned their backs on the one true God who ransomed their ancestors from Egyptian enslavement. They lived in foreign countries with strange languages and customs for seventy years. Many eventually adjusted to their new nations and stayed there. But a remnant was called back to the Promised Land of their forefathers to worship God with transformed hearts. Isaiah prophesied this truth to them in exile. “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10; 51:11) As a former Jew transformed by Christ, I am particularity aware that our world has turned its back on God and there is little to encourage our faith. But, one day, like my Jewish remnant, we will have uninterrupted, complete joy with our brothers and sisters in a life of glory with our Lord. As we look forward to that day when he will return with a new heaven and earth, we have the Holy Spirit’s joy within us. We hear “the joyful sound of the Gospel itself…in immediate happiness with Christ; and in the resurrection shall return from their dusty beds, and shall appear before God in Zion above; and ‘with songs’ to Father, Son, and Spirit, for what each have done for them, in election, redemption, and conversion; and for persevering grace, and for being safely brought over Jordan’s river, and from the grave…it will be ‘everlasting joy’ indeed.” (5) Next week, we will celebrate the gift of gospel joy that we have only because of Christ and know that one day there will be nothing but joy in every aspect of life.

The Blessing of Global Peace

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9) “The wild and tame creatures shall agree together…figuratively of men, comparable to wild creatures, who through the power of divine grace, accompanying the word preached, shall become tame, mild, meek, and humble; such who have been as ravenous wolves, have worried Christ’s sheep, made havoc of them, breathing out slaughter and threatenings against them, as did Saul, through converting grace, become as gentle and harmless as lambs, and take up their residence in Christ’s fold, and dwell with, yea, some of them even feed, Christ’s lambs and sheep, as the above mentioned person: and a little child shall lead them; become through the grace of God so tractable, that they shall be led, guided, and governed by the ministers of the Gospel, Christ’s babes and sucklings, to whom he reveals the great things of his Gospel, and out of whose mouths he ordains praise… ‘for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’: full of the Gospel, the means of conveying the knowledge of Christ, and of God in Christ, of his person and office, of his grace and righteousness, of peace, pardon, life, and salvation by him…the full accomplishment of it is yet to come…and the earth shall be lightened with his glory.” (6) We celebrate the advent season to remember God’s gift of Christ, our eternal, blessed hope, love, joy, and peace.

“While advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation of Christ’s birth, it is more than that. It is only in the shadow of advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated, and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. It is between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming that Karl Barth penned these words: ‘Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other…it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.’…The Lord has come to earth and will arrive again. This is the essence of advent.” (7) Take heart! “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)

Related Scripture: Job 29:16; Psalm 2:6-9; Isaiah 22:21; 42:4; 49:6-7; Jeremiah 32:18-19; Micah 5:1-4; Habakkuk 2:14; Luke 1:32; Acts 5:31; 13:23-24; Ephesians 2:14-17; Philippians 2:7.

Notes:

1. Christianity.com, What is Advent? https://www.christianity.com/wiki/holidays/what-is-advent.html

2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Isaiah 9:2-3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/isaiah-9.html.

3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 9:6, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

4. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, John 3:16-17.

5. Gill, Ibid, Isaiah 35:10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/isaiah-35.html.

6. Gill, Ibid, Isaiah 11:6-9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/isaiah-11.html

7. Christianity.com, Ibid.

December 8, 2022

The Blessing of Giving

Giving Tuesday happened this week. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the Lord led me to write about the blessing of giving to others. However, the five years I spent studying Proverbs had more impact than this new annual tradition of charitable giving. Every December, I was confronted, convicted, and encouraged by proverbs relating to finances. When I created that study, I thought it would be wise to focus on finances during a month when I habitually overspent my budget. But inflation and the stock market declines this year have the positive effect of restricting my expenses since I just don’t have anything “extra.” It’s also good to remember that we are blessed when we give from our lack and put aside things we might otherwise “get” to help others. God kept His people, the Israelites, in the wilderness to reveal himself and teach them how to honor, love, worship, and enjoy him. For our purpose, his instruction for helping those who had fallen into poverty is of particular interest. “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11) We, indeed, have the poor among us—we always have and always will have others who are less fortunate than those of us reading this devotion. For sixteen years, I was utterly dependent upon the generosity of my supporters to live, eat, work, use a phone, drive a car, have medical insurance and funds for treatment and travel—for everything. This made a significant impact on me, but many of them have told me what a blessing it was to participate in the work of God. Was their blessing greater than mine? Perhaps it was, as the Lord led them to obey his statutes. God commands his people to give to others cheerfully as he has given to them and blesses all who fulfill his decrees for helping the weak. As much as possible, I hope we will all enjoy the blessing of giving meaningfully to others this Christmas season rather than submit to the world’s tremendous pressure to purchase and consume things.

Giving Versus Receiving

At the end of Acts 20, we read Paul’s parting remarks to the church leaders in Ephesus. He spoke of the need to care for church members and his model of bold, risky preaching of the gospel. Paul also addressed his lifestyle as a preacher. “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35) Paul “recommends himself to them as an example of not caring as to things of the present world; this they would find helps forward their comfortable passage through it. It might seem a hard saying, therefore Paul adds to it a saying of their Master’s, which he would have them always remember; ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive:’ it seems they were words often used to his disciples. The opinion of the children of this world, is contrary to this; they are afraid of giving, unless in hope of getting. Clear gain, is with them the most blessed thing that can be; but Christ tells us what is more blessed, more excellent. It makes us more like to God, who gives to all, and receives from none; and to the Lord Jesus, who went about doing good. This mind was in Christ Jesus, may it be in us also…This saying from Jesus, [‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’] is not recorded in the Gospels–a reminder that Jesus did many things that are not recorded in Scripture (see John 21:25). [BUT] was no doubt passed on to Paul by those who heard Jesus teach.” (1) “It is more blessed to give than to receive: it is more comfortable, honourable, pleasant, and profitable: the giver is in a more comfortable situation, having an abundance, at least a sufficiency, and something to spare; whereas the receiver is often in want and distress, and so uncomfortable: it is an honour to give; an honour is reflected upon the giver, both by the receiver, and others…to distribute to the necessities of others…and great are the advantages and profit which a cheerful giver reaps, both in this world, and that to come.” (2)

Cheerful Giving

For the Corinthian church, Paul taught, “God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.'” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9) “God loves such joy-motivated giving to others because it expresses contentment in God’s gracious giving to the believer (see 2 Cor. 9:14) that makes every good work possible and results in thanksgiving and glory to God. The good work of God’s people corresponds to the description of the man in Ps. 112:9, whose righteousness is manifest in his providing for the poor. [‘He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor.’].” (3) Earlier, Paul reminded the Corinthians of Christ’s sacrificial giving of his life. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) There can be no question that God commands his people to give to others cheerfully as he has given to them and blesses all who fulfill his statutes for helping the weak. We glorify him by enjoying the blessing of giving meaningfully to others this Christmas rather than yielding to materialism.

Giving Without Losing

Giving Tuesday has come and gone, but the efforts of local and global companies selling products will outstrip the email and text requests we receive to give to charitable causes. However, I think it best to pray until I am sure which person, ministry, or organization is the one or those the Lord would have me support. We would be foolish to give only when our heartstrings are pulled since so many are in need, and we want to honor God with our gifts. But let us give. If we don’t have funds to give, we can give our time, talents, and service sacrificially. And, we can give our praises and witness for God boldly, as Paul did. I am sitting in a lab’s waiting room now, thankful for Gods help to have my doctor’s order faxed after a glitch in communication. The waiting room is full, but they have received the order. However, a minute after I returned to have my blood drawn, the power went out. Others waiting are enthusiastic to tell the staff to proceed in the dark and are critical that they aren’t allowed to draw blood without power. So I did my best to imitate Paul. “You know who is in control, don’t you? God’s in control of everything.” We have so many ways to give! “The righteous gives and does not hold back…Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” (Proverbs 21:26b; 22:9) “Our Father holds the purse-strings, and what we lose for His sake He can repay a thousand-fold. It is ours to obey His will, and we may rest assured that He will provide for us. Saints know that a grain of heart’s-ease is of more value than a ton of gold. He who wraps a threadbare coat about a good conscience has gained a spiritual wealth far more desirable than any he has lost. God’s smile and a dungeon are enough for a true heart…Let the worst come to the worst, let all the talents go, we have not lost our treasure, for that is above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Meanwhile, even now, the Lord makes the meek to inherit the earth, and no good thing doth He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (4) By the way, not long after my comment, the waiting room emptied of all the nay-sayers, the power returned, and I had my blood drawn in time to get to my next thing. I was blessed, and he staff were very appreciate of my peace and faith in them. I was sure to let them know that is it Christ in me who is work.

Related Scripture: Exodus 25:1-2; Deuteronomy 15:1-18; Psalm 37:21; 112:9; Proverbs19:17; Luke 14:12-14; Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 8:12; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:14.

Notes:

1. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Acts 20:32-35, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mhn/acts-20.html

2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Acts 20:35, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/acts-20.html

3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 2 Corinthians 9:7-9, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

4. Spurgeon, Charles, Morning and Evening Devotions, 2 Chronicles 25:9, November 30, Barbour Books, 2018.

December 1, 2022

The Blessing of Gospel Freedom

As we prepare to celebrate our annual American holiday of Thanksgiving, many of us will give thanks for the freedoms in our country. No one can dispute that people emigrate to the US worldwide for financial, religious, and social opportunities to realize their potential. But in our season of racial and cultural investigations, our holiday seems to be in question, and it stopped being closely related to the original Thanksgiving long ago. “Settlers in Berkeley Hundred, in what is now Virginia, celebrated their arrival with a Thanksgiving as far back as 1619, according to National Geographic—though The Washingtonian reported the meal was probably little more than some oysters and ham thrown together. Decades before that, Spanish settlers and members of the Seloy tribe broke bread in Florida with salted pork, garbanzo beans, and a Mass in 1565, according to the National Parks Service…Our modern definition of Thanksgiving revolves around eating turkey, but this was more of an occasion for religious observance in past centuries. The Pilgrims would most likely consider their sober 1623 day of prayer the first actual Thanksgiving…Regardless, the popular telling of the initial harvest festival is what lived on, thanks to Abraham Lincoln.” (1) I vote for returning to a more spiritual Thanksgiving for our freedom in Christ and liberty through the Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel that frees us from enslavement to sin and the law. Will you join me in thanking God for the blessing of eternal liberty, which frees us from sin’s bondage so that we can enjoy God’s provisions rightly?

The Truth of Christ Sets Prisoners Free

I have been drawn to three passages this week as I have meditated on our Christian Liberty. The first is John 8:31-32, Jesus’s teaching in the temple, surrounded by Jews. Some of the temple-goers were true believers, but others held to the false belief that they were saved merely by being of Jewish descent. The later ones were still in bondage to the law’s demand for perfection. But, “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” John Gill describes the blessings of the liberating gospel. “The spirit of truth should lead them into all truth, and cause them to grow and increase in Gospel light and knowledge; or Jesus himself, who is the way, the truth, and the life; and the sense is, that they should know more of him, of the dignity of his person, of the nature and usefulness of his offices; of the efficacy of his blood, the excellency of his righteousness, and the fulness of his grace, and that for themselves: and the truth shall make you free; from ignorance and error, and the prejudices of education, under which the whole nation labored, and from the thralldom [enslavement] of the law.” (2) We, who are in Christ, have everything to thank God for—the blessing of eternal liberty from Christ, the Holy Spirit’s work, which frees us from sin’s bondage, and God’s continuous supply of grace and mercy for our lives here.

Paul’s Liberation

After Jesus had ascended in glory and supplied the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to his first followers, Paul came to faith in Christ, much to his surprise. Paul had been imprisoned by the law, unable to see the truth of Christ’s words, captive to its impossible standards, but convinced he was right with God. Then the Lord transformed him on the road to Damascus with his blinding light and words, ironically freeing Paul from his dark prison and opening his spiritual eyes to the truth of Christ’s redeeming gospel. After he arrived in Damascus, the Lord directed Ananias to lay hands on him. Ananias told Paul that Paul would serve Christ by the Spirit’s power. “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17) Surely Paul considered this when he wrote to the Corinthians about their mutual freedom. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) “Where [the Holy Spirit] is as a spirit of illumination, there is freedom from former blindness and darkness; where he is as a spirit of regeneration and sanctification, there is freedom from the bondage of sin, and captivity of Satan; where he is as a comforter, there is freedom from the fear of hell, wrath, and damnation: where he is as a spirit of adoption, there is the freedom of children with a father; where he is as a spirit of prayer and supplication, there is liberty of access to God with boldness.” (3) All Christians have the true gospel liberty, through the Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel that frees us from enslavement to sin and the law. Not just when we are initially redeemed but eternally blessed by the Holy Spirit’s work, freeing us to enjoy him infinitely.

The Galatians’ Freedom

In our time, many “teachers” appear to be sincere believers but are misled, misinformed, or ambitious for popularity at any cost. We have leaders who say they have “de-converted,” others who pressure their followers to maintain efforts toward perfect human obedience, and those who have old or new philosophies about Christianity, such as Mormonism or Extra-Biblical Revelation. In Galatia, “The church came into being as a result of God’s Spirit at work in Paul’s proclamation of the gospel. But within the short space of time since Paul left, the church has been visited or infiltrated by false teachers…[who] convinced the Galatians of a false gospel which requires them to be circumcised…Although the Galatians appear to have come under the spell of these teachers and have become convinced of their teaching, Paul does not regard the situation as hopeless. Nevertheless, Paul is more critical of his audience here than in any other letter, and he chastises the Galatians for being foolish and provides numerous reasons why they should return to the truth. (4) Paul declared to them, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). “Being justified by faith in Christ…means that their standing with God rests wholly on the fact that they have been accepted and adopted in Christ…They live, and as long as they are in this world will live, not by being perfect, but by being forgiven…No human performance is ever good enough, for there are always wrong desires in the heart, along with a lack of right ones, regardless of how correct one’s outward motions are, and it is at the heart that God looks first…[but] Christians have been set free from sin’s domination. They have been supernaturally regenerated and made alive to God through union with Christ in his death and risen life, and this means that the deepest desire of their heart now is to serve God by practicing righteousness….Now, being changed in heart, motivated by gratitude for acceptance through free grace, and energized by the Holy Spirit, they ‘serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.’ This means that their attempts at obedience are now joyful and integrated in a way that was never true before. Sin rules them no longer…Paul insists that Christians are free to enjoy as God’s good gifts all created things and the pleasures that they yield, provided only that we do not transgress the moral law in our enjoyments or hinder our own spiritual well-being or that of others. (5) Since the Galatians and we have the true gospel, we should, above all, thank God for the blessing of eternal liberty through the Holy Spirit’s application of Christ’s perfect sacrifice. We have freedom from all our human tendencies to fight the truth about our sinfulness or give in to hopelessness. Christ has promised and faithfully provided the rest we need and reason to praise God for his steadfast faithfulness and loving-kindness. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Related Scripture: Psalm 44:2; 102:18-22; 146:7; Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19; John 8:31-32, 36; Romans 6:17-18, 22; 1 Corinthians 7:22; Galatians 5:13; James 1:25; 1 Peter 2:16.

Notes:

1. Insider, https://www.insider.com/history-of-thanksgiving-2017-11

2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, John 8:31-32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/john-8.html

3. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, 2 Corinthians 3:17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/2-corinthians-3.html

4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Galatians, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

5. Packer, J. I., Concise Theology, Salvation Brings Freedom, Tyndall House Publishers, Kindle Version, 1993.

November 23, 2022

Thanksgiving for the Blessing of Christian Graces

Has the Thanksgiving Holiday always been important to you and your family? I grew up in a home that was not especially patriotic or civic-minded, and more legalistically Jewish than religious. I don’t remember our Thanksgiving celebrations as something significant. But for us believers, Thanksgiving goes further as we appreciate our blessedness in Christ. Biblical Thanksgiving implies the most humble, appreciative, and adoring attitude toward all God has given and done for us. We are thankful and blessed with a relationship with Jesus Christ and, therefore, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. But recognizing our blessedness and giving thanks takes practice; it means turning away from our self-centeredness and our preoccupation with materialism and opinions. Yesterday I visited with a dear Christian neighbor, 98 years old, struggling with the after-effects of two falls in a short time. She has been asking the Lord for a while why she is still around, as many Christians do in her season of life. Knowing how much she loves seeing GG, my pup, I stopped by with him for a brief visit. After we left, I realized that the thing I missed the most in her was her attitude of gratitude. She was frustrated and unhappy with her trying circumstances, whereas before, she was exceedingly grateful for her home and the people around her despite her limitations. Growing older and more incapacitated is hard. But, I want, more than anything, as I age, not to allow my circumstances to change my gratefulness to God for all our blessings in Christ. So I give God thanks privately every morning and evening in my journals and publicly with others whenever I lead meetings. Practicing thankfulness brings us more intimately into God’s grace and allows the Spirit more influence over our attitudes. But it takes practice; giving specific thanks can be a real struggle if we only do it rarely. I hope this Thanksgiving will find us more capable of praising God and recognizing our American blessings because of our medications on our blessedness in Christ. Perhaps we can learn from Paul’s example in his letter to his brothers and sisters in the Corinthian church. After all the Thanksgiving food is wrapped up for leftovers and the football games are won or lost, maybe we will remember to thank God for our blessed union and fellowship with Christ.

Paul’s Thankfulness

Paul opens his letter to the church by thanking God for all the graces of speech, knowledge, and gifts given to the Corinthians, who are sustained by their fellowship and union with Jesus Christ. “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:4-8) “Paul is thankful that God has richly blessed the Corinthians with speech, knowledge, and spiritual gifts…Paul will say that the Corinthians’ spiritual riches have led to an inappropriate pride. Paul’s thankfulness here shows that the problem lay not with the gifts God had given them but with the way the Corinthians used those gifts. The cure is found in a healthy dose of gratitude. The Corinthians valued especially the gifts of speech and knowledge, but because they had used these gifts in wrong and improper ways, the exercise of the gifts led to disunity.” (1) Sometimes, we also misuse our God-given talents, skills, and gifts. We convince ourselves that our achievements are based on our innate wisdom and abilities, leading to a prideful, superior attitude. If we were born in America, it is not because we made it happen; God alone is sovereign over our physical birth, just as he is over our spiritual rebirth. If you immigrated to the US, you might have more of a tendency to give yourself or your family credit, but isn’t God the one who provided the means and protection to accomplish your goal of becoming an American citizen? Let’s thank God for sovereignty controlling his providential plans.

Thanking the Lord for His Most Precious Gift

In Paul’s letter, “the object of Thanksgiving is God, for as he is the author of all mercies, the glory and praise of them ought to be given to him. The apostle styles him ‘my God’, to distinguish him from others; and to express his faith of interest in him; and to observe to this church, that all the good things they enjoyed came from him…by so doing set them an example…and the continuance of his thankfulness for them, is ‘always’, as often as he went to the throne of grace, or at any other time thought of them: what he particularly gives thanks to God for in this verse is, for the grace which is given you by Jesus Christ: and includes all sorts of grace, adopting, justifying, pardoning, regenerating, and sanctifying grace; every particular grace of the Spirit, as faith, repentance, hope, love, fear, humility, self-denial, all are gifts of God, and entirely owing to his free grace, and not to man’s free will and power, or to any merits of his and all come through the hands of Christ…and in consequence of his blood, righteousness, sacrifice, and merit…and particularly the apostle is thankful, that they were enriched by Christ in all utterance, and in all knowledge; that not only they had the knowledge of the truths and doctrines of the Gospel, concerning the person, offices, grace, and righteousness of Christ in the theory of them, or a speculative notion of them; but for the most part had a spiritual experimental knowledge of these things.” (2) If we celebrate Thanksgiving with other believers, will we not also plan to thank God for our union and fellowship with Christ and our resulting holy speech, knowledge, and the wise use of our God-given spiritual gifts?

Eternal Grace

Paul “assures the saints of confirmation in grace by God, the author and giver of all grace: and which may be understood of their confirmation in the love and favour of God, from which there can be no separation…and of the permanency of the grace of the Spirit in them, and of their perseverance in faith and holiness unto the end: that is, of their days; even until the day of Christ, when the good work begun in them shall be performed and finished…their interest in Christ can never be lost; grace in them is an immortal seed; nor shall they be ever finally and totally moved away from the hope of the Gospel.” (3) We may sometimes wonder if we are so established because of our ongoing struggles with sinful habits or relational conflicts. Paul had no such doubts about his brothers and sisters. He wrote to the Philippian believers, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6). Paul’s confidence in God to do all he promises is also clearly stated in our passage from 1 Corinthians. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1:9) And, to the Romans, he wrote, “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30) “God is faithful, by whom ye were called…whatever he has said, he will do it; he will never suffer his faithfulness to fail…having called them by his grace, for whom he effectually calls by his grace…to enjoy communion with him in private and public exercises of religion, which is an evidence of being in him, and of union to him…such are members of Christ, of his body, of his flesh, and of his bone; and shall never be lost and perish, but shall be confirmed to the end; be preserved in him blameless, and presented to him faultless, and have everlasting life.” (4) “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) We have much to be thankful for, especially our union and fellowship with Christ, leading to holy speech, knowledge, and the wise use of our God-given spiritual gifts.

Related Scripture: Deuteronomy 7:9; Romans 1:8; 15:14; 2 Corinthians 8:7; 9:11; 12:4-31; Philippians 1:6; 2:16; 3:20-21; 2 Peter 3:11-13; 1 John 2:20.

Notes:

1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/1-corinthians-1.html

3. Gill, Ibid.

4. Gill, Ibid.

November 17, 2022