Prepared for Good Works

How did you start your day today? Did you make the best use of your morning hours now that you are in a different life pattern? Has the pandemic completely thrown you out of a good routine, or have you established a new, good one? Living in an apartment with a dog has completely changed my routine for the first couple of hours. The early morning walk with him offers a beautiful glimpse of the world in the morning light to awaken my sense of God’s glory in nature. This week, there were plenty of baby deer left in a field by their mothers, who were on their way to retrieve them when we happened by. If I were walking by myself, I might be more contemplative, because it was a beautiful sight. But I am also training a puppy, so I have to attend to him as much as I observe my surroundings, especially since he reacts so energetically to the deer. Only by consistent training will he meet my expectations for obedience. Every walk becomes a teaching and learning opportunity. This ten-month-old anxious puppy doesn’t know what is appropriate or good for him, so I must teach him. It’s not enough to know what I should do; I have to apply my knowledge with determination, even though I haven’t had my coffee and want to take it easy. My dog will only improve if I endeavor to be the best trainer possible.

Being made in God’s image, we like to think that we know what is appropriate and good for us, but God must teach us, and we are responsible for learning to do what is good. In his letter to Timothy, Paul reminded his protégé of this principle. “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work…All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21; 3:16-17) This promise—of being a good, useful vessel for honorable use—is for anyone and for every good work (vs. 21, 17). God’s provision of the canon of Scripture will make us complete if we put it to use. It is not enough to know God and know what is required of us; we are responsible for utilizing what God gives us to be useful to him. God cleanses and sets believers apart for good, holy, useful work. And we are to consistently strive for completeness, for our best service to Christ.

In 2 Timothy 2:21, we learn that we will only be useful to God if each of us “cleanses himself from what is dishonorable;” only then will “he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” The admonition to cleanse myself is an intimidating prospect. So I am encouraged by Calvin’s and Gill’s remarks: “Beyond all controversy, we are called to holiness. But the question about the calling and duty of Christians is totally different from the question about their power or ability. We do not deny that it is demanded from believers that they purify themselves; but elsewhere the Lord declares that this is their duty, while he promises by Ezekiel that he will send “clean waters, that we may be cleansed.” (Ezekiel 36:25.) Wherefore we ought to supplicate the Lord to cleanse us, instead of vainly trying our strength in this matter without his assistance.” (1) “He will appear to be one that is set apart by God the Father, and whose sins are purged away by the blood of Christ, and who is sanctified internally by the Spirit of God; for external holiness springs from internal holiness, and is, an evidence of it…meet for the master’s use: the use and service of Christ, who is the master of the house.” (2)

“Ultimately, God will allow nothing to escape; every detail of our lives is under His scrutiny. God will bring us back in countless ways to the same point over and over again. And He never tires of bringing us back to that one point until we learn the lesson because His purpose is to produce the finished product. “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:4)” (3) Since we aren’t always sure how God might use us, isn’t it good to be prepared for use by the only One who truly knows what we will need? Are you as grateful as I am that God cleanses and sets believers apart for good, holy, useful work? That he helps us make the best use of Scripture, for our best service to Christ, if we ask? “Anyone” who cleanses himself meets these criteria, because only he or she can do so by the regenerating work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are sanctified through our faith in Christ, by God’s grace and made new creatures, who want to be clean, right, and good for God. But Paul reminds us that God’s Word is what the Spirit uses to bring us to conviction and repentance for the learning we need.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) “Whereas it seems that Paul and Timothy’s opponents stressed certain aspects or portions of Scripture (e.g., genealogies, 1 Tim. 1:4; cf. Titus 3:9), Paul stresses the authoritativeness of all of Scripture. The divine origin of Scripture is the reason for its power to convert (2 Tim. 3:15) and its usefulness in training (v. 17). Because Scripture comes from God himself, ‘all’ of it is profitable in a range of ways, ultimately leading to righteousness.” (4) Those of us who study the Bible through the eyes of Jesus understand that his Bible was the Old Testament, as was Paul’s. So every book of the Bible reveals God’s grace in the gospel, either pre-incarnate, incarnate, or post-incarnate. And, unlike other religions that promote the godliness of their designated prophets, “…we know that God hath spoken to us, and are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestion, but that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare…Whoever then wishes to profit in the Scriptures, let him first of all, lay down this as a settled point, that the Law and the Prophets are not a doctrine delivered according to the will and pleasure of men, but dictated by the Holy Spirit.” (5) The NT Scriptures expand on the OT writings, describe in great detail how God cleanses and sets believers apart for good, holy, useful work. So let us make the best use of it for our best service to Christ.

Some Bible translations use the word “perfect” rather than “complete” to describe the one prepared by God’s Word. While we might argue that we are anything but perfect, can we deny that the Indwelling Holy Spirit is precisely that—without error, lack, or contradiction? We have been chosen by God the Father, given by him to the Son, regenerated by the Spirit, and given every opportunity to grow in sanctification, pandemic or not. We have already been made perfect and ready for whatever calling the Lord has for us. The hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” comes to mind; its author rejoices in the solid foundation we have in Christ, regardless of our circumstances. “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He hath said, who unto the Savior for refuge have fled? Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand…The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I will not desert to his foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!” (6)

(1) Calvin, John, “John Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible,” 2 Timothy 2:21, Bible Learning Society,https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/2timothy-2.html

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 2 Timothy 2:21, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2timothy-2.html

(3) My Utmost For His Highest Devotional https://utmost.org

(4) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 2 Timothy 3:16, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(5) Calvin, Ibid, 2 Timothy 3:16, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/2timothy-3.html

(6) “How Firm a Foundation” John Rippon, 1787.

July 31, 2020

The Goodness of God for Our Instruction

How often do you look to family members, friends, neighbors, or coworkers for guidance and instruction? How do you think about Christians who are taking stands about wearing masks or participating in protests? Do you agree with those who are being extra cautious to stay socially distant? Do you evaluate their decisions? Do you trust that they are as informed and wise as you are (or think you are)? With the internet, there is no excuse to be uninformed about scientific, medical, economic, or research data. However, we need much more than that if we are going to instruct each other prudently—we need the wisdom of God—which we have or can have if we are in Christ.

Some Christians in the first century disagreed and took sides when it came to the clash between the Jews and the Gentiles. “The focus on Jew-Gentile issues suggests that tensions existed between Jews and Gentiles in the church in Rome…The Roman historian Suetonius records that the Roman emperor Claudius…expelled Jews from Rome in AD 49 because of strife over ‘Chrestos’…The expulsion of Jews from Rome is confirmed by Acts 18:2. Because of the expulsion, the Gentile churches would have developed for a number of years apart from the Jews. Over the years the Jewish Christians slowly filtered back into Roman churches. It is not difficult to imagine that tensions would develop between law-observing Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians who lived free of the restrictions in the Mosaic law.” (1) The strains that we are experiencing in our world are not unique; through the ages, cultures have clashed, countries fought, and states have engaged in civil warfare. Paul’s letter explains the “OT promises of salvation are fulfilled in the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of new life received through faith in him. The gospel goes to both Jew and Gentile, fulfilling God’s plan to bless the nations.” (2) There is nothing more reasonable than the gospel’s work to bring an end to conflicts. But Paul’s statement in Romans 15:14 goes beyond an intellectual faith in the gospel to its power and efficacy in God’s people. He writes, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Believers are full of Christ’s goodness and knowledge, not just for our benefit but also for others’ sake. And, since we are full of goodness and knowledge, we should accept the biblical instruction from others, as we likewise instruct them.

“Nothing is clearer than that the {Romans] letter is for people who take their faith seriously. Yet it is not the mere fact of the letter that is a compliment. Paul is aware that his confidence in these believers, whom he had never seen, might nevertheless be misunderstood. So he compliments them directly, using the terms appearing in this verse: (1) ‘full of goodness,’ (2) ‘complete in knowledge,’ and (3) ‘competent to instruct one another.’ John Murray says of this verse, ‘He could scarcely have devised a combination of words that would more effectively convey to them his own personal conviction of the fruit of the gospel in their midst.’ If this really is Paul’s way of complimenting the Roman church on being what a church should be, then he is also giving us three criteria by which we can evaluate ourselves—or any local gathering of believers.” (3) Do you know believers who meet these three criteria? It is a delight to name many individuals who are full of goodness, have in-depth knowledge of Christ and biblical doctrine, and are competent to teach me. But I confess that when I think of myself, I realize that I am too self-absorbed, especially during social isolation. Those of us who enjoy being introverts, at least to some extent, settle into a distancing pattern too quickly.

“The word is agathôsunê [used by Paul here], is significant because it refers to moral or ethical goodness as well as to what we would most naturally think of—namely, kindness, thoughtfulness, charity toward the poor, and such. This is important, of course, especially when we remember what Paul had to say about goodness in the earlier chapters. In his study of the nature of fallen man developed in chapter 3 he quoted Psalm 14:1–3 and 53:1–3 as teaching that ‘there is no one who does good, not even one’ (v. 12). Even worse, not only do we fail to do or practice good; we also actively do evil, and that continuously… ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’ (Romans 3:13–18) How, then, can Paul speak in chapter 15 of the Roman believers being filled with goodness? The answer, obviously, is that they had become Christians, having been turned from their sin to faith and righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is true, as Robert Haldane writes, that ‘in our flesh there is nothing good.’ But it is equally true that ‘from the work of the Spirit on our hearts we may be full of goodness.’… We need to remember that Galatians 5:22–23 lists goodness as one part of the Holy Spirit’s fruit…and that, according to Ephesians 2:10, doing good works is the necessary outcome of our having become Christians: ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’” (4) It is a relief to know that we believers are full of Christ’s goodness and knowledge for the sake of others.

Since believers are full of goodness and knowledge, we should accept their biblical instruction as we likewise instruct them. Romans 15:14 continues, “…filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” “The Greek word translated competent is based on the word ‘dynamis’ (actually ‘dynamenoi’), which has the idea of being powerful or effective. ‘Dynamis’ was the word used in the phrase ‘by the power of the Holy Spirit’ in verse 13. Instruct is ‘nouthetein,’ which carries the idea of admonishing another person in order to correct something that may be wrong. In the New Testament the word occurs only in Paul’s writings plus once in a speech of his recorded in Acts 20:31. In Acts 20 Paul has arrived at Miletus on the coast of Asia Minor near Ephesus and has sent for the elders of the Ephesian church in order to say good-bye to them and give them his final admonitions and encouragements. As part of this helpful instruction he brings forward his own example when he was with them earlier, saying, ‘Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears’ (Acts 20:31).” (5)

Of course, we’re not apostles, and most of us are not pastors or evangelists, although we should all be sharing the gospel regularly. John Gill describes Paul’s knowledge and that which we should have: “all spiritual knowledge relating to God; to Christ and the work of redemption by him; to the Spirit, and the operations of his grace; to the Gospel, and the doctrines of it; to their duty to God, fellow creatures, and fellow Christians; in short, with all knowledge necessary to salvation, though as yet not perfect…goodness and knowledge are necessary to admonition, and qualify persons for it: if a man is not a good man himself, he is not fit to admonish another; and if he has not knowledge, he will not be able to do it as it should be; and without humanity and tenderness, he will not perform it aright, and with success; but all this being in these persons, they were able and fit for it.” (6) Psalm 84:11 says, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Since the Lord doesn’t withhold his goodness, we should not withhold ours, having the knowledge and life experiences we do with Christ. Do you doubt the power of the goodness of Christ in you? God doesn’t, and he gives us much encouragement in his Word. “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.” (1 Corinthians 1:4-8) So, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Romans—Theme, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(2) ESV Notes, Ibid.

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

(4) Boice, Ibid.

(5) Boice, Ibid.

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

July 24, 2020

Gospel Goodness Now

Are you still complaining about social distancing? About wearing a mask in public? Let’s face it, at some point we were all griping and murmuring about the extended pandemic. But most of us have now gone through a phase where we have asked ourselves, “What’s good about the pandemic?” At least that’s better than complaining. After all, God is good, so whatever he ordains for us has some functional component in it. I was curious about what people considered good about the global Covid-19 event, so I checked multiple websites. Some results included decreasing carbon footprints, clearer waterways, more family time, appreciating the outdoors more, re-examining our priorities, stronger community relationships, increased virtual programming, and improved internet access. When we are under stress during long trials or challenges, we tend to start looking for positive effects to avoid getting depressed by the negative and sometimes catastrophic results. Positive results, good deeds, and hopeful attitudes go a long way toward overcoming potentially circumstances. As one who has endured chronic, and sometimes intense pain, I am very familiar with the process. However, naming the pandemic’s temporal benefits only go so far to encourage us. On the other hand, God’s enduring goodness, especially Christ’s atonement, and the Spirit’s indwelling presence have the power to refresh our souls and minimize our focus on our circumstances. God’s goodness in this life is a reality for Christians. Living in, through, and for Christ is a unique and superior way to experience God’s goodness now. David found great comfort in God’s goodness and reminds us to look to him rather than to the world for what is wholesome, virtuous, or noble. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalms 23:6) “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” (Psalms 27:13)

Today’s verses focus on being in the presence of God in this life, in addition to our eternity with Christ (Psalm 23). I was grateful when a friend texted a link to a podcast from “Revive Our Hearts” on anxiety. In this episode, Janet Mylin defines anxiety (for Christians) as fearing a future without God’s grace and mercy. (1) The Psalms offer us the antithesis—a future with God, resting in his goodness. Those of us who are redeemed already know the best thing God can do—save us from the custodial power of sin that imprisoned us. We were captured by our fears, driven to look for hope in a condemned world, and searching for the power to gain control over our lives. Our idols failed us, our dreams disappointed, and people never quite met our expectations. We were deceived, thinking we could find substantial, fulfilling goodness from ourselves, others, or the world. But only God is our protective, restorative, calm, generous, righteous Good Shepherd, who leads, comforts, and anoints us. His goodness and mercy follow us forever through Christ. Only the goodness of God in Christ will satisfy our longing for peace, security, and love. The good news of the gospel means that God’s goodness is our reality in this life, even amid a pandemic or other devastating trial.

“This hymn [Psalm 23] is usually classified as a psalm of confidence in the Lord’s care. It uses two images: the Lord as Shepherd who cares for the sheep (vv. 1–4), and the Lord as Host who cares for his guest (vv. 5–6)…These images would be familiar from everyday experience (for David’s own, cf. 1 Sam. 17:34); but they also evoke other ideas common in the ancient Near East (including the OT), with the deity as shepherd of his people and the deity as host of the meal…The enemies are powerless to prevent the enjoyment of God’s generous hospitality (perhaps they are there as captives at a victory celebration).” (2) We celebrate God’s gracious mercy and grace, which cancels our enemies’ power over us; that is Satan, the world, and our sin. David wrote, “‘and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever; ‘which may denote his constant attendance on the public worship of God, of which he had been deprived in time past, being driven out from it, but now he enjoyed it, and believed he ever should; or it may design his being a member of the church of God, and a pillar in the house and temple of the Lord, that should never go out; see Revelation 3:12; or it may regard the assurance he had of dwelling in the house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens, Christ’s Father’s house, in which are many mansions, sure dwellings, and quiet resting places for his people, and that to all eternity.” (3) While we may not know for sure which of these blessings David had in mind, we have them all in Christ; as a result, we can and do live in God’s goodness without the anxiety of fearing what is bad, evil, evil, destructive, deceitful, or hateful. God’s goodness leads to our goodness rather than divisiveness and conflicts in world events, politics, economics, social issues, personal matters, or organizational struggles.

The goodness of God is not just intellectual, emotional, or attitudinal. We can “look upon the goodness of the Lord.” David believed it, and so do we if we belong to Christ because the Spirit testifies to God’s goodness and empowers us to imitate it. (See Romans 7:4; Galatians 5:22.) The King James Bible translates Psalm 27:13, “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” The New American Standard Version reads, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” They remind us that without Christ, we would faint or despair of seeing anything good here, and help us to rise to an exalted view of goodness that eclipses the world’s poor imitation. Psalm 27 is another hymn psalm, and “in singing Psalm 27, God’s people have a way of not simply expressing confidence in him but of cultivating that confidence for the widest range of challenging life situations…The singing worshiper addresses each of the other worshipers, with the admonition to live in continued confidence.” (4) “The psalmist believed that he should ‘see’; that is, enjoy all these, or whatever was needful for him; all the good things of life, all special favours; as supports under afflictions, views of pardoning grace under a sense of sin, strength against Satan’s temptations, and deliverance out of them; the discoveries of the love of God, and the light of his countenance, after desertions, and divine refreshments in his house, from his word and ordinances; and at last all the glories of the other world; and faith in these things is the best antidote against fainting.” (5)

How have you tasted God’s goodness recently? Have you proved that there is no comparison with the goodness the world professes? How does the gospel of Jesus Christ encourage your goodness? Are you living in the Spirit’s power and holiness to avoid being caught by worldly controversies? Can you say with assurance that your greatest desire is to be in God’s presence and pray as David did? “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalms 27:4)

(1) https://www.reviveourhearts.com

(2) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 23, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 23:6, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-23.html

(4) ESV, Ibid, Psalm 27.

(5) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 27:13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-27.html

July 17, 2020

God’s Perfect Goodness

What do you think about when you hear the word “justice?” Unfortunately, most of us immediately think of the injustice in the world, rather than positive lawfulness, moral uprightness, or equitableness. Today, Black Lives Matter, and other movements force us to think about justice, which God must intend since he is the sovereign first cause of all events and circumstances. But when we compare the court rulings for crimes to “issue-related” injustice, we can be a bit stymied. For example, compare these three recent news items: “A federal judge in San Antonio sentenced 32-year-old Trorice Crawford of San Diego, California, to 46 months in federal prison for his role in an identity-theft and fraud scheme that victimized thousands of U.S. service members and veterans, the Department of Justice announced today… A Tennessee healthcare executive was sentenced to 42 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release today for his role in an approximately $4 million kickback scheme…Yesterday, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice held a hearing on community trust and respect for law enforcement.” (1) The first two are easy to appreciate—punishment for those who have committed crimes against individuals or organizations. However, the third item, about “trust and respect for law enforcement” may make us a little uncomfortable, and raise questions about the power and force used by law enforcement officers, or their roles in protests and public events. However, a biblical worldview reminds us that our sinfulness has always infected humankind’s justice. Therefore, worldly justice will never be perfect or as successful as we might like. But God’s justice is perfect because he is perfect. His righteousness, moral purity, and absolute holiness are all aspects of his goodness.

As we segue to the next fruit of the Spirit, goodness, (Galatians 5:22-23), we will begin with a consideration of God’s goodness, as we experience it in life, and as he intends that we understand it. Psalm 145:4-9 provides our theme for this devotion to begin our study of biblical goodness. “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalms 145:4-9)

God’s people spoke of his great deeds and mercies, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and especially Joseph, who clearly understood God’s sovereign goodness. When confronted with a visit from his estranged brothers, what was his response? “So Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come near to me, please.’ And they came near. And he said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.’” (Genesis 45:4-9) Later he proclaimed, “‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’” (Genesis 50:20-21)

“What gave Joseph the grace to make this remarkable reply? There is only one answer: Joseph knew God. In particular, he knew two things about God. He knew that God is sovereign—that nothing ever comes into the life of any one of his children that he has not approved first; there are no accidents…And he knew that God is good—therefore, the things that come into our lives by God’s sovereignty are for our benefit (and for others’) and not for our harm. What Joseph saw and spoke of in this next-to-last scene of his earthly life is what the apostle Paul wrote about eloquently hundreds of years later… ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Rom. 8:28). It is impossible to overestimate the wonder of this verse…If all things worked together for our good without our knowing it, it would be a wonderful fact even though we might not find out about it until much later. But we do not have to wait until later. We can know it now. We can know that all that enters our lives is actually working for good now. This knowledge is by faith…It is not always by sight. But it is nevertheless certain, because it is based on the character of God, who reveals himself to us as both sovereign and benevolent….in proof of this conviction I submit the example of the greatest evil in all history producing the greatest good imaginable. I refer to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2) God’s goodness is seen in his majestic works, especially in Christ’s merciful, gracious, and loving atonement. Will we embrace and remember God’s joyful, extraordinary goodness in Christ that is our inheritance?

Psalm 145 speaks of remembering, but do we actually know what we remember? We tend to remember the hard times and trials in our lives more than those when God’s goodness covers us, protects or prevents difficulties, or intercedes in practical ways. So we have to learn how to remember biblically. The more time we spend in God’s Word, the better we know him and are content with his goodness. We can work for and expect the highest level of goodness in the world without so many disappointments, knowing that God’s goodness and justice will prevail in the new heavens and new earth. The birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ provide us with a complete picture of God’s goodness. We love to sing about Jesus’s love and work for us because, by it, God covers us, remakes us, and seals us with his goodness. Hymns such as “Amazing Grace,” “Fairest Lord Jesus,” “I Know Whom I Have Believed,” “To God Be the Glory,” and many others remind us of God’s divine goodness in his mercy and justice performed on the cross.

Verse 9 of Psalm 145 states, “‘The Lord is good to all,’…which is to be understood not of the general and providential goodness of God to all men, to all his creatures, and the works of his hands; but of the special goodness of Christ…which extends to all the chosen people of God; who are all loved by Christ, redeemed by him, justified and glorified by him; and to Gentiles as well as Jews; for whom he tasted death, laid down his life a ransom for them, and became the propitiation for their sins.” (3) God’s goodness is especially seen in Christ’s merciful, gracious, and loving atonement. Therefore, our virtue is particularly biblical when it is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But how often do we remember God’s joyful, extraordinary goodness in Christ that is our inheritance? And if we are so forgetful, how can we hope to grow in biblical goodness? Be encouraged—“I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” (Jeremiah 32:41)

(1) https://www.justice.gov/news

(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Genesis 50:15-21, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalms 145:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-145.html

July 10, 2020

The Benefits of Kindness in God’s Providence

My recent conversations with friends have included our mutual agreement about the sovereignty of God and his overarching providence during the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing that our good, holy, and purposeful God is the first cause and administrator of all events helps us tremendously. I have also realized how the kindnesses of my neighbors, friends, dog trainer, retirement staff, and even my vet have encouraged me to trust God and boldly step out in faith to serve him. It’s counter-cultural to put kindness first—those who do are either excessively flattered or scorned for being soft. Kindness is not always soft, but it is always active. In the past, I valued proactiveness, skillfulness, adaptiveness, and effectiveness more than spiritual fruits. Now, each time I study the fruits of the Spirit, I am under conviction to change my values and thinking—such is the work of sanctification. I pray the same for you. Today, we will consider three passages about kindness to the apostles in the first-century church planting. These three examples show how God supplies kindness from others to encourage and extend gospel ministry. My goal is to stimulate all of us to recognize, appreciate, and respond biblically to the considerations of others, for the sake of Christ and our witness for him.

The first passage is from Acts 10 when God extended an invitation to the Gentiles beyond Jerusalem to come to Christ through Peter’s ministry. Peter was finally convinced by God’s visions to go to Caesarea (10:17-23), which Cornelius considered a great kindness. “So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” (Acts 10:33) Cornelius’s “thankfulness to Peter for coming…not only doing that which was right in the sight of God, but was kind in him, and acceptable to Cornelius and his house” blessed the entire group. (1) Peter’s thinking was transformed, as was his heart and conduct. This work of sanctification is what we should all pray for, in ourselves and others. He was starting a journey toward unbiased respect and compassion for all people, regardless of their past beliefs. Peter didn’t enter Cornelius’s home to convince him to change; the man had already heard from the Lord and was at the point of conversion. Perhaps an aside here is called for—may we all be drawn to those primed by God’s Spirit, curious and interested—and not push on those who are disinterested. The work of redemption is God’s—but he will use us to accomplish it and others’ kindness to grow his kingdom.

On the other side, Cornelius’s kindness resulted in Peter’s encouragement to preach, and without it, far fewer people would have been reached. “Never did a preacher have a better prepared audience.” (2) He did everything possible to assist Peter and comply with God’s calling. “Cornelius had prepared his whole household, and now they were all waiting to hear Peter. I suppose Cornelius had figured out how long the trip to and the return from Joppa would take. He knew that those he had sent would not delay. He knew exactly when they would arrive. So there he was. He had everybody assembled. God had prepared Cornelius, the preacher, and the audience.” (3) Many received the gift of regeneration that day, because of Peter’s and Cornelius’s submission to the Lord and their great kindness toward each other.

Now, let’s jump to the end of the book of Acts, after the third missionary journey when Paul was in route to Rome “…when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius…The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for…” (Acts 27:1, 3). After that, Paul advised the Romans that they should not try to traverse the sea. A dangerous storm arose and the ship was in danger of capsizing. “Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.’” (27:21-26) Maybe the other men thought Paul was out of his mind, except Julius. “But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” (Acts 27:43-44) Paul and Julius became friends, which resulted in mercy and compassion for all those on board—prisoners and guards. The fact that the soldiers feared the prisoners’ escape makes Julius’s choice even more commendable—he risked his career and probably his life to helping Paul.

John Gill comments: “Sailing at this time was dangerous, as the saints’ passage through this world always is, and especially now in these last and perilous days; partly through the abounding of immorality on the one hand, and partly through the spread of error and heresy on the other…the word of the Lord being precious, there being a famine of hearing the word; or for want of appetite to it: and last of all, there was a design formed by the soldiers to kill Paul, and the prisoners, but were prevented by the centurion.” (5) God supplies kindness from others to encourage and extend gospel ministry. In Acts 28, Luke writes, “After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold…Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him.” (vs.1-2, 7-8) Once again, deliverance from danger and the opportunity to witness the healing power of Christ resulted from the kindness of all parties. “God can make strangers to be friends; friends in distress…The Lord raises up friends for his people in every place whither he leads them, and makes them blessings to those in affliction.” (6) “Though the inhabitants could not understand their language, they understood their case, and were very civil and humane to them, and showed them extraordinary kindness: for they kindled a fire…for a large fire it must be to be of service to such a number of people, in such a condition as they were…nothing was more needful and more agreeable to them than a large fire.” (7) Then, “…the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.” (28:9-10)

The kindness of the island residents to build a fire led to Paul getting bitten by a snake, which led to them witnessing Christ’s power in another healing. What chain reaction of kindness have you seen in your family, neighborhood, or church lately? What might happen if you started one, after praying for God’s provision and opportunity? How has the kindness of others encouraged you in your ministry or witness? Isn’t this exact time when we should be thinking, praying, and choosing to extend the gospel to the kind people all around us? Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said to his disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18) Let’s not underestimate the power of Spiritual fruit in our witness for Christ.

(1) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 10:33,https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-10.html

(2) Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Acts 10:33, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition

(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Acts 10:33, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 27:44, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-27.html

(5) Gill, Ibid.

(6) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Acts 28:1-10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/proverbs-30.html

(7) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 28, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-28.html

(8) Gill, Ibid. 

July 3, 2020

Excessive Kindness and Mercy

As the new owner of a rescue puppy who is training him seven days a week, he was bound to become the focus of my introduction. It’s not that he’s the most significant thing in my life, but he’s the closest, with the most immediate needs, and I am the one responsible for him. I have friends who suffer from illnesses, injuries, trials with adult children, and relatives with coronavirus. I also grieve for those who have lost their businesses and jobs, and my elderly neighbors lose intellectual ground without activities and visitors. They are all more important, but at a little distance or not in my daily circle, so we pray and stay in touch. However, GG is right here in my apartment, depending on me for everything and still can’t be left alone. So my world is now tied to him, and the number of spiritual applications arising from his ongoing training is enormous. The most significant parallel is how I use positive training methods to teach GG (God’s Gift) to obey me, with gentleness, calmness, and patience. (Except when I forget.) Kindness, gentleness, mercy, and good judgments seem to be the key to having a kind, gentle dog. When we recognize God’s gracious tenderness toward us, we also become more like him. Shame on us if we don’t learn and grow with God through our daily encounters with people and creation.

I can’t command GG to be gentle and kind, but God does command us to be so with everyone, and especially the most vulnerable among us. “And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.’” (Zechariah 7:8-10) This passage provides the theme and foundation of today’s devotion. The Lord commands and empowers us to be exceedingly just, kind, merciful, and forgiving to one another. In Christ, we must extend gospel kindness, mercy, and justice to those in need, rather than oppress those who are weak and powerless or fall back on evil devises for each other. Either we live our gospel kindness or resort to our sin nature, without respect to Christ. During the extended pandemic, we may become discouraged or disheartened. But it was more difficult for the Israelites who concluded their seventy-year exile only to deal with a harsh reality of life in a decimated Jerusalem. “For the exiles who returned to Jerusalem in Zechariah’s day, the reality fell far short of the earlier prophetic hope. The community faced many challenges: financial hardship, opposition from outside enemies, and low morale. There were also social problems, possibly on account of disputes between those who returned and those who remained in the land. It was a time of disappointment, disillusionment, despondency, and guilt.” (1) Now, we have those who feel strongly about wearing masks and staying home, and those disagreeing. We are in danger of the same disillusionment as social isolation continues indefinitely.

In Zechariah’s time, “…there are two things for which the people of his day are faulted…it did not make any difference whether they were fasting or feasting. In each case they were pleasing themselves. Their celebrations had nothing to do with true religion. The second thing for which the people are faulted is that their worship, whether by fasting or by anything else, did not lead to acts of mercy to the abandoned and oppressed. Yet this is what Isaiah, Amos, Samuel, Moses, and indeed all the prophets and writers of Scripture called for. Without such acts the forms of religion are not true religion. Without justice the worship of God, however intense or prolonged, is blasphemy.” (2) “Zechariah calls the people to trust and obey God’s word. He calls on them to get on with and complete the rebuilding of the temple in anticipation of God’s return to establish his kingdom, a kingdom in which God will throw down all opposition by the nations and bring forgiveness and cleansing through his Messiah. In proclaiming this message, Zechariah maintains that the restoration hopes of the earlier prophets still stand, and he calls God’s people to live in light of these promises.” (3) Are we not focusing too much on our circumstances, materialism, and freedoms today? Should we not be looking more to the Lord, for how would he further our sanctification during this time and crystalize our faith? Do we not have a promise of eternal redemption and glorious life in the Lamb’s presence, as the purified Bride of Christ? Does God not have the right to command us to excessive tenderness, forgiveness, justice, and mercy? Last week we considered the quality of our kindness, but should we not contemplate the degree or quantity of our compassion? After all, we are Christ’s, and his kind-heartedness is infinite, as is the Spirit’s.

I have no idea what GG has experienced over the last nine months, but I know he can’t get enough love, affection, and direction. I should be so eager to obey God as he is to follow me, and I have much more reason, considering how Christ has rescued me. Only through the work of Christ in our hearts and our collective Body can we obey God’s command for true judgments, kindness, and mercy to all people. “We have to recognize that sin is a fact of life, not just a shortcoming. Sin is blatant mutiny against God, and either sin or God must die in my life…The culmination of sin was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and what was true in the history of God on earth will also be true in your history and in mine— that is, sin will kill the life of God in us. We must mentally bring ourselves to terms with this fact of sin. It is the only explanation why Jesus Christ came to earth, and it is the explanation of the grief and sorrow of life.” (4)

Christ’s call to our mutual grace contrasts with the work of sin in our hearts and lives. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32) We are changed people through Christ; you and I are not the same human beings we were before his redemption was applied to us by God’s Spirit. I renamed my dog GG because he is not the same dog he was three weeks ago. He is gentler, calmer, with a purpose, to serve as a therapy dog in his future. He is now my present, and one day will be God’s gift to many. He is no longer just surviving and nor are we. We live for Christ, to bring others to his throne for the forgiveness.

We are to be “tender hearted: which is opposed to a being hard-hearted to them that are in distress, and close at hand to the needy…and this should be done in like manner as God forgives in Christ, and for his sake; that is, fully and freely, and from their hearts…saints should give freely to one another, for outward support, where it is needful; and should impart spiritual gifts and experience for inward comfort, where it is wanted, and as they have the ability…[since] all they have…is freely given by God in Christ, and for his sake; with whom he freely gives them all things; in whom he has given them grace, and blessed them with all spiritual blessings; as peace, pardon, righteousness, and eternal life.” (5)

When you hear news reports of protests, BLM activities, and other social concerns, how do you judge those involved? Do you consult God? Listen to biblical commentary? Or just follow those who are the most vocal? Are you as merciful as you can be to those in your home and close-by? Are there widows in your neighborhood or church body who could use a call or help with a task? Millions of children all over the world are without parents; are you doing anything for them? (6) “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) There are also many ways to contribute to the needs of the financially limited during social isolation. (7) Of course, the first step is to check our hearts for the desire to extend kindness to as many as possible, knowing that God will empower and lead us in our selections since our time and finances are limited. “‘Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:16-18)

(1) “NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible,” Introduction to Zechariah, eBook, Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Zechariah 7:1-8:23, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(3) NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Ibid.

(4) “My Utmost For His Highest Devotion,” 6/23/20 (https://utmost.org)

(5) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Ephesians 4:32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-4.html

(6) Among other organizations, The Rafiki Foundation provides Bible studies, Christian Classical education, and practical support for widows and orphans, rafikifoundation.org

(7) To find groups or charities that are helping the poor: https://mswonlineprograms.org/poverty-hunger/

June 26, 2020

Embracing Exalted Kindness

How do you feel about the Supreme Court’s DACA decision? Does its kindness to dreamers outweigh its temporary nature and congressional failure to legislate on immigration? (1) Do you consider yourself a kind person? If so, why, or if not, why not? What are the characteristics of a kind person? When I started studying kindness, the fifth fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, my view of it was so much less than what it should have been. How many others equate kindness with politeness, civility, or simply being nice? But Biblical kindness is much more than that! “Goodness is the very opposite of harshness, cruelty, gruffness, severity, mercilessness–all of which are far removed from God…The goodness of God, on the contrary, is the loveliness, benign character, sweetness, friendliness, kindness, and generosity of God. Goodness is the very essence of God’s being, even if there were no creature to whom this could be manifested.” (2) “When Paul laid out his case to the church in Corinth that he was a true apostle, he did so by detailing the trials he endured for the sake of the gospel, the inner spiritual life God granted him despite this suffering, and the God-produced spiritual fruit in his life (2 Corinthians 6:1-13). Surprisingly, kindness made his list of spiritual fruit. ‘You want proof I’m an apostle?’ he said, in effect. ‘Okay, here it is: I’m kind’… Kindness is no small thing. It yields marvelous fruit both in our lives and the lives of those around us. ‘Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor’ (Proverbs 21:21). We open ourselves to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit when we ask him to produce in us kind hearts that overflow through kind lips.” (3)

This week, God has used 2 Corinthians 6:3-8 to radically change my thinking. “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.” (2 Corinthians 6:3-8a) The Holy Spirit provides our Christian kindness along with our purity, knowledge, patience, and sincere love for others. May we elevate our view of kindness to be more proactive and intentional with everyone in all circumstances, following Paul’s example.

Paul and his brothers didn’t seem concerned about their reputations but were entirely devoted to the honor of Christ’s gospel ministry. “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry…” (v. 3) Implied in the statement is the reality that people will try to find fault with Christianity. “The apostle knew there were persons who were waiting all opportunities, and taking all advantages to vilify and reproach the ministry of the Gospel, and so hinder its progress and spread.” (4) So we find this principle at work: Since God called them to the preaching of the gospel, the Spirit would prepare and empower them to respond to others with gospel kindness rather than hinder their ministry of reconciliation. For those of us not in full-time ministry, it might look different, but the principle is the same. For example, I took a big risk today and visited a hairdresser for the first time in three months. (Only during a pandemic would that sentence make sense.) I had biblical kindness on my mind, but I was with a new salon owner, just getting to know her. The Spirit took over when I shared a little about myself, and she opened up about a concern of her own. That exchange happened right after I assured her that it took no great feat of courage or personal strength to serve in Africa as a missionary, but reliance on God who called me there. Kindness to others flows from our love for Christ, our trust in God’s plans, and yielding to the Spirit’s supernatural work in our sanctification. My sweet interaction with my new hairdresser was more of a blessing than my refreshed hairstyle. Of course, enduring three months without providential connections like this, a haircut, meal with friends, or regular meetings has been trivial compared to the trials that Paul experienced. So shouldn’t it be even easier for us to endure and demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit? We, like Paul, are called to “commend ourselves in every way” as God’s servants. For the apostles that meant “great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, [and] hunger…” (vs. 4-5) “It is not sufficient for a minister of the Gospel to avoid everything that might bring any blot or scandal on his ministry; but he should in all things, and by all ways and means, proper, lawful, and laudable, approve, prove, and show himself to be a true and faithful dispenser of the word.” (5) We share the gospel with the words of Christ for redemption in him; we model the gospel with our lives, character, and actions.

God might use a broken down car, financial shortages, injury, or even a rude puppy to help us grow in kindness. As I train my future therapy dog, my desire to be kind to them flows from this purpose—to comfort others (rather than annoy them with his barking). The Spirit is working in me to be careful to avoid situations that might set him off, even if it means ten more minutes of walking in 95-degree heat when I just want to get into my air-conditioned building. We endure our challenges and afflictions the same way Paul did, “…by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love…” (v. 6) “Purity rightly heads the list. It is a comprehensive word encompassing purity of life, thought, and motive…The apostle’s knowledge of divine truth was unsurpassed, and he never wavered from a true understanding of sinful men, the strategies of Satan, false religious systems, God’s redeeming love, and the principles of effective teaching, evangelism, and discipling…A clear understanding of the truth that was never altered was the foundation of his endurance…Paul also modeled the essential virtue of kindness, which describes goodness in action. No matter how people treated him, Paul responded by doing useful deeds for them. He expressed his credo when he exhorted the Galatians, ‘Let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith’ (Gal. 6:10). It is the Holy Spirit who empowers endurance. Paul walked in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), was filled with the Spirit (Acts 13:9), accessed the Father through the Spirit (Eph. 2:18), was called to (Acts 13:2) and gifted for ministry by Him (1 Cor. 12:7, 11), ministered in His power (Rom. 15:19), followed His leading (Acts 16:6-7), was taught by Him (1 Cor. 2:13), prayed in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18), and worshiped in the Spirit (Phil. 3:3). He did not grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), or quench Him (1 Thess. 5:19). The Spirit also produced in him the genuine love, which He has ‘poured out within our hearts’ (Rom. 5:5; cf. Gal. 5:22).” (6) 

The Holy Spirit provides our Christian kindness along with our purity, knowledge, patience, and sincere love for others in all circumstances. We must elevate our view of kindness to be more proactive and intentional with everyone in all conditions. We can because we have the full armor of God as described in Ephesians 6:10-20. John Gill writes that when Paul mentioned “the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left…” (v. 7), his “meaning, [was] either the whole armor of God, with which a Christian is all over clothed from head to foot, and in the strength of Christ may engage any adversary without fear; or else particularly the sword of the Spirit in the right hand, and the shield of faith in the left, whereby both the offensive and defensive part may be acted; or, as others think, uprightness of conscience, and holiness of life and conversation.” (7) No matter which of these are the primary application, God provides them all through the Holy Spirit. Knowing this should motivate us to be more proactively and intentional kind in all circumstances.

Does it surprise you that Scripture places kindness on the same level as purity, knowledge, patience, and genuine love? Will you pray for more appreciation of this spiritual fruit? “Rich were the blessings of this day if all of us were filled with the Holy Ghost. The consequences of this sacred filling of the soul it would be impossible to overestimate. Life, comfort, light, purity, power, peace; and many other precious blessings are inseparable from the Spirit’s benign presence. As sacred oil, he anoints the head of the believer, sets him apart to the priesthood of saints, and gives him grace to execute his office aright. As the only truly purifying water he cleanses us from the power of sin and sanctifies us unto holiness, working in us to will and to do of the Lord’s good pleasure.” (8) As you look back on the last 48 hours of your life, how might you have omitted kindness that could have been an obstacle to Christ’s love for someone? Did you do something unkind, that may have been an obstacle to God’s love? You may have endured some hardships and afflictions over the last few months, not on the scale that Paul did, but difficult nevertheless. How might God be using those hardships in your sanctification, specifically to help you to be more kind? “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:9-10)

(1) For Christian commentary on the DACA decision see “Albert Mohler, “Part 1-Supreme Court Decides the DACA Case, https://albertmohler.com

(2)Wilhelmus a’ Brakel on the Goodness of God,” Calvin and Calvinism, 2008, https://calvinandcalvinism.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/wlhelmus-a-brakel-on-the-goodness-of-god/

(3) Witmore, Stephen, “Kindness Changes Everything,” 9/4/2016, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/kindness-changes-everything.)

(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 2 Corinthians 6:3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2corinthians-6.html

(5) Gill, Ibid, 2 Corinthians 6:4.

(6) MacArthur, John, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, “Honor and Dishonor—the Paradox of Ministry” (2 Corinthians 6:1-10), Moody Publishers, 2003.

(7) Gill, Ibid, 2 Corinthians 6:6.

(8) Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, https://www.biblegateway.com/devotionals/morning-and-evening/today

June 18, 2020

The Kindness of a Godly Rebuke

Have you been following the Black Lives Matter protests, speeches, and programs? If you are a person of color, I imagine you have been checking out tweets, posts, articles, and TV programs. On two evenings this week, I watched an online interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” (1) Since I am not a person of color, I think it’s especially important to listen to those whose race often results in exclusion, oppression, or abuse. I’ve always been attracted to people of different races and color, and almost started a career based on the need for justice for minorities when I was in my twenties, but God had other plans for my life. I enjoyed working in Africa for almost two decades. Add to this my background in peaceful, civil disobedience in my 20s, and you can imagine that I am truly heartbroken for the racial dissonance in America. As a white person with all the privileges of my skin color, I confess to the tendency to think I actually know something about the situation; but I do not. So I am thankful for God’s kindness to humble me and help me receive his implied rebuke for my prideful self-righteousness in this week’s passage. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” (Psalm 141:3-5) Let’s consider how the Spirit guards our mouths, disinclines us to evil, and kindly blesses us with rebukes. If we embrace God’s wisdom, and his preventive and corrective kindness, we will be kinder to others.

About Psalm 141, James Boice writes, “Psalm 141 is a psalm in which every word and sentence is a prayer.” (2) In verses 3-5, David makes four requests for God’s restraint: over his lips, his heart, the temptation to join with others in sinful conduct, and his rejection of a well-intentioned, kind rebuke. David needed help to keep from sinning with his lips, an irreverent heart leading to wicked behavior, and denial of godly correction, as we all do. David’s prayer reminds me of Psalm 1:1-2 “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” In Psalm 141, David prays, “Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.” (v. 10) In Psalm 1, the blessed man walking with the Lord, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (v. 3) David clearly wants to be the blessed man described in Psalm 1:3, which is why he needs to hear God’s corrective rebukes and those from others. “[Charles] Spurgeon…said, ‘When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God—the evil is rather practical than habitual—but after that, they become habituated to evil, and they stand in the way of open sinners who willfully violate God’s commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful. They have taken their degree in vice, and as true Doctors of Damnation they are installed.’” (3) But, when the Spirit guards our mouths, disinclines us to evil, and kindly blesses us with rebuffs, we become kinder, gentler, fruit-bearing Christians.

“The first thing David asks God to guard is his mouth so he will not speak sinfully or in a way that might harm others. There is no biblical writer that seems so conscious of the harm that words can do as David.” (4) “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” “Good men know the evil of tongue sins. When enemies are provoking, we are in danger of speaking unadvisedly. While we live in an evil world, and have such evil hearts, we have need to pray that we may neither be drawn nor driven to do any thing sinful.” (5) Much of the controversy over Black Lives Matter today has to do with words, so I try to pay careful attention when I am listening to speeches and reading tweets. Words matter, mine and yours matter. I could quickly write something that would either offend you or encourage you, but because I don’t know you, I’ll let the Lord speak; his words matter more.

It’s not enough, though, to control our speech, since our hearts are the source of our words. David knew that his heart would lead him into evil comradeship with ungodly men, resulting in his occupation with wicked deeds, as if they are tasty “delicacies.” (v. 4) “David makes his request for pure actions from the negative side, asking God to keep him from being ‘drawn to what is evil’ or taking ‘part in wicked deeds.’ This is what we pray for when we say the Lord’s Prayer, asking, ‘Lead us not into temptation’ (Matt. 6:13).” (6) We need a constant reminder of the gospel’s work in us, to help us appreciate and embrace God’s transforming us into new creatures who no longer react as hopeless victims of the world. Sometimes we put on “masks” of competency, success, spiritual strength, and intelligence to hide our vulnerability. But David never tries to hide his needs or act stoically. I wondered how much I mask my insecurities and weaknesses with a show of competence or organization. My new rescue puppy puts on a “mask” of aggression when he is afraid, looking like he wants to attack the other dogs before they attack him because he doesn’t know what else to do (according to a professional trainer for aggressive dogs). But we do know what to do—we are to humble ourselves and honestly admit to not knowing our hearts, not being different from anyone else. “…David is not too good for evil people; he is too much like them and therefore likely to be swept away by their wickedness if in their company. David swept away by evil company? If that was a danger for David, how much more so for you and me? Shouldn’t we also be praying, ‘Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil’ and ‘Lead me not into temptation?’” (7)

One highly recommended way to avoid the dangers of sin is to pray The Lord’s Prayer daily. David uses another approach in v. 5, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” “We should be ready to welcome the rebuke of our heavenly Father, and also the reproof of our brethren. It shall not break my head, if it may but help to break my heart: we must show that we take it kindly…When the world is bitter, the word is sweet.” (8) David’s warning to receive rebukes sounds like Proverbs 27:6, which says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” As the Spirit guards our mouths and disinclines us to evil, he also kindly blesses us with correction. But thinking of criticisms as kindness is a shocking idea to our natural minds. Yet many of God’s rebukes are implied and subtle, not direct and sharp. The work of the gospel is to conform us to the kindness of Christ, for others’ sakes, and his glory,

Do you seek out those news reports, posts, tweets, and articles that conform to your present opinions, or do you look for new ideas that might transform your mind, perhaps even offer a kindly rebuke? Looking back, what would you consider the most significant and kindest transformation of your heart since Christ redeemed you? Is it the decreased desire for a specific idol or sin, a new interest in Scripture, being more other-centered, being less self-righteous or prideful, or another significant change? For a more Christ-like character in the future, what worldly or sinful conduct is most alluring to you? Will you pray for God’s help to resist the temptation to indulge yourself in it? Today, are you willing to accept God’s spiritual or practical rebukes? “…reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” (Proverbs 9:8a-9) Will you humble yourself to hear subtle or implied rebukes from others? The spiritual fruit of kindness does not grow in our blessings, but in our trials and challenges. Will you pray with the psalmist, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways?” (Psalm 119:37)

(1) Part 1 of Oprah’s interview can be found on this page, if you scroll down to the YouTube Link: https://www.popsugar.com/celebrity/ava-duvernay-black-lives-matter-discussion-with-oprah-video-47540396?stream_view=1#photo-47540405

(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 141, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(3) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 1:1-3.

(4) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 141.

(5) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Psalm 141:1-4, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/psalms/141.html

(6) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 141.

(7) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 141.

(8) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Psalm 141:5-10, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/psalms/141.html 

June 12, 2020

The Kindness of Christ In Our Turbulent World

I know that God, because of his goodness and loving kindness toward me, my elderly neighbors, and shut-ins, brought a (future therapy) rescue dog to me after nine months of prayer. Adopting a shelter dog with a short past reminds me that Christ rescued me when I was an undisciplined thirty-three year old. If I neglect Christ’s special grace of the gospel and not show the same loving kindness to others, through the Spirit’s fruit, I will not live out the faith I profess. “Christ’s divinity is not an abstract truth, however glorious, but a transformative witness that impels followers to good works…False followers identify themselves in part by lack of such actions. Paul’s many ethical promptings [in Titus] are therefore calls for believers to show in real life the gospel they profess. For Paul, saving faith is shown not least in its actions.” (1) Let’s take a closer look at one Titus passage. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) We are God’s heirs, with his righteousness, because of Christ’s goodness and loving kindness when he appeared in history and to us in our regeneration. Our Christian compassion exceeds worldly benevolence because of our salvation and renewal in the Spirit. We have the hope of eternal life, and hope in this season where many to lose their jobs, businesses, health, lives, and possibly homes. The fast spreading illness and events of the last few months should shock us all into a great appreciation of and conviction from God’s kindness to us.

In Titus 3:4-7, Paul ties together God’s goodness, kindness, mercy, grace, and hope. “And we are delivered out of our miserable condition, only by the mercy and free grace of God, the merit and sufferings of Christ, and the working of his Spirit. God the Father is God our Savior. He is the fountain from which the Holy Spirit flows, to teach, regenerate, and save his fallen creatures; and this blessing comes to mankind through Christ. The spring and rise of it, is the kindness and love of God to man.” (2) According to our Titus passage, the triune God is our merciful, cleansing, regenerating, renewing, justifying, gracious Savior and Spirit, generously giving us eternal life. Concentrating on God’s attributes helps us to keep his person, work, and desires in mind as we move through the day. But, why do we need this continually, every day? “There is a battle royal between the brain and the heart. The brain makes one assumption and the heart completely disavows it. The brain revels in every modern advancement while the heart says, ‘that won’t satisfy.’ The brain cries out for improvement while the heart cries out for everlastingness. The heart will never be satisfied with the desires of the brain. The heart was made for everlastingness while the brain is suffocating under the cloud of depravity.” (3) So is the state of humans, but not God whose being is whole and unconflicted. We will begin the study of kindness, our spiritual fruit, by focusing on God’s kindness to us, especially in Jesus Christ, who appeared for our salvation. It’s God’s fruit that we want to develop and demonstrate; he is the beginning and foundation of our faith and fruit.

We have many emotional issues in our society today that call for godly kindnesses, expressing themselves in different ways. I particularly appreciate these thoughts about recent protests from Vanessa Hawkins.

“Following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I did what I have learned to do way too well – I compartmentalized. I conveniently tucked feelings away so that I could accomplish the task before me and complete the work day. When I finally made it home, I watched the video that was cycling through the news, and I was undone. I couldn’t sleep. I poured out an assortment of complex feelings before the Lord and just wept. Every time I thought about it, I wept. I realized that day that lament is costly and disruptive. It disrupted my plans and made space for emotions I didn’t care to feel. It ultimately pushed me to the throne of the only Help I know. That Help is our only hope; His name is Jesus. While I am often tempted to look away from the evil and injustice in our world, Jesus never did. He looked. He saw. ‘When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36). Jesus didn’t look away from injustice. He looked. He saw. This is uncomfortable for us because having compassion is costly. It won’t allow our response of ‘that’s so sad’ to be the end of the conversation. Compassion demands that we do something. In various places in Scripture Jesus is ‘moved with compassion.’ Compassion means acting on the grief our heart feels and setting things right where we can. It’s bringing what access and influence we have to bear on the circumstances of the harassed and the helpless.” (4)

I mourn the deaths of our citizens every morning when I check at the new coronavirus death count, which is increasing daily. I am overwhelmed by the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, police officers, and others caught up in the protests. For now, I’ll follow Hawkins’s example of lamenting as a way to remember the goodness and lovingkindness of Christ. After all, we are “justified by his grace [that] we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7) We should consider this truth in light of Romans 8:16-17: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” God’s children will suffer, and we are to suffer with them. Is this not the best goodness, to have the same godly compassion that Christ manifested when he appeared and saved us by his mercy and regeneration? So the question I’m asking myself today is, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) Christ’s kindness brings me to repent of distancing myself emotionally from America’s destructive racial conflicts. For what do you repent?

(1) “NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Introduction to Titus,” Zondervan, Kindle Edition, 2018.

(2) Henry, Matthew Henry, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible,” Titus 3:7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/titus-3.html

(3) Tozer, A.W., “And He Dwelt Among Us,” Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2009

(4) Hawkins, Vanessa, “On Oneness, Lament, And Seeing With Compassion,” https://encourage.pcacdm.org/2020/06/04/post-template-213-36/

 

June 5, 2020

Resting From Running

This week I can’t stop thinking about those who have pushed their way through the first stage of the pandemic. Working in a new environment, with insufficient tools or supplies, new methods of communication, and dire, life-threatening needs is exhausting. About eight years ago, I was in danger of burning out in my work. I felt overwhelmed by my responsibilities, insecure in my position, and discouraged about one project that wasn’t going as planned; I was also physically weary. I knew I was on the verge of “burn out” because my solution to my fatigue was doing more, not less, thinking that the work would never be complete unless I did it myself. Have you been there? Are you there now? Weary from your work, whether it’s at home on a computer and phone, with the children, at a hospital, or an office? “Consider the drivers, IT experts, teachers, nurses, pastors, and counselors who work harder than ever before: you need to rest, especially if you are the type—like many pastors—who acts as if rest were for other people. No doubt, the people who depend on you are glad you toiled ceaselessly through the opening phase of the pandemic. Churches and their leaders had never faced this challenge before…After weeks of unstinting toil, it’s time to re-establish healthy, God-given patterns, including a day of rest.” (1)

In 2012, after I cried out to the Lord, he intervened. I worked at the home office in Florida for ten months, in a very satisfying job with limited hours, having my medical needs met, with time to travel in the U.S. and plenty of time alone with Jesus. He strengthened me for another five years on the field. Like others who have rested, I continued to bear fruit patiently with joy and thanksgiving, strengthened by His power. “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Colossians 1:9-12) “Remember, the Christian calendar is like no other…We start each week with rest and worship. Reclining in the finished work of Christ is the starting point for each week. It’s an idea we need to recapture today.” (2)

Paul and Timothy prayed for their brothers and sisters to “be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” “[They] did not pray that they might have a ‘knowledge’ of this will of God, for some knowledge of it they had already…and therefore what he asks for is, that they might be ‘filled’ with the knowledge…a larger measure of it, and such a fulness of it as they were capable of…that they might have a ‘spiritual understanding’ of the mysteries of grace…by ‘the prudence of the Holy Ghost’ who searches the deep things of God, and reveals them to the saints, and improves and increases their spiritual and experimental knowledge.” (3) It’s hard to yield to deep, biblical convictions when we are rushing to fix a problem. Perhaps what you need now is the endurance and patience that results from the spiritual wisdom, understanding, and power that the Lord will provide in rest. Have you been one of the essential workers? You are among the people I am especially thankful for and the ones for whom I have the most concern. Obviously, you want to bear fruit. According to Colossians, though, you will produce more fruit more patiently with joy and thanksgiving, through greater knowledge of God, strengthened by His power.

The example of Christians who will successfully navigate through the crisis will be models for living “in a way that pleases God” (Colossians 1:10a). Paul explains what he means by living in a way that pleases God—“bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (v. 10b) Our increasing knowledge of God informs our work, commitments, and, therefore, our schedules. “Saints are trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord; good works are the fruit, which, under the influence of divine grace, they bring forth…being ingrafted into Christ the true vine, and deriving life, sap, and nourishment from him, they are filled with the fruits of righteousness by him, which they bring forth and bear, to the glory of his heavenly Father; and being such, they are pleasant plants to him, as fruit-bearing trees are to the owner of them…” (4) When we consider the profound nature of biblical fruit-bearing we tend to reduce it to the bare minimum. Otherwise, we must stop in our tracks and cry out to God, which is precisely what we should be doing. “A yes is not simply a yes. Saying yes to time with the guys means saying no to that one-on-one time he and his little girl have been enjoying after dance class. It means saying no to some of his son’s games. In many cases, when important things fall off our plate, we don’t even notice. Sadly, those are often the people we love most! Saying yes to heading into the office an hour earlier every morning to get more work done can become a no to that exercise routine you have been trying to develop. Yes to taking a night class to further your education could be a no to a full night of sleep. None of these yeses are bad, but all have consequences.” (5) Is one consequence of your work an inability or hindrance to grow in your knowledge of God; is it time to stop and rest? Have you prayed for a way to get alone for spiritual refreshment if you’re a parent who has been at home with your children? The hardest part is stopping your busyness, and you may need help from others.

Which of us doesn’t want to be “strengthened with power, according to God’s might? (v. 11) The resurrection power of Christ is ours through the Holy Spirit through Christ’s great sacrifice. And yet, because of our human nature, we settle for our inferior human power. “Power belongs to God, is a perfection of his nature, and has been, and is gloriously displayed in many things; as in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the upholding of all things in their being; in the redemption and salvation of sinners; in their faith and conversion; in supporting the saints under various trials and exercises; and in the safe keeping them through faith unto salvation: from this glorious power of God saints may hope to be supplied with all might, or a sufficient supply of strength for every service, and for every difficulty.” (6) “The purpose…of this God-given power is to provide the divine strength needed for the believer to attain Christian virtues, to persevere in the faith, to resist temptation and deceitful teachers, and so to know the joy of the Lord [‘for all endurance and patience with joy’].” (7) Whether we like the idea or not, we need to endure through the entire pandemic, not just for a few months. We can bear fruit patiently with joy and thanksgiving, through our knowledge of God, strengthened by His power.

What will happen if you stop to rest, right now? Most of us know from experience that resting results in “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Colossians 1:12) When we take a break, catch our breath, and remember what Christ has done for us, “justifying [us] by the righteousness of his Son, and so making [us] heirs according to the hope of eternal life, and forgiving all [our] trespasses for Christ’s sake; cleansing [us] from all in his blood, so that being the undefiled in the way, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, [we] are fit for the undefiled inheritance; regenerating [us] by his Spirit, and implanting principles of light and life, grace and holiness, in [us]…we] have abundant reason to give thanks to the Father.” (8) You who have been redeemed by Christ, are kept by his Spirit and have endured through the first stage of the pandemic, is it not time to rest before confronting the second? Has your patience worn thin because of physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual exhaustion? Won’t you retreat with God to be filled with all spiritual wisdom, understanding, and power? Do you trust the Lord to work in you to bear fruit with joy again? “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

(1) Dan Doriani, “Now’s the Time For Rest,” May 25, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/nows-time-rest

(2) Doriani, Ibid.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Colossians 1:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/colossians-1.html

(4) Gill, Ibid.

(5) Harney, Kevin G., “No Is a Beautiful Word,” Chapter 2, Zondervan, 2019, Kindle Edition.

(6) Gill, Ibid (Colossians 1:11).

(7) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Colossians 1:11, Crossway, 2008.

(8) Gill, Ibid (Colossians 1:12)

May 29, 2020