Those Who Came Before

“For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.” – John 4:37-38

Jesus reminded his disciples that the spiritual harvest they would reap would be the result of those who had labored before them. This statement made me wonder two things:

(1) Who were those who labored before the disciples? Perhaps Jesus was referring to the prophets, John the Baptist, himself, or some unknown but faithful believers who had been actively serving and speaking for the Lord. Their efforts made the disciples’ work successful.

(2) Who are those who have gone before us? At our church there were pastors and church members who were here before us. At Peniel Bible Camp and the Ohio Bible Fellowship, there were faithful leaders, staff, and contributors who gave of their time and resources. Without their work, we would not have what we do today.

While you serve the Lord today in your church, camp, or ministry, remember that you are not alone. There have been many others who have made things possible over the years. Stop and thank God for the godly men and women who have gone before to make things successful today. And be faithful to continue the work that they began years ago.

Concern for the Lost

“If we shudder at the thought of a dying sinner appearing in all the blackness of his guilt before God, let us think more how we may turn sinners from their wickedness while they live.”
—W. G. Blaikie, The Second Book of Samuel (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, reprint 1978), 61.

How does Romans 12:16-21 apply to political disagreements?

During the past four years, we have become a very divided nation. Topics in the news have included: collusion with Russia, impeachment, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, QAnon, white nationalists, election issues, Hunter Biden, COVID-19, and riots all over the country. Social media discussions about these topics have become rather heated at times. How then should Christians respond? Romans 12:16-21 seems to be a good starting place.

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

1. We should be peaceful whenever possible.

If God tells us to be harmonious, humble, honorable, peaceable, not vengeful, and not to be overcome by evil, that should be our modus operandi. The response or actions of other people should not change the way we respond. However, if we decline to follow God’s commands as here mentioned, we are no longer representing Christ but something else. No matter how great the political cause, disobedience in these areas can be detrimental to God’s greater purposes. We must do God’s work in God’s way to honor Him. Keep that in mind.

2. We should defend the US constitution and American law when possible.

One of the tricky things about being an American Christian is that we are both citizens of heaven and our country. We have responsibilities to both. Our first priority is to God but another priority is loyalty to our country. A good summary of this loyalty is in the oath I took when hired by the US Postal Service:

“I, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

When a politician, judge, or any other person tries to do something that goes against the constitution or laws, I should voice my concern and take lawful action to stop them. When an individual or organization seeks to limit someone’s ability to speak freely, I point to the 1st amendment and try to stop them from subverting lawful rights. When an individual or organization seeks to limit someone’s right to bear arms (for protection against criminals or tyrannical government), I point to the 2nd amendment and try to stop them from subverting lawful rights.

Conclusion

There are times where strong words and actions are needed. We must stand up for what is right and speak out against unlawful and evil activity. But, as Christians, we must remember that our normal way of doing things should be to seek peace, to be humble, to leave revenge in God’s hands, and to overcome evil with good. Let us be careful in our verbal and written responses to hot button topics. Winning a debate is not the only priority for Christians.

No effort of mine

“There is no life apart from Him. ‘He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son hath not life.’ No works, no efforts of ours, could ever produce divine life. You could not make yourself become a Christian, a child of God; you could not by any effort of your own, by any prayers, any penances, produce one spark of divine life within your soul. But the moment you receive Christ, you have receive Him who is the life. ‘God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.’”[1]


[1] H. A. Ironside, Epistles of John and Jude, Neptune NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1931, 141.

Psalm 77 in English Rhyme

While reading a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, the author took an aside to talk about the peace that comes from a spiritual mindset (see Rom. 8:6). When a Christian focuses on the Holy Spirit’s leading, he will experience peace because he is following God’s direction and plan. The commentator explained that this peace can be misunderstood as the absence of any trouble. That is not true as many believers in the Old and New Testament times faced difficult situations.

As evidence, the commentator pointed to the psalmist’s thoughts in Psalm 77. The following poem summarizes the thoughts of that psalm, and might also parallel what other believers have gone through at times. As you read it, you may be reminded of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” I think this is well done.

The thought of God brought me no peace
But rather made my fears increase
With sleepless eyes and speechless pain
My fainting spirit grieved in vain
The blessedness of long ago
Made deeper still my present woe

Recalling days when faith was bright
When songs of gladness filled my night
I pondered o’er my grievous woes
And searching questioning arose
Will God cast off and nevermore
His favor to my soul restore?

These doubts and fears that troubled me
Were born of my infirmity
Though I am weak, God is most high
And on his goodness I rely
Of all his wonders I will tell
And on his deeds my thoughts shall dwell

William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980, pp. 249-50.

Your Current Influence

Recent events in the US have resulted in protests, rioting, looting, vandalism, murder, and arson. What should be the response of Christians during this time? While reading through the Proverbs, I came across one that gives a good perspective on how our choices affect those around us.

“By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted,
but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.”

– Proverbs 11:11

Upright – These are people who want to do what is right, who want to please God and follow his wisdom.

Illustration – Daniel blessed Babylon with his presence by being, doing and speaking what was right despite the attempts of wicked people to destroy him. As the various kings saw his upright behavior, he was honored and promoted, and he proved to be a blessing to the people in that city.

Wicked – These are people who want to do what is wrong, who hate God, and rebel against his wisdom.

Illustration – King Manasseh of Judah rejected God. By his words and actions, he “seduced them to do more evil” (2 Kings 21). He degenerated so far as to burn his son in fire while worshiping an idol. His influence harmed those around him.

These two examples are extremes. That is the way proverbs are written. They show opposites to make a point. These illustrations show the possible outcome of living either uprightly or wickedly from real life examples.

Choice One – If you love God, his wisdom is evident in the way you influence your community. Doing right helps others, holds back evil, and points people to the Lord.

Choice Two – If you love wickedness, your thinking will affect the way you influence your community. Your words can promote lawlessness and the ultimate destruction of those around you.

Choose wisely.

How should I identify myself?

A lot of people talk about being [FILL IN THE BLANK]-Americans, nowadays. That word before the hyphen usually has something to do with where the person’s family came from. And that historical adjective might even refer to things that happened hundreds of years ago. I really don’t think that way. And apparently I am not the only one. Someone has compiled a list of strange things that Americans do. Here is one of them:

“Identifying as your heritage instead of your nationality. Americans will say that they’re Italian, German, Polish, etc. when they don’t speak the language and have no real connection to those countries anymore. In other parts of the world people just identify with the country they were born in or have lived in for a significant amount of time, regardless of their ancestry.”

https://www.buzzfeed.com/stephenlaconte/weird-things-americans-do-reddit

This is something I didn’t grow up thinking about. Yes, I did hear funny jokes about ethnic people. But most of them could apply to just about any other people group. Remember this one?

Q: How many [FILL IN THE BLANK]s does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: One to hold the bulb and 3 to turn the chair.

I really don’t have a firm grasp of where my family came from. Sure, my brother traced the family tree back several hundred years, but it didn’t make me think that I was from another country. My only recollection about me is that I’m an American from Ohio. What happened hundreds of years ago has little to do with who I am today.

Realistically, the most important descriptor of me is “Christian.” That is really what makes me what I am today. Despite anything in my past or my family’s past, God chose to adopt me into his family. That is a wonderful thing and something that I would rather claim than any good or bad historical events that may have happened.

One more thing: When we think about who we are, our ethnic heritage really doesn’t matter for a Christian. Think about what the Bible says about this.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. … After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

John 3:16 / Revelation 7:9-10

IF God loved all people enough to send Jesus to die for their sins, and IF there are going to be all types of people worshiping God together in the future, why should I make my heritage a big deal? Maybe it would be better for Christians to talk about what God has done in their lives instead of a most-likely checkered past that doesn’t really make a difference today.

Is there any hope?

There are times in life when all hope seems to be gone. For those who have been studying the Epistle to the Romans with us, you may feel this way today. Studying Romans 1:18-3:18 has not been easy because it paints a picture of our hopeless condition. Each person who has ever lived is described in those pages as under God’s wrath, given over to sin’s consequences, inexcusable, unrighteous, unprofitable, and not good at all.

God’s perspective of our sinfulness is not at all what we would like it to be. We think highly of our good deeds and think that God should take notice … but he does not. He looks past the good intentions to see the real character of our hearts. We are ignorant, sinful people who do not seek him or understand what he desires.

After finding out what God knows about us, you would be right to consider your condition hopeless. According to him, there is nothing we can do to change our sinful character, or to appease his wrath. Then we come to Romans 3:19-26.

“Dark and dismal is man’s condition. This darkness and despair is unfathomable and universal. It envelops all. Then suddenly a light, the very light which previously had flickered for a brief moment, comes streaming in. Hope revives.

This light, this ray of optimism, comes not from below but from above. It is a ‘righteousness from God.’ It is he who comes to the rescue. It is he who condescends to save those who had made themselves thoroughly unworthy of being saved. And, being God, he does this—of course!—without sacrificing his righteousness or lifting the demands of his law.

…Why God did this is a mystery we shall never be able fully to understand. Such love is infinite and incomprehensible.”

William Hendriksen commenting on Romans 3:21

There is hope! The darkness and fear that accompanies a true understanding of our sinfulness can be removed by believing him. God willingly accomplished what we never could have. He sent his Son Jesus to die in the place of worthless and undeserving creatures like us. Now, instead of attempting to be good enough, we are told to simply believe what God did for us through Jesus. He, the sinless Son of God, died to pay for our sins. He took our place.

Is there any hope? Yes, but that hope will never be found in ourselves; it is only found in what God has provided for us. Will you set aside any effort of your own and simply trust what God has done? That is your only hope.

Discontented with God’s blessings

“But the lesson of the text is rather for those who have the favor and blessing of God, but are not content, and still crave worldly things. You are in covenant with God. He has redeemed you, not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. You are now the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what you shall be. There is laid up for you an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. Yet your heart hankers after the things of the world. Your acquaintances and friends are better off. Your bare house, your homely furnishings, your poor dress, your simple fare distress you, and you would fain be in a higher worldly sphere, enjoying more consideration, and participating more freely in worldly enjoyments.

Be assured, my friends, you are not in a wholesome frame of mind. To be depreciating the surpassing gifts which God has given you, and to be exaggerating those which He has withheld, is far from being a wholesome condition. You wish to be like the nations. You forget that your very glory is not to be like them. Your glory is that ye are a chosen generation, an holy nation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, your bodies temples of the Holy Ghost, your souls united to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet again, there are congregations, which though in humble circumstances, have enjoyed much spiritual blessing. Their songs have gone up, bearing the incense of much love and gratitude; their prayers have been humble and hearty, most real and true; and the Gospel has come to them not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. Yet a generation has grown up that thinks little of these inestimable blessings, and misses fine architecture, and elaborate music, and highly cultured services. They want to have a king like the nations. However, they may endanger the spiritual blessings, it is all important to have these surroundings. It is a perilous position, all the more perhaps that many do not see the peril—that many have little or no regard for the high interests that are in such danger of being sacrificed.”

W. G. Blaikie, The First Book of Samuel, 112-13.

Quote of the Day – Biblical Obedience

Biblical obedience is not just compliance with some abstract law or rule. It is the submissive response to the person of the Holy Spirit, who has revealed the will of God to us through His Word. It means saying yes to God as we say no to self. It means denying self instead of indulging self. It means pleasing God instead of pleasing self. It means walking in the Spirit instead of grieving the Spirit.

Jim Berg, Changed Into His Image, p. 88.

I think Berg’s point is that obedience to God is not just doing what is asked. True obedience includes a submission to God himself in the process. That is why “the sacrifice of the wicked [obedience to God’s law] is an abomination to the Lord [not pleasing to God].” If we want to please the Lord and keep our relationship right with Him, we have to have the right attitude as well as the right action.