Lean Not

1195427763386030199jonadab_paul_of_tarsus_svg_medMarch 13, 2017
Lean Not
“For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water.” (Isaiah 3:1)

Isaiah lived and wrote during a time of spiritual poverty in the nations of Judah and Israel, as well as national decline. He foresaw and foretold in graphic detail the coming captivities of both nations, but was particularly concerned with the state and future of his homeland, Judah, and his hometown, Jerusalem.

The first several chapters of his book consist of a strong denunciation of the practices of the people of Judah. The nation was literally disintegrating due to rampant sin. In preparation for the coming national and ultimate judgments, Isaiah warned against personal pride and reliance on human resources. “The loftiness of man shall be . . . made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day” (2:17).

In our text, the words “stay” and “staff” are the masculine and feminine forms of the same word, both derived from the word meaning “support,” translated “stay of bread.” Thus, Isaiah uses this idiom and the next several verses to teach that God will remove any semblance of support for this sinful people, whether mighty man, soldier, judge, prophet, seer, elder, captain, artist, orator, or mature ruler (3:2-4), for the purpose of humbling them, “the people shall be oppressed, . . . every one by his neighbour” (v. 5), and demonstrating that the Lord, Jehovah Himself, could be their only real stay or staff. “In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious” (4:2).

The word “stay” is elsewhere translated “lean,” “rely,” or “rest.” “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). JDM

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In the Spirit

bible-bookshelf-3 March 12, 2017
In the Spirit
“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” (Ephesians 2:18)

We cannot see or hear the Holy Spirit, but He is very real and is, in fact, the very life of each true Christian. It is only through Him that we have access in prayer to the Father, as our text points out. Christ in His resurrection body is seated at the right hand of the Father in the distant heavens, but the Holy Spirit has His temple in our very bodies.

He not only hears each spoken prayer, but also each thought of our hearts. From the moment we receive Christ, we live in the Spirit; He is always with us, to guide our steps, to bear witness with our spirits that we belong to God, to illumine our understanding, and, when needed, to convict and chasten when we get out of His will.

Therefore, “if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). When we yield to some worldly temptation, it is because we have ignored this admonition, for the promise is “walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). The very presence of the Holy Spirit assures our eternal salvation, so how can we ignore His holy constraints on our behavior? “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). We speak of worshiping God in church, or home, or elsewhere, but if we really worship Him, we must “worship God in the spirit” (Philippians 3:3), for we have access to the Father, and the Son, only in the Spirit.

When we pray, we must be “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18). “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. . . . For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:9, 14). HMM

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A First-Century Hymn

a_small_cup_of_coffee March 11, 2017
A First-Century Hymn
“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:11-13)

It has been noted that our text for the day is in poetic language and form. It probably consists of an early hymn that Timothy and the other readers of this epistle knew. It consists of a series of “if . . . then” statements, each an important conditional promise, two with negative connotations and two with positive.

“If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him.” Elsewhere we read, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).

“If we suffer [literally, ‘endure’], we shall also reign with him.” “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21).

“If we deny him, he also will deny us.” Christ said, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).

“If we believe not [literally, are unfaithful], yet he abideth faithful.” His promises are sure whether they be warnings of judgment or promises of blessing. God promised Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage” (Joshua 1:5-6).

Our text begins with the statement “It is a faithful saying,” and ends with “he cannot deny himself.” We can be sure that He will live up to His end of the bargain. His very nature demands it. JDM

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The Way of Cain

Oops! Road Sign

Oops! Road Sign with Dramatic Blue Sky.

March 10, 2017
The Way of Cain
“Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.” (Proverbs 25:14)

Cain initially was a religious man, evidently proud of his achievements as a “tiller of the ground” that God had “cursed” (Genesis 4:2; 3:17). He assumed that God would be much impressed with the beautiful basket of his “fruit of the ground” that he presented as an “offering unto the LORD.” Cain became bitterly angry when God “had not respect” to Cain and his offering (Genesis 4:3-5).

“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,” shedding the blood of an innocent lamb in substitution for his own sin and guilt before God, “by which he obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4). Since “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), Abel was merely obeying God’s Word, but Cain, proud and self-righteous in attitude, was presuming to offer up his own merits in payment for the privilege of coming to God.

This was a “false gift,” however, with no meritorious value at all before God, “like clouds and wind without rain.” The apostle Jude warns against any such presumption, especially now that we can freely come to God through His own perfect “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “Woe unto them!” says Jude, “for they have gone in the way of Cain . . . clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots” (Jude 1:11-12). This severe indictment was lodged against all who, like Cain, are superficially religious but who, by their self-righteous resentment against God, are “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). We must not boast of our gifts to God, but only of His gift to us. HMM

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Wisdom and Prudence

bibleTeaching March 9, 2017
Wisdom and Prudence
“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” (Matthew 11:25)

The attributes of wisdom and prudence are prized very highly by the world and its leaders, but worldly wisdom and pragmatic prudence are incapable in themselves of comprehending the spiritual concepts in the plan of God. The Lord Jesus, in fact, considered this very truth a cause for thanksgiving! One does not need either education or wisdom to appropriate the true wisdom of God, for even a young child (in fact, only one who becomes like a child) is able to understand true wisdom. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

The fact that most of the world’s scholars reject the Word of God is not surprising because God promised this would be the case! “It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent,” for “the world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Corinthians 1:19, 21). Genuine wisdom and prudence are found only through the revealed Word of God. There, however, “he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence” (Ephesians 1:8). God desires that our “faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. . . . But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:5, 7-8). The abounding wisdom and prudence of God are hidden from the wise and prudent of the world, but are life and joy to all who come with the believing trust of little children. HMM

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Sifted

images March 8, 2017
Sifted
“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)

In the evening before His betrayal, capture, torture, and trial, Christ turned to Simon with these final words, encouraging him to remain strong. Of course, Peter boldly proclaimed that he would never deny Christ, but Christ knew better (vv. 33-34).

Actually, our text is quite forceful. Christ claimed that Satan has “begged earnestly” (literal translation of “desired”), not just for Peter, but for all the disciples, as seen in the plural pronoun “you,” to “sift you as wheat.” Satan knew (as he still knows) that the fall of Christian leaders causes many others to fall, and if all of the disciples could be made to abandon the faith, the gospel could not be spread.

Christ turned specifically to Peter as the generally recognized spokesman for the disciples, and even though He knew Peter would fall, Christ informed him that he had been prayed for, that his “faith fail not.” Indeed, Peter did turn around once he saw the risen Lord and became a leader in the fledgling church in Jerusalem, as well as a missionary. Through the witness of Peter and those he strengthened, the gospel has come to us.

Satan’s desire to sift those who would spread the gospel and lead others has not abated. He knows the destruction it causes in the lives of those influenced by the one who falls. The “ripple effect” may last for years, and many weaker brothers and sisters may never recover. But take heart! The One who prayed for Peter “ever liveth to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25; see also John 17:6-26). Just as God answered Christ’s intercessory prayer for Peter, so He will answer Christ’s intercessory prayer for us. JDM

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He Shall Never See Death

bible-cups March 6, 2017
He Shall Never See Death
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” (John 8:51)

This passage has been difficult for commentators. Most would interpret it to mean that a Christian will not experience spiritual death. While it is true that a Christian, one who has been born twice (the second birth being a spiritual birth), will not experience spiritual death, in this passage Jesus seems to be talking about physical death. This is evidenced by the fact that the Jewish skeptics around Christ called Him a heretic for saying it, since it was obvious that Abraham and the other prophets had died physically. Christ did not correct them by clarifying His words to mean spiritual death. Despite the fact that the grave is full of those who physically died while believing in Christ, He teaches that His followers will “never see death.”

Actually, the Greek is very emphatic here. The combination of words could be literally translated “He shall absolutely not see [physical] death, never.” Perhaps Christ is teaching that a believer will never see real death, since, to such a one, death is, in reality, only “sleep.”

But perhaps the key to understanding this teaching might be in the word “see.” What does this mean? Several Greek words are translated by the English word “see,” but this one merits special study. It implies a look that is more than indifferent, but one of pondering, intensely interested, preoccupied, and fully acquainted with its object.

A Christian, therefore, will not “see” death with such interest, for his attention will not be on death’s terrors, but upon the One who Himself bore all that death had to offer yet conquered it forever. A Christian can look even at his own approaching death calmly, with passive interest, for it holds little influence over him. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). JDM

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