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Jealous for God

Thursday, August 31, 2017

But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim — for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

(Exodus 34:13-14)

 

When we think of jealousy, we generally think of it in a negative light. However there is a positive usage as well as seen here in Exodus 34. The Hebrew word for jealousy is akin to being zealous. Whether the term jealousy is applied negatively or positively depends on what one is zealous about. In Exodus 34, God is said to be so zealous for His people’s worship that He calls Himself “Jealous.”

James rebuked a group of Christians who were jealous for the wrong things, the things of this world, and asked them, “…do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?” (4:4) He went on to summarize a teaching from the Old Testament in verse 5, “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?”” There is debate as to what “spirit” James is referencing. The NET translation understands “spirit” to be “the lustful capacity within people that produces a divided mind (1:8, 14) and inward conflicts regarding God (4:1-4). God has allowed it to be in man since the fall, and he provides his grace (v. 6) and the new birth through the gospel message (1:18-25) to counteract its evil effects.”

Other translators take the word “spirit” positively as the Holy Spirit. The sense then would be, “God yearns jealously for the Spirit he caused to live within us.” God has generously made His Spirit to dwell within us (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16) but He yearns for continued purity of the vessel housing His Spirit.

 

Either way the Bible consistently teaches that God is jealous for our sacrifice, our service, our love and our worship. The question is, are we as jealous for God as He is jealous for us?

 

Recall the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25. After the story of Balaam and Balak, when the Israelites were dwelling in Shittim, they became influenced by the Moabites and their idolatry. The Moabites invited God’s people to worship their gods and the Israelites agreed! They ate the food offered to their gods and bowed their heads in worship to them and the Scripture says, “So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel” (Num. 25:3).

 

This was precisely the kind of thing God was trying to prevent in His people. Now His jealousy was stirred up and He instructed Moses to take drastic measures. All those who turned their back on God and went along with the Moabites to worship Baal of Peor were to be destroyed. As a consequence to this blatant idolatry God sent a plague among His people. Then, as God’s people were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting over this grievous sin and resultant plague, an Israelite named Zimri, boldly and in broad daylight, brought a Midianite woman into the camp of the Israelites for everyone to see.

 

This woman was of high rank (25:15) and her meeting with Zimri probably wasn’t coincidental. We get the impression that the women, the daughters of Moab and Midian, were used by their kings to entice the Israelites to serve their gods (Num. 31:16) and join them. This idolatry and the thousands of deaths by plague were all brought on by the foolish council and treacherous heart of Balaam (Num. 22).

So what were the Israelites to do when they saw Zimri bringing this idolatrous woman into their camp in the midst of all this turmoil?

Phinehas, jealous for His God, ran them both through with a spear, thus ending the plague! Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sins of Israel.’” (Num. 25:10-13)

 

God doesn’t call upon us today to chuck spears at anyone who brings sin into God’s camp. However He does call for us to be zealous in His service and jealous for Him. What can we take away from such a dramatic story?

 

The words of Jude 3-4 come to mind: “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt it necessary to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

 

Like Zimri, there are those today who would bring evil practices into God’s encampment, the Church. We are called to contend for the faith and notice when God’s grace is being perverted. Like Phinehas, we need to be jealous for God and see those who, like Zimri, “for pay have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam” (Jd. 11), who care only for themselves (Jd. 12) and would overturn the faith of others. Of course we do not contend with spears but with the only weapon approved and powerful enough to destroy error and slay wickedness in the hearts of men, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). This sword must be handled rightly (2 Tim. 2:15) with gentleness, patience and respect (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:15).

 

Are you jealous for God? Are you zealous for your own spiritual purity and the purity of Christ’s church? Then keep yourself in the love of God and snatch others from the fire (Jd. 21, 23).

Painful Sayings

Thursday, August 31, 2017

For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”

(2 Corinthians 2:4)

 

Paul’s love for his brethren can be painful to read. His exertion in the Lord’s kingdom remains an inspiration for Christians today (1 Cor. 11:1). Added to his external sufferings, Paul says, was the “daily pressure on [him] of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). The love Paul had for Christ and his brethren moved him to anguish especially when he beheld their failure in living regenerated lives in Christ.

 

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul sent a stinging rebuke at the heart of the congregation for the one whose sin was so twisted it did “not exist even among the Gentiles” (1 Cor. 5:1) but also of the arrogance of the rest of the Christians for tolerating it (1 Cor. 5:2). On several occasions Paul was moved to tears in his work planting and establishing churches. Regarding his unbelieving Jewish countrymen, Paul wished he could be cut off for their sakes (Rom. 9:1-3). We see his tears and hear his anguished prayers as he worked to declare “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).

 

Paul was never afraid to say what needed to be said even when it hurt the most. The oft spoken line is, “the truth hurts” to which there is some merit (cf. Gal. 4:16) . As God’s children we are also moved to painful sayings.

 

I’m sorry,” is one of the most difficult things to say. But admitting we’ve done wrong to God and each other is vital if we ever want to drink from the fountain of blessing again. The language of repentance is bitter to speak but what sweet grace does it bring about! Regarding the many hard sayings in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says in his second epistle that he rejoiced in the effect of the rebukes: godly sorrow which produced in them repentance leading to life (2 Cor. 7:9-11). Even though it’s painful to say, “I am sorry,” repentance is the language of the gospel.

 

Even the phrase, “I love you,” can be difficult to say sometimes. In fact, the harder it is to say “I love you,” the more pressing is the need to say it. Men who play their cards close and are miserly with words of encouragement and love to their spouses, children or neighbors are sorry servants in the kingdom. Women who, in their coldness, give no words of praise but would rather highlight the negative are without Christ’s badge of discipleship. We are commanded to love as Jesus loved (Jn. 13:34-35). This love (‘agapeo’ in the Greek) can be commanded because it isn’t based on emotion. Rather having this kind of love means being devoted to its object, despite its unloveliness. We need to be willing to show each other that we are devoted to their wellbeing and sometimes that means saying “I love you” when it’s painful, perhaps especially when it’s painful.

 

You are the man,” is another saying that brings much anguish but it is vital to the health and purity of the church. Many think expressing any sort of disapproval contradicts love. Love, to most people, is agreeing and supporting someone regardless of their choices. However, Biblical love demands we act in the best interest of our brothers. That means when we see them struggling with temptation we reach out to them and pray with them (Jas. 5:16). That means, if our brother persists in ungodliness, we first remove the beam from our eye in order to remove the speck from his eye (Mt. 7:1-5). Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins, rebuke him” (Lk. 17:3). The true friend who is devoted to his brother will snatch him out of

the fires of temptation, for, Jude says, he hates “even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 23). This loving rebuke, as modeled by Nathan to David (cf. 2 Sam. 12:7), “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

 

The last, and perhaps most painful saying of them all is, “I forgive you.” Again it must be stressed the language of forgiveness, like the language of repentance and love, is the language of the gospel. Our very salvation depends upon our humility in forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32). To finish the teaching of the Teacher, “If your brother sins rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). There is no depth of depravity that man could sink to that God would not forgive in Christ. If our Heavenly Father is full of such mercy and grace, then we also must have a heart of forgiveness and a tongue of mercy. How could Jesus say to those who despised Him, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”? How could Steven pray to the Father the same prayer for those hurling stones to mutilate his body? Because they knew God is a God of forgiveness.

 

All of these sayings may be difficult, but if we want to glorify our King, we will learn the gospel language. When you’ve done wrong, waste no time in your heartfelt apology so that you can be reconciled. Say, “I’m sorry” and work to make things right.

 

Be liberal with your love language as God is liberal towards you in His words of love. Offering a sincere “I love you” coupled with parallel acts of love may be exactly what your lonely neighbor needs. Wield the Spirit’s sword with tact and compassion to snatch your ailing brother from the fire. Speaking the truth in love necessitates that sometimes we say to our fellow image-bearer, “You are the man.” And lastly, be generous and quick to forgive our debtors (Mt. 6:12) for our fellowship with the Father rests upon it. “I forgive you,” is good news to those who have wronged us.

Spreading the Gospel in a Post-Modern Culture

Thursday, August 31, 2017

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

(John 14:6)

 

One of the difficulties of being witnesses to Jesus is the pushback of culture. Christianity is, by its very nature, counter-cultural. Our culture is no less resistant to the absolute claims of Christ. Post-modern thought has lodged itself in the minds of our neighbors and presents a major obstacle in reaching their hearts and minds with the truth of Jesus.

Many are rejecting any standards of absolute or objective truth in favor of relative truth and relative morality. What is true for you may not be true for someone else. Or what is right and moral may vary depending upon the situation. Spirituality is traded for secularism, the process by which religious ideas, institutions and interpretations lose social significance. Exclusive religious truth-claims have been traded with pluralism, which is a competing number of views as a worldview in which no one worldview is dominant. Islam is just as true as Christianity or any other religion. We’re all working toward the same goal, we’re just going about it in different ways. Privatization is also becoming more popular; this is the act of internalizing those things which society does not feel should be expressed. In other words, you can worship whatever version of God you want just don’t do it in public or evangelize.

If you have any understanding of Christianity you can see the problems with these views. So what do we do when we encounter pushback from a culture that rejects absolute truth-claims and exclusive faith that, by its nature, is public and not private?

 

What offends people is the binary system which separates humanity into two groups of people: those who have the truth and those who do not. Nobody likes that. You see, if a Christian makes a claim to know THE truth (Jn. 14:6) then the logical conclusion people draw is that they are living in error and ignorance. This is usually followed by accusations toward the offender of being narrow-minded and insulting. Because, in our post-modern world, it is taboo to persuade people to believe something outside of ‘their’ truth because truth is relative. So, again, how do we respond?

 

Before a dialogue can progress you must point out the logical inconsistency of such thinking.

 

If someone ever accuses you of being narrow or insensitive about trying to persuade them to believe what you believe they have just committed the crime they are accusing you of. By demonizing you for spreading your version of truth what are they doing but spreading their version of the truth? How is a Christian trying to persuade a person to believe in the gospel so different than an unbeliever proselytizing believers to unbelief?

 

Post-modern thinking is philosophical quicksand. Christians may be accused of separating the world into some who have truth and others who don’t, of setting up binary system with those who are right on one side and those who are wrong on the other. But our post-modern friends turn around and say, “I’m one of the good people who don’t push my beliefs on others and you’re one of the bad people who do!” This is the height of hypocrisy and irony. There are two kinds of people in this world; people who make exclusive truth-claims and others who make exclusive truth-claims but don’t know they’re doing it!

But the fallacy is not only logical and philosophical. It is also emotional. Imagine you had a child suffering from multiple sclerosis and you found a treatment that helped tremendously. How would you respond? Wouldn’t you want to tell other people and parents with kids suffering with this disease about the cure you found so they don’t have to suffer like you did? 

 

How absurd would it be to accuse such a person of being narrow-minded, insensitive or trying to push ‘their’ truth on others! They want to tell others the good news so that others can benefit from it like they did. It is out of concern, compassion and love that they tell others and so it is with our spreading the truth of the gospel. We who have been rescued from the slavery of sin and death proclaim the good news of freedom and healing in Christ so  others can benefit from God’s gift.

 

So what holds a person back from not telling others about the salvation found only in Christ? I would suggest it is due to either one of two things: a lack of love for our neighbors or a lack of conviction about Jesus.

 

Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian once said, "I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.... How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?"

 

Comments like this should cause every Christian to examine his conscience to see if he truly believes that Jesus is, as he claimed, “the way, the truth, and the life.” We may not come upon a traveler beaten within an inch of his life like the good Samaritan but we see our friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members and acquaintances battered and bloodied spiritually from the ravages of sin. Let’s love our neighbor enough to tell him about the gift of God available to him through Jesus (Lk. 10:30-37).

 

Temporal Provincialism

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

(Jeremiah 6:16) 

 

A “temporal provincial” describes someone who is ignorant of the past and proud of it. Those who hold this view are convinced that the present time is the only time that matters and that anything that occurred earlier can be safely ignored. Today is shiny, today is new, today is exciting. Yesterday has no bearing on the present. To those suffering from temporal provincialism, studying history is as pointless as learning Morse code; that takes learning, patience, and a great deal of time to decipher sentences, and it has no bearing on the present. Hey, I've got a smartphone, that's instant, that's better, that's now.

We can clearly see the temporal provincial plague at work in our present generation. The clearest example of this is today’s media news cycle. The turnover rate of most stories is so fast that we forget the news of yesterday. The 24-hour ticker at the bottom of the news screen steadily scrolls by even when there is nothing substantial to report. Reactionary ‘reporting’ is published online without the bother of fact-checking (or spell-checking). In this world of immediacy we have to be up to date. Up to date with our phones, with our news, with our social media, because we have to know what's going on right now because we believe right now is the most important thing.

There is really nothing wrong with wanting to be on top of current events but the tragedy comes when all we care about is stuffing our brains with information that, in reality, we're all going to forget tomorrow anyway. Nothing simmers, nothing is analyzed, no lessons are learned, no wisdom is gained. Why not carefully gather the facts, weigh the information, draw your own conclusions, and test what you've found? Because that's Morse code, that’s yesterday. That takes learning, patience, and a great deal of time and mental effort.

 

That is the provincial view of studying the Bible. The Scriptures are old, therefore that must mean they are out-of-date. But Romans 15:14 and 1 Corinthians 10:11 say different: there is inherent value in understanding and applying the lessons of history. Even to the 1st century audience, the Scriptures of the Old Covenant were at least 400 years old, yet Paul commanded Timothy to immerse himself in them (1 Tim. 4:15), and to continue studying them so that he would be “a worker approved by God” (2 Tim. 2:15).

 

Studying history, especially Biblical history, can only help us. In fact, that is the very reason it has been preserved (Gal. 3:24; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). What God did for us in the past has a profound effect on our understanding of the present and our hope for the future.

 

We would greatly benefit from ingesting God’s word and the lessons of history slowly, contemplatively and thoughtfully. It’s the difference between stuffing your face at meal time and savoring each bite. Let’s all take a moment this week to unplug from technology, divorce ourselves from media overload, put down the selfie stick (break it, preferably) and invest our minds in the lessons of history. Right now is important but if we neglect the lessons of the past it will be at the expense of the future.

The Lord Will Provide

Thursday, August 31, 2017

After God spared Isaac, Abraham's unique son, "...Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son" (Gen. 22:13). It was at this point of climax, immediately after Abraham's knife was stayed from slitting the throat of his son of promise, the LORD did what He always does: He provided what was needed, in this case a sacrifice in the form of a ram. That is why "Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide..." or, in Hebrew, YHWH-jireh (Gen. 22:14).

 

God is given many names and designations in Scripture and none of them are without significance. The act of providing is one way God has revealed and defined Himself to man. His providential care falls on all men, the just and the unjust (Mt. 5:45). In reference to physical provision there was never a soul who did not owe all to God, "for in Him we live and move and have our being..." (Acts 17:28). But our God who wears this name "YHWH-jireh" has provided much more than food, clothing and shelter to His creatures. He brought salvation to all men by His grace (Titus 2:11).

This hope of eternal life may not be accepted by all men but it is surely offered to all men as Paul says in Romans 10:13, "whoever calls on Him will not be put to shame." All men are given the power (authority) to become "sons of God" (Jn. 1:12). God, the great Provider, has "granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Pet. 1:3). Let us meditate on God's spiritual provisions.

 

First of all, God has provided the PRICE for our salvation: His own Son, Jesus. In Romans 8:31-32, Paul says, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" Our salvation was purchased with the most valuable substance of all, the very blood of God in human form (1 Pet. 1:18-19). The vast weight of sin that had accumulated for all of human history and even now continues was taken by Jesus to the cross in His body (1 Pet. 2:24). In return there is nothing man can offer but a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Psa. 51:17).

 

Secondly, God has provided the PROMISE of our salvation: His reward for obedient faith. In His great commission to His apostles, Jesus used plain language in explaining how salvation would come; "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned" ( Mk. 16:15-16). Christ summed up this faith as He concluded His sermon on the mount by saying that everyone who hears and obeys His words would endure the judgment (Mt. 7:24-27). Thankfully, our salvation does not necessitate our perfection. (God has taken care of that too!) God knows our weaknesses and the struggles of this body. That is precisely why He appointed Jesus as High Priest who could sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). Having an Advocate with the Father we are now able to be granted forgiveness of sins (1 Jn. 1:9; 2:1). The Hebrew writer says that in His perfection, Jesus our High Priest became "to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:9).

 

Finally, God has provided the PLAN of our salvation: His perfect and eternal word to guide our way. James tells us that God's word is "able to save [our] souls" (Jas. 1:21). In His word we have all that we need to be pleasing to Him (2 Pet. 1:3). God used to speak to mankind through direct revelation and through prophets but now He speaks to us "in His Son" (Heb. 1:2). By studying the life of Jesus and seeing how He lived by faith we have our pattern of conduct. It is no wonder Jesus told Thomas that He is "the way" to the Father (Jn. 14:6). He doesn't point us to the way. He doesn't give us a list of directions that lead us to the way. Instead He says, "I am the way." We are on the right (righteous) track when we deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily to follow in the footsteps of Jesus (Lk. 9:23).

 

God, fulfilling the name ascribed to Him by Abraham, has abundantly provided us with everything we need to be what we were always meant to be. He paid the price, He gave the promise, and He provided the plan for our salvation. And, by working providentially through others and through us as we follow His word and even through circumstances mysterious to us, He is saving mankind.

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