Generous to a Fault

So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Genesis 13:1-9 ESV

After Abram’s close call with Pharaoh, he decided to leave Egypt behind and return to the land of Canaan. The text doesn’t mention whether the famine there had come to an end, but it seems safe to assume that Abram returned because he had received permission from God to do so. According to verse 1, Abram made his way back to the Negeb, located on Canaan’s southernmost tip. But this arid region would prove to be an inhospitable environment for Abram’s newly acquired flocks and herds. He had received as a bride price for Sarai, whom Pharaoh had added to his harem as a concubine. When Pharaoh learned that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife, he released her and had Abram and his family escorted from the land of Egypt.

Abram walked out of Egypt far wealthier than when he had entered.  Despite his deception and narcissistic attempts at self-preservation, he ended up being rewarded.

Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 NLT

And Moses opens chapter 13 with what appears to be a parenthetical statement, designed to set up and explain the rest of the chapter’s story.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Genesis 13:2 ESV

But not only did Abram have additional herds and flocks in his possession, he was still accompanied by his nephew, Lot. And the text reveals that Lot had also prospered during their stay in Egypt.

And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. – Genesis 13:5-6 ESV

Lot had benefited greatly from his association with Abram. He had been blessed vicariously and undeservedly, just for being Abram’s nephew. But sometimes blessings can end up being a curse. Prosperity, while highly beneficial in so many ways, can also bring about unexpected conflicts and temptations. You see the potential for this outcome in Moses’ instructions to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the land of Canaan. God has promised to bless them with a rich and fertile land filled with well-fortified and well-stocked cities equipped with modern conveniences like hand-carved cisterns designed for storing rainwater.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the LORD, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the LORD your God and serve him.” – Deuteronomy 6:1-13 NLT

There was high probability that the people of Israel would find their newfound prosperity to be a temptation to become prideful and forgetful. Rather than focusing on the gracious Giver, they would end up obsessing on the gifts He had given. Agur, the author of Proverbs 30, reveals an insightful degree of self-awareness when he asks God for two favors.

O God, I beg two favors from you;
    let me have them before I die.
First, help me never to tell a lie.
    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. – Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT

Abram and Lot had both been blessed by God. Now, the question would be whether they would allow those blessings to become a curse. Would they become fat and happy, self-consumed, and overly self-sufficient? Would their good fortune lead to further dependence upon God or a growing sense of independence and self-sufficiency?

Sandwiched in-between the disclosure that Abram was “very rich” (Genesis 13:2), and Lot “had flocks and herds and tents” (Genesis 13:5), Moses states that Abram “journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 13:3-4 ESV). And Lot went with him.

Abram, despite his less-than-stellar showing in Egypt, returns to the site where he had built the altar, and he offers sacrifices to God. It seems that Abram understood that his timely departure from Egypt, with his wife by his side, had been the work of God. And he wanted to express his appreciation by offering some of his newfound wealth as a thank offering to God. There is no indication that Lot participated in this selfless display of thanksgiving. He had been equally blessed by God but displayed no awareness of God’s gracious benevolence, and he offered no gifts of gratitude. But, in time, he will display an unflattering tendency toward self-interest and self-indulgence.

Moses describes the situation between Abram and his nephew as untenable.

the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together – Genesis 13:6 ESV

This is an interesting statement because it portrays the land of promise as rather unpromising. Perhaps the famine had decimated the available pasture land, rendering the current location as an insufficient source of food for the enlarged herds of Abram and Lot. But there seems to be something more significant going on in this passage.

When God had issued His original call, He had made the conditions of that call clear:  “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NLT). Yet, as the text reveals, “Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4 NLT).

The land had been promised to Abram, not Lot. In a sense, Lot should not have been there and his presence was proving to be problem. The land was sufficient for the flocks and herds of Abram, but not for both. Somewhere along the way, in keeping with the command of God, Abram should have separated himself from Lot. But he had failed to do so. Now, God was stepping in and forcing these two men to part company. As the herdsmen of Abram and Lot attempted to shepherd their respective flocks on the same parcel of land, tempers flared.

…there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

And, at this point in the story, Moses provides another parenthetical aside.

At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

This is intended as a reminder that the land was already occupied. God had led Abram to a country where other people groups had settled and put down roots. Their presence would have further limited the available pasture land. This disclosure by Moses was also meant to foreshadow the miracle that God will have to perform in order to make this already-occupied land available to Abram’s descendants.

Verses 8-13 reveal Abram’s solution to the dilemma. In an effort to appease Lot and his disgruntled herdsmen, Abram gave his nephew his choice of permanent pastureland.

“Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” – Genesis 13:9 NLT

This is viewed by many as a sign of Abram’s magnanimity. He takes the high road and gives his undeserving nephew first dibs on the available land. But in some sense, this reflects a lack of reverence for God’s promise. God had clearly told Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). While Lot was Abram’s blood relative, he was not his offspring. It’s highly likely that Abram’s decision to share the land with Lot was driven by his belief that Lot would eventually be his heir.  After all, Abram wasn’t getting any younger and his wife was still barren. So, he probably believed that this young man would end up being the means by which God fulfilled His promise to make of Abram “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).

But that was not God’s plan. And it will soon become clear that Abram’s gracious offer to Lot was going to end up backfiring on him. This young man would display a disregard for the well-being of his uncle and a myopic preoccupation with his own success. Lot was out to make of himself a great nation. He was choosing the best land so that he might enjoy the best possible outcome. But his choices would prove to be far from wise and less than beneficial. And Abram’s decision to pacify Lot by parceling out the land given to him by God would only lead to greater turmoil in the days ahead.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Body Loathing.

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. – 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 ESV

Disorder, disunity and division. All three were taking place within the church in Corinth. That is partly the reason Paul had to address the issue of authority and headship. It seems that there were those who were not comfortable with his teaching regarding headship and submission. Once again, the issue of freedoms and rights had come up. In the opening verses of this chapter, Paul dealt with women in the church who refused to cover their heads while in worship. This was not about value or worth. It was about God-ordained headship and authority, but also responsibility. Paul said, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV). Now, it is interesting to note that Paul makes it clear that both the husband and the wife, the male and the female, were free to prophesy and pray when the church assembled. But the man was to do so with his head uncovered, because to pray or prophesy with his head covered “dishonors his head” (1 Corinthians 11:4 ESV). In other words, he would be blatantly rejecting the headship of Christ in his life. And if a wife prophesies or prays with her head uncovered, she “dishonors her head” (1 Corinthians 11:5 ESV). Her actions would be construed as dishonoring the God-appointed headship of her husband.

This was all about order, unity and a submission to the will of God. And this was not the only issue going on in Corinth. Paul now addresses their attitude toward the practice of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Ordained by Jesus Christ Himself, this ordinance was to be a regular occurrence in the church. And the early church commemorated it as a feast. Unlike our modern version of the Lord’s Table, theirs was a meal. In the book of Acts we read, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47 ESV). This “love feast” was a communal gathering at which they commemorated the Lord’s death with the bread and the cup. But they also shared a meal together. And that’s where the problem developed. Paul says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (1 Corinthians 11:20 ESV). In other words, they had turned the Lord’s supper into something altogether different. Their supper was marked by selfishness, division and even drunkenness. It had become all about the meal and not about the Messiah. They were there for the food, not to celebrate the sacrificial death of Jesus, which made possible their salvation.

Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the problem. “For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:21 ESV). The gladness and generosity mentioned in Acts 2 was long gone. It was as if everyone was in for themselves. Some ate, while others went without. It had lost its communal aspect, because people were eating without waiting on the others. And then there were those who were using the “love feast” as an excuse to get drunk. There was little difference between this Christ-ordained event and the feasts practiced by the pagans in their temples. Paul is shocked by their behavior and can’t understand why they don’t just eat their meals at home if they can’t control themselves. The Lord’s supper was meant to remember all that Christ had done to make their salvation possible, not to satisfy their fleshly appetites.

In a not-so-subtle attempt to shame their actions, Paul asks them, “do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (1 Corinthians 11:22b ESV). Their actions made it appear that they had no love for their brothers and sisters in Christ. There was no sharing of meals and compassion for the needy in their midst. The church in Corinth bore little resemblance to the early church in the books of Acts.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. – Acts 2:42-45 ESV

How easy it is to lose sight of our purpose as followers of Christ. We can turn our times of corporate worship into individually-focused moments of self-satisfaction. Forgetting that we are there to worship God, we can make it all about us, demanding that the music and the message cater to our personal preferences. We can go through an entire Sunday service neglecting those around us and never truly worshiping God. And in doing so, we miss the whole point of corporate worship. For Paul, the Corinthians had missed the message behind the Lord’s supper. It was not to be about enjoying a good meal. It was to be a celebration of our common bond in Christ and a commemoration of His sacrificial death on our behalf. Luke records the words of Jesus on the night that He instituted this sacred service.

When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”

After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” – Luke 22:14-20 NLT

Just moments after this sobering sequence of events, the disciples would be arguing about who was the greatest. They had missed the point. So Jesus said to them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:25-27 ESV). The Kingdom of God was about selflessness, not selfishness. Followers of Christ, in imitation of Him, were to be servants, not self-serving. When we focus on self, we end up loathing the body of Christ. When we make it all about ourselves, we neglect the fact that Jesus died, not just that we might enjoy salvation, but solidarity as the people of God.

Offending the Spirit.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:30-32 ESV

The Holy Spirit lives within each and every believer. At the point of conversion, He takes up permanent residence, indwelling them, baptizing them into the family of God, and filling them with the power they need to live the life they have been called to live. Both His indwelling and baptizing are one-time events, never to happen again. But His filling is to be an ongoing, often-replicated event. In fact, the tense of the Greek word Paul uses in Ephesians 5:18, carries with it the idea of continuous, ongoing action – “keep on being filled”. The indwelling of the Spirit does not guarantee the filling of the Spirit. He does fill us at salvation, but that can quickly change. In telling the believer to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, Paul uses the comparison of being drunk with wine. To be intoxicated with wine is to allow oneself to come under the influence of the alcohol. It takes over control of the individual’s speech and conduct. It alters thinking patterns and drastically influences behavior. Paul’s point is that, when under the control of the Spirit, the same things should happen. His presence in us should result in His control over us. That is what it means to be filled. We end up under his influence, His control. And He changes our speech, behavior, and thinking.

But Paul reminds us that we can grieve the Spirit. How do we do that? Through sinful behavior that is not in keeping with His agenda for our lives. It happens each and every time we take back control of our lives and live them according to our old sinful nature. Placing our faith in Christ did not immediately eradicate our sin nature. It remains alive and well, a constant and pervasive presence in our lives. Paul described it this way: “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:17 ESV). Sin dwells in the believer in the form of our flesh or sin nature. And it craves to live in disobedience to God, satisfying its own selfish and  sensual desires. It tempts us to do those things that are not in keeping with God’s will for our lives. “For this is God’s will: that you become holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NET). Our sin nature despises holiness. It prefers self-love, self-reliance, self-indulgence, self-protection, self-centeredness and a host of other self-related sins. That’s why Paul says we are to avoid bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. Notice that these are all other-oriented sins. They are directed at others – specifically at fellow believers. And when we commit them, we grieve the Spirit. In actuality, we offend Him. He has been commissioned by God to bring about our sanctification, our transformation into the likeness of His Son. So when we sin, particularly against our brothers and sisters in Christ, we offend the Spirit. We prevent Him from doing what He was sent to do.

Earlier in chapter four, Paul warned his readers, “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). He describes these unbelieving Gentiles in very clear terms. “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:19-20 ESV). Notice the phrase, “given themselves up to”. They were under the influence of sin. But Paul says that is not to be the way with us. We are to be under the influence of the Spirit. We didn’t learn Christ or become aware of His salvation through selfishness and sensuality. And we will not become more holy through those things either. Paul tells us to put off our old selves “which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22 ESV). Instead, he reminds us “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:24-25 NLT).

This is a daily, ongoing choice we must make. We can choose to be led by the Spirit in every part of our lives, or we can choose to listen to our selfish, sensual old nature. We can make it all about us or we can make it all about God’s will for us – our holiness. That is why Paul warns us, “Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another” (Galatians 5:26 NLT). As soon as self enters into the scene, things begin to get dicey. The self and the Spirit can’t both be in control at the same time. When self raises its ugly head, the Holy Spirit takes a back seat. He doesn’t leave us, but we lose His influence over us. And when we do, nothing good comes out of it. Not only do we end up grieving and offending the Spirit within us, we do harm to all of those around us. On top of that, we stall and stagnate our own sanctification process. We must constantly remain aware of our potential for doing great damage to the cause of Christ and the Spirit’s commission to transform us into the image of Christ. As soon as self raises its ugly head, we must confess it and ask the Spirit to take over control of our lives again. We must constantly submit ourselves to His control. That will require giving up our control. It will demand that we release the grip we have on our own agendas for our lives. We can’t make ourselves more holy – only the Spirit can do that. Let’s learn to rely on Him, lean on Him, listen to Him and relinquish control of our lives over to Him.

When Christians Become Anti-Christ.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. – 1 John 2:19 ESV

There was a group of former church members who had recently left the fellowship there in Ephesus. Evidently, they had stirred up a bit of controversy with their beliefs regarding Jesus. For whatever reason, they had either had a change of heart regarding the deity of Jesus, or had never fully believed it from the beginning. These people were denying that Jesus was the Son of God and rejecting His claim to have been the Messiah. In essence, they were refusing to accept Him as Savior. They even denied their own sinfulness. As you can imagine, these beliefs caused quite a bit of trouble for the church there in Ephesus. John even referred to the recently departed ones as antichrists. That’s a pretty serious accusation. But his basis for that charge was sound. They were anti-Christ. They were denying the centrality of Christ as God in human form and as the Savior of the world. They were refusing to admit their own sinfulness and, therefore, their need for salvation. All the while, they were claiming to have a right relationship with God. So John called them out and called them what they were: anti-Christ.

But this incident got me thinking. While those who had left the Ephesian church were probably not believers in Jesus Christ to begin with, I began to wonder if it is possible for Christians to be anti-Christ. Can we stand opposed to Christ even if we still fully accept His deity and rest in His role as our Savior and Lord? And the somewhat surprising and disturbing answer is yes. And it is easier to do than you might think. I am reminded of an exchange between Peter and Jesus recorded in the gospel of Matthew. What is amazing about this story is that Jesus had just recently commended Peter for his answer to Jesus’ question: “What do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15 NLT). Peter’s response had been, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT). And Jesus had been extremely pleased with what Peter had said. And yet, not long after this exchange, Jesus began to break the news to His disciples that He was going to be going to Jerusalem where He “would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT). But when Peter heard this news, he “took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. ‘Heaven forbid, Lord,’ he said. ‘This will never happen to you!’” (Matthew 16:22 NLT). And amazingly, Jesus lit Peter up, saying, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 NLT). At that moment, Peter had become anti-Christ. He had chosen to stand opposed to what Jesus had clearly communicated as God’s will and His own intention to follow it. Peter had not liked what he had heard and so he rejected it. He even called on God Himself to forbid it from happening. What struck me in this story is how easy it is for even a believer to become anti-Christ in his or her outlook. Peter’s problem was that he was seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s. He had lacked a divine, eternal perspective. He didn’t like what he was hearing. He didn’t agree with what Jesus was saying. It was disagreeable to his way of thinking, so he disagreed with Jesus. How often to we do the very same thing? We don’t like our circumstances. We don’t agree with God regarding our lot in life. We begin to see everything from our own view point, rather than God’s and, at that moment, we become anti-Christ. We refuse to accept His will for our lives. We refuse to accept His sufficiency for any and all situations. We refuse to accept that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT). Whether we want to admit it or not, we can become anti-Christ, and even anti-Gospel. We can refuse to believe that the gospel, the good news regarding Jesus Christ, also includes our sanctification, our ongoing transformation into His likeness. And sanctification is a process that takes time and is based on faith just as much as our salvation was. When we begin to think that our spiritual maturity is up to us, we become anti-Christ and anti-Gospel. We make it about works and not grace. That does not mean we don’t play a role in the process, but at the end of the day, it is a work of the Spirit, not the flesh. As soon as I think I can make myself more holy, I stand opposed to Jesus’ all-sufficient sacrifice and the Spirit’s indwelling, empowering role in my life. Paul put it this way, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). He lived by trusting in the Son of God. As soon as I stop doing that, I become anti-Christ. I become self-sufficient rather than Christ-dependent. I begin seeing things from my own perspective rather than God’s. And at that moment, I become an ally of the enemy and opposed to the very one in whom I trusted for my salvation. Any time we become pro-self, we become anti-Christ. Which is why Jesus told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NLT).

2 Samuel 23-24, 1 Corinthians 14

To Build Up.

2 Samuel 23-24, 1 Corinthians 14

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. – 1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV

As David neared the end of his life, it appears that he was somewhat reflective, and felt compelled to do something to evaluate the success of his reign. He was a warrior and as such, part of his perceived worth would have been based on the numbers of his victories and the size of his army. So David determined to conduct a census in order to ascertain just how large his fighting force really way. It appears that the sin David committed in doing so was in placing his trust in his army rather than God. Actually, the passage doesn’t tell us exactly what David had done to deserve the anger and punishment of God, but it is clear that he had sinned. Perhaps part of David’s sin was that he had become focused on his own reputation rather than God’s. It is interesting that the previous chapter speaks of “the mighty men whom David had” (2 Samuel 23:8 ESV). These mighty warriors were part of David’s inner circle. They were valiant fighting men who had accomplished great deeds on behalf of David. But the passage makes it clear that their exploits were actually the result of God’s actions. “And the Lord brought about a great victory that day” (2 Samuel 23:10 ESV). “And the Lord worked a great victory” (2 Samuel 23:12 ESV). It would have been easy for David to lose sight of the fact that his reputation, reign, and apparent success as a king were all the result of God’s divine influence over his life. Numbering his troops could have given David a false sense of self-accomplishment and independence. It seems from the passage, that David was driven by a self-obsession that focused more on himself than on God or the people over whom he reigned.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When God determined to punish David for his sin, he gave the king three options from which to choose. He placed David in a very difficult position, forcing him to decide between three equally unattractive forms of punishment: Famine, the sword or pestilence. It would appear that whichever one David chose, the end result would be similar in its outcome. While the famine would last three years, it would take longer for its full impact to be felt on the lives of the people. The sword and pestilence, while shorter in time, would be swifter in their devastating influence on the lives of the people. No matter which one David chose, there was going to be innocent people who died as a result. David’s selfish sin was going to have a significant impact on the lives of others. Unable to choose, David told God, “I am in great distress, Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Samuel 24:14 ESV). In essence, David chose NOT to accept the sword as an option, but rather asked that God would choose between the other two. David was willing to accept the punishment of the Lord and count on Him showing mercy. So God chose to bring pestllence for three days, resulting in the deaths of 70,000 men. While we may struggle with the events recorded in this passage, we must understand that God acted righteously and justly. His actions were well within His rights as God. Sin had been committed, and the degree of the punishment reflects just how great David’s sin really was.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In chapter 23, we read the last words of David. It is interesting to note what he said. “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes the grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Samuel 23:3-4 ESV). A king who rules justly, in the fear of God, has a positive, healthy influence on the lives of those over whom he reigns. It would appear that David’s decision to take the census was done without any fear of God. He didn’t think about what he was doing. He was too focused on his own life and interested in his own reputation.

Over in 1 Corinthians 14, we see an apparently different scenario at play. Paul is writing to the Corinthian believers about spiritual gifts and their role within the body of Christ. It would appear that the Corinthians were struggling with pride and jealousy over the allocation and use of the spiritual gifts. Evidently, there was some belief that the gift of tongues was superior to any of the other gifts. It was more flamboyant and extraordinary. Perhaps they believed that those who practiced this particular gift were somehow linked in significant to the apostles because that is the gift they exhibited at Pentecost. But Paul repeatedly warns the Corinthian believers to remember the whole point behind all the gifts: the building up of the body of Christ. He tells them to “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV). He warns them that, while speaking in tongues, they may experience some personal satisfaction and benefit, “but the other person is not being built up” (1 Corinthians 14:17 ESV). Paul makes it clear: “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26 ESV). This is a continuation of his theme in chapter 13. The point behind all of the gifts was mutual edification motivated by selfless love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV). The gift of tongues, practiced without love, was worthless and completely non-beneficial. God was the originator of the gifts and He handed them out according to His divine will and wisdom. They were intended to build up, not divide. They were to be selfless, not selfish. Like David, the Corinthians had taken their eyes off of God and placed them firmly on themselves. They had turned the spiritual gifts into a competition.

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

I love the line Paul writes to the believers there in Corinth: “Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind” (1 Corinthians 14:20 NLT). Don’t act like children, selfishly focusing on your own desires. Don’t make it all about you. Think like adults, remembering that God gave you your gift for the good of the body, not just for your own personal pleasure or to satisfy your ego. It’s interesting to note that in his opening to this letter, Paul writes the Corinthians and reminds them, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7 ESV). The church in Corinth had every spiritual gift represented. God had given them exactly what they needed to build up the body of Christ. But they were jockeying for position, fighting over the gifts and selfishly attempting to one-up each other by comparing and contrasting the significance and value of their particular gifting. And in doing so, they were missing out on the whole purpose behind the gifts: to build up the church. Had David kept his focus on God, he would have spent less time worrying about his own significance and reputation. Had he remembered and lived by the words he wrote, he would have ruled justly, in the fear of God, having a positive impact on the lives of his people. But instead, his self-centered actions brought death. It’s interesting to note that the Corinthians, in attempting to practice the very gifts God had given them, were having a negative influence on not only the local fellowship they were called to build up, but on the lost community around them. Nothing harms the name of Christ more than believers who can’t get along. Nothing damages our witness as believers like infighting, pride and jealousy. But if our focus is on building up the body of Christ, and our motivation is mutual love, the church prospers and the lost are attracted like moths to a flame.

Father, may our churches be increasingly more recognized as places where the building up of the body is more important than the building up of our own reputations. Forgive us for making more of ourselves than we make of You or of the well-being of Your people. Open our eyes so that we might see You more clearly. Help us to love You more by loving others more than we love ourselves or our own reputations. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 29-30, Matthew 15

A Dangerous Trend.

Genesis 29-30, Matthew 15

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.  – Matthew 15:18-20 ESV

The pattern of deceit and deception found in the story of Jacob and Esau will follow him as he attempts to escape the wrath of his brother Esau. Jacob’s arrival in the land of his uncle, Laban, would appear to be a positive turn in the story of Abraham’s descendants. But we continue to see the sin of man polluting the stream of God’s divine plan. And yet, in spite of it all, God remains faithful to His covenant promise, providing blessings on and through Jacob.

What does this passage reveal about God?

While God seems to be silent throughout much of this portion of the story, He is always there, behind the scenes, orchestrating the outcomes of Jacob’s relationships and circumstances. The men and women in these passages continue to sin, acting selfishly and treating one another contemptuously. Their actions, for the most part, are unrighteous and far from godly. Everyone is looking out for themselves. And yet, in the midst of this competitive and conflict-saturated atmosphere, God is there.

God orchestrates the arrival of Jacob at the well at just the same time that Rachel arrives with her father’s sheep. Jacob, whose very name means “trickster” or “deceiver” is himself deceived by his own uncle. It seems that Laban and Jacob were cut from the same cloth, a detail that had not escaped God’s plans for Jacob. God would use Laban’s deception to bring about the birth of the twelve sons who would make up the future tribes of Israel. All the bickering, bartering, deceit and deception would be redeemed by God for His divine purposes. The passage tells us that “When the Lord saw that Leah was ‘hated,’ he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31 ESV). God was in control. Even the very names of the children reflect this fact. Reuben means “sees” and refers to God’s recognition of Leah’s situation. Simeon means “hears” and speaks of God’s awareness of Rachel’s hatred for Leah. Judah means “praise” as a reminder of Leah’s gratefulness to God for all He had done for her. Each of the names of each of the children in some way reflect a character quality or attribute of God. God “remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22 ESV).

And God blessed Laban. Even though this man had lied to and cheated his nephew, God blessed him because of Jacob’s very presence. God had promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him, and this was a partial fulfillment of that promise. And God blessed Jacob. He prospered him and caused his flocks to increase. Jacob thought his unique attempt at genetic engineering was the cause of his success, but in reality, it was all the work of God. And while Laban once again tried to cheat Jacob, God was blessing him. “Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (Genesis 30:43 ESV). God was at work. And while the cast of characters in this story bring little in the way of virtue or redeeming qualities, God is still able to accomplish His divine will – for His glory and the ultimate good of man.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Once again, it is not a pretty picture. In Laban, Jacob met his match. He ends up looking in the mirror and sees himself. This entire story is a virtual repeat of what has happened before. Jacob gets cheated by Laban just as Jacob had cheated Esau. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, just as his mother had loved him more than his brother Esau. God opened Leah’s womb just as He had Sarah’s. Both Leah and Rachel follow the example of Sarah and give their maid servants to their husband in an attempt to provide him with children. Throughout the story there is an unhealthy competition that results in increasing conflict. Leah bargains with Rachel for the rights to have sexual relations with Jacob, using fruit as the currency of the day. Just as Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, Rachel sells her “rights” to have sexual relations with Jacob – for a handful of fruit.

All throughout this story, we see men and women who are controlled by their flesh or sin natures. They respond to one another selfishly and sinfully, with very little regard for the name of God. You see little in the way of remorse, let alone repentance. They acknowledge the hand of God when it works out in their favor, but respond in anger and resentment when things don’t turn out well. They fight, feud, deceive, cheat, and constantly strive to make sure that everything works out for their own selfish advantage – all the while, unaware of God’s greater plan and the bigger picture He is painting for all mankind.

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

Like Jacob, Rachel, Leah and Laban, I can become so myopic and short-sighted, that I fail to recognize all that God is doing behind the scenes in my life. I can become so self-consumed that I no longer see God’s bigger plan for the human race. I want to make it all about me, but it’s not. It’s all about God and His divine plan for mankind. I find it fascinating that the companion New Testament passage for today’s reading is Matthew 15. In it, we read these sobering words from Jesus Himself. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20 ESV).

That’s the story of Genesis. That’s the story of man. What we see happening in chapters 29-30 of Genesis is the effects of heart disease. As Isaiah wrote and Jesus quoted, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8 ESV). Jacob may have been a descendant of Abraham and heir of the promises of God, but at this point in his life, his heart was far from God. He was in self-preservation mode. His lived by the code: “every man for himself.” And far too often, I can find myself living that very same way. The amazing thing is that God continues to bless me in spite of me. He continues to fulfill His promises to me, not because I deserve it or have earned the favor, but out of His amazing grace. Leah, Rachel, Laban and Jacob all gave God lip service. They tipped their hats to His obvious influence in and around their lives. They gave their children names that reflected God’s involvement in their lives. Laban acknowledged God’s influence over his life. But their hearts were far from Him. They failed to truly worship and fear Him. They were incapable of seeing His sovereign plan at work among them. I want to learn from their mistakes and recognize my own spiritual shortcomings as I read about theirs. So that I might become a willing participant in God’s divine plan, not just an unknowing passenger who is along for the ride.

Father, I see myself in this story. I share so many of the qualities and characteristics of Jacob, Rachel, Leah and Laban. I don’t want to be guilty of honoring you with my lips but having a heart that is far from You. Open my eyes and let me see the reality of my own sin nature and my ongoing need for Your Son’s saving and sanctifying work in my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Strengthen the Church.

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

 And the same is true for you. Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church. – 1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT

Let love be your highest goal! Those are the words Paul uses to bridge his section on love and the specific application of that love when it comes to the gathering of the Corinthians for their worship services. Love is to be applicable and practical. It is not a feeling so much as it is an attitude and an action. Love must manifest itself in daily life. And for the Corinthians, one of the places where love was missing was their worship assembly. It would appear that they had an obsession with the spiritual gifts – with two of them in particular. Tongues and prophecy dominate this portion of Paul’s letter and it was evidently because those were the two gifts that the Corinthians desired and practiced the most. But as Paul had stated earlier, they were doing so without love. Their use of those two gifts of the Spirit were not motivated by love, but out of pride. They had a preference for the two more spectacular gifts: Tongues and prophecy. But they were using them in such a way that they were causing confusion in the worship services. There were those who were speaking in tongues, but without an interpreter; a necessary requirement if others were to benefit from what was being said. All throughout this section, Paul emphasizes the need to build up, edify or strengthen the entire body. Tongues were really for the benefit of the individual or the unsaved. The key was that the hearer must be able to understand what was being said. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and they spoke in tongues, they were speaking in foreign languages that none of them knew. But the Holy Spirit was directing their efforts in order to reach those in the audience who were foreigners and unsaved. They each heard the gospel in their own language and were edified. In the case of the Corinthians, they were speaking in tongues, or foreign languages, but to a room full of Greek-speaking people who had no idea what they were saying. So their words were unintelligible and unhelpful. It seems that when an individual spoke in tongues, the language he or she spoke was unintelligible to the speaker as well. They did not know what they were saying. That is why Paul would go on later in this chapter to give parameters or guidelines for the use of the gift of tongues in a worship setting. “No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28 NLT).

Remember, Paul’s point seemed to be, “Let love be your highest goal.” This concept was to govern even the use of spiritual gifts. To use your spiritual gift in such a way that it failed to build up the body of Christ was unloving. To covet a particular gift because it seemed more flamboyant or “spiritual” revealed selfishness, pride and arrogance, not a spirit of love. Christianity is not a solo sport. It is not about the individual, but is to be about the body. All throughout this letter, Paul has emphasized the need for unity, order, and brotherly love. In this section, he repeatedly emphasizes the non-negotiable need to strengthen the entire church. Self-edification and self-gratification were not to be the goal. Paul was not diminishing the role of the spiritual gifts, but reminding the Corinthian believers that the gifts were given by the Spirit for the benefit and overall edification of the body, not the individual. For Paul, the motivation was always to be the instruction and edification of the body. “But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language” (1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT). Just like the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control), the gifts of the Spirit were always to be other-oriented, not self-centered.

Everything God does has order and purpose behind it. The gifts were given to build up the body, not the individual. When we allow our spiritual gift to become a prideful, self-centered sign of our own spiritual significance, we miss the point and turn what God had intended for good into something destructive and divisive. But if we remember that love is to be our highest goal, the tendency toward self-centeredness will fade into the background as we focus our attention and our gifts on the building up of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Father, we find it so easy to make it all about us. We are inherently self-centered in our outlook and have the unique capacity to make even the spiritual gift You have given us all about us. We fail to realize that even our salvation was not just to save us from sin and secure us eternal life, but to make us ambassadors for the cause of Christ on this planet. Otherwise You would have taken us when You saved us. But You left us here and placed us in the body of Christ, and equipping us with the tools we need to minister to and build up one another. continue to give us a passion for serving and loving one another like Christ had. May love be our highest goal. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

It’s Not All About You.

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:33 NLT

The Christian life is a team sport, not an individual event. Yet, many of us, heavily influenced by a society that puts all the emphasis on the individual, have come to believe that everything revolves around us, including the Christian life. But Paul would beg to differ. He had a completely different perspective, and spent a great portion of his correspondence to the believers in the early church trying to convince them that individualism was antithetical to the Christian cause. A big part of the problem that Paul was trying to address concerning meat sacrificed to idols had to do with the selfish and self-centered attitude that was motivating the behavior of some of the Corinthian believers. While the logic behind their argument that they were completely free to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols was true, it still did not give them the freedom to do as they wished. They had to consider the well-being of others. Just because they could eat meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience didn’t mean that they should.

The response of these individuals had been, “I am allowed to do anything.” But Paul reminded them that not everything was good for them or beneficial. He gave them another way of looking at their situation that took the focus off their individual rights and put them on their role within the Body of Christ. “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23 NLT). In other words, it’s wasn’t all about them! The universe didn’t revolve around them. They were not the center of all things and the sole inhabitant of the planet. In saving them, God had placed them in His family along with other brothers and sisters in Christ for whom they had a responsibility to love and protect.

For Paul, community was everything. Fellowship and loving concern for one another were the foundational principles of faith. Every believer was to live his or her life with a sense of shared responsibility and mutual concern for one another. Individual rights were to take a backseat to the corporate well-being of the flock. That required a daily dying to self and a willing sacrifice of legitimate rights and freedoms – all for the benefit of others. But Paul didn’t just write about this, he lived it. “I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33 NLT). He had adopted this same attitude and lived it out in his daily life. Which is why he could say with a straight face, “you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT).

Paul echoes this theme in his letter to the believers in Philippi. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-5 NLT). He then went on to describe in great detail the attitude that Christ possessed. He gave up His divine privileges as God, and took on human flesh. He came and served, becoming a slave to all men. He willingly obeyed His Father, even to the point of death – giving His life as a substitute for sinful man. We are to follow His example. We are to live our lives with the same selfless, sacrificial attitude. It isn’t all about us. It’s about Jesus Christ and His body, the church. It is about the Kingdom of God and His plan for the redemption of the world. It is about the benefit and well-being of the other members of Christ’s body for whom I have a responsibility to willingly give up my rights for their good. Loving God and loving others is our call. That requires sacrifice and selflessness. It demands that we have the same attitude or mindset that Christ had – like Paul had.

Father, give us the mind of Christ. Let us see our lives like He did. We need to give up our addiction to individuality and begin to think corporately and communally. Too often, we let our rights become a road block to mutual love and care for the body of Christ. Thanks for reminding me once again that it isn’t all about me. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

The Beauty of the Body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. – 1 Corinthians 1:5 NLT

One of the mistakes we make when reading the letters of Paul is to take every personal pronoun and make it personal. So every time we read the word “you,” we believe he is talking to us as individuals. But in most cases, Paul uses a plural personal pronoun. That’s because most of his letters were written to churches, not individuals. In this case, he was writing to the believers in Corinth – all those individuals who made up the corporate body of Christ in that city. So his words are to be taken in a corporate context. But because of our intense individualism as western Christians we attempt to make it all about us – or better yet, me. We read these verses as individuals and fail to see the community focus of Paul’s words. I like the way the New Living Translation renders verse 5. It reads, “God has enriched your church in every way…” In this letter, Paul is addressing the issue of spiritual gifts. He wants the Corinthian believers to know that they have been given spiritual gifts as individual believers, but they are intended and designed for use within the body of Christ. Those gifts were meant to be used to enhance life within the community. My spiritual gift is not for me, but for the benefit of others with whom I live as part of the body of Christ.

In verse 7, Paul makes it clear that he is talking about spiritual gifts when he writes, “Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The body of Christ in Corinth had been blessed by God with a full assortment of spiritual gifts, given by God to enhance their community and encourage their spiritual growth and vitality. Even when Paul writes, “He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns” (1 Corinthians 1:8 NLT), he has a community focus in mind. Through the proper use of their spiritual gifts, God would keep the body there in Corinth strong until the Lord returned. Paul knew that their spiritual well-being and health was dependent on the proper use of their gifts. There were abuses of the spiritual gifts going on in Corinth and Paul was going to address them, but he wanted them to understand from the outset that the gifts were God-given and designed to be life-giving – to the community. A healthy body is one in which all the members are performing their intended task faithfully and with the overall well-being of the body in mind. There is no place for selfishness or self-centeredness within the body.

Father, how easy it is to make it all about me. We are wired to think about ourselves and to neglect the needs of others. Our instincts of self-preservation and survival have allowed us to misunderstand the spiritual life. We make it an individual pursuit and fail to recognize that You intended it to be a corporate experience – a team sport. As we read through the letter to the Corinthians, remind us again of the power of the gifts used in the context of community as You designed them to be used. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

God’s Will For You.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT

Have you ever wanted to know God’s will for your life? Have you ever wondered whether what you were about to do was something God would want you to do or not? The sad truth is that some of us just prefer to not even bother worrying about what God’s will might be, preferring to do our own will instead. But the topic of God’s will is a huge one among most believers. We constantly wonder about what God would have us do. Should we date that individual, buy that house, accept that job offer. put our kids in that school, or attend that church? We inherently know that living outside of God’s will is not a safe place for us to be. So we wonder and worry about whether we are in God’s will. We search the Scriptures, hoping to discover what He might have us do in any given situation. But in most cases, we find it hard to discover God’s opinion on things like what dress to buy for the prom or even what person to marry. Our problem is that we tend to deal in specifics. I’m not implying that God doesn’t care about the specific decisions we make, but I believe God is concerned about something far more general – something that would aid us in our daily decision-making and insure that we are well within His will at all times.

Here in chapter four of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us a glimpse into God’s will, and as you will see, it is quite broad when it comes to God’s expectations. Paul simply says, “God’s will is for you to be holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). As far as Paul is concerned, God’s primary concern and desire for His people is their holiness, which really refers to their lives being set apart for His glory. In verse one, Paul puts it another way: “we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NLT). To be holy is to live your life in such a way that it pleases God, not you. It is to live according to His expectations, not your own inclinations. And Paul gives the Thessalonians a very real example of what he is talking about by telling them to stay away from all sexual sin. Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by your own lustful passions. It is never God’s will for a man to cheat on his wife or a woman to engage in sexual fantasies by reading sexually explicit romance novels. It is never within God’s will for two young people to live together outside of marriage. It is never God’s will for a young man to fill his mind and corrupt his soul with pornography. Paul makes it quite clear. “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives” (1 Thessalonians 4:76 NLT). God has expectations and standards. While we are no longer required to live by the Law in order to gain acceptance with and access to God, we are still obligated to live lives that are in keeping with God’s holy standards. He has even given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do so. Before accepting Christ as our Savior, we were totally incapable of living holy lives, but now it’s not only possible, but expected. Our lives are to be set apart, different and distinct from those of people who do not know Christ. We have a special capacity to live in such a way that God is not only pleased, but glorified, because it is all due to His power within us.

God’s will is for us to be holy because it is an indication of His work in us. When we refuse to give in to our own lustful desires and abstain from sexual sin, it is a clear indication of His Spirit’s work in us. Holiness is the byproduct of His presence and power in our lives. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT). Then he gave them specific examples: Stop lying and start telling the truth. Instead of letting anger control you, forgive. If you used to make a habit of stealing, work hard instead. Replace your foul language with words of encouragement. “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30 NLT).

So does God care about what kind of car you drive or what particular neighborhood you live in? Most certainly. But His real concern is what motivations are driving our desires for that car or a home in that neighborhood. Are we driven by selfish and prideful passions? Are we attempting to impress others or build up our low self esteem? There is a simple question we can ask ourselves whenever we face a decision of any kind and want to know what God’s will concerning that decision might be. Will it help our hinder my pursuit of holiness? To put it another way, will that car, dress, job, relationship, home, or whatever else it might be, make my pursuit of holiness easier or harder? If God’s will is our holiness, shouldn’t that be our will too? But sometimes we make it much more about our happiness. We buy things to make us happy. We decide to do those things that fulfill our own selfish, self-centered desires. And in many cases, those things are not wrong in and of themselves. But if we’re not careful, we can lose sight of the real objective, which is to live in a way that pleases God. His will is our holiness. And that should be our will as well.

Father, You have made us Your own. You have purchased us with the blood of Your own Son and You expect us to live up to our calling as Your sons and daughters. Your will for us is holiness. You have placed Your Spirit within us in order to make it possible for us to live differently and distinctively in this world. There are all kinds of decisions we make every day. Help us to make them with holiness as the objective. Don’t let us compromise and make it just about our happiness. Show us how to live our lives in such a way that they please You, not us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men