God’s Sovereignty Inspires Our Loyalty to Him

My first thought about loyalty runs to the military, who place a high value on it. “Each service [in American] focuses on distinct values to be the foundation of how each service member serves; whether it is selfless service, integrity, or honor one of the common virtues that bind all service members together, and that is loyalty. Upon entering the military, a person must first be administered the oath of enlistment or the oath of a commissioned officer. The candidate for service is required to state: I, _____…do solemnly swear (or affirm)…that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter. So help me God.” (1) Don’t you love the “So help me God?” Loyalty to people and causes is risky because, at some point, we will be disappointed, since no one and nothing is perfect, except God. But we still knowingly or unknowingly put people, ideas, or works on pedestals. How often have you been disappointed by a leader, a friend, or someone in a service industry who didn’t deliver on a promise? In mid-October, just six weeks ahead of the US Presidential elections, many people are discussing their disappointments in the candidates. For some, their experience has made them trust someone less, or change their political loyalty. We all have been through disappointing experiences, which is why we are so comforted and encouraged by God’s perfection, faithfulness, and omnipotence. But when we think of our faithfulness it’s a whole different story. 

What is biblical faithfulness if it is not loyalty to God and all his promises? Over the next few weeks, I will be using devotions from “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers as the starting place for meditations on Christian faithfulness. Today’s devotion focuses on God’s sovereignty, a crucial doctrine of the Christian faith. (2) “Those who see the Lord in His sovereign glory have an inward compulsion to serve this God. Serving God is the glory of their lives. Their service is measured not so much in what they achieve–or what God achieves through them–but rather in the sheer wonder of the God they serve. Like little boys dividing up into teams on the playground, being picked to play on this team is the greatest joy imaginable, especially for those who are so unworthy…Relying on God’s sovereign purpose, knowing that there is a decree of marvelous grace behind everything that happens, we can face difficult circumstances without wavering from God’s law. We can face the hostility of the world or even the apostasy of the church without faltering in our ministry. We can trust the wisdom and obey the commands of a sovereign God who works all things out according to the purpose of His holy will.” (3) “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

There are two primary truths in Romans 8:28. The first has to do with who knows God. Who is “we” and who are “those?”These two different people groups; they are the same people. Only those “called” to know Christ love God, through the power of the Spirit who has worked and continues to work in us. Saved, regenerated, or redeemed might all be substituted for “called” in a general sense, although each has a precise role in our conversion doctrinally. (4) Only believers are called by God to love Him and understand that He is sovereign in all things. “[Romans 8:28] is not a promise that all things work together for the good of all people.” (5) For Christians, knowing that God is sovereignly working all things for good should inspire our greater loyalty and faithfulness to Him.

James Boice continues, [the good spoken of here] “is for Christians only…is not our idea of the good but God’s idea and that it is to be made like Jesus Christ…the things God uses for this supremely good end are not necessarily good in themselves; and…we can “know” this even though we may not feel or see it.” (6) This glorious six-word phrase is “…all things work together for good…” may have such a powerful effect on our spirits! Oswald Chambers wrote: 

“It is only the loyal soul who believes that God engineers circumstances. We take such liberty with our circumstances, we do not believe God engineers them, although we say we do; we treat the things that happen as if they were engineered by men. To be faithful in every circumstance means that we have only one loyalty, and that is to our Lord. Suddenly God breaks up a particular set of circumstances, and the realisation comes that we have been disloyal to Him by not recognising that He had organised them…If we learn to worship God in the trying circumstances, He will alter them in two seconds when He chooses.”

“Loyalty to Jesus Christ is the thing that we “stick at” to-day. We will be loyal to work, to service, to anything, but do not ask us to be loyal to Jesus Christ. Many Christians are intensely impatient of talking about loyalty to Jesus. Our Lord is dethroned more emphatically by Christian workers than by the world. God is made a machine for blessing men, and Jesus Christ is made a Worker among workers. The idea is not that we do work for God, but that we are so loyal to Him that He can do His work through us — ‘I reckon on you for extreme service, with no complaining on your part and no explanation on mine.’ God wants to use us as He used His own Son.” (7)

I have an elderly friend who has fallen recently, can’t remember quite when to take her medication, and finds herself confused or forgetting things. I’m sure that if I ever reach the age of 96, I won’t be in such good shape. Lately, the Lord had her tenants move out of her previous home, next door to her family caregiver, a former registered nurse. Her long-time friend of 97 had to leave the facility where she currently resides. It seems so clear to me that the Lord has orchestrated her circumstances to move “back home,” but she is having a hard time accepting the idea. I sometimes find myself in the same doubting posture, which is Chambers’ rebuke. And, as Proverbs reminds us, “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool…Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 17:10; 27:5-6)

[Paul] “does not say that we ‘feel’ all things to be good. Often we do not feel that God is doing good at all. We feel exactly the opposite. We feel that we are being ground down or destroyed. And it is not even that we “see” the good. Most of the time we do not perceive the good things God is doing or how he might be bringing good out of the evil. Paul did not go around saying how wonderful the world was or how pleasant his missionary endeavors had been…The Christian doctrine of perseverance does not lead to a false assurance or presumption, though some who claim to be saved do presume on God by their sinful lifestyles and willful disobedience. Perseverance does not make us lazy. Perseverance does not make us proud. No, the real doctrine of perseverance is precisely what Paul declares it to be in Romans 8: that those whom God has foreknown and predestinated to be conformed to the likeness of his Son will indeed come to that great consummation.” (8)

Our sovereign God exalts the humble and brings down the prideful merely by his Word.  The Holy Spirit works in us to draw closer to our Most High God. In Daniel Chapter 4, where Nebuchadnezzar uses God’s title of “Most High God.” “It is not referring to God’s role as Redeemer or to his wisdom. It relates to God’s sovereignty. ‘The Most High God’ is the God who rules, not only in heaven but on earth.”(9) Richard Phillips notes, “The first reason that the Christians of Smyrna should not fear the tribulation before them is that Jesus is the ‘first and the last’ (Rev. 2:8). [The] ‘first and the last’ signifies God’s sovereignty over all things, so Christ’s meaning is also that his people should not fear in light of his sovereign control of all that they face.” (10) All political and military events, history, pandemics, and every situation is under God’s rule. Does this knowledge increase your faith? “…he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35) 

Related Scriptures: Psalm 37:11; Proverbs 1:33; Ecclesiastes 8:12; Daniel 4; Matthew 25:34-36; 1 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 2:8-9; 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 1:8-10

  1. Gipson, Isaac, “Loyalty and The Military Profession,” for the entire statement see: https://www.airman.af.mil/Portals/17/002%20All%20Products/001%20Book%20Reviews/Research/LoyaltyAU_Paper.pdf?ver=2017-07-10-095310-147
  2. Chambers, Oswald, “My Utmost for His Highest—The Test of Loyalty,” https://utmost.org/classic/the-test-of-loyalty-classic/
  3. Phillips, Richard, “What’s So Great About the Sovereignty of God?,” Ligonier article, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/whats-so-great-about-sovereignty-god/
  4. See commentary on Romans 8:29-30. There are many aspects of God’s work in our salvation including those mentioned in the passage as well as regeneration, redemption, adoption, atonement, rebirth, repentance, and positional sanctification. 
  5. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 8:28, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  6. Boice, Ibid.
  7. Chambers, Ibid.
  8. Boice, Ibid, Romans 8:29-30.
  9. Boice, Ibid, Daniel 4.
  10. Phillips, Richard, “Revelation—Reformed Expository Commentary,” Revelation 2:8-11, R & R Publishing, 2017.

October 9, 2020       

The Lord Rewards Our Faithfulness

Do you work out or play sports regularly? If so, you probably do it because you enjoy it. Athletes have a built-in reward—their enjoyment and pleasure in the sport. But some of us don’t enjoy these physical activities and seek a reward in a toned body, rehab, less weight, or good health. When we don’t enjoy athletic activities but do them anyway, they become burdensome duties or routines. It can be the same with mental exercises that some do because they like crosswords or Sudoku, but others do to keep their brains active. Just as exercising our bodies or brains takes work and yields results, putting our faith to work takes intentional effort, and results in its bolstering. Why does God give us the fruit of faith when we are regenerated? Well, it’s obviously something we should and do demonstrate and use, along with all the other fruits of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22-23. 

The Lord rewards us with joy when we are faithful to Jesus Christ in our service to him. God is the source of our saving faith in Christ, and his Spirit supplies all the resulting fruit from that point forward. Christ rewards us for the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that is all from God. It’s as if we are rewarded for our salvation, which was not our doing. Exercising the fruits of the Spirit has the most significant reward—joy through intimacy with Jesus Christ. What a glorious, continuous, blessed circle: Christ calls us with faith to believe, which leads to faithfulness through him, which leads to even more devotion to him. I have chosen four passages from Scripture to consider today—from David and Jesus. “The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness…” (1 Samuel 26:23a) “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.” (Psalms 18:20) “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions…Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 24:45-47; 25:21a)

In 1 Samuel, David refused to harm Saul despite Saul’s trying to hunt him down to kill him. Here is the verse in its context: “The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.” 1 Samuel 26:23-24) David was certainly not perfect, but as John Gill points out, “this was a prayer of faith; for David doubted not that, though Saul might fail, yet God could not.” (1) David expected to be rewarded because he knew God to be forgiving and patient, and demonstrated that faith later when he confessed his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. I wonder if David’s loyalty to God with Saul helped him to trust God when he so tragically offended the Lord in his later sin. In Psalm 18, David celebrated God’s deliverance from Saul’s attacks. “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me” (v. 20). “God rewarded [David] by delivering him out of [Saul’s] hands, and setting him upon the throne, and causing his kingdom to flourish and prosper.” (2) “In these verses David claims that he has faithfully kept the ways of the Lord, and thus God has rewarded him. This could be taken as absurdly self-righteous if it were not for two obvious facts: first, this song comes from 2 Samuel, which is plain about David’s sins; and second, the ways, rules, and statutes of the Lord include provisions for receiving forgiveness of sins. Thus the claim…I…have not wickedly departed from my God, clarifies it all by saying that he has held fast to the life of faith.” (3) What an encouragement this should be for us; although we continue to sin but desire to be faithful and useful to the Lord through our fruit! And even more than that, he will reward us with joy through our relationship with Jesus—this is our greatest, eternal reward and the promise of the gospel.

The Lord called David to the biggest, most responsible role in the world as King. He did not shy away from his calling or refuse in, having faith that God would be with him. (See 1 Samuel 17.) However, many of us are overwhelmed and try to wiggle out from a promotion or challenging job. I am guilty of doing so more than once on the mission field because I feared that I would fail God and all the people under my care. But I had to repent since Christ promises that he will give the faithful greater responsibility; he obviously wants us to embrace his assignments. Here is what Jesus said about the parable in Matthew 24, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.” (vs. 45-47) Later he repeats the blessing in Matthew 25, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (v. 21) 

The rewards of faithfulness are probably more than we can imagine. In the Matthew passages, I am impressed with the truth that longing for Christ’s return is not only a characteristic of our faithfulness but perhaps also a reward of it. I know that the longer I am a Christian, the more I seek the return of our Savior. James Boice comments, “This picture provides an explanation of what being ready means. Being ready means loving, trusting, and waiting for Jesus Christ, of course. The faithful servant is faithful because he is expecting his Lord’s return. But it also has to do with faithful service, that is, continuing to carry out what Jesus has left us in this world to do.” (4)  Our faithfulness leads to spiritual rewards and the ability to handle more extensive responsibilities by God’s grace, without being overwhelmed by them.

“When the master returns for their accounting and the faithful servants tell what they have done, their words do not merely report that they have doubled the amount they were given. The man who was given five talents seems to have come with two bags, each containing five talents, and what he literally says is, ‘Master, five talents you placed in my hands; look, an additional five talents I have gained.’ You can almost feel his proper pride in the achievement. Hendriksen comments, ‘The man’s eyes are sparkling. He is bubbling over with enthusiasm, is thoroughly thrilled, and, as it were, invites his master to start counting.’ The man has been waiting for this moment and is pleased at having done so well. The master is equally delighted. ‘Well done,’ he says. We might almost translate his reply as, ‘Excellent!’ ‘Great!’ or ‘Wonderful!’” (5) John Gill adds, “[They had] the joy of our Lord; not their own, or what was of their own procuring, but their Lord’s; which Jehovah the Father has prepared for his people, and gives unto them; which the son possesses for them, and will bestow on them; and which the Holy Spirit makes them meet for…which will be full and perfect, and without any interruption or mixture; will be unspeakable and glorious, and continue for ever; for when the saints shall enter into it, as into an house or mansion, they shall take possession of it, and abide in it for ever.” (6) Is this not the encouragement we need to put our faithfulness to work?

The Lord often gives us pleasure through the people, pets, and experiences of this life, but he is the First Cause of our real joy—we should never mistake the person, creature, creation, or things as the source of our blessedness. The more intimacy and dependence we have upon Jesus Christ and the gospel, the greater our joy and the more pleasure we have with him. And the greatest reward is that Jesus finds joy in our faithfulness, and his joy is ours. What could be more profitable? “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them…Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:10-13) 

Related Scripture Passages: Nehemiah 8:11-12; Psalms 4:5b-8; 16:11; John 3:29; 15:8-11; Hebrews 12:1-2; 1 John 1:4

  1. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Samuel 26:24, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1samuel-26.html
  2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalms 18:20-30, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  3. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 18:21, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-18.html
  4. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 24:45-47, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  5. Boice, Ibid. 
  6. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Matthew 25:21, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-25.html

October 2, 2020       

Faithful Disciples are Good Stewards

Have you ever purchased or thought of buying a boat? Are the stories true, that the best days of boat ownership are the day you buy it and sell it? I’ve never owned one or been tempted to buy a boat of any kind. But I’ve owned cars since I was a teenager, and I know how much maintenance is required. The older the vehicle, the more money, time, and inconvenience are involved. Whether it’s a boat, car, truck, house, or any other material possession, it will be sold, used up, or junked one day. Hopefully, the time between our acquisition and its end is what we remember the most. Were we happy to have it? Did we take care of it, so it was useful and good value when we sold it? Did we use it to help or give enjoyment to others? The Bible teaches good stewardship of the earth, including all the things that we own and all aspects of nature. And, if these things are good, how much better is “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places?” (Ephesians 1:3) God’s grace and spiritual blessings are given to us freely through Christ for all eternity and are our most important possessions. We will never lose or sell them because they are our treasure, that only grows more valuable (See Related Scripture Passages.) Our faithful stewardship of them is the focus of today’s devotion. Faithfulness with integrity for little, inconsequential things and worldly possessions is evidence of our ability to be faithful with the great truths of God’s Word. Our faithfulness in earthly things reflects our stewardship of God’s truths and love for us. Hopefully, we will prove our desire to be faithful to God by our faithfulness with the world’s goods, be they little, significant, ours, or others’.

In Luke 16:1-9, Jesus tells a parable of a trusted manager responsible for the affairs of his owner’s estate. As the owner’s agent, he had all authority to conduct trade on behalf of his master. But the manager’s dishonesty about wasting his boss’s possessions became known, and knew he would be fired. So he contrived a way to safeguard his financial future. “The point of this parable is not to give us a lesson in stewardship, but it does serve to remind us that every human being is a steward on this earth. God owns the world. He owns us, and what we do with our lives, our money and the earth are matters of stewardship. We have an indication here of divine displeasure when stewards waste the goods in their trust.” (1) What does Jesus have to say about the parable? “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:10-13)

Jesus’s audience was his disciples, but the Pharisees also heard him speaking and ridiculed him. We, who are in Christ, would never denigrate the words of our Savior, but do we disrespect his blessings by our carelessness with his revealed Word? Do we prove our faithfulness with the “little,” temporary things of this world? If I’m not careful, attentive, and generous with my time, money, possessions, and energy, what does that say about my stewardship of God’s mercy, love, holiness, and spiritual fruit? We Christians like to say everything we have is from God and belongs to God, but the has given us some things to possess as our own. Among those is an inheritance in Christ—eternal life, with all its accompanying blessings. And, a gift is a gift. But how we use our gift matters, especially if it involves others. For example, giving someone a gift of stationery, greeting cards, a phone, or a computer enables them to communicate with others. Viewing a boat or a car as a gift from God may encourage us to use it differently, more faithfully. Even more, God’s love is ours, as is his peace and spiritual well-being, and righteousness. “The one who can be trusted with the little things can also be trusted with the big things. But the converse is also true; Jesus said: ‘So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?’ If you are a bad steward of material things, don’t expect God to trust you with spiritual things.” (2) “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (v. 11) “Unrighteous wealth probably refers to…unrighteous means in acquiring wealth by taking advantage of others; unrighteous desires in the use of wealth for personal gratification and selfish purposes, rather than for the care and well-being of others; and the corrupting influence of wealth that often leads people into unrighteousness.” (3) If we deceive, excuse, or justify ourselves regarding poor fiscal management, we are guilty of being unfaithful with our “unrighteous wealth.” If we hoard or use our means to promote our welfare exclusively, ungenerous and stingy with our worldly goods, and we will handle God’s grace correspondingly. Practicing faithfulness with integrity for little, inconsequential things and material possessions is evidence of our ability to be faithful with the great truths of God’s Word and spiritual gifts.

Luke 16:12 seems to serve as a transition to the principle that our Lord wishes us to embrace—the impossibility of serving (worshipping) both God and money. Once again, we are reminded that we either put our hope in the gift or the giver. “And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (vs. 12-13)” I appreciate the note in the ESV Study Bible: “Jesus does not say ‘should not serve’ but ‘cannot serve.’Those who are Jesus’ true disciples must make an either/or choice between serving God and serving money…The way to serve God rather than money is to put one’s resources to the service of others and the work of the kingdom.” (4) The Pharisees and Scribes had received the Law through their birth into the Jewish religion. But they used it dishonestly and legalistically, as a burden for those who would believe in God. Jesus rebuked them, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath. You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Matthew 23:4, 16-19) “Although these words were obviously aimed at the Pharisees, there is also a broader application. What God is looking for from his people is not success, but fidelity. He doesn’t measure us by our bank balance or the degree of our authority. Maybe your task seems insignificant, but God has given it to you and wants to see that you are faithful in it, before he will promote you in his kingdom.” (5) 

Practicing faithfulness with integrity for little, inconsequential things and worldly possessions is evidence of our ability to be faithful with the gospel. Will we prove our desire to be devoted to God by our fidelity with the world’s goods, be they little, big, ours, or others’? Is our commitment to Christ proved by our faithfulness to be generous with our earthly and spiritual blessings? Do we use our resources (even boats and cars) for the Kingdom of God, the gospel, and those who are serving Christ? Will you pray with me, as I have been doing this week, to be a generous, faithful owner of God’s grace and the riches of his indwelling Spirit, bearing fruit through these gifts? Does the gospel influence your faithful stewardship? “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17) 

Related Scripture PassagesMatthew 6:19–21, 24; 13:44, 52; Luke 12:32-34; 18:22-25; 19:17-19 ; Romans 6:16; 2 Corinthians 4:7-10; 2 Timothy 2:21-20; James 4:4-5, 13-16.

  1. Sproul, R. C., “A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel,” Luke 16:1-18, Electronic Book, 2016.
  2. Sproul, Ibid.
  3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Luke 16:9, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  4. ESV, Ibid (Luke 16:13)
  5. Sproul, Ibid.

September 25, 2020

Fruitful Works-the Evidence of Our Faith

In the news yesterday, I found one article stating that we will never be “over” the lifestyles we have practiced for COVID-19; we will find a “new normal.” I wonder if we will be reading articles about the virus’s long-reaching effects on our lives ten years from now. Will history paint a positive perspective of all the changes we have made: working from home, meeting virtually, being more hygienic, and even wearing face masks voluntarily? I think about these results of the pandemic in a similar way that I think about my Christian faith. Will it be evident to the world, and specifically to the people I meet? In both cases, I was not in control of the change in my life; Christ redeemed me when I had no thoughts of God, and the pandemic came upon us all without warning or choice. Like the virus, our faith is visible only to God unless there is evidence (symptoms of the virus or the fruit of our faith). Unlike the negative symptoms of COVID, believers’ works are the excellent fruit of saving faith—a testimony that is otherwise invisible to people and only known by God. We also know if we have saving faith, and therefore fruit is promised. Whereas with the virus, we have to be tested to know if we are sick when we are symptom-free. But being without evidence of our faith is not an option according to the Bible. As those called by Christ, we are to bear fruit, continually giving testimony of our regeneration in Christ by our good works. So today, we will examine one (longer) passage in the book of James. My prayer is that we will all be encouraged to know that our faith’s fruit is guaranteed in Christ. 

“The book of James is intensely practical. It is no accident that it includes the famous passage about doing what the word says (1:22–25) and the controversial one about showing faith by our deeds (2:14–26). These deeds are various: responding well to trials, praying fervently and effectively, keeping our tongues under control, avoiding favoritism, cultivating a wisdom that will bring  peace in place of division, and using our material resources to honor God. Central to the letter is James’s call to a deep, sincere, and consistent faithfulness to God.” (1) We’ll focus on the “controversial” passage—James 2:14-26. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” 

The controversy stems from James’s use of justification when he speaks of believers’ works. I have it on the word of many living and dead trustworthy theologians that James never intends to postulate that our works save us. The only work that saves us is the work Christ did on the cross after a life of obedience to the Father. So let’s move on to the crucial issue: “the relationship between faith and works. The question under scrutiny is, ‘What kind of faith is saving faith?’ James’s question is rhetorical, the obvious answer is that faith without works cannot save. Faith that yields no deeds is not saving faith. The NT does not teach justification by works, but it also does not teach justification by the profession of faith or the claim to faith, it teaches justification by the possession of true faith, and true faith always bears the fruit of love of God and neighbor. James has in mind a genuine, living faith that produces fruitful works, which is evidence that will vindicate (or prove) the validity of one’s authentic justifying faith at the last judgment.” (2) And, “James is not implying that even genuine faith is the basis of salvation; rather, it is the means and instrument by which one is saved…James 2:15–16 offers an illustration of what faith without works looks like in everyday life. In itself the phrase, ‘Go in peace, be warmed’ and filled is a pious wish and prayer for the welfare of the poor, but in reality it is a cop-out, masking a refusal to help the person in need.” (3) So when my elderly neighbor and I met at 9 pm last night and he told me that he accidentally locked his iPhone and had to have it completely wiped clean, losing all his data, should I have offered to help him? I do help my neighbor from time to time with his computer. But I didn’t because I couldn’t think of a single thing to do for his phone except pray. I don’t know his contacts, and I doubt he knows the name of the apps he uses on it. I feel comfortable since James does not intend legalistic religion, just a working theology. When we can help, we should. Our works are testimony of our faith, which we should proclaim verbally and behaviorally—in all the ways outlined by James (as outlined in the previous paragraph). 

We put our trust in invisible things or ideas all the time. Love, justice, fairness, respect, and compassion are unseen values which are expressed only through actions. So it is with regeneration, sanctification, and justification, and the faith that accompanies these. In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said, “‘Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” (John 3:7-8) James 2:18 corresponds to this truth. “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Anyone can claim to have saving faith, and we know that many people have been deceived by false teachers, thinking their “decision” to be saved, or believing what the Bible says about Christ means that they have been reborn. But, as Jesus said, we are only reborn by God’s Spirit working in us. But I can’t see your faith, and you can’t see mine unless there is evidence of it at work. “It’s not that works are not infallible proofs and evidences of faith, yet they are the best we are capable of giving of it to men, or they of receiving. In short, works may deceive, and do not infallibly prove truth of faith, yet it is certain, that where they are not, but persons live in a continued course of sinning, there cannot be true faith.” (4) Believers’ works, although imperfect, are the fruit of our saving faith, a testimony of it which is otherwise invisible to people but known by God. These works may be small and ordinary—reaching out to a neighbor, checking in with a friend, sending a text message or email of encouragement. Or, they seem more significant to the eyes of some—martyrdom, missionary work in a foreign country, giving sacrificially, or forgoing a personal need for someone. In any case, we continually give testimony to our regeneration in Christ by our good works through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence.

James mentions Abraham and Rahab as examples of those whose fruit proved their faith in God (James 2:21-26). The apostle uses OT people because that was his Bible, as it was Jesus’s Bible. The truths that he proclaims are eternal—they are not new in the NT, as if Christ’s incarnation brought a different religion. (See Hebrews 11.) But now the veil has been lifted off the eyes of believers to understand how true faith works. “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (v. 26). “Faithfulness is an everyday calling. It’s regular, it’s ordinary, it’s taking a really long view of the Christian life. It’s reshaping our desires for immediate fruit and committing to following Jesus for  the long haul. It’s getting up every single day and believing that God is your treasure, that the gospel of Jesus is worth your every breath, and that he is enough. Faithfulness is doing this again tomorrow and the next day and ten years from now. Faithfulness is ordinary. It’s unremarkable. It plods. It is also precious in the sight of the God who works out lifelong sanctifying perseverance in your life for your good and his glory.  Everyday faithfulness requires patience and fortitude that’s desperately dependent upon God’s own faithfulness to us. Yet the fruit, the harvest, the return for our everyday plodding is worth more than all the days, months, and years of our long-haul perseverance.” (5) As we plod along in this time of social distancing, will we seek and use the opportunities that come to give evidence of our faith? Will our fruit draw others to Christ? “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

Related Scripture: Matt. 7:26; 8:29; Mark 1:24; 5:7; Luke 3:11; 4:33, 34; Acts 16:17; 19:15; Hebrews 11; 1 John 3:17-18

  1. “NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible—Follow God’s Redemptive Plan as It Unfolds throughout Scripture,” eBook, Zondervan, Kindle Edition.
  2. The Reformation Study Bible, James 2:14-16, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015. 
  3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, James 2;14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  4. 4.    Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” James 2:17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/james-2.html
  5. “Marshall, Glenna, “Everyday Faithfulness,” (The Gospel Coalition) Crossway. Kindle Edition.

September 18, 2020

Preparedness Versus False Confidence

Lately I‘ve asked about your sense of safety and then about your anxieties. Today I want to address our confidence or lack of it. Do we have confidence in the medical community to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 this year? If you’re an American, do you have confidence that the right man will be elected president? That we’ll never have another 9-11? What about your finances, health, or goals? What about your ability to be faithful to God—what’s your confidence level? We know God is utterly faithful to us, but our confidence is tricky because it has broad applications. The Mirriam-Webster online dictionary defines it as: “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances; faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way; the quality or state of being certain; a relation of trust or intimacy; or a secret. But the Bible is clear that only our confidence in God will lead to real faith, belief, certainty, and trust. Our faithfulness is a direct result of our confidence that God will do what he says he will do in his Word. How much confidence do we have that God will help us be faithful when faced with temptations? Paul writes, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

God knows we will be tempted, especially by a false confidence in ourselves, and in others, systems, or things. Isn’t that part of what we fear, when we remember the tragedy of 9-11 in the U.S.? After that tragedy, systems and positions were created to ensure that we won’t experience it again. But we, as individuals don’t plan for the everyday temptations that we will all face in this life. We should be seeking God’s help to prepare for, recognize, and resist false confidence and common temptations that oppose godly living. Preparedness for these certain temptations will result in faithfulness because of God’s promise and power to provide escapes or endurance. “No Christian can afford to take lightly the warnings of Scripture, because these warnings are the God-appointed means by which true believers persevere to the end. Those of faith heed these warnings as the Spirit works through them to make them will and work ‘for his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:12-13).” (1) 

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (v. 12) One Bible translation reads, “stands securely,” as if there is no danger in falling. Can you picture a mountain-climber without ropes and carabiners, thinking that there is no chance of falling? Some years ago, I visited the Giant Causeway in Northern Ireland. Since I was having trouble with a knee, I didn’t chance walking on the rocks, which has naturally formed into hexagonal shapes. But I did want a photo, so I climbed on one rock—just one—and wouldn’t you know the wind was so strong it blew me down on the edge of the rock. I suffered a bruised tailbone, and the pain2was excruciating for weeks, sometimes hindering my ability to engage with others in ministry. If I had stopped to assess the wind’s strength, I would have restrained myself. In the context of 1 Corinthians, this is “Perhaps a reference to the Corinthians’ mistaken ‘knowledge’ that they have the right to eat in an idol’s temple [without regard for their influence on others].” (3) When we start down the road of “it’s my right,” we negate the fact that our behavior has far-reaching consequences, including backsliding or a temporary lapse in faith. God knows we will be tempted and warns us against false confidence to trust him for escape or endurance. We stumble in their faithfulness because our independence and lack of practice hinders us. But God’s Word encourages us to prepare for, recognize, and resist false confidence and the ordinary temptations that impede our godly living. 

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) “Paul’s carefully chosen words imply that at times’ escape’ from temptation will not entail a change of circumstances, but the Holy Spirit’s power to withstand and endure.” (2 Cor. 12:2-10) While this warning may be necessary for us, Paul’s words are meant to be more comforting than admonishing. “We have full encouragement to flee from sin, and to be faithful to God. We cannot fall by temptation, if we cleave fast to him. Whether the world smiles or frowns, it is an enemy; but believers shall be strengthened to overcome it, with all its terrors and enticements. The fear of the Lord, put into their hearts, will be the great means of safety… God is wise as well as faithful, and will make our burdens according to our strength. He knows what we can bear. He will make a way to escape; he will deliver either from the trial itself, or at least the mischief of it.” (3)

“God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above—no man can be tempted, afflicted, or persecuted by men, but by a divine permission, and that voluntary; nor more than, or above that measure which God hath determined…[and] he will never leave them nor forsake them, and that he will bear, and carry, and save them unto the uttermost…foras he by his permission makes way for the temptation or affliction, which otherwise could not come; and as he knows how, in what manner, and at the best time, to deliver his people out of temptations; so he does and will, in his providence, open a way that they may escape out of them, at least so as not to be over-pressed and destroyed by them: that ye may be able to bear it; or God does not always think fit to remove at once an affliction or temptation, though at the earnest request of his people, as in the case of Paul, (2 Cor. 12:7-8) yet he gives them grace sufficient to endure and stand up under it, yea, to get the victory of it, to be more that conquerors, and triumph over it.” (4)

The sovereignty of God over temptations, as with everything, supplies us with the best reason to believe that preparing to confront our temptations will meet with success and greater faithfulness. Didn’t God choose to show you mercy, to give you to Christ as his precious treasured possession? Didn’t he provide a church family for you and his Word for your growth in faith? How many times has the Lord proved his faithfulness to you? “To be assured of one’s salvation is indeed an immense blessing…divine help is still needed by assured believers who do not live in a rarefied atmosphere but in an imperfect church and a fallen world. They have duties to perform and burdens to carry. Being assured is therefore an immense help in living the ‘ordinary’ Christian life. It provides an extra stimulus for faithful obedience to what has been heard, over against the danger of being deceived, and also for caring for one another.” (5) Our faithfulness during temptations is the gospel of Jesus Christ—he is our way of escape and endurance.

But how do we apply the gospel to the way we deal with temptations? “God does not make us holy in the sense that He makes our character holy. He makes us holy in the sense that He has made us innocent before Him. And then we have to turn that innocence into holy character through the moral choices we make. These choices are continually opposed and hostile to the things of our natural life, which have become so deeply entrenched— the very things that raise themselves as fortified barriers ‘against the knowledge of God.’ We can either turn back, making ourselves of no value to the kingdom of God, or we can determinedly demolish these things, allowing Jesus to bring another son to glory (see Hebrews 2:10). 2 Corinthians 10:5 ‘We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.’” (6)

Since God knows that we will be tempted, he teaches and warns us against false confidence to trust him for escape or endurance. Let’s turn to God to prepare for, recognize, and resist self-reliance and common temptations that oppose godly living. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). Since we’re already conquerors in Christ, we prepare for temptations based on our confidence in God, for victories and faithfulness.

  1. The Reformation Study Bible, 1 Corinthians 9:27, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015. 
  2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Corinthians 10:12, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  3. Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” 1 Corinthians 10:13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/proverbs-30.html
  4. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Corinthians 10:13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1corinthians-1.html
  5. Jones, Hywel R., “Assurance in Prayer,” Modern Reformation, Vol. 29, No. 5, October 2020, Escondido, CA.
  6. Chambers, Oswald, “My Utmost for His Highest, Do It Yourself,” based on 2 Corinthians 10:5, https://utmost.org

September 11, 2020

Gifts for This Life Through Faithfulness in Christ

Are you anxious about something today? Perhaps finances, employment, or family matters? I never realized how much underlying anxiety I have until I adopted an anxious puppy. Perhaps you also feel stressed about something for which there is no logical explanation. “Anxiety is the normal alarm reaction (readiness response) to a perceived future threat; the function of…anxiety is to protect not to harm.” (1) I am trying to adopt this definition of anxiety for myself since it is a positive way to view the stress I feel about success (or threat of failure) in my writing, teaching, and dog training. Having turned circumstances, choices, and my preparation over to God as much as possible, they are God’s providential provision with much prayer. (See 1 Peter 5:7.) So, I have everything I need to write, teach, and train my dog for this season. What I need is to have more faith that this is true and apply it at every new  opportunity. Perhaps that is a need of yours, too? Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about this amid their struggles. “You are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9) Jesus Christ supplies his churches with copious gifts. Since we are the church of Christ, this means that he gives each of us these gifts, sustains us in righteousness, and communes with us while we await his return. But do we put our gifts to work as we fellowship with him or fret and become distracted by our unfounded anxieties?

“The nine verses of this introduction [in 1 Corinthians] record nine occurrences of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In all Paul’s thinking, He is of cardinal importance and whether it be the problem of division, moral failure, or doctrinal error, Christ is the answer and Paul has cause to give thanks.” (2) I would add anxiety and panic to the list of problems that Bruce mentions in his commentary. The answer is “Jesus,” as our kindergarteners like to remind us. The “revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “the day of the Lord Jesus Christ” are synonymous and a reminder that he will return at any moment. Bruce goes on to say that “The expectation of the coming of Christ is constantly with the apostle; it is the one hope which characterizes every local church in a persecuting pagan society…that one great cataclysmic event, the end, the second coming of Jesus Christ, until which He Himself will keep you firm, blameless…unimpeachable.” (3) I’m not sure which is better: to know that Christ may return at any time or to be assured of his righteous covering until he returns, in a world full of distractions and stress. Or is the greatest blessing the fact that we have every spiritual gift necessary for a gospel-centered life? We don’t have to choose; we have all these and many more!

One of the implications of verse 7 (“You are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”), is that“spiritual gifts are given as temporary provisions until Christ returns.” (4) John Gill adds his admonition. When “our Lord Jesus Christ; who will appear a second time, [will] come in great glory, will raise the dead, and judge both quick and dead; when gifts will cease and be of no more use, and when they must all be accounted for; and therefore, till that time comes, should be diligently made use of, and improved to the interest and service of Christ.” (5) The New Testament gospels and letters consistently remind us that our Savior will return in glory and judgment, so there is an urgency to bear fruit now. Theologians urge us to view our temporary life here as one of usefulness to Christ. “If we believe in Jesus, it is not what we gain but what He pours through us that really counts. God’s purpose is not simply to make us beautiful, plump grapes, but to make us grapes so that He may squeeze the sweetness out of us. Our spiritual life cannot be measured by success as the world measures it, but only by what God pours through us— and we cannot measure that at all… He who believes in Me…out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”— and hundreds of other lives will be continually refreshed. Now is the time for us…to stop seeking our own satisfaction, and to pour out our lives before Him.” (6)

Wouldn’t you agree that one of the greatest helps with a new work project, ministry, or role is the assurance that someone will be there to help you through it until the end? A spouse who will be your parenting partner, a church family who will help you through the tough times, or a physician who knows your history and cares for your best future health? Our church is in the process of constructing a new building (yes, even now). We have a committee that began the work with prayer, did all the planning, provides oversight for the financing and fundraising, provides for architectural issues and practical needs, and works with contractors and city officials. These dedicated servants will continue their work until the paint is dry, and we are using the building. We have confidence that all aspects of the work will be handled with excellence. Paul reminds us that Jesus is going to “sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8). Having “Christ their head, being justified by his righteousness, and washed in his blood; and so in the sight of God, as considered in Christ; and will appear such in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he shall descend from heaven, and take his saints to him, and present them to himself a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” (7) Now, this is a great, fantastic, glorious truth that many of us have a tough time embracing. But Jesus will sustain us in righteousness and communes with us while we await his return and use our gifts; this is the truth, according to God’s Word, our authority for this life and eternity. “The Corinthians have a long way to go before their behavior matches their status before God (1 Cor. 3:2–3a), but Paul is confident that God, who is faithful, will make them what they should be.” (8)

Jesus Christ’s person, obedience and atoning work in the past, his current presence with us through the Spirit, and his future, visible appearance and reign are the sources of our faithfulness now. We can look to the past, present, and future for encouragement and strength to step out boldly in faith, expecting fruit. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9) Christ “having called them by his grace, for whom he effectually calls by his grace, he glorifies; and particularly from his having called them into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; to partake of his grace, and to be heirs of glory with him; to enjoy communion with him in private and public exercises of religion, which is an evidence of being in him, and of union to him…and such are members of Christ, of his body, of his flesh, and of his bone; and shall never be lost and perish, but shall be confirmed to the end; be preserved in him blameless, and presented to him faultless, and have everlasting life.” (9) “[Paul] gives thanks for their conversion to the faith of Christ; that grace was given them by Jesus Christ. They had been enriched by him with all spiritual gifts…And where God has given these two gifts, he has given great power for usefulness. These were gifts of the Holy Ghost, by which God bore witness to the apostles…How glorious are the hopes of such a privilege; to be kept by the power of Christ, from the power of our corruptions and Satan’s temptations!” (10) 

Many of us tend to be anxious, worried, nervous, fearful, or insecure when faced with changes or prolonged trials, like a pandemic. Jesus, who is omniscient and sees our hearts, is vitally interested in our faith. God sees our faith, but we only see its effects or lack of effect. Therefore, the greatest need and the best exercise of our faith are rehearsing and verbalizing the gospel. By faith in Christ, we know that we have all gifts necessary to be God’s hands and feet until he returns, without fretting. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Related Scripture: Hosea 2:19; Luke 16:10-13; Romans 8:19; Philippians 1:6, 10-11; 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; Revelation 3:15-18

  1. Telch, Michael J. Ph.D., “The Nature and Causes of Anxiety and Panic,”
  2. “Zondervan Online Bible Commentary,” Marsh, Paul—author 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:7)
  3. Marsh, Paul, Zondervan, Ibid.
  4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Corinthians 1:7, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  5. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Corinthians 1:7 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1corinthians-1.html
  6. My Utmost, https://utmost.org/a-life-of-pure-and-holy-sacrifice/
  7. Gill, 1 Cor. 1:8, Ibid
  8. ESV Study Bible Notes, 1 Cor. 1:8, Ibid.
  9. Gill, 1 Cor. 1: 9, Ibid
  10. Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” 1  Corinthians 1:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/1 corinthians.html

September 4, 2020

God’s Faithfulness—Our Foundation of Hope

Do you feel safe? How often have you or someone else said, “Stay safe” lately? I doubt that many of us adults (in developed countries, at least) thought much about our physical safety before the pandemic, although we frequently think about our children’s safety. The CDC has removed the guideline for self-isolation after travel. But the riskiest activities now still include air travel, going to a bar, getting a haircut, eating inside a restaurant, and visiting with friends inside—which many of us are doing. Some Christians are extra cautious to prevent spreading the virus, motivated by a concern for their friends, neighbors, coworkers, church members, and extended family. Other Christians have decided to resume some of their “normal” routines, confident that God will protect them—or reconciled to whatever he might allow as the sovereign Ruler. We must all take the stand on the virus that seems reasonable to us. However, when it comes to our spiritual safety, believers have nothing to fear. Our faithful God has given us to his loyal Son for all eternity, and his faithful Spirit actively protects us and compels us to draw close to Him.

God’s loving, covenantal faithfulness is the foundation of our preservation. As with all the fruits of the spirit, our faithfulness finds its source in God’s. And, ours will increase with the assurance that God will keep us until we are with Jesus, face-to-face. Today I present two verses from the Old Testament about God’s faithfulness to consider our fruit of faith in Christ. “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations…” (Deuteronomy 7:9) “As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!” (Psalms 40:11) God’s faithfulness keeps us, not just for safety, but for his glory and our joy with him.

When young children receive a gift, they are more entranced with it than with the giver. As we grow up, we are more aware of and appreciative of the one giving us our gift. Since the fruits of the Spirit are gifts from God, shouldn’t we first be mindful of him, the supplier of all good things? Deuteronomy 7:9 and Exodus 34:6–7 “…are the most frequently cited of all verses” in the Old Testament “…and with good reason since mercy is what we all desperately need. As New Testament believers, we know that we have this mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ,” [who is the greatest gift of our faithful God]. (1) “In [Deuteronomy 7] the Israelites are…urged [to obey God] from the consideration of their being freely chosen of God above all other people, and of their being redeemed out of the house of bondage, and of the Lord’s being a covenant keeping God to them. [He is] “The only true and living God, and not the idols of the Gentiles, who are false and lifeless ones, and therefore not the proper objects of adoration: the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy; as appeared by fulfilling the promise made to their fathers, in bringing them out of Egypt, and now them to the borders of the land of Canaan given them for an inheritance.” (2)

Too often, we take God’s faithfulness for granted, even while praising him for it. In our church confession last week, we admitted that “Instead of telling of your glory to the generations we have been preoccupied with building our own comfort and glory. We confess our neglect of impressing the truths of your word on our own hearts and the hearts of the next generation. Remind us of your gracious faithfulness to a thousand generations.” (3) Since God’s loving, covenantal faithfulness is the foundation of our preservation and source of our fidelity, it deserves more in-depth consideration, especially if we want to grow in faithfulness.

So let’s consider two other passages—2 Timothy 2:11-13 and Romans 3:3. “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself…What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” “Christ is faithful to all his, covenant engagements for them, to bring them to glory…He cannot deny himself; he cannot go contrary to his word; that would be to act contrary to his nature and perfections, and would be a denying of himself, which is not possible.” (4) Louis Berkhof writes, “There is [one] aspect of [God’s] divine perfection…that is always regarded as of the greatest importance. It is generally called His faithfulness, in virtue of which He is ever mindful of His covenant and fulfills all the promises which He has made to His people. This faithfulness of God is of the utmost practical significance to the people of God. It is the ground of their confidence, the foundation of their hope, and the cause of their rejoicing. It saves them from the despair to which their own unfaithfulness might easily lead, gives them courage to carry on in spite of their failures, and fills their hearts with joyful anticipations…” (5) The more we meditate on and value God’s truthfulness, immutability, steadfastness, and dependability, the more our faithfulness will increase. The assurance that God will preserve us until we are with Jesus, face-to-face, gives us joy even amid our afflictions and trials. 

Sometimes, however, we need some practical help right now, fearing that we will not survive or succeed until that relatively future time when God will wipe away all tears, sin, and afflictions. If anyone needed practical help, it was King David who “As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!” (Psalms 40:11) “David had been in a situation so hopeless that he could only adequately describe it as being in a slimy, muddy pit. He had waited for God, and God had delivered him, lifting him out of the pit and setting his feet on a rock. Yet now, even though he has been delivered from great trouble, as recounted in verses 1–3, Israel’s beloved king and poet still continues to have trouble and needs further help…[David implied] that life is one long trouble. Should we be surprised at this? Hardly! Ours is a sinful, evil world. Jesus said, ‘In this world you will have trouble.’ But he added, ‘Take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33)…[David had] troubles, yes. Pessimism, no…He is asking God for help, but he is not discouraged. The tone is optimistic because of his former deliverance by God.” (6) David’s troubles partly arise from his sin—“my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me” (v. 12). “The best saints see themselves undone, unless continually preserved by the grace of God.” (7) We need Christ’s help every day of our lives; our faithfulness is grounded in the person of God, personified in Christ. God’s faithfulness is expressed through His immutability, truth, trustworthiness, perfect fidelity, reliability, and infinite sovereignty—that is his incommunicable attributes. Placing ourselves continually in his steadfast care and faithfulness will help us develop the habit of relying on him who emboldens our devotion “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (. Hebrews 10:23)

The 2020 pandemic is a trial that has now lasted over nine months. Those with commitments to others have had their faithfulness tested. Many have had to keep children and the elderly safe, be careful in every detail of their hospitality work, or serve cautiously  in a medical or emergency compacity. Faithfulness to do what is required and find creative solutions for otherwise ordinary tasks has become a significant accomplishment. How have you depended upon the Lord’s faithfulness to meet these challenges? Are there some ways in which you might wait on him as David did? “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” (Psalms 40:1-2) May we be able to declare with another psalmist, “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalms 117)

Related Scripture: Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9–10; Psalms 57:3; 86:15; 89:33-36;  Proverbs 20:28; Nehemiah 9:17; Isaiah 49:8-10; 1 John 8:9.

(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 119:1, Books, Software version, 1998.

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Deuteronomy 7:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/deuteronomy-7.html

(3) Trinity Presbyterian Church, Confession 8/23/20, http://www.trinityboerne.org

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

(5) Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, page 70, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993. 

(6) Boice Ibid, Psalm 40.

(7) Boice, Ibid.

August 28, 2020       

Patient Well-doing Leads to Honor and Peace

It is impossible to count the number of words that we use and read in one day in tweets, posts, blogs, news reports, emails, and texts. But we often don’t consider the importance of our choices. However, every word counted as the Holy Spirit guided the writers of Scripture. Out passage reminds me that patience and peace are characteristics most people think about these days. The pandemic requires the first, but we often wish we were more peaceful about its restrictions. However, we rarely think of ourselves as honorable, unless we receive a reward or recognition (for our well-doing). Of course, we want to honor God, but what does that mean, if not being honorable ourselves? In our passage today from Romans 2, Paul states that when we seek glory, honor, and immortality in our works, we will receive glory, honor, and peace. “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2:6-11) How confusing that sounds to our human ears when we first read it. However, God did not give us the Bible to confuse us but to reveal, teach, convict, and motivate us through his Spirit. Let’s work this out, knowing that God will judge everyone impartially by their works and grant believers glory, honor, and peace because we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. We have a great reward when we practice our good works as a testimony to Christ’s gospel. 

The key repeated idea in Romans 2:6-11, is ‘every human being’ (each one, everyone). The progression is like the Hebrew chiastic structure (ABCCBA). Here is one way to view it:  

Each one is given according to their works (v. 6)

  Well-doing, glory, honor, immortality, lead to eternal life (v. 7)

       Self-seeking, disobedience, unrighteousness lead to wrath and fury (v. 8)

       Doing evil leads to tribulation and distress (v. 9)

  Everyone who does good receives glory, honor, and peace (v. 10)

God shows no partiality (v. 11) (2)

We will consider each pair of verses and their applications to life today. 

“He will render to each one according to his works…For God shows no partiality.” (vs. 6, 11) In Timothy Keller’s book, “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work,” he writes: “The gospel reminds us that God cares about the products we make, the companies we work for, and the customers we serve. He not only loves us, but also loves the world and wants us to serve it well. My work is a critical way in which God is caring for human beings and renewing his world. God gives us our vision and our hope…The gospel gives meaning to our work as leaders. We’re supposed to treat all people and their work with dignity. We’re to create an environment in which people can flourish and use their God-given gifts to contribute to society. We’re to embody grace, truth, hope, and love in the organizations we create. We’re to express our relationship with God and his grace to us in the way we speak, work, and lead, not as perfect exemplars but as pointers to Christ.” (Katherine Leary Alsdorf) (3) “Verse 11 explains why God judges according to works—because he is impartial. Paul is speaking here of real obedience that is rewarded on the last day—such obedience being the result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, as Paul explains at the conclusion of the chapter (2:26–29). “Here is the wonder of the Christian gospel. On the one hand, it is utterly by grace received through faith—and even that faith is of grace (cf. Eph. 2:8)…But, at the same time and on the other hand, those who are saved by grace through faith are placed on a path of righteousness where they do indeed perform such good works as the world about them cannot even begin to dream.That is why Jesus could say, ‘For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:20). ‘Righteousness’ in this verse means ‘good deeds.’So the teaching is that the people of God will—if they truly are the people of God—do good works surpassing even the best of the righteous (but unsaved) people of Christ’s day.’” (4). Because we do these works by Christ’s redemption, believers receive glory, honor, and peace while unbelievers receive the opposite. 

Romans 2 confirms that “…to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life…glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.” (vs. 7, 10) “There are two things that such a person is described here as doing: doing good and persisting in doing good.There are three things that are highlighted as his or her essential motivation: glory, honor, and immortality… ‘Glory’ refers to the transformation of the believer into the image of God’s Son, by which the glory of God will be reflected in that person. ‘Honor’ refers to God’s approval of believers, as contrasted with the dishonor and even scorn accorded to them by the world. And, ‘immortality’ refers to the resurrection hope of God’s people…Likewise, there are four things that God is said to dispense to such people as rewards for their aspirations: eternal life, glory, honor, and peace.” (5) It is all of God. “Works are not causes of salvation, but are testimonies of faith, and fruits of grace, with which salvation is connected, whether they be found in Jews or Gentiles; for neither grace nor salvation are peculiar to any nation, or set of people.” (6) “Many people find this section of Romans to be extremely difficult, for it seems to be saying that salvation is by good works. If you do good and persist in it, you will be saved. If you do evil, you will be lost. This is not what Romans 2:6–11 is saying, of course. No one is saved other than by the work of Jesus Christ and by faith in him. Nevertheless, it is significant that the inspired apostle does speak of two paths, and he does not encourage us to suppose that a person can reach the goal of eternal life without actually being on the path of righteousness [through faith in Christ].” (7)

This leads us into the last section of our passage, “…but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek…” (vs. 8-9) “…Who contend for victory, and not truth; strive about words to no profit; are quarrelsome, and sow discord among men, and in churches; and do not obey the truth; neither attend to the light of nature, and to that which may be known of God by it; nor regard and submit to the Gospel revelation and so design both the Gentiles, which knew not God, and Jews, and others, who obey not the Gospel.” (8) Shouldn’t we ask ourselves if we are sometimes guilty of being self-seeking, rejecting God’s truth, or doing evil since all these lead us down a path where our works may not survive God’s judgment? Don’t we want all the glory, honor, and peace we can have? “If the Word is going to be sweet and life-giving to me, I must let it examine, search, and warn me. Do you let it?” (9)

Since God will judge everyone impartially by their works and grant believers glory, honor, and peace, we have all the assurance we need to encourage us for these works and use them for his glory. Then we will enjoy the reward of the gospel and practice our good works as a testimony to Christ’s gospel. What the world needs now is not any new philosophy, political strategy, or humane, charitable approach to crises. You don’t need a brilliant exposition of goodness from me, which is good, because I don’t have one. As you see, most of this devotion is borrowed from theologians who have the words of truth according to Scripture. We need to live by God’s truth, not doing works to live, but living to do works, even mundane ones, by the power of the gospel. Let’s counteract all the nonsense and unrighteousness in the world by our quiet little testimonies with our words and deeds that God inhabits with his power. “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” (1 Peter 3:10-11)

Related Scripture: Proverbs 24:12; Ezekiel 18:4; Matthew 16:27-28; 19:16–21; 25:31-46; Luke 10:25-27; Romans 2:12-16

  1. The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines honor as a verb as “to celebrate or show respect for.” https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/honor)
  2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Romans 2:6-11, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  3. Keller, Timothy, “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work,” Kindle Edition, Penguin Books, 2012.
  4. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid.
  5. Boice, Ibid. (For glory see Rom. 5:2; 8:18, 30; 9:23; 1 Cor. 2:7; 15:43; 2 Cor. 3:12–18; 4:17—for honor see Rom. 5:2; 8:18, 30; 9:23; 1 Cor. 2:7; 15:43; 2 Cor. 3:12–18; 4:17 and for immortality see 1 Cor. 15:42, 50, 52–54.)
  6. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 2:10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-2.html
  7. Boice, Ibid, Romans 2:8.
  8. Gill, Ibid, Romans 2:8.
  9. Timothy Keller Tweet, 8/19/20

August 21, 2020       

Listening to the Spirit; Holding Onto Good

This is my sixth week of writing about the fruit of biblical goodness, and we believers know there is no greater good on earth or in heaven for us than that of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a phrase echoing in my mind as I studied today’s passage: gospel goodness, so I googled it. By no coincidence, but by God’s providence, the first article on the list was The Gospel Coalition’s “4 Reasons to Beware of the Goodness Gospel.” I have never heard of this false “gospel” before, but the suitableness of the article for our passage is unmistakable. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Hoover writes, Through Galatians, I heard the true gospel, which is that I received my justification by faith in Christ, and I also receive my sanctification by the work of the Holy Spirit. All along, I had tried to take the responsibility for producing spiritual fruit in my own heart, but I learned that my responsibility is to respond in obedience and surrender to God’s work in me. The shame, pride, and self-condemnation I’d struggled with all my life turned into freedom and joy. But something else happened. Because of my experience with the destruction of the goodness gospel, I became acutely attuned to its subtle message and realized that I was hearing it everywhere: through the counsel of other believers, from pulpits, and in Christian books. Do more, try harder.” (1)

We all have been influenced to take credit for our salvation and spiritual growth in some way or another. But Paul’s message starts with a vital don’t that opposes any such credit: “Do not quench the Spirit.” Christians have the Spirit of truth, who helps us recognize and embrace true gospel goodness, rejecting what is evil and self-glorifying. He guides us as we test cultural, philosophical, psychological, and sociological trends against God’s Word to filter out and use what is right and good. “The Thessalonians apparently despised manifestations of prophecy and hence were cutting off a valuable source of encouragement and extinguishing the Spirit’s fire.” (2) Matthew Henry writes, “He worketh as fire, by enlightening, enlivening, and purifying the souls of men. As fire is put out by taking away fuel, and as it is quenched by pouring water, or putting a great deal of earth upon it; so we must be careful not to quench the Holy Spirit, by indulging carnal lusts and affections, minding only earthly things. Believers often hinder their growth in grace, by not giving themselves up to the spiritual affections raised in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.” (3) I admit that I do just that sometimes, as my challenge with my anxious puppy continues. Local dog trainers, trainers on YouTube videos, articles, and neighbors all offer feedback and advice as they watch me struggle to get him to calm down around other dogs. The longer it goes on, the wearier I grow; I am sometimes tempted to give up because standard methods aren’t producing results. But then I remember the process that brought me to this point, in complete dependence upon God, through the direction of his Spirit—to say yes to this particular dog. God knows my circumstances and my heart’s desire for ministry companionship to the elderly. As tempted as I am to say aloud what I am thinking: “I can’t take one more surprise confrontation,” I don’t. Instead, I ask God for strength to get through this season of excitability with the Spirit’s wisdom for making reasonable adjustments to my training, per the professional advice available. “The voice of the Spirit of God is as gentle as a summer breeze—so gentle that unless you’re living in complete fellowship and oneness with God, you will never heart it.” (4) I don’t want to deny the Holy Spirit’s power to use my experience for God’s purposes and glory. It’s uncomfortable for and emotionally exhausting—it’s not much fun. But today, most of us are not having much fun and are somewhat uncomfortable because of the pandemic’s restrictions.

Our early Christian forefathers and foremothers would be amazed at the little things that cause us anxiety. We don’t think much about doctrinal conflicts or questions most of the time. But, there were many false teachers in the early church, some even calling themselves prophets, misleading people about the second coming of Jesus Christ. Today, we have sermons, devotions, articles on the internet, Twitter posts, blogs, and books–all of which we should use without neglecting. “Prophecy is used to build up, encourage, and comfort the gathered community (1 Cor. 14:3). Prophecy is also used evangelistically to disclose the secrets of the hearts of unbelievers and lead them to worship God (1 Cor. 14:24–25). Because God used this gift to build up the Christian community, Paul urged the Corinthians to value it highly (1 Cor. 14:4–5, 39).” (5)

Not only should we use the prophetic Word of Scripture, but we should also test it. “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything…” (1 Thess. 5:20-21)It’s worth repeating—we should examine all cultural, philosophical, psychological, and sociological trends against God’s Word to filter out and use what is true and good. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Starting with the article today, I felt compelled to read and evaluate it based on what I know of Scripture. I was pretty confident that Hoover’s view would conform to the Bible, simply because it was on The Gospel Coalition’s website. Knowing who has already evaluated the content is beneficial. For the Thessalonian Christians and us, the “tests presumably include the prophecy’s conformity with authoritative revelation, its value for edification, and its evaluation by those with spiritual discernment.” (6) Whenever we listen to a sermon, we should ask ourselves, “Am I able to separate the preacher’s interesting stories and applications from the exegesis and truth of the passage? Am I prepared to make my own application and hold onto it, with the Spirit’s guidance? How will I know if the interpretation doesn’t agree with the rest of Scripture? “Christian faith is not spiritual gullibility.” (7)

We have the Spirit of truth who helps us recognize and embrace gospel goodness, rejecting what is evil, to obey God’s command in verse 22: “Abstain from every form of evil.” “Not only open error and heresy are to be avoided, but what has any show of it, or looks like it, or carries in it a suspicion of it, or may be an occasion thereof, or lead unto it.” (8) We are to filter all trends through a biblical worldview and use what is right and good. “…hold fast what is good.” (v. 21) Tim Challies offers this advice for testing false doctrine: “No wonder, then, that John tells us to ‘test the spirits’ and Paul says, ‘test everything’ (1 John 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). It is our sacred responsibility to examine every doctrine to determine if it is true or false…As we test the doctrine, we learn our responsibility toward it: We either hold to it or we reject it…They provide a grid that is useful for testing any doctrine… [They are]…The Test of Origin: Sound doctrine originates with God; false doctrine originates with someone or something created by God—“The Test of Authority: Sound doctrine grounds its authority within the Bible; false doctrine grounds its authority outside the Bible— The Test of Consistency: Sound doctrine is consistent with the whole of Scripture; false doctrine is inconsistent with some parts of Scripture—The Test of Spiritual Growth: Sound doctrine is beneficial for spiritual health; false doctrine leads to spiritual weakness. Sound doctrine makes spiritually healthy, mature, knowledgeable Christians. False doctrine makes spiritually unhealthy, immature, ignorant Christians who may be no Christians at all, and The Test of Godly Living: Sound doctrine has value for godly living, false doctrine leads to ungodly living. Truth never stands on its own, but always has implications in life…Having thoroughly tested the doctrine and examined its effects, we are able to determine how to respond to it. Sound doctrine must be accepted and held fast; false doctrine must be denied and rejected. When Jesus spoke to the believers in Thyatira, he commended them for clinging to truth and told them to “hold fast what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:25).” (9)

How will you apply this knowledge to what you believe? I trust you will make your application with discernment and prayer for the Spirit’s guidance. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (1 John 4:1-3)

Related Scripture passages for consideration: Ephesians 4:30-32; 2 Timothy 1:6-7

(1) Hoover, Christine, “4 Reasons to Beware of the Goodness Gospel,” 2015, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-reasons-beware-goodness-gospel/ Also see her book, “From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel.”

(2) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Thessalonians 5:19, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(3) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/1thessalonians-5.html

(4) “His Utmost for My Highest,” Chambers, Oswald, “My Utmost for His Highest,” https://utmost.org/do-not-quench-the-spirit/

(5) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, 1 Thessalonians 5:20, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(6) Boice, Ibid.

(7) ESV, Ibid (1 Thessalonians 5:20)

(8) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Thessalonians 5:22, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-6.html

(9) Challies, Tim, “The Five Tests of False Doctrine,” 2017, https://www.challies.com/articles/test-every-doctrine-test-every-teacher/

August 14, 2020

Fighting the Good Fight

When we read or hear news stories of crises over which we have no control, we might try to pinpoint a reason for the problem, complain about a government’s role, or grieve and pray. But we can also “Fight the good fight of faith,” as recommended by Paul in 1 Timothy 6:12. I’ve been concerned and praying about the Yemen famine and health crisis since I read about it in April. But, “Six year-old Ayaan and Mikaeel, along with their community, have raised more than £37,000 for the Yemen crisis. With the ongoing conflict in Yemen tens of thousands of lives have been lost. An estimated 24m people, equivalent to 80% of the country’s population, are now in need of humanitarian aid to survive. The scale of this crisis is the largest in the world, according to Unicef. When best friends Ayaan and Mikaeel from Redbridge, east London, learnt about this they set up a lemonade stand to raise funds because they wanted to help. ‘I could see their bones. It just made me really sad.’” (1) If you can still access this new story and see the photo, you will see that Ayaan and Mikaeel are anything but sad! They have taken hold of their concern and put it to work. How much more will we be encouraged and strengthened by putting our good faith to work? The gospel calls us to flee unrighteousness and put our kind, loving, steadfast, gentle faith to work. We can and should fight our tendency and temptation to yield to sin for the sake of and through our good gospel witness.

Let’s look more closely at 1 Timothy 6:11-12: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” I consulted several of my usual commentaries and found that the “things” that Timothy, Ephesian Christians, and we are to flee, according to Paul, are those things that come through foolish controversies and verbal quarrels. In 1 Timothy 6:3-5, he describes false teachers as one who “is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” In 2 Timothy 2:23, Paul addresses the problem of peer pressure among the young and passionate, advising Timothy to “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” A culture of divisiveness is not unique to 2020, and a biblical response today looks the same now as it did for Timothy: flee! Run, don’t stop and think, move in the other direction; fight against the cultural tide! We have to fight against our old muscle memory and fight to embrace the gospel truth about our new, good nature.

Paul, however, doesn’t leave Timothy or us without a definite, positive goal. The gospel doesn’t just rescue us from evil; Christ gives us everything good we will ever need for all eternity. We have his power and presence to “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” Even before Christ’s sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross, God called his people to seek and live by his holiness. He promised his OT people great blessing for doing so with whatever strength they had. “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor.” (Proverbs 21:21) Paul adds faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness to righteousness. Because of Jesus’s faithfulness, love, tenacity, and tenderness, we have these qualities if the Holy Spirit has regenerated us. John Gill reminds us that “faith… looks not to things seen, which are temporal, but to things not seen, which are eternal; and leads off the mind from sublunary enjoyments to God, and Christ, and the glories of another world; and is the leading grace to all others, and the foundation of good works, without which there is no pleasing in acts of moral righteousness, or in any acts of religious worship, which may be called godliness.” (2) Faith stands out here because of the apostle’s next command, building on what he has already written: “Fight the good fight of faith.” (12a) Saving faith in Jesus Christ includes all the characteristics and qualities Paul mentions. Our Christian faith is all-encompassing and should impact every area and facet of life here now. It should be the source of our strength, love, gentleness, holiness, resoluteness, and faithfulness. We fight our temptation to sin much as an athlete uses his or her physicality to improve and compete.

It is doubtful that Paul was an athlete, but this is what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Not only am I not an athlete, I am not a boxer—an athlete who fights. I don’t like fighting. I don’t want to witness people fighting physically or verbally in real life, TV shows, or movies. (I fast forward through it.) So when I feel like I am fighting with someone or even with my anxious puppy, I step back from the power struggle to assess what is happening. When I remember that “GG” needs calm, positive encouragement, the “fight” turns into a loving correction and peace results. I have estimated that my good fight with GG involves saying “sit” about one hundred times, “down” about 50, and “heel” about 50 times daily, firmly but calmly, and that doesn’t include all the other commands I use for training. I am fighting his old muscle memory to do what is right. Similarly, the fight of faith is not argumentative or a competition of wills, but gospel mercy with the tenacity that everyone needs, which Christians possess. The ‘good fight of faith’ “is in a good cause, the cause of God and truth; and under a good Captain, Jesus Christ the Captain of our salvation; for which good weapons are provided, even the whole armour of God, and which are not carnal, but spiritual and mighty.” (3) When we live the gospel, we put our good, loving, steadfast, gentle faith to work in a gentle, loving gospel witness.

Verse 12 continues, “Take hold of eternal life to which you were called. And about which you made the good confessions in the presence of many witnesses.” “This probably refers to Timothy’s baptism. The ‘good confession’ that one has come to faith in Christ leads naturally into the ‘good fight’ of seeking to live in faithfulness to Him.” (4) Jesus was the first to make a confession of faith and did so repeatedly. One example toward the end of his ministry is recorded in John 18:37, “Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’” He risked nothing in God’s view, but everything in mans’ to give witness to the truth—that he alone is the promised Messiah Savior for the world. Similarly, Paul risked everything he had worked for as a Jewish Elder when he professed faith in Christ, much to the Christian apostles’ dismay. After that, though, he only had to put to use what he already partook. If you have a testimony of salvation in Jesus Christ, you have made a good confession that you need to hold on to. Nothing new is required, just holding onto what we already have acquired by God’s grace. I have recently heard reports of local Christian ministries in my town that aren’t trying to start anything new during the pandemic. Instead, the staff are just trying to hold onto the ministry and clients they already have. That’s all we have to do—hold onto the faith we have and put it to work, to fight with gospel grace, mercy, love, righteousness, gentleness, and godliness, like six-year-olds Ayaan and Mikaeel.

How are you “fighting” for your convictions? In what new ways might you put your good, loving steadfast, gentle gospel faith to work on behalf of your family, friends, co-workers, church members, or neighbors? Are there situations, people, or issues that tempt you to argue, complain, or ignore because they are too stressful? How might you apply Christ’s gentle goodness to them? Will you pray to do so, knowing that God can transform your stress into peace, confidence, and reasonableness? Being stressed and anxious about anything, including the effects of a pandemic, prevents us from experiencing God’s happy goodness. But, as we fight the good fight of faith we can “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:1)

(1) BBC World News, reported on 8/2/20, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-london-53600136/boys-lemonade-stand-raises-thousands-for-yemen-crisis

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Timothy 6:11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1timothy-6.html

(3) Gill, 1 Tim 6:12, Ibid.

(4) The Reformation Study Bible, 1 Timothy 6:12, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.

August 7, 2020