God Has Ordained and Sown Our Peace

“O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.” (Isaiah 26:12) We don’t use the word ‘ordain’ in our everyday language unless we are referring to someone given authority in a religious context. There are many formal words that we don’t use today, as our society has become more casual “jargonized.” But I love words, so when I landed on this passage that contains historical language, I wanted to understand God’s intention. The basic definition I can find for ‘ordain’ other than a religious reference as in a legal, historical context. “In the constitution of the United States, the preamble declares that the people ‘do ordain and establish this constitution of the United States of America.’ The 3rd article of the same constitution declares, that ‘the judicial power shall be vested in one supreme court, and in such inferior courts as the congress may from time to time ordain and establish.’” (1) In the thesaurus the synonyms for ‘ordain’ consist mainly of ‘establish,’ ‘decree,’ ‘command,’ and ‘approve.’ In the constitution, the writers ordained the laws set forth, but felt it necessary to extend ‘ordain’ with “establish.” I may have the ability to decreeing something to be done without establishing it as a real practice. By contrast, judges and lawyers are in a unique position to create or alter laws that govern our behavior. I appreciate the power given to our constitution and judges a little more today than yesterday. But I appreciate even more God’s sovereign power to decree and establish his statutes, as he does peace for believers.

Christ’s works are the basis for our peace. With this view in mind, we can enjoy the peace that we have through Christ’s works, not having to establish it ourselves, done in us and for us. So then, why does Isaiah 26:12 refer to God doing “our works?” The Bible in Basic English states, “Lord, you will give us peace: for all our works are the outcome of your purpose.” I rarely consult and don’t usually use the BBE translation, but here I think we have a simple explanation: our peace and works are the fruit of God’s purposes. Since the Lord always accomplishes that which he resolves to do, our peace is guaranteed. If we are in Christ, live through and for Christ, and have our hope for eternity resting on him, we have the peace we need to get through this life. In spite of high school shootings, presidential impeachments, family traumas, and health crises, we have peace. “The work of grace upon the heart is peculiarly the work which God works in his people…this is God’s work, and not man’s; and it is an internal one, something wrought in the heart, and which, being begun, will be performed…it includes other [works], and from whence all good works done by good men spring…and the fruit of this is peace.” (2) Have you considered how much more peace you have now than you had years ago, as a new Christian? It takes time to learn how to leave old ways behind, especially how to stop reacting to life’s challenges as if our hope is in this life and this world. The more we recognize the success of our sanctification, the more peace we have; the Lord doesn’t leave us as immature Christians. He calls us to maturity for the sake of our witness and fruit for the kingdom.

The Old Testament picture of Israel in the wilderness is one of stubborn independence, dissatisfaction with their circumstances, and rejection of God’s supreme commands, which he ordained for their peace. Even after many years in the Promised Land, where they had considerable external peace, God’s people were thankless and rebellious. They refused to give up their worthless idols. So the Lord exiled them to hostile territories where their spiritual peace was dependent upon putting their hope in God alone, who had abandoned them to their worldly values and priorities. He never gave up on his people. “But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 8:11) The Lord doesn’t expect us to make peace by worldly methods of submitting to abusive authorities, fighting as those who must conquer our adversaries, or aggressively trying to destroy our critics. We no longer live as we used to, before we knew Christ, trusting in our own power, ideas, goals, and worldly trends. God’s people are called to obey him for the promised blessings of his covenant because we have peace by his works, which are now our works through Christ. We are forgiven, accepted, approved, and blessed.

James Boice’s background commentary on Zechariah 8 helps us to relate that period of history to our lives today. “The temple was now halfway to completion. Seeing this, a delegation from the outlying town of Bethel had come to Jerusalem to ask the priests and prophets whether it was proper for them to continue a fast marking the destruction of the temple that they and their fathers had been observing since the fall of Jerusalem seventy years before. Unfortunately, the people of Bethel had failed to see that in God’s sight the matter was far more important than simply whether or not a traditional fast should be celebrated. This fast (and the others like it) had been perverted into what was by this time merely an empty and superstitious formalism, just as had happened earlier in Israel’s history and has happened since in many religious communions. The reply of God was to move the people away from mere formalism toward seeking God.” (3) How often do we reduce God’s grace and Christ’s sacrificial work to religious rules or Sunday worship? We waste the peace that Christ has decreed and established for us by our lack of appreciation, worldly perspectives, and minimizing God’s influence in our day-to-day lives.

Thankfully, God didn’t leave Israel as they were, and our faithful Lord doesn’t leave us in our immature floundering. He reminds, teaches, convicts, and confronts us with his own faithfulness. “For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.” (Zechariah 8:12) Agricultural fruit, produce, and the dew represent all the blessings of a life that is productive. The peace that God sows is always productive unless we squander it. Unfortunately, we often do negate God’s grace and mercy with our fears, anger, hurts, doubts, self-pity, and wrong desires. Christ decrees, sows, cultivates, harvests, and gives peace to us. So, let’s ask ourselves: Do we doubt the effectiveness of Christ’s work on our behalf? Is he not perfectly faithful and supreme? What disturbs our peace? Does your past haunt you? If God has forgiven you, maybe the issue is that you have not forgiven others. What fruit do you demonstrate as evidence that God has sown his peace in your heart? Will you ask God to help you cultivate even more peace and more fruit for the benefit of those whom you influence and love? God has brought us out of our modern-day Egypt. “I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not” (Haggai 2:4-5)

(1) Bouvier, John, “A Law Dictionary,” https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/ordain

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 26:12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah -26.html

(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Zechariah 8, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

November 15, 2019

Peace for Warriors

I am dedicating this devotion to military veterans among you, some of whom have experienced trials and traumas that have left deep physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual scars. I pray that your wounds will be badges of honor, your memories few, and your peace abundant by the grace of Jesus Christ. I thank you for your service, and I thank God for his strength in you to fight for nations, neighbors, and strangers. I am sure that every soldier, first responder, firefighter, police officer, and emergency personnel has a different personal experience of volunteering, being enlisted, or drafted. What you have in common, though, is God’s providential, sovereign design for your life. What we all have in common as believers in Jesus Christ, is the peace that the Holy Spirit provides when God installs him in our beings through his regeneration of our hearts. Let’s celebrate Christ’s gifts of redemption, propitiation, justification, faith, repentance, and sanctification. The only basis for our holiness is what God puts in us; the only reason we trust God is that he has rescued us from ourselves. He is the ultimate first-responder! We cannot credit ourselves with our faith without subtracting from God’s glory. We have soul-peace because of Christ’s work for us, in us, and with us. Keeping that in mind, we come to our passage: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3-4)

This devotion is my forty-third one this year on biblical peace. I hope you are as encouraged as I am that God’s Word feeds us, week after week, and year after year. The strength of Scripture, the power of the Spirit who applies God’s Word, and the strength of the body to help each other appreciate and learn together is remarkable. God keeps our minds stayed on him through our church worship, Bible studies, doctrinally sound hymns and songs, devotions, Christian literature, communion, biblical fellowship, service, and prayer. Yet, as I read and reread Isaiah 26:3, I asked, what is the cause of our peace, focus on God, and trust in him? Which comes first? From our English translation, it sounds like we have perfect peace because we keep our focus on God and trust him. But we are not able to either create or increase this ideal peace by our strength, determination, or works. The 1599 Geneva Bible puts it this way: By an assured purpose wilt thou preserve perfect peace, because they trusted in thee,” adding this footnote: “Thou hast decreed so, and thy purpose cannot be changed.” (1) God elects believers to have his peace in Christ. As we grow in our Christian maturity, our desire for God’s glory and kingdom increases, giving us the impetus to do what will lead to more glory for him. Our peace increases with our maturity because of the good habits we develop, the blessings of God’s grace and mercy, and our biblical worldview, in God’s good providence, to keep our minds more often on him. God begins the work in us, he keeps us going, and he gives us peace because of growing trust. If we take credit for our faith or peace, pridefully glorying in ourselves, we will lose both, because our minds are no longer on God.

We all know what it’s like to be thinking of something unrelated to our friend’s description of their recent vacation, or their interaction with someone we don’t know. Our thoughts separate us from our him emotionally and mentally for the time when we aren’t paying attention. How much more are we separated from God’s peace when our minds are set on obtaining worldly comforts? We think about sleeping late on the weekend, having dinner out so we don’t have to cook tonight, or what to do after church during the sermon, focusing on those things that will satisfy somehow. We think about the things or people in our lives that will eventually outweigh our old hurts. There are many ways we “unfix” our minds on God, even good things that we overdo them or make them priorities when we need to be with the Prince of Peace. I keep coming back to verse 3’s statement that (we have peace and) our minds are fixed on God because we trust in him. Reversing the order, when we don’t trust God, our thoughts are not on him. Misdirecting my focus is not just a result of a bad habit or being innocently distracted; it is also an indication that I have some distrust or doubt about God. What was it the father of the demon-possessed child said? “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) How dangerous is it when a soldier on an active battlefield doesn’t believe he has the skill for combat or a firefighter doubts that he will survive the flame? How much more precarious is it for us when we think we are trusting in God but are actually trusting in something or someone else for our peace? No wonder we don’t want to pray, worship, study the Bible, or talk with other Christians at those times. Our peace is deceptive and temporal. Our minds, which follow our hearts, are set against God, rather than on him. But “The source of [God’s] peace is the righteous, sovereign, saving God…who ‘will swallow up death forever’ and ‘will wipe away’ every tear (Isiah 25:8; Rev. 21:4)” (2)

While the description of peace sounds “perfect” (ESV), John Gill says, “The word ‘perfect’ is not in the Hebrew text, it is there “peace, peace”; which is doubled to denote the certainty of it, the enjoyment of it, and the constancy and continuance of it; and as expressive of all sorts of peace, which God grants unto his people, and keeps for them, and them in; as peace with God and peace with men, peace outward and peace inward, peace here and peace hereafter; and particularly it denotes the abundance of peace that believers will have in the kingdom of Christ in the latter day.” (3) The Jewish Bible’s translation of “Yeshayah” 26:3 is, “Thou wilt keep him in shalom shalom…” (4) We can apply a common Bible teaching here, that the repetition of a word in Scripture gives that word or following idea a stronger meaning. “Since the ancients did not have our ways of emphasizing something in print, either by capitalizing or printing in boldface or color, they achieved their emphasis by repetition.” (5) So what kind of peace results from our faith and trust in God? God’s shalom doubled—wellbeing doubled, contentment doubled, satisfaction doubled. Alexander Maclaren calls it, “the steadfast peacefulness of trust. It is the steadfast mind, steadfast because it trusts, which God keeps in the deepest peace that is expressed by the reduplication of the word…this faithful, steadfast heart and mind, kept by God, is filled with deepest peace…the depth, the completeness of the tranquility which flows into the heart.” (6)

Do I want to know what my friend is saying? All I have to do is turn my attention to him. Do we want the profound peace of God? We only have to turn our minds to him with trust. After all, He is “an everlasting rock” (26:4). For what hope or relationship are you doubting God’s purpose? What is shaking your trust in his plans, purposes, or circumstance for you? From what do you need to turn your attention, to ask the Lord for greater confidence and faith? What boundaries do we need to set to be less distracted when we could be fixed on Christ? Do our conversations, choices, and conduct reflect peace, worry, or past problems? Have you struggled with letting go of difficulties and traumas of your past? Will you trust Christ and seek his help to put painful memories in the past, to enjoy his shalom? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

(1) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+26%3A3&version=GNV

(2) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 26:3, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 26:3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-26.html

(4) Orthodox Jewish Bible, 2011, Artists for Israel International, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+26%3A3&version=OJB

(5) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(6) Maclaren, Alexander, The Biblical Illustrator, Electronic Database, 2011,com, https://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/maclaren/the_inhabitant_of_the_rock.htm

November 7, 2019

Peace Through Gospel Victory, or Happy Reformation Day!

I spent thirty hours watching seven baseball games over ten days and was glad to have to see such highly skilled rule-abiding athletes competing in a good way (except for one coach who lost it over a referee call). My team didn’t win but I am happy for the Washington Nationals, who deserved to be the 2019 MLB World Series champs. Being the slow game that baseball is, I had time to think about competitiveness. I guess it’s an aspect of our sin nature since there is absolutely nothing competitive about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to submit entirely—to him and each other—in love. We don’t have to compete because we know that Christ has already been victorious over sin and will one day be exalted without opposition. Healthy or not, all competition will cease when Christ returns. “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12) Christ’s exaltation is ensured. God, who sovereignly reigns now in heaven, promises future peace. In baseball or any other professional sports game, the rules govern the behavior of the players. Many people today are governed in their conduct by legal, ethical, civil, or moral laws, much like a game. But God doesn’t play games; Christ’s kingdom is not governed by rules but by his holy perfection. Jesus Christ was exalted after his great work of reconciliation between believers and God. His gospel victory will be complete in the world to come, not by yielding to another, but by his mighty sword, conquering enemies in the great war pictured in Revelation.

Today is Reformation Day—a day to celebrate the victory of God in the rectification of the protestant church through Martin Luther. “But what is the significance of Reformation Day, and how should we consider the events it commemorates?…Martin Luther’s nailing of his ninety-five theses to the church door on October 31, 1517, provoked a debate that culminated finally in what we now call the Protestant Reformation…Initially protesting the pope’s attempt to sell salvation, Luther’s study of Scripture soon led him to oppose the church of Rome on issues including the primacy of the Bible over church tradition and the means by which we are found righteous in the sight of God…Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and good works result from our faith, they are not added to it as the grounds for our right standing in the Lord’s eyes…Martin Luther’s rediscovery of this truth led to a whole host of other church and societal reforms and much of what we take for granted in the West would have likely been impossible had he never graced the scene. Luther’s translation of the Bible into German put the Word of God in the hands of the people, and today Scripture is available in the vernacular language of many countries, enabling lay people to study it with profit. He reformed the Latin mass by putting the liturgy in the common tongue so that non-scholars could hear and understand the preached word of God and worship the Lord with clarity. Luther lifted the unbiblical ban on marriage for the clergy and by his own teaching and example radically transformed the institution itself. He recaptured the biblical view of the priesthood of all believers, showing all people that their work had purpose and dignity because in it they can serve their Creator. Today, Luther’s legacy lives on in the creeds and confessions of Protestant bodies worldwide.” (1)

Christian peace has never resulted from acquiescence to the world’s pressures and never will. We are not peaceful because we do not fight against the opposition, but because we wrestle it with God’s blessing and strength, by his methods. Martin Luther’s favorite psalm was 46, upon which he based his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” “It is said of Luther that there were times during the dark and dangerous periods of the Reformation when he was terribly discouraged and depressed. But at such times he would turn to his friend and coworker Philipp Melanchthon and say, ‘Come, Philipp, let’s sing the forty-sixth Psalm…We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh and sin.’” (2)

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[b] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Martin Luther

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

The New Testament gospels and epistles teach us that the war over Jesus’s identity was resolved—he is the King of Kings, the resurrected, ascended God, Savior of the world. He fought his enemies who wanted him silenced by his loud cries on the cross—especially “It is finished.” He fought his disciples, who loved him but didn’t understand and tried to convince him to avoid the cross. He fought Satan, who sent him to the cross because of our sins, by his death and resurrection. And he fought well-intentioned doubters when he ascended into heaven but leaving us with his Spirit to continue the battle here on earth. Christ’s exaltation was ensured by victorious works of peace in this world. Our peace is secured by his victory and should motivate us to fight with spiritual weapons for the expansion of his kingdom.

What does it mean to “be still” and know that he is God in this context? “These words… are rather a continuation of the church’s address to the fearful among them, as before to behold the works of the Lord…not that they should be like sticks and stones, stupid, indolent, and unconcerned at the commotions that were in the earth, and be unaffected with the judgments of God, and be wholly silent and inactive; but that they should not be fearful, nor fretful and impatient, or restless and tumultuous; but be quiet and easy, resigned to the will of God, and live in an assured expectation of the appearance of divine Providence in their layout. And ‘know’; own and acknowledge that he is God, a sovereign Being that does whatsoever he pleases; that he is unchangeable in his nature, purposes, promises, and covenant; that he is omnipotent, able to help them and deliver them at the last extremity; that he is omniscient, knows their persons, cases, and troubles, and how and where to hide them till the storm is over…” (3)

Thousands of years ago, the nation of Israel fled to the Red Sea, where they were caught between this vast body of water and the Egyptian army. The people cried out in fright, thinking they were about to die. “And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’” (Exodus 14:13-14) God’s invites us to participate in his battles and victories through prayer, service, ministry, and patience. Christ is not only our mighty fortress but also our strength and Champion. Does he have you before an enormous, seemingly impossible task to show you his power in the gospel battle? Are you willing to be used by him in the fight to expand Christ’s kingdom, to add more of the elect to the family of God? Are we yielding to him or fighting against him? That coach who looked like he was going to punch out the referee—well, he calmed down as soon as his team made several home runs immediately following the melee. Victory does that—it calms us down and gives us relief. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)

(1) “What Is Reformation Day All About?”, Robert Rothwell, 2018, Ligonier Ministries, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/teacher/robert-rothwell/

(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 46, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 46:10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-46.html

October 31, 2019

Peace Through Salvation

I’ve been watching the MLB World Series this week. My sudden viewing commitment to the series began with the Houston Astros’ league championship win last weekend. It was a great game, and I was hooked. Unfortunately, the Astros haven’t done as well in the series as of today, losing two out of the first two games. Since I am unrelated to them, my life is unaffected by their losses, compared to theirs’, their families, and their friends’ lives. Jose Altuve won the league championship game for the Astros by his home run hit. He thanked God first when interviewed. I do hope that his faith is genuine and that it is helping him and others on the team after their losses. The author of Hebrews warned his brothers, “[Since] the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” (Hebrews 4:1) He wanted the congregation of believers to remain steadfast, giving witness to trusting in Christ, not looking as if they had failed to find their rest in Christ. I like to think that God deliberately puts a spotlight on Christian athletes for millions to take notice of their witness. I pray that Altuve and others’ faith in Christ is enabling them to persevere and continue to witness, especially when their teams lose. But do we hold fast, not “seeming to fail” when life throws us trials?

At a time when God’s people were “losing” their identity, because of their idolatry, under the Lord’s discipline, God sent the prophet Isaiah to them. He foresaw the coming of the Messiah when he wrote, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1) The rest of chapter 11 describes the coming Christ as wise, understanding, powerful, united with the Holy Spirit, having the fear of the Lord, just, compassionate, humble, righteous, faithful, and peaceful (Isaiah 11:2-8). God brought his people back from exile. In a passage from Isaiah 12, we find that trusting in God’s salvation results in comfort, reconciliation, peace, strength, and joy, which we can then demonstrate to others. God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (12:1-3) God gave Israel comfort instead of anger, strength instead of fear, and joyful shalom instead of temporary relief. As always, the Lord’s dealings with Israel point to Christ’s ministry to us, through pictures and words.

 The first picture in Isaiah 12 is that of an angry Father. Not just any father, but one who is omnipotent, sovereign, and omniscient. But this all-powerful ruling King and family leader turned away his anger to comfort his people. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.” (12:1) “Only God can turn away the anger of God.” (1) Through Christ’s propitiation, God’s wrath for our sins is eternally satisfied. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). (See 1 John 4:10.) Jesus took the punishment that brings us peace and healing—real comfort in a world that vainly tries to find relief from stress, fear, guilt, and anger in so many unsuccessful ways.

Not only does Christ’s saving propitiation bring comfort, but it supplies us with trust in God and his strength, instead of fearing his anger. “God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’ (Isaiah 12:2) Instead of fearing God’s judgment toward us, we have faith in Christ, given to us as a gift, to enjoy the strength of God, who becomes our song. Gods’ words in Scripture are particular and intentional. Dr. Dan Doriani taught about the different kinds of fear that the Bible speaks of when he lectured on Hebrews Chapter 4. There is servile fear—that fear of God’s authority, power, and judgment, like the fear a disobedient child has of his parent’s discipline or an inattentive worker has of his employer’s evaluation. When Scripture instructs the saints to “not be afraid” it is this type of fear that is in view. However, when the Bible commands us to have a “fear of the Lord” it is referring to loving, reverent, filial fear that is affectionate and thankful. This filial fear is the “beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10); is “a fountain of life” (Proverbs 14:27); and safety (Proverbs 29:25).

All regenerated believers have the “fountain of life,” from the Holy Spirit. We have deep, joyful shalom from God instead of a temporary accord or calmness. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3) Here is another beautiful picture of the salvation that Christ freely gives. “By ‘water’ is meant grace…softening, purifying, fructifying, cooling, and refreshing, and extinguishes thirst…and this is to be “drawn”, it is to be come at, though the well in which it is be deep, and not in the reach of everyone…the bucket is faith that it is drawn with, and this is the gift of God; (2) Unfortunately, we often forget or doubt the abundant grace we have in Christ, through God’s Spirit. But if we look to a few other biblical pictures, we notice that God’s grace is exceedingly bountiful. Jesus supplied more wine (from water) than the wedding party could consume (John 2). Jesus fed over five thousand men plus women and children with twelve baskets full of scraps leftover (Matthew 8). One day God will wipe every single tear from every believer’s eyes—that’s a lot of tears (Revelation 7). God’s well of salvation is bottomless because he is infinite. But it is deep, so we need the bucket of faith he gives us to draw from it. However, in the New Testament, Jesus says that the springs of living water are like a fountain flowing up in us, making it even easier for us, and others access his grace and mercy.

Why do we focus so much on what we don’t have or can’t get when we are so blessed by God’s grace? Will others be drawn to Christ by Christians who are devoid of joy, peace, faith, or comfort, being afraid, fearful, and feeling judged? Do you think God is angry with you even after you have confessed? How does your perception of God’s wrath hinder your comfort and your ability to comfort others? In what way do you fear God’s judgment, failure, or man’s approval? How can you develop more reverential, filial fear for the Lord instead of holding on to servile fear of Him? Have you drunk from the deep well of God’s salvation with joy today? How will others your encounter know that Christ has a source of life that satisfies their deepest thirst? “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 12:4-6)

(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 12:1-3, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 12:3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-12.html

October 25, 2019

Building a Peaceful, Strong Body

Building a Peaceful, Strong Body

Last night I enjoyed the company of women from my church for some social time at a local family and dog-friendly restaurant. I sat next to a favorite four-year-old who was a bit mopey and doted on her a little, just like a grandma comforts her granddaughter. I also brought my good friend, aged ninety-five, who is like a mother to me and wanted to be with her church friends. I also conversed with women of all ages in-between and met two new women who recently started attending our church. One brought a friend; another brought her puppy. I was encouraged to see our diverse group enjoying our company and getting to know each other better. We are building a body with many newcomers moving into our rapidly growing neighborhood and city. Christ’s disciples work at building each other up through humility, selflessness, and tolerance. Mature Christians desire, pray for and demonstrate the humility, tolerance, and selflessness that will mold God’s people into a peaceful, united organ for God’s use.

 We have explored Paul’s warnings at the end of Romans previously. It won’t hurt to revisit the context since we can all use a daily reminder that we do not live by ourselves, but with the family of God. In Chapter 14, Paul instructs us who are strong to welcome those who are weak or new to Christianity. “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions…For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s… Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14:1, 7-8, 13, 18) “The section as a whole is bracketed with a concept that has not yet appeared in Romans—to edify or build up. This word pictures Christians as a building (or part of a building) that needs to be carefully constructed, and it contrasts this work with actions or attitudes that would tend to tear the building down…Paul usually employs the word [edifying] to building up individual Christians, helping individuals grow spiritually.” (1) Here is one of Paul’s application of this truth: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19) Unselfish peacefulness is a vital aspect of helping each other to grow in faith, countering our natural inclination towards independence and self-sufficiency.

“[Peace] should be eagerly followed after, closely pursued, and all ways and means should be made use of, to promote and secure it: this is the will of God…it is one part of the Gospel dispensation; church fellowship cannot be profitable and pleasant without it; it suits with the character of saints, who are sons of Peace…edification is promoted by deeds, by acts of charity, or love; charity edifies not by bare words [but also] by serving one another in love…by laying aside the use of things indifferent, when disagreeable to any brethren…[and] things which make for the edification of the body, as well as our own, are diligently to be sought after.” (2 We don’t make it our goal to agree with Christians about everything, but about things that are of little difference or importance. (At least this is what I think he is saying; let me know if you have a better understanding.) There are many things that we should not be adamant about since they are not the “essentials” of the Christian faith. I remember one incident about twenty years ago when I refused to participate in a training exercise because I felt that it was disrespectful to our leader. Imagine my surprise when our leader, my mentor, rebuked me for refusing to join the others. She made a point I will never forget: if sin is not involved, I had no right to decline, no matter how offensive the I thought it was toward her. So, in the end, I did my part; our leader wasn’t offended at all but thought it hilarious. In that case, I was the less mature believer who needed to be built up by her loving rebuke.

For twenty-five years, my friend mentored me with tolerance and selflessness, providing a model for my mentoring today. I’m sure there were many times when she tolerated my unwise or self-motivated actions with love and humility, as we are to do with less mature believers. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Rom. 15:1-2) Sometimes new believers come across as harsh, legalistic, or demanding. However, “they are not to be treated as wicked men, but as weak brethren: their peevish tempers, morose dispositions and conduct, their hard speeches and censorious expressions, are patiently to be endured; they should be considered as from whence they arise, not from malice and ill will, from a malignant spirit, but from weakness and misguided zeal.” (3) Matthew Henry brings us to the feet of Christ: “He is the most advanced Christian, who is the most conformed to Christ…Those are most learned who are most mighty in the Scriptures…Should not we be humble, self-denying, and ready to consider one another, who are members one of another?…Our Divine Master invites his disciples, and encourages them by showing himself as meek and lowly in spirit. The same disposition ought to mark the conduct of his servants, especially of the strong towards the weak. The great end in all our actions must be, that God may be glorified; nothing more forwards this, than the mutual love and kindness of those who profess religion.” (4)

As we work at building others up through humility, selflessness, and tolerance, we follow his example with his power for peaceful, holy toleration of others. “Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” (Romans 15:3) “[Since] God is in the process of building his church…We need to keep several things in mind…To build something properly you need to know what you are trying to build. You need a design or blueprint. We do not have to go very far to find this idea in Romans 14, because immediately after his first use of the word edification (in v. 19) Paul speaks of the project as “the work of God,” saying, “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (v. 20). This is not a complete blueprint, but it gets us started by reminding us that the church is God’s church, not ours, and that what matters is what God is doing in the lives of individual Christians, not whether those people conform to our ideas of what a pious or useful Christian should be. For a fuller blueprint, we go again to Ephesians 4:11-13. ‘The whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ is what we should be trying to see in other Christians. Therefore, to the extent that we are following God’s blueprint rather than our dim vision of what we think other people should be, we will be doing everything in our power to help them become like Jesus Christ and be equipped to serve others for his sake…The second requirement for putting up a good building is a solid foundation. In fact, at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used this image to distinguish between those who would build well by hearing his words and putting them into practice and those who would not in Matthew 7:24–27. To the Corinthians Paul writes of the foundation as Jesus Christ himself: ‘For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 3:11).” (5)

Are you helping to build up the body of Christ? How can you be a more effective peacemaker and up-builder for others? Toward which people, in particular, do you need to be more encouraging and less critical? How do you actively work on the corporate strength of the body with your brothers and sisters in Christ? In what way can you follow Christ’s example of tolerance more sincerely? “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)

(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 14:19 – 15:3, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 14:19, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-14.html

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 14:19, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-15.html

(4) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Romans 15:1-7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/romans-15.html

(5) Boice, Ibid.

 October 18, 2019

Peace Driven

Imagine you are driving and about to enter a highway on an entrance ramp, where the maximum speed is 65 mph. This particular ramp ends quickly, dumping you into the right-hand lane on the road, with little time to yield to oncoming traffic. We know that some people don’t think to move out of that lane. Do you speed up, so you’re driving almost 65 mph when you’re on the highway or keep your speed down, in case there are people in your lane as you enter? According to traffic code, neither party has the right of way, so coming on at traffic speed is the safest way to work together when merging. However, there will be times when one car will have to make a rapid adjustment for the sake of both drivers and other traffic around them. Christians who are filled with the Spirit of God should engage with others with a foot on the gas of shalom, ready to merge. Unfortunately, we usually act like drivers on a highway to our destination, oblivious or uninterested in those trying to join with us. Or, if we’re the ones initiating a relationship, we may think we are entitled, expecting others to move out of our way. Some of us may even be reluctant to find a way to relate to others because we are less worthy rather than work together for true shalom.

In the book of Hebrews, the writer shares great doctrinal truths relating to the superiority of Jesus Christ. In Chapter 12 he applies the doctrines of our faith. “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” (Hebrews 12:12-15a) Therefore—knowing that Jesus Christ and the gospel fulfills and is superior to Old Testament revelations—therefore, lift your hands, strengthen your knees, and walk in a straight line with a straight body, having been healed by Christ, and continuing to heal by sanctification. Throughout the book, the author has encouraged his audience to persevere because Christ has given them His Spirit, enabling them to stand up to their temptations and trials. In verses 12 and 13, he urges them to be stout and active in their Christian warfare, rather than be limp and vulnerable—to be the driver who knows how to drive and does it. In verse 15, he shares his heart for all people to obtain God’s grace through their witness and active, biblical lifestyles. But it’s verse 14 that has captured my attention today. They and we are to: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” We are to put the peace pedal to the floor with our hands on the wheel of Christ’s holiness so we can all see God one day and see his work in our lives now. Believers will only have healthy relationships by assertively attending to them, struggling for the peace that we want from others. My goal here is for us to challenge ourselves in our sanctification, to gain greater peace and holiness, as witnesses for Christ. Paul uses similar language in Romans 14:19: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” The peace we desire for ourselves is that which others also want. Meaningful connections with our community of faith are essential for our mutual progress in sanctification and perseverance in the faith.

Peace is joined to holiness in the passage because this isn’t just the lack of conflict we’re considering but gospel peace. “In this verse holiness refers to purity of life. It is provided by God…and guided by His discipline…but we must strive for it.” (1) “Holiness here does not design any particular branch of holiness, as chastity of the body and mind, but the whole of holiness, inward and outward…even perfect holiness, for though holiness is not perfect in this life, yet it will be in heaven.” (2) Unlike the Jews, who focused on ceremonial holiness and outward superiority, our holiness rests in our vulnerability and confessional attitude toward God. Jesus’s relationships and responses to persecution are our models of holy living. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23 “He…continued entrusting both himself and those who mistreated him entirely to God, knowing that God is just and will make all things right in the end. Likewise believers, knowing that God judges justly, are able to forgive others and to entrust all judgment and vengeance to God. Every wrong deed in the universe will be either covered by the blood of Christ or repaid justly by God at the final judgment.” (3) Jesus’s self-defense included Scripture, biblical reasoning, honorable references to his Father, silence, submission to civil authorities, unearned love, restraint, continued vulnerability, prayer, and forgiveness. He “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; he commended his Spirit, or soul, to God his Father, and committed his cause to him, to vindicate it in what way he should think fit, who he knew was the Judge of all the earth…which is an example, and an instruction to the saints to do so likewise…to leave their cause with their God, who will, in his own time, avenge the wrongs and injuries done them.” (4) Jesus did not wait for others to make peace with him, though he had the right to do so. He entered into diverse relationships as the source and keeper of true shalom.

The promise of seeing God when we strive for peace and holiness is glorious. We will see him face to face one day, but even today, we will see him in our mutually blessed friendships and Christian fellowship. As we become more like Christ in our sanctification, we will see him in our words, worship, prayers, deeds, and desires“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Who is the pure in heart? Although we know our lives and behavior aren’t pure, we do know that Jesus has purified our hearts through his imputation of righteousness and the cleansing of his sacrificial blood. The purity of our hearts shows up in our increasing patience, humility, mercy, and love for others. It is also demonstrated in our boldness to enter into gospel-centered, God-glorifying relationships. Being superficial, polite, and accommodating may be helpful, but it’s not enough if we are to be shalom-driven. Striving for peace begins with prayer for people with whom we have conflicts, or with whom we aren’t engaging deeply. Are you praying for your difficult relationships, unreasonable responses to issues, or annoyance over inconsequential matters? How does our personal sanctification and increasing holiness show itself? In what areas do you need to work for more holiness and purity of heart? Do we see Christ in our relationships, work, home life, service, and church ministry? Where can we apply the gospel more boldly and graciously? I want to merge with others for true shalom, how about you? “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

(1) The Reformation Study Bible, Hebrews 12:14, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Hebrews 12:14, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/hebrews-12.html

(3) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Peter 2:23, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Peter 2:23, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-peter.html

October 11, 2019

Turning Away From the Evil in Ourselves

Lately, in my Bible studies on Hebrews, it is has been very easy for participants to point outward as we come upon the author’s serious warnings. When we think of evil, don’t we usually look at something happening in our society, politics, or communities, talking about “them?” I’ve been doing that in my openings, as an exhortation to be counter-cultural. Often we, like Job, also wonder why God isn’t exacting his justice on “them” or “it.” Last week our devotion was based on Job’s challenge in his suffering. Job remained sincere and trusted God, even as he cried out for justice. Little did Job know that God was going to mercifully help him turn away from his arrogant superiority, rather than give him justice. “And the Lord said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’” (40:1-2) But Job turned in repentance when the Lord confronted him. The evil we need to confront is not “out there.” It is in us, just as it was in Job. The world has been evil since the fall of Adam and Eve; it’s nothing new. But we who are in Christ can stand up to it externally, turning away from evil to reverent fear of God. However, we must confront our pride. But we can’t find peace, even with Christ beside us and the Spirit indwelling us when we aren’t confessing our sinful pride.

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13) “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14) The Bible is absolutely clear that pride (superiority) in our hearts and minds is directly opposed to the humble character of Jesus Christ. It is also the cause of perverted speech and evil behavior. Before we can turn away from the evil in ourselves, we must identify it. Having identified the evil that resides in our sin nature, we are to turn away from it and pursue peace. Confessing personal pride, cutting off sinful attitudes, thoughts, and desires, and rejecting self-righteousness leads to more internal peace and loving behavior toward others. Disengaging with evil is essential to love Jesus Christ. “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13b) “One of the main purposes of the fear of the Lord in Proverbs is to align a person’s heart with what the Lord loves. Describing what wisdom hates (and therefore what the Lord hates) calls a person to examine his or her heart, to guard it from such things, to walk in accord with what the Lord loves, and to seek wisdom for all relationships and interactions.” (1) In the New Testament, we have many reminders of Jesus’s humble character and behavior, which we share and are to imitate, with his help. “Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:21-22) John Gill writes, “Pride and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate; which appears in men in thinking too highly of themselves, in speaking too well of themselves, in despising others, in setting up and trusting to their own righteousness for salvation, in crying up the purity and power of human nature; this is very contrary to the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus, and must be hateful to him.” (2)

Scripture, the inerrant Word of God, calls on us to be peacemakers for the Lord’s glory and in his strength. In Psalm 34, David writes about his experience at a vulnerable time. He was in great fear of losing his life at the hands of the Philistines, whose champion he destroyed, so he imitated a madman. The hoax succeeded when Achish wanted nothing to do with him and ordered him to depart from his presence. Apparently, David expected to fail, because his praise for God in Psalm 34 is abundant! After blessing, praising, boasting, magnifying, exalting, and thanking God, he says, “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms 34:14) Perhaps David was a peacemaker in that he did not enter into battle with the Philistines after Goliath was defeated. The ESV Study Bible notes offer this commentary: “This was a narrow escape, and David does not take credit for it; nor does he deny the importance of the faithful using their wits in desperate situations.” (3) Truly, David is never arrogant about his successes and is an example of humility whom we should imitate (but perhaps not his deceptions). Of course, we have a greater Champion, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our perfect role model for pursuing holy peace by turning away from evil and doing good. He has consecrated us—set us apart from the world—for good, as an example to others. “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good…Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 2:1-3; 3:8) God’s peace is achieved by hating evil and rejecting the arrogance within ourselves.

 We reject pride when we recognize it in our task-oriented attitudes; confess it in our disrespectful thoughts; see it in our condescension and criticism of others; or hear it in our impatient, unemphatic words and the haughty tones of our voices. By admitting and repenting of our vain, self-centered, subjective, unbiblical ways, we have a greater capacity and freedom to love God’s holy peace. But some of us have buried our pride deep in our hearts requiring earnest digging and exploration to uncover it. For example, I am three years into my retirement and just now discovering the depth of my false belief that my ministry is the basis for my acceptance with God. I know with every fiber of my mind that this is not true. I am a sinner who deserves none of God’s grace and am astounded at his generous love toward me in Christ. Arrogance is inherent in my sin nature and will only die when I take my last breath, as it will be for all of us. So we’d better keep confessing and repenting, trusting in God to turn away from the evil in us. “Pride…is an ascribing that to a man’s self which does not belong to him, whether in things natural, civil, or spiritual; when men attribute their justification and salvation to their own works, it is arrogancy, and must be hateful to Christ; who [took] so much pains and expense to bring in everlasting righteousness, and work out salvation for men: it is the height of arrogancy in a man to conceit he a power to regenerate, renew, and convert himself…this must be hateful to Christ, by whose Spirit and grace this only is done.” (4)

Towards what or whom are you arrogant? Do you consider yourself pridefully superior to or impatient with others? Do you sometimes think you have earned your salvation or keep it by your works? What is something good, humble, respectful, and loving that you can do in your relationships, leading to more or better peace? How do you pursue peace where there is conflict or tension? “O you who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10a)

(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Proverbs 8:13, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Proverbs 8:13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/proverbs-8.html

(3) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 34:14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(4) Gill, Ibid.

October 4, 2019