The Gardens of the Lord

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June 5, 2017
The Gardens of the Lord
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.” (John 18:1)

As Jesus, after the last supper with His disciples, walked out with them, they soon crossed over a small brook and entered the little garden called Gethsemane. Eventually, He left the disciples and went farther into the garden alone for a time of solitary prayer.

Perhaps He remembered how, long ago, He had walked in His first garden with Adam and Eve in beautiful fellowship. But then they had rebelled against His Word and had to be expelled from the Garden of Eden, leaving Him alone there also (Genesis 3:8).

As He prayed in Gethsemane, He knew that it would be only a few hours before He would be buried in still another garden, one “wherein was never man yet laid” (John 19:41). He would be carried to a new tomb prepared in a newly planted garden by the loving hands of Joseph and Nicodemus, but then He would be alone once again.

He had walked alone in the first garden, seeking His own; then had knelt alone in the second garden, praying for His own; and finally was buried alone in the third garden, after dying for His own.

But because He came “to seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10), and because He now “ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25) after paying the awful price of “redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7), all those who believe and trust Him will spend eternity in fellowship with Him in a beautiful garden city. Here flows “a pure river of water of life” surrounded on both sides by “the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month” (Revelation 22:1-2), and all will be “very good” forever. HMM

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The Furtherance of the Gospel

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June 1, 2017
The Furtherance of the Gospel
“But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12)

The infrequently used word “furtherance” (meaning simply “advancement”) occurs elsewhere only in Philippians 1:25, where Paul speaks of the “furtherance and joy of faith,” which he hoped to see in the Christians at Philippi, and in 1 Timothy 4:15, where it is translated “profiting.” There, Paul urged young Timothy to continue studying the things of God “that thy profiting may appear to all.”

Paul wrote this epistle while he was unjustly imprisoned in a Roman jail, and no doubt he remembered the time when he had first met many of his Philippian Christian friends as a result of being imprisoned and beaten in a Philippian jail (Acts 16:12-40). In fact, he had often been imprisoned (2 Corinthians 11:23) and had suffered severely in many other ways for “the furtherance of the gospel.”

Indeed, during the two years or more he was a prisoner in Rome, he not only taught God’s Word to many who visited him there (Acts 28:30-31) but also wrote at least four of his inspired epistles there (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon—possibly even Hebrews). And these have been of untold blessing to millions down through the years. In ways that Paul could never have imagined, it was true indeed that these things that had happened to him had “fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.”

The apostle Paul had the spiritual insight to realize that what seemed like great problems and difficulties could be used by God to the “advancement” of the gospel. Rather than complaining or even quitting when the Christian life gets hard, we must remember that God can make even “the wrath of man” to bring praise to Him (Psalm 76:10). HMM

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Soldier’s Duty

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May 31, 2017
Soldier’s Duty
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4)

As Paul came to the end of his earthly life, he took great pains to encourage his disciple to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1) and to guard and pass on the precious teachings that Paul had taught him.

Paul compared Timothy’s life in the ministry of the gospel to the life of a soldier. The Greek word translated “endure hardness” is used twice more by Paul, each in this book. “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions [same word], do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Paul holds himself up as an example of such endurance when he claims: “I suffer trouble [same word], as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9).

As soldiers of Jesus Christ, we are to avoid entangling ourselves with something that will hinder our effectiveness. The word “entangled” means “entwined,” or “involved with.” The soldier must be able to draw his weapon freely and use it effectively, and cannot do so if something is clutching onto him, binding his arms and legs.

Our text follows the well-known admonition “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (vv. 1-2). The goal of a soldier is to please his leader. So must be our goal in the warfare at hand, preserving and passing on the truth. As Christians, we have been chosen to be in the army of the General who Himself died to assure our ultimate victory. He deserves our total devotion. JDM

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Hereby Know

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May 30, 2017
Hereby Know
“Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:13)

It is surprising to note that this phrase “hereby know” occurs eight times in the little epistle of 1 John. Each of these listed below is given as a means of both testing the genuineness of our professed faith in Christ and then of giving assurance and comfort to the true believer.

“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).

“But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him” (1 John 2:5).

“Hereby perceive [same Greek word as ‘know’] we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him” (1 John 3:18-19).

“And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (1 John 3:24).

“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2).

“We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

The eighth and last such reference is our text for the day. Note that the common thread running through all is the importance of the indwelling Spirit of truth, leading those who know the Lord into lives of doctrinal purity, obedience to God’s Word, and love toward the brethren. HMM

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Call to Remembrance

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May 29, 2017
Call to Remembrance
“But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions.” (Hebrews 10:32)

Our American younger generation, like the Hebrew Christians back in the first generation after Christ, seems in grave danger of forgetting the great sacrifices of those earlier generations in this country who made our nation the land of the free. What seems almost a deliberate “dumbing down” of our great Christian heritage has been taking place in our public schools and universities ever since World War II ended.

Memorial Day should not be merely an occasion to give people a three-day time of leisure and pleasure, but rather a call to remembrance of those who suffered and died to ensure our political and religious freedoms—especially that freedom to believe and proclaim the saving gospel of Christ, which so motivated our forefathers.

And it is even more important, every day, to call to remembrance the unfathomable sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ who died, not just to give us temporal freedom, but eternal freedom, providing everlasting life to all those who believe. We have a formal time for remembering this—whenever we observe the special supper He established, remembering His broken body and shed blood. “This do in remembrance of me,” He said (1 Corinthians 11:24-25), and Christians have been remembering Him in this way ever since He met with His disciples the night before He died for our sins.

But we need also to remember Him every day, not just on the days scheduled for communion, just as we ought to remember and thank God for those who died for our country, and to do so far more often than just once each year. As Paul said concerning the dedicated, but suffering, Christians in Philippi, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3). HMM

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Sweet-Smelling Sacrifice

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May 24, 2017
Sweet-Smelling Sacrifice
“I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:18)

The reference in this text goes back to the “sweet savour” that God smelled when Noah offered his initial sacrifice after disembarking from the year-long Flood. That offering triggered a promise from God that He would never again curse the earth or destroy every living thing with water, as the Flood had done. Furthermore, the Lord promised to maintain the seasons and functions of the earth until the end (Genesis 8:20-21).

Later, Moses would bring the Lord’s instructions for those laws of Israel that would keep the nation separate from the rest of the world and constantly remind them of the very personal relationship that the Creator of all things was establishing with them. Some of the sacrifices would be an “offering by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, or a sacrifice in performing a vow, or in a freewill offering, or in your solemn feasts, to make a sweet savour unto the LORD” (Numbers 15:3).

It is interesting to note that the twice-born are “unto God a sweet savour of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Our very existence as His children smells good to our heavenly Father! We are also compared to living stones that are being built into a spiritual house that is “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Our bodies are to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) that render the “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15), while God Himself is making us “perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:21). HMM III

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Christ’s Strength

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May 22, 2017
Christ’s Strength
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

This little verse gets quoted out of context a lot. It is used to justify bizarre plans and dreams, as well as to suggest that every Christian should be rich and healthy all the time. Not only are such applications without any support in Scripture, they are completely out of the context of this passage.

In the previous verses, Paul lists a variety of circumstances that he had faced, from poverty to wealth, learning to be “content” in each of these developments. Then he notes that he “can do all things” through the strength that the Lord provides during conflicting circumstances.

The “do” of this text is the prevailing of the power of God in which and by which we minister. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

The early church experienced a stunning growth in converts as it preached and testified of the resurrected Christ. This result, however, is due to the fact that the Word of God grew “mightily . . . and prevailed” (Acts 19:20).

Our fight is not a physical one. We wrestle against the great spiritual powers of wickedness that have their source in the heavenlies. The history of God’s people is replete with the battle that was begun in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve lost because they sought to deal with the issue on their own. We win or prevail only when we arm ourselves with God’s armor and become “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). HMM III

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