Burden and Strife

“At that time I said to you, ‘I am not able to bear you by myself. 10 The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven. 11 May the Lord, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times as many as you are and bless you, as he has promised you! 12 How can I bear by myself the weight and burden of you and your strife? 13 Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.’ 14 And you answered me, ‘The thing that you have spoken is good for us to do.’ 15 So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and set them as heads over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officers, throughout your tribes. 16 And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ 18 And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.” – Deuteronomy 1:9-18 ESV

Moses is standing on the edge of the land of Canaan, addressing the next generation of Israelites who have arrived at the border and are facing the prospect of have to do what their predecessors had failed to do: Enter the land.

As part of his speech to the people, Moses recounts their journey from Mount Sinai, where God had made His covenant with them. It was there that God had given them His law and had instructed them, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodcus 19:5 ESV).

Unlike the covenant God had made with Abraham concerning the land, this covenant, sometimes referred to as the Mosaic Covenant, was bilateral and conditional. In other words, it was a covenant that required a commitment from both parties. Each had to keep their end of the agreement. If the people obeyed God’s law, He would bless them. They would be His chosen possession. But if they failed to obey, there would be serious ramifications. 

And Moses subtly reminds them that God had kept His covenant commitment to Abraham. He had promised to make of Abraham a great nation and all they had to do was look around for the proof of God’s faithfulness.

“The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are today as numerous as the stars of heaven.” – Deuteronomy 1:10 ESV

God had greatly prospered them. In fact, in the opening verses of the book of Exodus, Moses provides the historical context that when Jacob and his family had fled to Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, there had been seventy of them. But by the time Joseph had died and God sent Moses to deliver the people from their captivity in Egypt, we’re told that the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7 ESV).

The faithfulness of God to keep His covenant commitment to Abraham was clearly visible in the sheer number of Israelites who stood before Moses that day. He reminded them that their God had kept His word and had made them exceedingly fruitful. So much so, that the people in Canaan feared the people of Israel, even before they set foot in the land. When Joshua eventually sent two spies to reconnoiter the city of Jericho, a resident of the city confessed to them:

I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” – Joshua 2:9-11 ESV

God had multiplied them. He had delivered them from captivity. He had led them across the wilderness; feeding, clothing, and protecting them along the way. And He had given them victories over their enemies on the east side of the Jordan. Now, it was time to cross over and take possession of the land.

But there was a problem. God’s blessing had become a burden for Moses. There were so many of them, that he was overwhelmed. But it wasn’t their numbers that was the cause of his headaches. It was their tendency to whine and complain. In fact, Moses put it even extremely blunt terms: “But you are such a heavy load to carry! How can I deal with all your problems and bickering?” (Deuteronomy 1:12 NLT).

This had been a problem from day one. Ever since Moses had led the people out of Egypt, they had displayed a strong propensity to express their displeasure. They complained about anything and everything – from the manna and quail God miraculously supplied for food to the man God had provided to lead them. And Moses reminded them that there had been a day when his father-in-law had given him some wise counsel. He had advised Moses to “choose from the people capable men, God-fearing, men of truth, those who hate bribes, and put them over the people as rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Exodus 18:21: NLT). And Moses had done just that.

But while the people had agreed with the decision made by Moses, it’s clear that they continued to grumble and dispute. Even with the apppointment of additional judges, there were too many disputes to handle. And this speaks volumes regarding the spiritual state of the people of Israel. They were a disgruntled people because they were a disobedient people.

Jesus summed up the entire law with the following statement: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT).

The people of Israel were failing to live up to the law of God. They were not loving Him or loving one another. They were too busy disputing and disagreeing with one another. And their lack of love for one another was a reflection of their lack of love for God. The apostle John put it this way: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 NLT).

Moses had clearly and repeatedly  communicated God’s expectations. But he was so busy handling disputes and disagreements among the people that he had been forced to appoint additional “referees” to deal with the volume of issues taking place. How in the world were they going to possess the land if they couldn’t even get along with one another? What good were their formidable numbers going to be against their enemies if they couldn’t even stop from fighting among themselves?

The promised land lay before them. But their greatest obstacle wasn’t going to be the occupants of the land. It was going to be the members of their own faith community. What God had intended as a blessing, they had turned into a burden. Rather than enjoying the camaraderie of godly community, they experienced conflict and strife. And, instead of Moses spending his time leading the people in battle against their enemies, he was wasting his time solving disputes among brothers.

And, as we’ll see, the track record of God’s people was far from stellar. There were other issues that Moses will raise as he recaps the less-than-flattering history of Israel to this point. The promised land lay spread before them but a litany of broken promises lay behind them. Were they ready to change? Were they prepared to obey God and keep His commands? He was faithful. But would they be?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Repent and Return.

21 How the faithful city
    has become a whore,
    she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
    but now murderers.
22 Your silver has become dross,
    your best wine mixed with water.
23 Your princes are rebels
    and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
    and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
    and the widow’s cause does not come to them.

24 Therefore the Lord declares,
    the Lord of hosts,
    the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
    and avenge myself on my foes.
25 I will turn my hand against you
    and will smelt away your dross as with lye
    and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
    and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
    the faithful city.”

27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
    and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners shall be broken together,
    and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks
    that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gardens
    that you have chosen.
30 For you shall be like an oak
    whose leaf withers,
    and like a garden without water.
31 And the strong shall become tinder,
    and his work a spark,
and both of them shall burn together,
    with none to quench them. – Isaiah 1:21-31 ESV

God had a problem with the people of Judah, and He had chosen Isaiah to deliver His stinging indictment and call them to repentance. This opening chapter is a no-holds-barred denunciation of their attitudes and actions that provides ample evidence for God’s coming judgment of them. And God is anything but polite or politically correct in His assessment of them.

He portrays them as a once faithful wife who is now no more than an adulterous whore. While the city of Jerusalem had once been home to the just and righteous, it was now full of murderers. While we might be tempted to view God’s words as a clear case of hyperbole, over-exaggeration for the sake of dramatic effect, these charges are of a very serious nature.

God goes out of His way to describe the sorry state of affairs in Jerusalem and the rest of the southern kingdom of Judah. Nothing is as it should be. He compares them to precious silver that has become contaminated with impurities, diminishing its value. They were like fine wine mixed with water, diluting its taste and destroying its worth.

Everything about Judah was the opposite of what God had intended. The leaders of the city were guilty of taking bribes and associating with those who take advantage of the helpless. God, like a prosecuting attorney, clearly states their crime:

They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
    and the widow’s cause does not come to them. – Isaiah 1:23 ESV

And this was in direct violation of God’s commands.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. – Deuteronomy 10:12 NLT

They were to love God, but that love was to show up in their love for others. Their actions and attitudes toward one another were to be a tangible expression of their love for God. The prophet, Micah, would reiterate this divine expectation.

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

But the people of Judah had become self-serving and self-loving. Each individual was out for their own good and obsessed with seeking their own glory. Their religious observations had become little more than business-as-usual. They were going through the motions, feigning faithfulness to God, but all the while breaking His commands and ignoring His call to repentance.

So, God let them know that He was going to step in and do something about their apostasy. There were going to be some significant changes taking place. And the first one would involve purification.

“I will turn my hand against you
    and will smelt away your dross as with lye
    and remove all your alloy.” – Isaiah 1:25 ESV

Like contaminated silver, they were going to require the heat of God’s divine furnace. He was going to expose them to the purifying, dross-exposing blast of His judgment. And, later on in this very same book, God will explain the nature of this refining heat.

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.
    Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.
I will rescue you for my sake—
    yes, for my own sake!
I will not let my reputation be tarnished,
    and I will not share my glory with idols!” – Isaiah 48:1-11 NLT

This was all about the glory of God’s name. As the chosen people of God, they bore His name. They were His children. And all that they were doing reflected poorly on His reputation as their God and Father. So, He was going to do what was necessary to restore them to righteousness.

“And I will restore your judges as at the first,
    and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
    the faithful city. – Isaiah 1:26 ESV

He was going to do for them what they were unable and unwilling to do for themselves. But their restoration would have to be prefaced by repentance.

“Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
    and those in her who repent, by righteousness.” – Isaiah 1:27 ESV

Unrepentant sinners and defiant rebels would end up broken by God. Those who refused to return to Him would be consumed. The idol worshipers who stubbornly continued to visit the sacred groves and gardens where they kept their false gods, would find themselves the victims of God’s wrath. And their lifeless idols would not be able to save them.

And the day was coming when they would regret their decision to forsake God and worship false gods. While their love affair with idols had made perfect sense to them at the time, God was going to expose their so-called gods for what they were: False.

The irony in all of this is how the people of Judah had turned their back on the one true God. He had chosen to make of them a great nation. He had blessed them beyond belief. He had given His law to guide them, provided a sacrificial system designed to cleanse them from sin, and repeatedly loved them in spite of them. But enough was enough. Yes, it is true that “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Psalm 103:8 ESV). But that same verse reminds us that “he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Judah was guilty, and God was out to prove it. But His goal will be repentance in order that His people might experience redemption. He desires to restore them. He longs to reestablish His relationship with them. But they were going to have to acknowledge their sin and turn back to Him. Or face the consequences.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Love God. Love Others

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” –  Matthew 22:34-40 ESV

Pharisees question Jesus.jpg

In this section of the Gospels, Jesus is being bombarded by a relentless series of questions posed to Him by various factions of the religious elite. First they questioned His authority, wanting to know what right He had to say and do the things He did. Then the Pharisees tried to trick Him with a question regarding the payment of taxes to the Roman government. When they failed, the Sadducees, the liberals of their day, asked Him a question regarding marriage and the resurrection. The fact was, they didn’t believe in resurrection and they wanted to show that Jesus was in opposition to their belief system. They viewed Jesus as a heretic and wanted to expose Him as such. But Jesus saw through their motives and easily handled their question.

Like a tag-team wrestling match, the Sadducees were quickly followed by the Pharisees, who once again posed a controversial question to Jesus. This time it concerned the Mosaic Law – their area of expertise.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”Matthew 22:34-36 NLT

This was a common topic of debate among rabbis. They were constantly arguing whether one commandment had precedence over another. And this was a significant issue to them because the Pharisees had codified the law into 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, many of which were man-made addendums to the law given to Moses by God. And the people of Israel were expected to keep this staggering list of 615 rules and precepts.

With that many laws, it wasn’t long before one seemed to contradict another. For instance, over in the book of Leviticus, the Law records, “Do not stand idly by when you neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16 NLT). Yet, over in Exodus, it declares, “…but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on that day must be put to death. You must not even light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath” (Exodus 35:2-3 NLT). So, if your neighbor’s life was threatened on the Sabbath, what were you to do? Take action or rest?

This argument came up regularly between Jesus and the Pharisees, because He healed regularly on the Sabbath, which they saw as a clear violation of the Law. In essence, by asking Jesus this question, they are testing Him to see if He had any greater insight into the Law than they did. And they seriously doubted that He did.

The answer Jesus gave them revealed His authority over the Scriptures.

“’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” – Matthew 22:37-38 NLT

He quotes from the Shema, a portion of Scripture recited daily by all Jews.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:5-6 NIV

This is just the first part. The love of God was to dictate all their behavior. But Jesus points out that there is a second part to the command.

“A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:39 NLT

Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 and reminds them that this second part is equally essential. He tells them that they are to love God and love man.

What Jesus presented was not new to them, but He instilled these commands with new emphasis and meaning. While love for God is to be supreme, one of the greatest expressions of our love for God will be our love for others. The apostle John reminds us:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? – 1 John 4:20 NLT

Why was this have been so revolutionary and revelatory to the religious leaders? THEY DIDN’T DO IT! They said they loved God, but actually hated their brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, Jesus was going to have some stinging things to say to them.

“For they crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” (Matthew 23:4 NLT

In His answer, Jesus was giving them a new way to see the Law of God. “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 23:40 NLT). Every other law was based on a love for God and a love for man. The Ten Commandments themselves were divided into these two areas. There was to be a horizontal and vertical aspect to our love. You can’t have one without the other. They are meant to be reciprocal – and this Law of Love is found throughout the New Testament.

Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These — and other such commandments — are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8-10 NLT

But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14 NLT

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. – James 2:8-9 NLT

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:34-35 NLT

Jesus puts love for God and love for man on equal footing. They are inseparable and yet the Pharisees claimed to love God, but hated their fellow man. They hated sinners of all kinds.

Fast-forward to Matthew 25:37-40. In this passage, Jesus is talking about the future judgment of man. He used the picture of a shepherd dividing his flock between the sheep and the goats. This is an image of what will take place at the end of the tribulation period. It is speaking of Gentiles who have survived the tribulation period. Some will have come to faith during that time. And their love for God will be evidenced by their actions and their treatment of the Jews who will be going through intense persecution during the final half of the tribulation. These “sheep” will stand before God and receive recognition for their efforts. And they will ask:

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:37-40 NLT

Their love for others will be proof of their love for God. Their capacity to love others will provide evidence that their hearts have been transformed by God. In fact, it will be the main criteria for judgment. Yet all those who failed to do the same were condemned. OUR LOVE OF OTHERS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO GOD. It proves our love for Him. It gives evidence that we understand His love for us.

So, how are you doing with these two commandments today? Do you claim to love God but struggle with loving others? Since you can’t put your arms around God and show Him love physically, He asks you to express your love for Him by loving those He has made.

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. – John 13:35 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Protection For Our Affections.

I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? – 1 Corinthians 10:15-22 ESV

As far as Paul is concerned, this is all about our affections. It is about what we love and choose to make a priority in our lives. As Paul addresses the issue of idols and meat sacrificed to them, he is not implying the idols really represent other gods. In fact, he says that when the pagans offer sacrifices to their idols, they are actually sacrificing to demons. The fact that the gods they worshiped were non-existent did not make their activity any less sinful. They were giving their affections to something they believed existed. They were associating themselves with a god that represented an alternative to the one true God. And they were joining in with those who shared their beliefs, participating in worship and the giving of sacrifices together. When they held their feasts, they were doing so with those who were of like mind.

Paul uses the Lord’s Table to illustrate what he means. Paul asks the Corinthians to consider that when they take the cup and the bread together as part of communion, “is it not a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16 ESV). It was a common celebration and commemoration of their shared belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. And when the Israelites made sacrifices to God at the altar in the tabernacle of temple, did they not do so with a sense of shared belief in God? And aren’t the pagans doing the very same thing? In participating together in their sacrificial services, feasts and celebrations, they are expressing their common bond as worshipers of their particular god – whether he is false or real. And when the Corinthians joined in with them, they were aligning themselves with the pagan worshipers and their false gods – or as Paul indicates, demons.

Paul’s line of reasoning was proceeding as follows. Christians who eat the bread at the Lord’s Supper thereby express their solidarity with one another and with Christ. Likewise Jews who ate the meat of animals offered in the sacrifices of Judaism expressed their solidarity with one another and with God. Therefore Christians who eat the meat offered to pagan gods as part of pagan worship express their solidarity with pagans and with the pagan deities. – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of 1 Corinthians, 2007 Edition

There is a spiritual dimension or aspect to virtually everything we do. We are spiritual beings and their is a spiritual battle taking place all around us, hidden from our view, but as real as the air we breath. Paul warned the Ephesians about this spiritual war. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” Ephesians 6:12 NLT). There is very little in life that is not impacted and influenced by this unseen spiritual conflict. While we may view a particular action or activity as amoral, being neither right or wrong, and not prohibited by God, we need to walk carefully. We need to examine our motivation. We need to check our affections. We need to ask ourselves why this activity or item is so important to us. Would we be unwilling to give it up if the circumstances required it? There were those in the Corinthian church who were eating meat that had been sacrificed to false gods. They were even participating alongside pagan worshipers at the feasts associated with these false gods. But their rationale was that these gods did not exist, so their activity was perfectly acceptable. But Paul warns them that if their participation causes a brother or sister in Christ to stumble, then they are wrong. Not only that, by joining in the feasts alongside idol worshipers, they are expressing a unity with them. To the rest of the world, both pagan and Christian, they appear to be one with those who worship false gods. And as if that was not bad enough, Paul indicates that they are really associating themselves with demons.

There are a great many things that we are free to do as followers of Jesus Christ. But that does not mean that all of them are things we should do. We are free to read books other than the Bible. But it is essential that we give thought to the content of the books that we read. We are free to watch TV and movies as believers. But not every show is one we should expose ourselves to. We need to examine the content and to consider the message that it is sending. There are very few movies that do not have an agenda behind them. The world we live in is heavily influenced by the unseen spiritual battle taking place behind the scenes. Satan will use any resource available to him to influence our affections and affect our dedication to God. It always goes back to our affections. When God commanded that the Israelites were to have no other gods before Him, He was not suggesting that these gods actually existed. He simple knew that man was wired to worship. He was created to share his affections with God, but was fully capable of giving those affections away.

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment given by God, He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 ESV). The greatest challenge we face as Christians involves our affections. Do we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind? The answer is no, because we can’t. We are incapable of doing so. But that does not mean we are not to try or to make it a high priority in our lives. The enemy wants to get our minds off of God. He wants to distract our affections from God. He wants our souls to be satisfied by something other than God. There is a spiritual battle taking place all around us. And Satan is subtly using the seemingly innocuous and inconspicuous things of this world to deceive us. Our lack of belief in the demonic realm does not make it cease to exist. Just because we don’t see the spiritual warfare taking place all around us doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It is because the battle in invisible that we need to arm ourselves with the spiritual weapons provided to us by God. We need spiritual discernment. We need divine assistance to fight a battle that is invisible, yet real. That is why Paul told the Ephesians, “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:13 NLT). God offers us protection for our affections. He provides a way of escape. “God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT).

Free To NOT Sin.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.– Galatians 5:13-21 ESV

Freedom from the law results in license. That was one of the accusations the party of the circumcision leveled against Paul and his message of grace and freedom from the law. They most likely used Paul’s own teaching as evidence against him. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV). And yet, Paul went on to say, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV). Grace was not a license to sin. The freedom it provided from the Mosaic law was not a ticket to live as one pleased. It freed people from having to keep the law in order to earn favor with God. The law held men captive to their sin, in bondage to their own weakness and incapable of doing anything about it. But the salvation offered in Christ set men free. It was William Barclay who wrote, “the Christian is not the man who has become free to sin, but the man, who, by the grace of God, has become free not to sin.”

That is why Paul warned his readers to not use their new-found freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. They were free from having to keep the law, but not free from having to live in keeping with God’s expectation of holiness. At one point in His ministry, Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of God was. He responded:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 22:37-40 ESV

Paul used these very words of Jesus to admonish his readers. Loving God meant living according to His holy will. Loving others required loving them selflessly and sacrificially, which is why Paul said, “through love serve one another.”

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul provided an entire chapter on the subject of love. In it he wrote:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 MSG

But this kind of love is only possible through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Without His help and our complete reliance upon His power, we will tend to live in the weakness of our own sinful flesh. We will become selfish and self-centered. We will tend to gratify the desires of our old nature, which Paul describes with painful accuracy. These fleshly desires are the exact opposite of what the Spirit wants to produce in us. They are counter to the will of God and reflect a love for self more than a love for Him. They most certainly don’t model a love for others. Look at Paul’s list: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, and wild parties. Each of these “works of the flesh” reveal a disdain for God and a disdain for those around us.

The moral, ceremonial and civil sections of the Mosaic law were designed to regulate the lives of the people of Israel regarding their relationships with God and with one another. But as Jesus said, all of the commandments could be summed up by two simple commands: Love God and love others. Loving God meant not loving other gods. Loving others meant not becoming jealous of them, getting angry with them, lusting after them, or taking advantage of them. Notice that his list has more to do with our relationships with one another than our relationship with God. There is a reason for this. The apostle John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20 ESV). The greatest expression of our love for God is to be found in our love for those whom He has made. When we love one another, we are loving God. When we live selflessly and sacrificially, we are exemplifying the very character of God. When our lives are marked by self-control and a focus on the needs of others, we reflect the nature of God. But all of these things are only possible when we live according to the power of God’s indwelling Spirit.

A life continually characterized by the works of the flesh is a life devoid of the Spirit of God. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have received the Spirit of God. They are no longer slaves to sin, incapable of living righteous lives. They have been given the Holy Spirit and have the power to love God and love others. That’s why Paul told the Romans, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all)” (Romans 8:9 NLT). The presence of the Spirit within us does not guarantee that we will live sin-free lives, but it does mean that we don’t have to live sin-dominated lives. Living according to our own sinful flesh will always produce bad fruit. But living according to the Spirit of God produces good fruit that pleases God and blesses others. We have been freed from the penalty of sin and from the power of sin. Because of Christ’s death on the cross and His Spirit’s presence within us, we are free to not sin.

Bad Fruit.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.– Galatians 5:13-21 ESV

One of the accusations the party of the circumcision leveled against Paul and his message of grace and freedom from the law was that it produced license. They most certainly used the teachings of Paul against him at this point. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV). And yet, Paul went on to say, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV). Grace was not a license to sin. The freedom it provided from the Mosaic law was not ticket to live as we pleased. It freed us from having to keep the law in order to earn favor with God. The law held us captive to our sin and in bondage to our own weakness to do anything about it. But the salvation offered in Christ set us free. It was William Barclay who wrote, “the Christian is not the man who has become free to sin, but the man, who, by the grace of God, has become free not to sin.”

That is why Paul warned his readers to not use their freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Their new-found freedom from having to keep the law did not mean they were free from having to live in keeping with the law. At one point in His ministry, Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of God was. He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV). Paul used these very words of Jesus to admonish his readers. Loving God meant living according to His holy will. Loving others required loving them selflessly and sacrificially, which is why Paul said, “through love serve one another.”

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul provided an entire chapter on the subject of love. In it he wrote, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-7 MSG).

But this kind of love is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. Without His help and our reliance upon His power, we will tend to live in the power of our own sinful flesh. We will become selfish and self-centered. We will tend to gratify the desires of our old nature, which Paul describes with painful accuracy. These fleshly desires are the exact opposite of what the Spirit wants to produce in us. They are counter to the will of God and reflect a love for self more than a love for Him. They most certainly don’t model a love for others. Look at Paul’s list: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, and wild parties. Each of these “works of the flesh” reveal a disdain for God and a dislike for those around us.

The moral, ceremonial and civil sections of the Mosaic law were designed to regulate the lives of the people of Israel regarding their relationships with God and with one another. But as Jesus said, all of the commandments could be summed up by two simple commands: Love God and love others. Loving God meant not loving other gods. Loving others meant not becoming jealous of them, getting angry with them, lusting after them, or taking advantage of them. Notice that his list has more to do with our relationships with one another than our relationship with God. There is a reason for this. The apostle John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20 ESV). The greatest expression of our love for God is to be found in our love for those whom He has made. When we love one another, we are loving God. When we live selflessly and sacrificially, we are exemplifying the very character of God. When our lives are marked by self-control and a focus on the needs of others, we reflect the nature of God. But all of these things are only possible when we live according to the power of God’s indwelling Spirit.

A life continually characterized by the works of the flesh is a life devoid of the Spirit of God. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have received the Spirit of God. They are no longer slaves to sin, incapable of living righteous lives. They have been given the Holy Spirit and have the power to love God and love others. That’s why Paul told the Romans, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all)” (Romans 8:9 NLT). The presence of the Spirit within us does not guarantee that we will live sinless lives, but it does mean that we don’t have to live sin-dominated lives. Living according to our own sinful flesh will always produce bad fruit. But living according to the Spirit of God produces good fruit that pleases God and blesses others.

 

Faith In Action.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:1-6 ESV

The author ended chapter 12 with an exhortation to “be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” and to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV). The same God who shook the landscape surrounding Mount Sinai and rattled the knees of the Israelites with His divine presence, is our God and has prepared a kingdom for us. So what should be our response? Proper worship, reverence and awe. And to make it even more practical, in the closing chapter of his letter, the author illustrates what those things look like in everyday life.

Sometimes we are tempted to make our worship of God an external show for others to see. We confuse worship of God with the intensity of our singing, the verbosity of our prayers, the selflessness of our service or the generosity of our giving. But sometimes our love for God is best measured in our love for others. Worship of God that does not include love for others is hypocritical and insincere. So the author moves from grand descriptions of God as a consuming fire to a plea for brotherly love. “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1 ESV). Love for one another is an indispensable and non-negotiable requirement for anyone who claims to worship God. At one point in His earthly ministry, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees, who posed to Him what they believed to be a trick question. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36 ESV). His intent was to entrap Jesus. The question he posed to Jesus was one that the Scribes and Pharisees debated regularly. They had numbered the laws of God and had come up with 613, 248 of which were deemed positive and 365 designated as negative. Then they had divided them two categories, the “heavy” or more important ones and the “light” or the less important ones. They wanted Jesus to tell them which one was the “heaviest.” And Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV). Love God AND love others. According to Jesus, those two commands encapsulate the entirety of the rest of the law.

So  it is no wonder that the author of Hebrews told his readers, “Let brotherly love continue.” Then he took it a step further. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2 ESV). This recalls the parable of the good Samaritan that Jesus told in response to another inquiry from a Pharisee. He approached Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 ESV). Jesus responded with a question of His own, asking the man to tell Him what the law said. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” the man replied. Jesus commended him for his answer and told him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28 ESV). But the man was not satisfied with Jesus’ answer and asked for clarification. “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 22:29 ESV). That’s when Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan. In it, He described what it truly means to show hospitality and kindness to someone who is a stranger and in need. It involves sacrifice. It requires a giving up of your rights and a commitment of your resources. The author of Hebrews echoes the sentiment of Jesus’ parable when writes, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3 ESV). Our love for God is best expressed by our love for others. The apostle John encourages us to compare the love Christ expressed for us with the way in which we love others. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).

Love should permeate all of our relationships, including that between a husband and wife. If we love one another, there is no place for adultery or immorality. We will always want what is best for the other person. Self-obsession or self-love is the greatest detriment to loving others. When we love ourselves too much, we are incapable of loving others. We end up putting into our relationships only to see what we can get out of them. They become self-serving rather than selfless. And it’s interesting that, in this context, the author warns against the love of money. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). The love of money is self-directed. We love money for what it can do for us. And yet, to properly love others, our money may need to be involved. We may need to let go of our resources in order to best express our love. It was James who said, “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?” (James 2:15-16 ESV). Talk is cheap. Words cannot fill someone’s stomach or make them warm.

The walk of faith is to be future-focused, recognizing that the ultimate promise of God is our glorification and final redemption. We are to live with the end in mind. But our faith-walk is also to be God-dependent. We are spend our days on this earth with a constant recognition that He is our provider and sustainer. That is why the author reminds us to be content, because God has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). But not only are we to be future-focused and God-dependent, we are to be other-oriented. We are to live our lives with an outward orientation that puts the needs of others ahead of our own. When we love others, we are loving God. When we lovingly sacrifice for others, it is an act of worship to God. When we give up what we have for the sake of others, we are letting God know that we are dependent upon Him. All that we have comes from Him and is to be used for His glory and the good of others. Our constant attitude is to be, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6 ESV).

Deuteronomy 5-6, John 12

Called Out. Sold Out.

Deuteronomy 5-6, John 12

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. ­– Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV

God had chosen the people of Israel for a reason. He wanted them to be a living, breathing example of what a relationship between God and man might look like. He wanted to reveal His power through them. He wanted to providentially provide for them. He wanted to guide and direct them, as well as protect them. Their relationship and interaction with God was to be a special and unique, unlike that of any other nation. But that relationship required allegiance and obedience. God had proven His love for them through His decision of choosing them, redeeming them from slavery in Egypt, and giving them His irrevocable pledge of a land of their own. But God expected theirs to be a reciprocal relationship. He wasn’t just looking for half-hearted adherents to His laws who obeyed solely out of fear. He desired a people who would love Him for who He was and for all He had done for them.

Verses 4-5 of Deuteronomy 6 contain the great “Shema” – what would become, in essence, the statement of faith for the Hebrew people.  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV). This was a call to commitment, a corporate live in a covenant relationship with God, recognizing Him as their God and loving Him accordingly. The proof of their love for God was to expressed in their faithful devotion to Him alone. It was to be holistic in nature, influencing every area of their life and every aspect of their nature. They were to be wholly holy, completely set apart to God and fully in love with Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God desires a relationship with mankind. He could have demanded unwavering allegiance from those whom He has made, and hold them accountable for their failure to obey. But knowing that they were completely incapable of living in obedience to His law and unable to meet His righteous standards, He chose to show mercy and grace. He lovingly and graciously provided the means by which they could enjoy His presence and receive His forgiveness and pardon, in spite of their repeated failures to remain faithful and sinless. But God expected those whom He had chosen and showered with His mercy and grace to respond in love. He wanted them to recognize His goodness and appreciate just how blessed they were to have this one-of-a-kind relationship with Him. He wanted them to tell their children. God expected His people to be so overwhelmed by His grace that they would willingly and gladly tell the next generation.

In those days, the key to living in a loving relationship with God was based on an understanding of and obedience to the law of God. That’s why Moses tells the people, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV). But it wasn’t just the law of God that was to be passed down. They were to constantly remind one another of God’s goodness and grace. They were to remember His great deeds done on their behalf. They were to recall His covenant faithfulness and recount it to those who were too young to have experienced it. One of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our willingness and eagerness to talk about Him to others. We talk about those whom we love. We brag about those who are near and dear to us, including our family members or friends. But do we brag about God?

What does this passage reveal about man?

Over in the gospel of John, we read that not long after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, people began to believe in Him. It’s amazing how a little thing like raising the dead made a profound impact on them. Even some of the rulers of the Jews had become convinced that Jesus was truly who He claimed to be. But John tells us, “but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:42-43 NET). Isn’t that the problem we all face? They cared more about what others thought about them than they did about all that God was doing among them. They worshiped man more than they did God.

Jesus Himself said, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me” (John 12:45-45 NET). Ultimately, belief in Jesus was really an expression of belief in God, because He had been sent by God. He was the Son of God. Upon His arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus had been greeted by enthusiastic crowds shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13 NET). They appeared to be expressing love for Jesus that was from their whole mind, their whole being and all their strength. It looked as if they were giving it their all. But in just a short time, their shouts of joy would turn to screams of rage. Instead of “Hosanna!,” they would be shouting, “Crucify Him!” Their love for Jesus would prove to be short-lived and short-sighted. Instead of recognizing Him as their Savior, they ended up rejecting Him. His talk of death and sacrifice were unappealing to them. They weren’t looking for a suffering Savior, but a conquering Messiah and King.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Jesus told the people in the crowd, “If anyone wants to serve me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant will be too. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26 NET). Jesus was calling for a commitment. He was asking for a wholesale expression of allegiance on the part of His followers, involving their whole mind, their whole being, and all their strength. Jesus was calling them to a long-term relationship that was going to last long after this world has ceased to exist. God expects those for whom He sent His Son to express their love and appreciation for His great gift of mercy and grace. We show our love through our belief, but also through our behavior. We express our love for God by talking about Him incessantly and eagerly. We tell of His goodness. We brag about His power. We express thanks for His blessings and remind one another of His promises yet to come. Those of us who have been called out are expected to live sold-out lives, fully committed to Him and expressing our love for Him as we live in obedience to Him.

Father, thank You for choosing me. I was totally unworthy, but You sent Your Son to die in my place in order to pay for the sins I had committed. Help me comprehend the magnitude of that reality and live accordingly. May my life increasingly reflect my love for You as I talk about You, brag on You and live in obedience to You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

 

Exodus 29-30, Mark 12

The Greatest Commandment.

Exodus 29-30, Mark 12

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” – Mark 12:32-33 ESV

Once again, God provides Moses and the people of Israel with painstakingly detailed commands regarding the Tabernacle and their interactions with it. He outlines the proper way to consecrate Aaron and his sons so they might properly serve as His priests. For them to come into His presence and offer sacrifices, they had to be purified themselves; washed with water and sprinkled with the blood of a ram that had been sacrificed on their behalf. They were to have the sacrificial blood placed on their ear lobes, thumbs, and big toes – a visual reminder that they were to listen to God, serve on His behalf as mediators for the people, and walk in a way that was honoring to Him. They were to be anointed with oil, representing their empowerment by God’s Spirit for His service. This process was to take place for seven days in a row, and during that time the people were to repeatedly make atonement for the altar and consecrate it. God made it clear that this was all a necessity if they wanted to enjoy His presence in their midst. “I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:44-46 ESV).

In chapter 30 we see God’s further instructions regarding the Altar of Incense, the Bronze Basin, and the Anointing Oil and Incense. Over and over again, the word “atonement” is used to signify the need to make reconciliation or to cover the sins of the people. Every Israelite, 20 years old and up, was required to pay a “ransom” for his life in the form of a tax. Everyone had to pay the same amount, regardless of their income level or status in the community. Every step of the way, there were requirements that had to be obeyed if the people wanted to be accepted before God and enjoy His presence among them. Nothing could be overlooked. Nothing was to be ignored. God’s requirements were exacting and non-negotiable. He was holy and He demanded to be treated that way.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God takes His holiness seriously. His requirements might seem a bit over-the-top to us. All the sacrifices, blood, rituals and requirements come across as antiquated and a bit barbaric to our modern senses. But God was attempting to teach His people the sacredness and seriousness of His nature. Every one of these commands was costly to the Israelites, requiring them to give the best of their flocks and even of their finances to atone for their sins. God wanted them to understand that sin was not to be taken lightly. Sin required a payment. Entrance into His presence was not possible as long as sin was present and unpaid for. Holiness was not to be considered cheap or easy. Enjoying the presence and power of God in their lives required some significant sacrifice on their part. Sin always separates man from God. So God had to give them a plan by which they could temporarily atone for or reconcile their sins and be made right with Him. But all along the way, what God wanted was the relationship, not the rituals.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When it comes to things regarding God, we are always prone to miss the point. The Israelites were going to end up focusing on the sacrifices more than the one to whom they were made. They would end up turning all of this into nothing more than a repetitive, ritualistic act that had long since lost its meaning to them. They would end up going through the motions and fulfilling their obligations, but without putting their hearts into it. The real purpose behind all the rules and regulations was to test the obedience of the people. Would they do what God required of them? Would their desire to have Him in their midst be strong enough to motivate their obedience to His demands of them? All throughout the Old Testament, we see that God wanted more than just ritualistic adherence to a set of rules. The prophet Samuel told King Saul, ““What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 NLT). God spoke through the prophet, Hosea: “For I desire steadfast loveand not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6 ESV). Over in the book of Micah, we are told, “‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8 ESV). King David wrote, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17 ESV). In time, the people of God were going to miss the point. God wanted their hearts. Their obedience was to be a byproduct of their desire to be with Him. The sacrifices would be a constant test of their obedience and love for Him.

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He didn’t hesitate or have to think about it. He immediately responded, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 ESV). A love for God and others is the basis for all the laws. Jesus would further clarify the significance of these two things by stating, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40 ESV). Loving God and loving others was to be the heartbeat behind all the other commands. It was to be the motivation behind all the sacrifices. Getting right with God and longing to have a restored relationship with Him was to be the central objective behind all the rules and regulations surrounding the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple. But rules would eventually replace relationship. Laws would overshadow love.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God wants my heart. He desires willful, loving obedience, not ritualistic rule-keeping. Like the Israelites, I can misinterpret God’s holy requirements of me and simply view them as inconvenient laws to be kept. But God did all that He did out of love. He wanted His people to live distinctively and differently. He knew that they were prone to sin and struggled with a love for the things of this world. So He lovingly provided ways in which they could set themselves apart. He provided a means by which their sins could be atoned for and forgiven. He lovingly provided a way in which they could remain in His presence and enjoy His ongoing love, provision and power in their lives. I can easily turn reading the Bible into a heartless, ritualistic duty and miss the point that God has lovingly revealed Himself to me through His Word. I must learn to read God’s Word enthusiastically and eagerly because it is is His revelation of Himself to me. I can easily turn prayer into nothing more than an unpleasant requirement that puts a crimp in my day. Or I can see it is an opportunity provided by God that allows me to not only talk to Him, but hear from Him on a regular basis. It should be a delight, not a duty. I should see it as a privilege, not a punishment. God wants my heart. He desires my willful and willing obedience. He wants me to love Him and the greatest expression of my love for Him is how I love those whom He has made. I can’t wrap my hands around God, but I can hug one of His sons or daughters. And “this is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

Father, I want my life to be an expression of love for You. I don’t want to just go through the motions and do my “duty.” I want to live in obedience to You because I love You. Give me an ever-increasing love for others. May my love for You increase as I love those whom You have made. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 8

Loving to Know Vs Knowing to Love.

1 Corinthians 8

But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. – 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 NLT

Our society puts a high priority on knowledge. So did the one in Corinth in Paul’s day. Then, as now, knowledge was held in high regard. Education was important. It was and still thought to be a cure-all for all kinds of problems. It is often believed that education can solve everything from poverty to violence. More knowledge can empty out prisons and prevent wars, cure diseases, eliminate starvation and bring out the best in just about anyone. We blame a lack of knowledge for most of the world’s woes. But knowledge has a way of puffing us up, inflating our egos and causing us to become prideful and arrogant. There is nothing wrong with knowledge, but it is far from the answer to the world’s problems. It can actually become divisive and destructive. Which is exactly what was taking place in the church in Corinth.

Once again, Paul responds to yet another question the congregation had sent him in a letter. This one had to do with meat sacrificed to idols. To most of us, this chapter makes little or no sense. We have no context to which to compare this issue. And unless we do some digging into the historical nature of what was going on, this passage will continue to make no sense and will remain of little help. But Paul took what was a contextual problem, unique to the Corinthians church, and gave it a universal application. He dealt with a specific issue going on in the church in Corinth and provided a timeless lesson for congregations around the world and throughout history. In Corinth, the problem revolved around whether it was permissible for the believers to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The Corinthian believers, who all, for the most part, had come out of pagan backgrounds, were under the impression that they were perfectly free to eat meat sacrificed to idols. This had been a common practice for them when they were pagans, and they saw no reason to stop now that they had become Christians. They based their conclusion on a “special knowledge” that they had. This knowledge or understanding gave them the freedom to do as they wished, in spite of Paul’s admonitions to cease and desist. Their knowledge was fourfold. They argued that they all knew that idols weren’t real and so eating meat that had been sacrificed to them made no difference. They also “knew” that what we ate or drank didn’t really matter to God. “It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat” (1 Corinthians 8:8 NLT). According to chapter 10, they also seemed to believe that their participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper gave them some sort of magical protection or freedom to do as they wished. Their God was more powerful than any other potential god. Finally, they had reached the conclusion, that because Paul did not agree with them, he probably wasn’t really qualified to be an apostle in the first place. He was obviously not as knowledgeable as they were.

Paul goes straight to the problem at the very beginning of this section. He tells them “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church” (1 Corinthians 8:1b NLT). For Paul, this was all about love, not meat sacrificed to idols. This was all about arrogance and pride. It was about self-centeredness and selfishness. These people were going to do what they wanted to do, without any regard to how their actions or attitudes might affect those around them. Paul agreed with them, that there was only one God and only one Lord, Jesus Christ. He conceded that there were no such thing as other gods. They were a figment of man’s fertile and fallen imagination. But Paul also stated that not all believers in Corinth knew this. Many were still operating under the knowledge that while God was the superior God, there were other less significant, but nonetheless, real gods. So when they ate meat sacrificed to these idols, they were, in essence, worshiping these false gods. So while the more “knowledgeable” believers were able to eat the meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience, they were confusing the other believers and causing them to stumble. Paul said, “Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so then they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated” (1 Corinthians 8:7 NLT). He goes on to say, “For if others see you – with your ‘superior knowledge’ – eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?” (1 Corinthians 8:10 NLT).

Then Paul brings this whole matter to a powerful conclusion: “And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ” (1 Corninthians 8:12 NLT). Wow! That’s a strong statement. Just because we know that something is permissible for us, doesn’t mean we have the right to flaunt our rights in the face of others. We can’t allow our knowledge to trump our love for others. We have a God-given responsibility to protect those around us who are less knowledgeable or who might lack in spiritual maturity. Paul is saying that we actually sin against God and that person when what we do causes them to stumble or violate their own conscience. Jesus Himself said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Then He said that there was a second and equally important commandment – to love others in the same way we love ourselves. Our love for God and others is to trump our love of knowledge. We can be right and be totally wrong at the same time. I can know that what I am doing is entirely permissible for me and do it with a clear conscience. But if what I do causes a fellow believer to sin against his own conscience by following my example – I have sinned against Christ. I have forsaken the great commandment. I have chosen to love myself more than my brother or sister in Christ. Paul said “So if what I eat causes another brother to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live – for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13 NLT). Paul will drive this point home later on in his letter in what has come to be known as the great love chapter. “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NLT). Knowledge without love is nothing. It puffs up. It makes us proud. It is destructive. But love never fails.

Father, teach us to love. We love to learn and we can become so proud about what we know, but if we fail to love, we have missed the point. May we learn to live out the Great Commandment and love You and others more and more with each passing day. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org