“Ah Yes, I REMEMBER It Well” – Do You?

~ Fourth and Final Commentary In The Series On The Book Of Malachi

MALACHI 4:4-6 (NLT)

[4]  “Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant-all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.

[5]  “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. 

[6]  His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers.  Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

With only three verses to look at, I thought this particular word investigation would be fairly short.  Well, it didn’t turn out that way and there are many reasons why this final chapter commentary is longer than I expected. 

The Book Of Malachi certainly serves as a bridge from the past to the future for the Israelites during Malachi’s day.  And for him and for us, as the last book of the Old Testament, it also serves as a bridge to the New Testament.

So let’s use the theme ‘s statement as an outline which we can examine this passage of Scripture:  WE NEED TO LEARN FROM THE PAST – “Remember it well!”

In verse 4, God commands the people to remember the law of His servant, Moses.  The entire book of Malachi has shown us a covenant-keeping God who still loves and pursues His people even though they haven’t remained faithful to Him.  It’s not surprising that the final command of the book is to remember the Law of Moses which the people who had come to pay little attention to.

But the word “remember” conveys much more than just mental recognition:  “remember” (Heb. “zokar”) means “to bring to mind and act accordingly.”  So when God commands His people to remember the law, He’s calling them to once again become a covenant-keeping people who not only know the Law but also puts it into practice.

The idea of remembering is a common theme in the book of Deuteronomy.  The command or admonition to REMEMBER is found 14 times in that book alone and the majority of those verses are connected with the need to obey or keep God’s command.

The Book Of Deuteronomy also uses some form of the same phrases that I’ve found here in Malachi – “the statutes and rules” – 17 times in the book of Deuteronomy including this very relevant passage:  (Deut. 6:1-3)

There’s no mistaking here that the purpose of knowing and remembering the law so that the people can put it into practice.  That principle is certainly just as applicable today to New Testament Christians as it was to the Israelites of Malachi’s day.

As we know, keeping God’s law isn’t a requirement for SALVATION – which can’t be earned but completely an act of God’s grace – but it should be a result of that salvation.

LEARNING FROM THE PAST –

While reading the Scripture, we’re not only exposed to God’s LAW so we can know and understand what that law is, but we also read the historical accounts and demonstrate the blessings of obedience and the curse of disobedience.  So we look back to learn from the past as we remember God.  And once we do that, we can move onto the next step – WE NEED TO LIVE IN THE PRESENT – “TURN”

I spent a lot of time contemplating the first part of verse 6, where Malachi describes that Elijah will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.  And frankly, I’m still somewhat up in the air – confused!  But with the help of a couple other passages that shed some light on that verse, I think I can at least develop some useful applications we can use in our lives.

There seem to be two major camps when it comes to VERSE 6 –

In reading several commentaries I found some hold that the fathers here are the fathers of FAITH, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses.  Certainly the idea of the Israelites turning back to the faith of their spiritual ancestors would be consistent with the idea of REMEMBERING the commands given to Moses.  But the problem with that position is it really doesn’t explain how the hearts of the fathers are turned to the children.

The other major position if this verse deals with God restoring relationships of the family – particularly the relationships between fathers and children.  But to me, the weakness of that viewpoint is that it doesn’t fit into the ending of Malachi’s prophecy that deals with the much larger issue of the whole nation’s rebellion against God and His law.  Obviously, that impacts relationships within the family, but it doesn’t seem to be the main point of the prophecy.

Since I adhere to the idea that Scripture is always the best commentary on Scripture, we need to look together at a couple of other passages in the Bible that gives additional insight, a practice we should stay with when looking for answers in the Bible.

I have already looked up one of those passages –  Deuteronomy 6, lets notice and underline verse 2 – the purpose of observing the statutes and rules is to “FEAR GOD” – and we have seen that idea frequently if you’ve been following along in the series on Malachi [See previous Word Detective posts, 1, 2, and 3.].  And you’ll also notice here that “you and your sons and your son’s son” keep the law.  So the idea planted here is that successive generations of Israelites are to keep the Law as the law is constantly passed down from father to son.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how that’s done, the next part of Deuteronomy 6 goes on to give some wonderful guidelines on how fathers are supposed to do that.

In the Hebrew language, Malachi 4:6 seemed to be confusing at first reading.  Most of the English translations tend to translate the verse, “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers..” (NIV).

But it’s also possible to translate that phrase like this:  “And He will turn the hearts of the fathers together with those of the children [to Me], and the hearts of the children with those of their fathers [to Me].”  That seems to be consistent with Deuteronomy 6 and consistent with what is seen earlier in the Book of Malachi 3:7…

The word “RETURN” in the above verse is the same word that is translated “turn” in Malachi 4:6, another connection that seems to support the alternate translation which focuses on ALL the people turning their hearts toward God rather than toward each other.

Back to my last blog-post, the third in the series, Malachi 3:1, that prophecy is multi-layered.  The “messenger” was fulfilled at the first coming of Jesus by John the Baptist, and Jesus confirmed the prophecy with these words:

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”  (Matthew 11:13-14)

Jesus is clearly connecting John to both Malachi’s and Isaiah’s prophecies about the forerunner to be like Elijah. (See Isaiah 40:3-4). 

During his day as a prophet, Elijah had turned the Israelites back to God at the time of their worst apostasy when Ahab and Jezabel made Baal worship part of Israel’s worship.  John had a similar ministry.

But notice that Jesus indicates here in Matthew that since Israel wasn’t willing to accept Him as Messiah, and also refused to accept that John was the forerunner who had been prophesied in the Old Testament, so because of that, there will be a second Elijah who will precede the second coming of Jesus and he is the one who will bring to its final fulfillment of this prophecy of hearts being turned.

The angel who comes to Zechariah informing him of the coming birth of his son John, almost certainly had Malachi’s prophecy in mind when he spoke these words about John:

And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Although the angel mentions the turning of the hearts of the father to the children, the main idea here is that John’s role is to turn ALL hearts – fathers and children – to the Lord their God.

So even if Malachi is focusing on the relationship of fathers and children, the way reconciliation occurs in the family when ALL the hearts are turned back to God.  Our horizontal relationships with other people should never surpass our vertical relationship with our Heavenly Father.

So regardless of our views of Malachi 4:6, the bottom line is that it all comes down to our hearts being turned to God.

THE KEY to living in the present then, according to the passage of scripture in Malachi, is to “turn our hearts.”

I’ve already pointed out the underlying Hebrew word “to turn”, but it also can be translated “return.”  That same Hebrew word in the OT is frequently translated “repent”, which isn’t surprising and given that repentance is the idea of turning our hearts from sin and turning then back to God.

Repentance, or turning back to God, isn’t just something that we do once in our lifetime and then forget it.  It’s something that we must do every minute of every day.  The people of Malachi’s day had forgotten that and look where they ended up.

It’s easy to criticize the Israelites who had descended into lukewarm worship by merely giving God the leftovers. But the fact is, we are in danger of ending up there ourselves if we don’t guard our hearts and consistently turn them from evil and turn back to God.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT –

We learn from the past as we remember God’s law – We live in the present by turning our hearts to God.

Finally…We need to look to the future – “behold”

The word “behold” is used in the prophets to grab our attention.  It’s like God shouting to the people here to take notice of what He’s about to say.  And what follows is a message of God’s grace and mercy.

Yes, the great and awesome day of the Lord Jesus is coming!  And as we’ve seen it’s not going to be a pleasant time for those who’ve rebelled against God and refused to turn back to Him.

Before He does that, he’s going to send his messenger, either Elijah himself or someone else like John the Baptist, to minister like Elijah in giving people one last chance to turn to Him.

Although there’s certainly not enough biblical evidence to definitely identify this forerunner with one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, that’s certainly one possibility.  There in Revelation, those two witnesses preach God’s Word for 3 1/2 years prior to the second coming of Jesus.  But regardless of the identity, God’s purpose is made clear.  His aim is to spare people from being cursed – separated from God’s glory; His person and the coming wrath.

So before Jesus returns to the earth one more time to carry out swift justice to those who have rejected Him, He’s going to give people one last chance to return to Him.  And the good news is…at least some people are going to have their hearts turned toward God as the result of his ministry.

What Malachi makes clear here is how we view the future is dependent on how well we’ve remembered the past and turned in the present.

If you remember God’s law (His Word in the Bible) by seeking to understand it and do it, and if your heart is turned toward God, then you can look to the future with great hope and anticipation, knowing God’s faithful remnant who will be spared from God’s wrath will spend eternity in God’s presence.

But if you fail to remember God’s law – if you fail in repentance in turning your heart to God, then if you’re not fearful of the future, you certainly should be!  Because God is holy and just, He must judge those who have chosen to rebel against Him and that judgment is going to be swift, horrible and everlasting.  It truly will be the utter destruction that Malachi writes about at the end of his prophecy.

Several people in the past have asked me, “Teacher, how about giving us some practical applications from the Word Study?”  So I’m going to list three:

#1.  We must turn our hearts to God through faith in Christ Jesus.

God’s desire for us is to turn our hearts–body, mind, and soul–to Him.  But that’s not something that we can do on our own.  Trust me, for you will find yourself in frustration when you try to accomplish this on your own terms.  Although the word Messiah or the name of Jesus is never mentioned in the Book of Malachi, is the idea of a Messiah that comes first to save God’s people and then returns a second time to judge those who refuse to turn their hearts to Him is a central theme.  Because God is holy and we are not, then the only way we can truly turn our hearts toward Him is by placing our trust in that Messiah, Jesus.  By taking our sins upon Himself and dying on the cross to pay the penalty for those sins, He’s made it possible for us to have a relationship with God in which we are able to turn our hearts to Him.

#2.  We must consistently spend time in God’s Word.

The only way we can live in obedience is to know what God’s Word says!  That means that we have to be spending consistent time in God’s Word, reading, and praying over it on a consistent basis.  A half-hour once a week on Sunday morning will never be adequate to really know and understand the Bible.  And what I’ve been personally missing lately, and I’m not alone, and is necessary and valuable for all of us, is spending time with other believers each week, where digging into the Bible is benefitting from one another’s insights in the Scriptures.

#3.  We must be intentional, living, vocal witnesses for Jesus.

In light of the possible two destinies faced by every human being – eternal life for those who have placed their faith in Jesus and eternal punishment for those who have not, our witness for Jesus Christ is essential.

Our effectiveness in our witness –

It’s likely that God has brought some people into your life that has no one else in their lives that’s going to tell them about Jesus’ love for them.  For our witness to be effective, I want to throw out three adjectives to describe what that WITNESS is to be like.

First, our witness must be intentional.  

We must strategically pray for the people that God brings into our lives and then, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prepare, as Peter urges in 1 Peter 3:15…

That means being able to share my own testimony of my relationship with Jesus and able to use the Bible to explain how the other person can have the same type of relationship with Him.

Second, our witness has to be lived out.  Some call it Lifestyle Evangelism.

There’s nothing that will turn a person off when it comes to their relationship with God than someone whose life isn’t consistent with their words.  But at the same time, it’s not enough to just live for Jesus with the hope someone else is going to figure out your life is different than theirs.  That’s a great start, but at some point, we’re going to have to open our mouths.

In concluding this study on Malachi, the most important thing we should take away is to understand just how much God loves us.

He’s a covenant-keeping God, a promise-keeper, a God who loves us so much that He continues to pursue us even when we fail Him.  And if we’ll take and apply the principles He has given us in His Word, we’ll be in a much better position to pursue Him.

And in that same way remembering that God desires for me (and you) to pursue Him in the same way He pursued us!

_______________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS:

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search; YouTube Music Video – I Remember It Well from the movie, Gigi.

Bible Translations Used:  New Living Translation (NLT); New International Version (NIV); English Standard Version (ESV); 

Word Sources:  Bible Hub:  NASB Hebrew Lexicon.

Commentary:  HEBREW WORD STUDY – FORETELLER OR PROPHET, by Chaim & Laura – Sept. 13, 2014 Devotionals; Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible – Malachi 4 – StudyLight.org.

The LORD Never Changes, and the Results?

Malachi 3:6

[THIRD IN THE SERIES ON THE BOOK OF MALACHI]

We saw in Chapter 1 Malachi reminds the people of God’s love.  Many times it’s the goodness of God that leads us to repentance.  But Malachi condemns their half-hearted attempts to worship God with “leftovers.”  They saved the best for themselves and then gave God the crumbs.

In Chapter 2 we see the priests (“spiritual leaders”) that they were no better than the people because they viewed their ministering as drudgery that they had to put up with.  They were just going through the motions to get a ‘paycheck’ (my term); they lost the heart and the passion for worship.

My Commentary on MALACHI 3:1-18 

Some things never seem to change.

The politician who promises the most before an Election and delivers the least afterwords.  Teenagers are always sure they know more than mom and dad till they get kids of their own.  Your paycheck almost increases as much as the tax rate.  Some things never change.  We’d like politicians to keep their promises, teens who listen now instead of later, and my Social Security benefit staying ahead of the tax rate.  Change can be a good thing.

On the other hand, I’m glad some things never change,  I’m glad the sun rises every day.  I’m glad for my wife’s unfailing love.  Most of all, I’m glad that in the midst of all that changes in this world, Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the LORD, I do not change…” – God’s changelessness – what theologians call, His immutability–is comforting to me, no matter how my circumstances or feelings change, I always find Him to be sure and certain, faithful and loyal!

Malachi 3 breaks down 3 areas of God’s relationship with us that never changes–3 areas that will challenge and comfort our hearts.

HIS PASSION FOR PURITY (vv. 1-7)

I don’t like to peer into a glass of milk in the morning for breakfast and to my wondering eyes should appear, but black floaties in the glass.  If my dog, Ollie, somehow gets to the TV table to lick my plate when I left the room, and on my return, I catch him, I’m not going to eat from it!  And, in my humble opinion, water that’s not clear, isn’t fit to drink!!!  Purity will always be important in my life.

Malachi tells us PURITY is important to the Lord–so important that He is always passionate about our purity in worship and our obedience to His Word.

Back in Malachi 2:17, Israel asks the question, “Where is the God of Justice?”  They’re not just asking where He is–they’re asking God to show up and set things right.

VERSE 1 declares God answers with a personal appearance.  Jesus identifies the Messenger as John the Baptist in Matthew 11:7-10.  

But the main attraction is the LORD, whom you are looking for, whom you desire, suddenly comes to His temple and God Himself comes to His people, and Malachi says they get more than they bargained for.

VERSE 2:  But who can endure…who can stand?

The ANSWER is…Nobody!  He doesn’t come to put them on their backs–He comes to purify them, a refiner’s fire, like a launderer’s soap!  He comes to PURIFY His people like a metal worker, to clean His house spick and span.

He begins with their worship (vv. 3-4)

He will purify the sons of Levi that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness.

The Levites were in charge of worship in the Temple.  God says their worship had degenerated into meaningless, mindless ritual, instead of thoughtful, adoration of their Lord.  God will purify them by bringing them back to worship Him in spirit and truth as they did in the old days (v. 4).

From the Temple, the Lord moves in verse 5 to purify the people in their obedience.

[5] “So I will come to put you on trial.  I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear Me,” says the LORD Almighty.”

God will judge those who don’t fear Him.  He will purge the land of rebels instead of just wiping them all out only because of His unchanging mercy (v. 6).

“I the LORD do not change.  So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed”

He invites them to return to Him, even though they act as if they have done nothing wrong (v. 7).

“Return to Me, and I will return to you”

On one level, this passage of Scripture reading predicts the coming and work of Christ.

Over 400 years after Malachi’s prophecy, God sends His messenger, John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ.  And the Lord Jesus Christ does come to His temple to clean it out, purifying worship from hypocrisy, and calling out people to be purified as well, through the CROSS, to live obediently in the process.

On another level, this prophecy outlines God’s passion for His people everywhere.  The Lord is demonstrating to the people of His unchanging commitment to PURITY.  He loves them too much to leave them to their polluted worship.  He loves them too much to allow disobedience to corrupt their relationship with Him.

So in mercy, He makes a personal visit to purify them–even though they don’t realize how ‘dirty’ they really are.

The Importance Of Staying Healthy –

I’m told that whenever there’s an outbreak of sickness, one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy is to frequently wash our hands.  Doctors say you can pick up bacteria and viruses off almost anything these days–a doorknob, a telephone, a pen, a magazine in the doctor’s office.  That microscopic impurity can make you sick, and if you get a bad enough case, you can even die.  Purity is especially important to good physical health.

Through Malachi, the Lord tells us that purity is also important to our spiritual health.

It’s vitally important that our worship stay pure–purely devoted to Christ Jesus, not just meaningless rituals.  Worship that comes from the heart that truly adores the Lord, not just from singing a song, or praying a pastor lead prayer, or your pastor’s sermon.  Pure worship comes from a place down deep inside of you from a pure heart!

God is committed to our purity–we need to be committed to being PURE for Him,

Malachi mentions another area where God never changes.

God’s Blessing On Those Who Give To Him (vv. 8-12)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on the Lord’s blessing!  So pay attention to what Malachi is going to say regarding our willingness to be blessed!

Malachi Chapter 3 is perhaps the most preached, the most taught Scripture when it comes to the issue of GIVING in the church.  Preachers have been known to use this text to shame Christians who don’t give a whole lot to God’s cause.  And (in many churches) I suppose there’s a reason for the premise–the national average of giving is 3%, with the majority of the support – in any given church – a handful of people.

This passage almost preaches itself because that’s exactly what Malachi was trying to get across to the people.  He was shaming them.  Malachi was basically telling them, if they would put into their relationship with God, they’d get more out.  The Israelites had become lax in their obedience to the law and specifically the part of that law that required them to give a regular tithe to God.  But hey, they were under the Law – we’re not!  They were specifically instructed to give a 1/10 of their income to God -we’re not…at least I don’t think so.  Actually, it’s not quite that simple.

God is the Great Giver!

He gives us life, along with all the joys and pleasure that come with it–from eyesight, to love, to the colors of the sunset.  He’s always giving.  He wants His children to be generous givers.  This may be one reason why He commands us to give to Him–so that we can learn the blessing of giving.  

He is changelessly committed to blessing those who give to Him first.

BUT…Israel had made a trade–the garment of giving for the robes of a thief.

“How can anybody rob God?  No!,” Israel replies.

You might steal from somebody else and get away with it, but how can one steal from God, Who sees and knows everything?

“But you have robbed Me!”  [Nervous laughter].

Lord, how could we do such a thing, robbing You?  [The Lord isn’t smiling]

“You have robbed Me by not giving your tithes and offerings.  That’s why you are under a curse right now!”

What was the CURSE?

Vs. 11 gives the idea where God speaks of the devourer, vines that fail to bear fruit…insects that destroy crops, a blight which keeps the vines from producing a harvest.  God makes a connection they fail to make:  WHEN YOU STOP GIVING TO ME, I’LL STOP BLESSING YOU!

But God has a remedy built-in for their situation in verse 10:

The TITHES mentioned here were offerings given to God – 10% of all they owned. 

They were to be given, not as a duty, but as a way to WORSHIP the Lord, to acknowledge His ownership of everything, out of gratitude for His gifts to them.

The storehouse was the Temple; the Levites and priests.  Give to Me what I have commanded you to give and then I will open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it!

Jesus echoed the same changeless principle in Luke 6:38:

It’s an unchanging truth about God:  He always blesses those who give to Him first!

Whatever you do, don’t limit this timeless truth to MONEY, or POSSESSIONS.  Of all the things God can bless us with, money is the least valuable for one important reason.  Are you ready?  It doesn’t last!

Proverbs 23:4-5 (NIV)

[4] Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness.  [5]  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

It’s true, often God will bless our giving financially, or give us more stuff. 

But the real blessing that comes from giving is eternal–the JOY of giving back to your Savior Who gave you so much; the peace that comes from not being enslaved to covetousness (keeping up with the Jones), or greed–the pleasure of seeing how God can use what you give, glorifying Him in changing the world.  The GIVING pays off in so many ways other than just more money, more stuff.

And remember this:  If you are not giving from a heart of worship, you’re not really giving to God at all!

Your giving is not a business transaction:  “If I give you this, you should give me that!”  Your giving is an important way you worship the Lord in acknowledging His ownership of everything and your gratitude for what He has already given you and about to give to you!

I remember when I was a new Christian and having a conversation with my wife after listening to our pastor’s message on tithing.  How could we as a family give 10 percent of our income to the church when we were having a hard time even keeping on top of our bills?  But we trusted in God’s provision and have been trusting Him ever since.  And God has always, and I mean ALWAYS, provided for us!

GIVING comes down to two things:

  • Who you love,
  • And who you trust.

Are you robbing God?  Or are you proving the promise of Malachi’s words here?

GOD ALWAYS BLESSES those who give to Him first.  That’s our unchanging truth.

One last thing I want to address about God that never changes is…

God’s distinction between the RIGHTEOUS and the WICKED (vv. 13-18)

“WHO’S THE ‘we’s?” (v. 14)

The Lord quotes the people’s murmuring in verses 14-15:  Does it really pay to serve the Lord?  Look around you at the wicked, evil people living the good life and we have it so hard!  Look at how all these sinners prosper and mock God, and we barely scrape by trying to be faithful followers.  Lord, it’s just not fair!!

Have you ever complained this way?  Maybe you watched all those celebrities who seem to get so much out of life than God-fearing people.  At your workplace, perhaps where the schemers, the liars, the people who don’t care one iota about God, who seem to get ahead, while the folks who love God try to live right and get run over.  It’s always been that way in the world.  The Lord doesn’t deny that’s the way it seems, but He offers a different perspective.

FIRST, He reminds the people:  I keep a close eye on the righteous.

It’s not clear who verse 16 refers to when it talks about those who feared the Lord.  Could they be the folks mentioned in verses 13-15 (maybe they had a change of heart)?  Or are they others who stayed loyal to the Lord, in spite of doubts and the doubters?  Whoever they are, God tells them, I’ve written your names in My Book and those who fear the Lord meditate,  (honor) His Name (vs. 16-17).  

And yes, Malachi is speaking openly to the Israelites, the Jews of his day.  But since Bible prophecy is multi-layered, like an onion, is the Book of Remembrance (vs. 16) pertain also to NT believers as well?  [See Rev. 3:5; 20:12; 21:27]  That’s a rhetorical question on my part.

We write down names to remember them; God writes down names to show us He never forgets the righteous (Rev. 20:17).

“They are My special peculiar treasure (My “jewels”).  I have special plans for their future.  There will come a day where everybody will realize I always make a distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous.”   (v. 18)

In eternity, serving God will pay off more than the wicked ever received in this life.  God always, always makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked.

Matthew 13:47-50

It always pays to live in obedience and serve the Lord God Almighty.

It might not always seem to pay off here on earth, but in eternity, everyone who loves and serves the Lord will spend forever glad they did!  Everyone who didn’t love and serve will spend eternity wishing they had!

Some things never change: God’s passion for our PURITY, God’s blessing to those who GIVE to Him first, God’s distinction between the righteous and the evildoers.  Aren’t you glad these things about God never change?

And remember when you get discouraged and are tempted to wonder if it really pays to serve the Lord, bringing Him the glory…when we get home, it will be worth it all! 

Amen?

____________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS:

PHOTO/IMAGES:  Google Image Search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP); The Hebrew Lexicon.

Commentary:  “Our Unchanging God” – SermonCentral.com,  by Dean Rhine, Nov. 3, 2016.

 

 

Facing The Problems and Dangers of Spiritual Leadership in The Church

[Second in the SERIES on the Book Of Malachi]

THE BIBLE PLACES HIGH STANDARDS ON THOSE WHO SERVE IN THE CHURCHES WITH A POSITION OF LEADERSHIP!

The Bible places high standards on those who serve as pastors, deacons and elders.  The Bible places high standards on those who serve in children’s ministry.  The Bible places high standards on who serves as Sunday school teachers.  We should expect those who work in the capacity of leadership to have high standards.  If leaders don’t lead the way they should lead then it has a detrimental effect upon the people.

What we have here is an entire chapter in the Bible that’s devoted to those who are supposed to be leaders.  So if you’re reading this blog and a leader in some capacity, then this chapter should speak to you where you are sitting.

You say I’m not a pastor, a deacon, a bible teacher, praise team member, or work in any capacity of the church.  Then you need to pay close attention to what’s coming next; the Chapter has something to say to you as well.  You see this chapter doesn’t only speak of leadership, but it also speaks to stewardship!  To have a chapter in the Bible devoted to speaking to those who are in leadership and also to speak to us about stewardship has to be one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.  As we look together at the next 17 verses, I can’t help but to see that Malachi is dealing with some problems.  So I want to look at the problems and what the Word of God has to say about them.

The first one to deal with is what might be called MINISTERIAL PROBLEMS.

Malachi 2:1 (NIV) –  “And now, you priests, this warning is for you…”

Somebody reading this says, “I’m glad you’re starting out with the preachers, the pastors first!”  But remember, all of us in the Faith are believer priests, in that we are to be about winning souls for Christ’s sake.

Here, Malachi is dealing with a group of spiritual leaders (“priests”), who are not living up to the standard God has laid down.  He says in verse 2,

In other words, He was saying, as a preacher, pastor, minister, you are to be living a life that would bring glory to My name and not yours.

Then He says if you don’t do it, the very things that are supposed to be a source of blessing will become a curse to you.

Now look at VERSE 3:

He says in verse 3, “I will corrupt (rebuke, punish, discipline) your seed.”  

Most commentaries that I’ve read say that this verse is referring to their children.  Many times it’s the children that suffer from the lapse of spiritual leadership in the church and in the home.  I’ve seen it more times than not, those who God has set aside for spiritual leadership become unfaithful in their responsibility and they pay the price in their children.

But you also find in verse 3, that God says, I’m going to remove you from your responsibility of leadership:  “…and you will be carried off”

In VERSE 5 and some other verses, He tells us what a true minister is to be about.

(5)  My covenant [on My part with Levi] was to give him life and peace, because [on his part] of the [reverent and worshipful] fear with which [the priests] would revere Me and stand in awe of My name.” (AMP)

God’s ministers are to be born again.  They are to speak the truths of the Bible.

We have the right to hear the TRUTH from the pulpit even if it sort of works against the grain in our lives.  Yes, you have the right to hear the truth from your pastor and all leaders from your church even if it rubs you the wrong way sometimes.  I’m sure that my pastor is concerned about what the church body thinks about his messages from the pulpit but not half as concerned as what God thinks about it!

When we get to VERSE 8, God says to those unfaithful leaders, He is going to judge their failures because they have caused many to stumble at the law or at their preaching and living out their faith.

Many people today are unfeeling toward God and a lot of it is because of the leadership they have in their churches. 

I want you to notice now that He is dealing not only with ministerial problems but also MARITAL PROBLEMS – VERSE 11 – (Mixed Religious Marriages)

Malachi 2:11 (ESV)

[11]  Judah has been faithless, an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem.  For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.

The Bible doesn’t mix words and makes it clear that BELIEVERS are to marry other BELIEVERS [Bible Verses: Deut. 7:1-4; 1 Kings 11:4-6; 1 Cor. 5:9-12; 1 Cor. 7:15-16; 2 Cor. 6:14-17.].  

It’s no secret, we are in real trouble in our marriages in America today.  In 1920, one out of 7 marriages ended in divorce.  Today in America, 33% of marriages end up in divorce including the Christian community. (See Footnote [i].)

God’s plan for the marriage is one man and one woman for life!

One day a woman went to her pastor complaining because she wasn’t married.  He said you can’t improve on God’s plan for the marriage of one woman and one man.  She said, I’m not trying to improve on it, I just want to get in on it!

We’ve investigated together with the ministerial problems and the marital problems and finally we see that the Word of God deals with the MORAL PROBLEMS – Let’s look at Verse 17.

What I think the Bible is telling us here is that the people are out of the will of God.  They don’t get to the point, they don’t even have moral distinctions; they can’t tell what’s good and what’s evil.

What the people were saying in Malachi’s day is, God doesn’t care about right or wrong.  Saying that there’s no absolute right and wrong.  Doesn’t that speak to our world today?

There were others of that day, saying God is just too nice to judge sin.  You might be saying that people don’t be;lieve that in our day.  Well folks, if they don’t, they sure act like they do.

Now, what’s all this have to do with STEWARDSHIP?

I’ll try to make the point here.  Some reading this may be the only Christian in your surroundings (young or old)).  Then you have the stewardship of leadership–you ought to be the spiritual leader.

You may be the only Christian believer at work.  Then you have the stewardship of leadership–you ought to be the spiritual leader in your workplace.

I’m sure that many of you who are reading my words realize that God has given you a position of leadership in some capacity.  My question is, are you bringing GLORY to His name, or are you causing people to curse and blaspheme His name?

If you are lost, God is interested in you enough that He doesn’t want you to go to hell but to heaven.

Here’s the GOOD NEWS!

You can be saved from eternity lost and have the assurance that you are on your way to heaven through faith in Jesus Christ.  If that’s where you are, will you in the faith receive Him today? 

If you just made that commitment to follow Jesus, I want you to leave your thoughts, your words, in the reply comments section at the bottom of the page.  Not because I say so, but because God’s Word says so.

____________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS & FOOTNOTES

Footnote [i] : The Good News About Marriage, by Shaunti Feldhahn.

Photo/Images:  Googlr Image Search.

Bible Translations Used:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP); or translations used in the images and so noted.

Guarding Against the Spirit Of Complacency

Bible Study and Commentary in Zephaniah 1:1-2:3

Zephaniah actually deals with the “Day of the Lord”, much more directly than any of the other Old Testament prophets.  Much like the prophet Amos, Zephaniah points out that the people of Judah shouldn’t be looking forward to the “Day of the Lord”, even though their enemies would be punished, for they too would be judged for their sins.

That said, the purpose of the PROPHECY wasn’t to drive the people to hopelessness and despair for what was coming, but rather to shock them out of the complacency they had developed in their worship of God.  As Matthew Henry once stated, Zephaniah intended “not to frighten them out of their wits, but to frighten them out of their sin.”

With many other prophecies I’ve come across in the reading of the Old Testament, I’ve found both a near term and far term fulfillment of Zephaniah’s prophecy.  It’s like peeling an onion, one layer at a time.

The near-term fulfillment came in Zephaniah’s generation as Babylon invaded Judah and Jerusalem and took the people captive.  But there are certain aspects of Zephaniah’s prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled with the return of Jesus.  [See “are we THERE YET?” blog-study, 8/27/19]

In this chapter reading, much of what is learned about the “Day of the Lord” is confirmed:

  • It’s universal – the entire world is going to experience the effects of God’s wrath being poured out.
  • It’s certain – although we don’t know when the final culmination of the “Day of the Lord” will begin, it will happen.  [READ 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12]
  • It’s horrific – perhaps more than any other Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah describes the nature of the final culmination with words like wrath, distress, anguish, ruin, darkness, and doom.

I don’t want to focus my studies on those specific details.  I want to investigate and dig deeper into God’s Word to see if we can discover some of the underlying reasons for God’s JUDGMENT, particularly in the discipline of His own children.  There’s little doubt in my mind that the key verse for the entire book of Zephaniah is…

Zephaniah 1:12 – “And at that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish the men who [like old wine] are thickening and settling on their lees, who say in their hearts, The Lord will not do good, nor will He do evil.”  [Amplified Bible]

The language in this verse certainly would have caused Zephaniah’s listeners to think of the Passover, where every family would take a candle (“lamps”) and search every nook and cranny in their house to find and remove any leaven that might be tucked away.

In much the same way, God said that He would search every single inch of Jerusalem in order to punish the sin that was there.  And there was one SIN in particular that God focused on here – the SIN OF COMPLACENCY – or “stagnancy.”

Usually, there’s a grouping of sins into Two Groups:

  • SINS OF COMMISSION, where we do something that we’re not supposed to do.
  • SINS OF OMISSION, where we fail to do something that we should do.

But what really provokes God is the kind of COMPLACENCY that accepts sin as a lifestyle because we don’t think that God really cares about our sin, or that He won’t do anything about it.

It’s clear from the entire passage here, that the scriptural context provided isn’t speaking to the outsiders, but rather to those that claimed to be His children.  It reminds me of Jesus’ letter to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3, where He warned them against being lukewarm.

Okay, so we are complacent at times in the Church.  How do we guard against complacency in our own relationship with God?

Complacency in our spiritual lives can come from a number of different factors.  So in this bible-study, I want to use this passage to evaluate our own spiritual lives to determine whether we are in danger of slipping into complacency, or even if we’ve already arrived.

After reading and re-reading this passage of Scripture, I decided to group into THREE major components attributed to the number of underlying problems.

  • FAILURE TO SEEK GOD

In verse 6, Zephaniah addresses “those who have turned back from following the Lord who do not seek the Lord or inquire of Him.”

While David was out in the wilderness of Judah, he wrote Psalm 63, which he described the way that we need to seek our God in every way, and every day:

Are you a SEEKER?  Are you thirsting for God in the same way you would thirst for water if you found yourself stranded in Death Valley in the middle of the summer?

Unfortunately what happens for most of us is that we start out on our spiritual journey thirsting for God.  We can’t get enough of our Bible reading, study, we long to come into His presence in prayer, and we take advantage of every opportunity that we can find to learn more about Him, getting to know Him as we should.

But gradually over time our fervor, our enthusiasm wanes and we wake up one day and realize that we are no longer seeking after God like we once did, and we don’t know why!

I truly believe that the same progression is exactly why so many marriages in this country end up in divorce.  According to a 2008 study by the Barna Research Group, those identified as Christian are just as likely as non-Christians to be divorced.  And according to Shaunti Feldhahn in her book The Good News About Marriage says, the overall divorce rate has never reached the 50 percent level.  According to her study, the overall divorce rate is around 33%.  That’s lower than the purported 50%, but still, nothing to jump up and down about.

When I first started dating my future wife to be, some 55 years ago, I would do everything that I could to get to know her, and then to do what I could to please her as I got to know her better.  But for many couples, once the honeymoon is over, they gradually move away from that process until one day they wake up and realize that they don’t really know their spouse all that well and lost the desire to do what it takes to please the other person.

But just as it’s never too late to re-start that process in a marriage, it’s never too late to return to our roots and seek God like we once did.

  • Separating the “secular” and the “sacred”

As we look at the spiritual life of Judah as described by Zephaniah, it becomes clear that one of the root problems was that the people had separated the “secular” from the “sacred”.

This isn’t the first time that Israel had engaged in this practice, as the prophet Amos had to address that same issue with Israel over 100 years earlier.  Zephaniah points to the problem in detail, verses 10 and 11 (NIV):

[10] “On that day,” declares the LORD, “a cry will go up from the Fish Gate, wailing from the New Quarter, and a loud crash from the hills.

The FISH GATE

[11] Wail, you who live in the market district (or the Mortar); all your merchants will be wiped out, all who trade with silver will be ruined.

In this section, Zephaniah is primarily addressing the practices of the businessmen in Jerusalem.  The Fish Gate was primarily on the north wall of Jerusalem and gots its name either because the fishermen brought their catch through the gate or because the fish market was nearby.

Pike’s Place Fish Market, Seattle Washington

I don’t believe there was “fish tossing,” at the marketplace in Jerusalem, but you get the idea.

The Second Quarter was likely the area northwest of the Temple area, home to many wealthy businessmen.  And the Mortar was a business district in Jerusalem.  All of that would be consistent with Zephaniah’s condemnation of the traders and those who weigh out silver.

The scenario was exactly the same as described in Amos 3.  These business people would go to church on Saturday and then the rest of the week, engage in immoral business practices in order to make a bigger profit.  And the only way that was possible is, they had to separate the “secular” and the “sacred” aspect of their lives.

Unfortunately, as I see it, not much has changed in the last 2,600 years.

We still tend to compartmentalize our lives.  We put Bible reading, prayer and church activities, all in one basket we identify as “spiritual.”  Then we dump everything else into another basket we label “secular” – things like our family, our job, our neighborhood, our communities, politics, and our finances.  But the problem with that approach, it’s not Biblical.  The apostle Paul certainly had to address that same mindset while writing to the Colossian church:

Whatever we do in the name Of Jesus, Paul didn’t make any exceptions.

He didn’t write, “In everything but your finances” or “in everything but your marriage.”  The fact is that the true measure of our WORSHIP is far less dependent on what we do on Sunday morning than it is on how we live our lives for the rest of the week.

So here’s an idea for us all to practice, God helping us along the way – Romans 12:1 (The Message Bible)

The OFFERING that God wants from me is to take every aspect of my life and make Him the center of all I do!  That’s the kind of WORSHIP that pleases my heavenly Father.

  • Seeking to “cover all my bases”

This may be the biggest problem of all!

The people haven’t forgotten about their “worshipping” God – they’ve just added a whole lot of other things to it.  It’s as if they decided to “cover all their bases.”

So they bow down to idols, following the example set by the priests, who are also engaging in that idolatry.  They go up on their roofs and worship the stars.  They swear an oath to God, but just in case…swear that same oath to another god.  The entry into the superstitious practices of the pagans around them, like leaping over the threshold in order to avoid disturbing the gods.

Of course today, we would never do anything like that, would we?

Edward Gibbon in his book, The Decline, and Fall of the Roman Empire described the attitude towards “religion” in the last days of the Roman Empire.

  • The people regarded ALL religions as equally true.
  • The philosophers regarded ALL religions as equally false.
  • The politicians regarded ALL religions as equally useful.

Sound familiar?

But unfortunately, the problem isn’t limited to our culture in general.  It’s crept into the Church itself.

I’ve known those who claim to be Christians who would never think of starting their day without reading their horoscope, maybe even right after they read their Bible.  And even if we don’t have idols carved out of stone, how many Christians make gods out of their jobs, their possessions, their social status, or even something good, like their families?

But God has given us a very clear command about trying to worship other gods at the same time we claim to worship Him:

Sometimes, we have slipped into or maybe even fallen completely, in a place of complacency in our spiritual life.  The good news is, we don’t have to fall prey to complacency.

In fact, even for the people of Judah in Zephaniah’s day, it still wasn’t too late to take steps that were necessary to recover from the complacency to guard against falling back there again.

At the beginning of chapter 2, Zephaniah provides his listeners, and us, the antidote to COMPLACENCY:

Zephaniah 2:1-3

In this passage, we find God’s commands that are intended to keep us from becoming spiritually complacent.

  • SEEK

This is the predominant command here for it’s repeated three times.

This is exactly the opposite of what started the people on their downward slide to COMPLACENCY in the first place when they quit SEEKING God.

There are THREE specific things we are commanded to SEEK:

  • The Lord
  • Righteousness
  • Humility

Rather than dealing with each of the three separately, and after meditating on the three, it occurred to me that these 3 Things are actually connected.

Although the people of Zephaniah’s day certainly couldn’t see the whole picture, on this side of the Cross, or recognizes that he’s describing here a process – the only process – by which we can become righteous in God’s eyes.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

The “Connection Junction” –

  • HUMILITY

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  C.S. Lewis

We have to first HUMBLE ourselves and admit our sinfulness to God.  Then as we SEEK out Jesus as the means to deal with our sin, we are made RIGHTEOUS before God as a result of His finished work on the CROSS, not based on our own merit or good works.

But that can’t be a one-time decision!

We have to choose each day to continue to HUMBLY recognize our shortcomings, our sinfulness, and confess it in the name of Jesus so that we might be able to continue to SEEK our God.

  • OBEY

In verse 3, those who may be hidden by God are described as those “you who do what he commands”.  Although it’s impossible to earn God’s favor by obeying His commands, the Bible is clear that whether or not we OBEY His commands demonstrates whether we truly love Him.

And for those who guard against COMPLACENCY by adhering to these commands, God has a promise – one that’s related to Zephaniah’s name, which means “YHWH hides”.

So for those who SEEK & OBEY, God holds out hope that He will hide them away at the culmination of the “Day of the Lord” when His anger is poured out.

I encourage you to look at the rest of the Book of Zephaniah on your own, because Zephaniah, like many of the other prophets, ends his book with a word of hope.  He describes how God is going to restore Israel and make them prosper in their land once again.

So let’s make sure that we don’t become complacent in our worshipping of God.  Every day let’s humble ourselves before God, and seek His face.  Let us obey His commands!

_____________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS:

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Interlinear Bible; New English Translation (NET); The Message Bible;

Photos/Images:  Google Image Search

Commentary:  Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary – Zephaniah 1:12;  StudyLight.Org

Understanding SEX–One Christian’s Point Of View

Scripture Study:  1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

 

At the end of their first date, a young man in a bygone era took his favorite girl home.  He decided to try for that important first kiss.  With an air of confidence, he leaned his hand against the wall of the house, smiled, and said, “How about a goodnight kiss?”  [I never had that kind of confidence as a teen!]

“Are you crazy?” she said.  “My parents will see us!”

“Oh come on!  Who’s gonna see us at this hour?”

“No, please.  Can you imagine if we get caught?”

“Come on, they’re all sleeping!”

“No way.  It’s too risky!”

“Please.  I like you so much.”

“No,  I like you too, but I just can’t!”

“Pleeeeease?…”

Then to their surprise, the porch light came on, the door opened and there stood the girl’s sister, hair tousled, in her pajamas. 

With a big yawn, in a quiet, sleepy voice she said,  “Dad says to go ahead and give him a kiss.  Or I can do it.  If need be, dad will come out on the porch and do it.  Whatever you do, tell your date to take his hand off the intercom button”  [source: semi-joke@yahoogroups.com]

There was a time when a kiss on a date was considered “risky”.  Now couples are expected to jump into bed together, if not on the first date, at least by the time they get serious with each other.  So-called virgins are laughed at.  They are considered weird and sex outside of marriage has become the norm in our society, even among Christian singles.  In  a recent study found at ChristianMingle.com, Christian singles between the ages of 18-59 were asked,

“Would you have sex before marriage?” 

The response?  63% of the single Christians responded, “YES”.

Kenny Luck, Executive Pastor of Ministries (Crossline Church), in response to the survey, said, “[Christian young adults have become] sexual atheist.  In other words, God has nothing to say to them on the subject of consequences or at least anything meaningful enough to dissuade them following their own course of conduct.  It’s the ultimate oxymoron.  A person who at once believes in a wise sovereign and loving God can also believe simultaneously that he/she shouldn’t, cannot or will [let them] inform their thinking [about them] sexually.”  (See Footnote [i].)

There’s Got To Be Another Way!

And there is!

Exodus 20, where in just one short sentence, God tells us how to have fun, fantastic sex without all the hang-ups:

“You shall not commit adultery”

There you have it!  Keep sex exclusively within the marriage relationship and you will enjoy true intimacy.

You see, God is the One who created SEX; and when He did, He called is “VERY GOOD” – Genesis 1:31

Sex isn’t some “dirty” little secret of every married couple.  It’s a beautiful creation by God.  One pastor called it “God’s Wedding Gift,” after a wedding ceremony.  The point is, I believe, “Don’t spoil the gift!”  Don’t take what God created as good and beautiful and ruin it by taking it outside the context of marriage.

All of this takes us to our passage of Scripture in 1 Thessalonians 4:

GOD WANTS YOU TO BE HOLY (OR SANCTIFIED, SET APART) IN ALL YOUR BEHAVIORS.

That means He wants you to be set apart, different, special, not like most of the rest of the world, cheapened sex.  Specifically, God wants you to abstain from sexual immorality–ie, any kind of sex outside of marriage.  WHY?  Because sexual purity is God’s will for your life.  It’s why God wants purity for His people because He loves them so much.  You see, God doesn’t say, “Abstain from sexual immorality”, to kill your enjoyment.  On the contrary, He wants you yo enjoy life more, more abundantly than you thought was possible…till it overflows!  (John 10:10)

Sex outside the boundaries of marriage leaves you feeling empty.

But a passionate relationship with God through Jesus Christ is the most fulfilling, satisfying thing you will ever experience.  God is passionate about you.  That’s why Jesus died on a cross for your sins.  He did it so God could have a relationship with you, a mind-blowing relationship beyond anything selfish, self-centered act He can ever give you.

SEX ITSELF IS SACRED!

SEX IS SPECIAL!

Sex is a holy thing in a marriage, and any kind of sex outside of marriage cheapens it.

1 Thessalonians 4:4-5

Don’t be driven by your passions like people who don’t know God, no!  God has set you FREE from that through the Cross.  Instead, control your bodily urges with holiness and honor.

You see, SEX is NOT dirty.  It’s holy and honorable within the bounds of marriage.  It’s special!  It’s sacred!  Don’t cheapen it by taking it outside the context of marriage.

INTIMACY Explained.

Gerontologist Dr. Karl Pillemer wrote a book, 30 Lessons for Loving, drawn from 700 interviews with older adults.  He discovered that older adults, “place intimacy as a high priority” in their marriages.  After 55 years of marriage, I can say AMEN to that conclusion.

An example, was Jennie B., an 82-year-old widow who married her first and only husband in their mid-20s and was sexually active throughout their 47 married years.  Jennie explained, “There’s an intimacy that comes later that is wonderful.  You can hold hands with this person you love and adore, and somehow, it’s just as passionate as having sex at an earlier age.  There’s such a sense of connection and intimacy that grows out of a long relationship, that touch carries with it the weight of so many memories.  And many are sexual.”  [See footnote [ii].]

That’s the beauty of sex within the long-term commitment of marriage.  The intimacy only grows the older you get with a whole lot less effort.  But if you take sex outside of marriage, it becomes a cheap thrill with diminishing satisfaction.

Sexual Immorality Robs Others.

SEX outside of marriage is stealing.

It’s taking something precious that belongs to someone else.

1 Thessalonians 4:6a (ESV)

[This is the will of God] that no one transgresses and wrongs his brother in this matter…

Literally, no one should “go over” and “get more” in the things concerning his brother.  In other words, when a man sleeps with a woman who is not his wife, he robs that woman’s husband; and if she’s not married yet, he robs that woman’s future husband.  He robs that woman’s husband of his wife’s purity.  He robs that woman’s husband of a beautiful relationship that they could have enjoyed without the entanglements of previous sexual activity.

Don’t Go Messing Around With Someone Else’s Property.

“Returning from Sunday School one day, where the Ten Commandments had been the topic, a young boy asked his father, “Daddy, what does it mean when it says, ‘Thou shalt not commit agriculture’?  He didn’t quite pick up on the word “adultery”.  But there was hardly a beat between the question and the dad’s smooth reply:  “Son, that just means that you’re not supposed to plow the other man’s field.”  (Reader’s Digest, July 1979, pg. 87, http://www.SermonCentral.com)

Don’t go messing around with someone else’s property.  Don’t rob your brother of the joy of a pure and holy relationship with his wife.

Sexual purity is important, because #1, it pleases God; #2, Sex itself is sacred; #3, Sexual immorality robs others; and #4, Sexual purity is important, because…

SEX OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE ISN’T SAFE.

It’s hazardous.  It’s downright dangerous, not only to your body but your soul as well.

1 Thessalonians 4:6b (AMP)

“For the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we have already warned you solemnly and told you plainly.”

There are very real physical AND spiritual consequences of sexual sin.  A devoted Christian mystery writer, Dorthy Sayers, put it this way:

In our society, there are two kinds of laws:  The law of the STOP SIGN, and the law of the FIRE.

The STOP SIGN law says when the traffic is heavy on a certain street, and as a result, the police department or the city council decides to erect a STOP SIGN.

They also decide if you run that stop sign, it will cost you between $25-$35.  If the traffic changes, then then they up the ante.  The police department or the city council controls the law of the STOP SIGN.

Then there’s the law of the FIRE.

The law of the FIRE says that if you put your hand in the fire, you’ll get burned!

Now imagine for a moment, that all of the nations of this entire world gathered in one great assembly, voting unanimously that from here on out, FIRE would no longer BURN.  The first man or woman who left the assembly put his or her hand in the fire and discovers the law of the fire is different than the law of the stop sign.  Bound up in the nature of FIRE itself is the PENALTY for abusing it.

So Ms. Sayers says, the moral law of God is like the law of FIRE.  You never break God’s laws; you just break yourself on them.  God can’t reduce the PENALTY, because the penalty for breaking the law is bound up in the law itself.   (Hadden Robinson, “Crafting Illustrations”)

Sex outside the context of marriage will burn you every time.

You may escape the STD some of the time, but you can’t escape the emotional, psychological, and relational damage it always brings.

And finally, SEXUAL PURITY is important, because…

GOD GIVES YOU HIS HOLY SPIRIT

God Himself dwells within and helps you live a holy life.  He gives you the resources to do what He has called you to do.

1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

God gives to you when you are SAVED–“born again”–His Spirit who helps you live a holy, sanctified life in this world of ours.  Without Him, you could only fail, and His commands would only frustrate you.

But with Him, you can live the life God has called you to live.  All you need to do is TRUST Him!

That’s the GOOD NEWS in all of this!

Even if you’ve already failed in the area of sexual purity, invite the Lord into your life and let Him begin to clean you up from inside out.  God wants you to enjoy life with Him at any age, whether you are newly married, married for 50 years or more, or without a spouse.  Just open the door of obedience to Him.  And if you are reading this post from one Christian’s point of view, and living the single life, God has laid down the standard.

The Standard of God.

What seems to be a secret with so-called Christianity in the 21st Century is that God has standards for us to follow.  God’s standard is His will for which you are to live as a Christian single.  If you are truly saved you will be moved by the Spirit of God inside of you yo live by His will and not your own.  And that will is that you live your lives in holiness, sanctification, set-apart and transformed from the world’s standards.

I’ll give you two familiar Bible verses read and think about regarding your lifestyle as an encouragement.

_________________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS & FOOTNOTES

Footnote [i] :  Kenny Luck, “Sexual Atheism; Christian Dating Data Reveals a Deeper Malaise,” The Christian Post, 4/14/14.

Footnote [ii] :  Mark Tapson, “Is Sexual Variety the Spice of Marriage?” Acculturated blog, 4/1/15; http://www.PreachingToday.com.

Photos/Images:  Google Image Search.  [CopyRights may apply]

Bible Translations:  The NIV Bible; The Amplified Bible (AMP); The English Standard Bible (ESV).

 

Dealing With ‘SEESAW’ Christianity

SCRIPTURE STUDY: Philippians 2:12-18

Before we open our Bibles in the study, let me first give you definitions of the word SEESAW:

One of the most difficult things in life is to maintain and to keep all things where they are all supposed to be at all times.  It’s called BALANCE.

I remember going to elementary school way back when and riding a teeter-totter with my best friend and trying to keep all our feet off the ground in perfect balance.  It took a lot of our focus, many times finding ourselves up in the air or flat on the ground.

BALANCE IS CRITICAL IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

What has guided and given me direction and purpose in life are the words found in Luke 2:52.  This Bible verse follows the story when Jesus was lost or separated from Mary and Joseph for three days in the big city of Jerusalem.  When they finally located him, Jesus was in the Temple sitting among some of the greatest teachers of the day, asking questions.  And they were asking him questions as well.  And the Scripture says that the teachers were amazed by his understanding.  After all, he was only 12 years of age at the time.  The Bible is silent for about the next 18 years of his life.  We don’t know exactly what happened during those years but we do have this one verse as a summary of those years and it simply says…

...JESUS increased with wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.

So what we know is that life should be filled with BALANCE:

  • He grew in wisdom…Intellectually.
  • He grew in stature…Physically.
  • He grew in favor with God…Spiritually.
  • He grew in favor with man…Socially.

And if we want to live as Jesus did, we need to learn to do the same.  Because, they all matter and when our life is in BALANCE, we’re happier.  And when we’re out of BALANCE, we’re miserable.  Balance is one of the most difficult things in life to maintain.

So the apostle Paul reminds us of three areas where we must maintain balance:

Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)

[12]  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  [13] for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

To understand what Paul is saying here we need to understand what he’s NOT saying.  This phrase “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” is greatly misunderstood.  He’s not telling us that we have to work to be saved.  It was Paul who wrote to the church in Ephesus and said…

We cannot be SAVED by works.  In fact, Paul says it is NOT by works.

So to understand what Paul is saying here, you must bear in mind that he is writing to the CHURCH, to believers, so his words have nothing to do with how to come to Christ.  These people already knew Jesus!

So this phrase “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” is referring to how we live out our faith.

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, “work out” in the Greek N.T. means “to work to full completion.”  It refers to working in a mine or in a field where you’re constantly digging and cultivating until that mine or garden reaches its full potential.

So here’s a question all of us must stop and ask ourselves at various places in life:  Am I reaching for my full potential in life or am I just settling for average?  What is my level of obedience to Christ Jesus?

Once we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, that becomes our PURPOSE in life to OBEY Him in absolutely everything.

When we get sick and go to the doctor he diagnoses our condition and tells us what we need to do.  He hands us a small slip of paper where he’s written the correct prescription on.  We then take that slip of paper to the pharmacist who fills the prescription and gives us the medication.  Now up to that point, everything has been done for us.  A diagnosis…A prescription…We have received the medication.  Now it’s our responsibility to do something and here it is–follow the doctor’s orders.  Work out the process and if we do, we will recover.

This is also true on a spiritual level.

And here should be our goal.  Paul tells us in verse 13 that God works in us to fulfill His good purpose.  And he describes that PURPOSE as being good.

Whether we know it or not, God wants us to find happiness and contentment not only in the next life eternal but also in this one.  You see there won’t be anything to work out in the next life–it will all be taken care of, but in this one there is.  There are things to be worked out.

Someone has said there are three types of people in the world…

  • Those who make things happen
  • Those who sit and watch things happen
  • Those who wonder what’s happening

God wants us to be in the first group.

God is at work in us to do His good purpose.  This is a balance of power and purpose.  He pours His power into us, we do the things that bring Him pleasure.

Now Paul wants us to see something here.

  • It is His pleasure (not ours)
  • It is His will (not ours)
  • It is His glory (not ours)

This is what makes our lives meaningful.

But there’s a potential conflict right there since most of us prefer to have things go our way.  It’s our attitude.

So Paul tells us the second area where we need BALANCE.

There must be a balance of attitude and action.

To accomplish what Paul is saying here, he gives us a negative and a positive.  Because this is how we get BALANCE.

On the negative side here, Paul says to all of us–you need to watch your attitude.  There are two things Paul mentions here that shows our bad attitude:

  1. Are you a grumbler?  Boy, I’ve been here too many times in my life.  Grumbling is not usually loud.  Its low tone, negative complaining, whining, and one thing it will do for you is that it will steal your JOY!  And unfortunately, it just comes naturally for some of us.  We try to resist but we just pass it around,  Grumblers can find something wrong with everything at once and when they find it…that’s what they focus on.

BOUGAINVILLEA – 

 

I was born and raised in Southern California where the sun shines most of the year–a Mediterranean climate.  Certain plant species especially do well there and my parents loved colorful plants around their home.  We lived high above the street level, so mom and dad decided to plant Bougainvillea on the hillside to cover it with beautiful flowers.  It took several years to blanket the front of their home, but oh, how I remember the beauty that hillside was in full bloom.  Now each year you would find mom and dad crawling over the Bougainvillea to prune them and make them tidy.  The unfortunate undertaking was always a loud outburst by my dad while standing in the middle of the flora–“I hate these thorns!  Let’s pull them all out!”  All dad saw was the THORNS.  He couldn’t enjoy the flower.  The reason is perspective.  It’s an attitude.

Paul said that you and I as believers need to prove to be different by our actions.

He said to prove that you are a blameless and innocent child of God and in the midst of a very dark world, you and I are told to bring LIGHT to the situation.  We should brighten up the place.

Remember that little song we used to sing with our parents and then taught ut to our kids?  “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”  But we are not just “little lights” to the world.

Paul refers to us as stars…

These are no small stars!  The smallest star in our universe is basically the size of the planet Saturn,  The word here means luminous.  Luminaries are surrounded by darkness and that’s why they stand out.

Jesus told us, let your light shine so the people can see your good works and through that glory will be given to God the Father.  [Matthew 5:16 – ESV]

There’s no need to shout, stomp your feet, or scream.  No need for drama.

  • JUST SHINE!

The negative Paul gives us here–don’t grumble.  The positive–just shine!

Get your attitudes and actions in BALANCE.

Then Paul describes a third area we need to balance: There must be a BALANCE at being serious and being joyful.  (verses 17-18)

Reading these two verses gave me an amazing word picture worth looking closely at.  Paul says we are “being poured out as a drink offering.”  Unbelievers had a practice in that day before and after every meal to take 2 cups of wine–would pour one out on the ground before every meal, then eat–then pour another one out after every meal in honor of the god they worshipped.  The PURPOSE was to gain the favor of the gods.

Paul is speaking of the possibility of being poured out as a drink offering.  This has a very serious connotation here.  He’s saying, I may never get out of the situation alive.  Remember he is in prison and facing execution at any moment.  But even if I don’t make it out…it will be worth it!

If you have ever faced the possibility of your own death–it makes you think really serious thoughts.  Paul was imagining that he might be living his final days, the single most serious thought a person can have and yet he was still able to REJOICE.  He refused to FOCUS on the dark side.  He refused to let even the possibility of his immediate death and steal his JOY.

Then he says to us–you need to REJOICE in the same way.

Paul’s words have encouraged me every day after reading his thoughts through in study.  To find something during my last days; finding something to be continually happy about, something to laugh about, to take a day off from writing, to take a walk around the block with my dog, to watch a movie, to work out in the garden, to do something that can take you away from all the seriousness of life.  Give yourself permission to enjoy each and every day.

Karl Wallenda, of the Flying Wallendas, perhaps the greatest group of tight wire walkers in the world, had the amazing ability to keep his focus; to concentrate and keep his balance.  But one night in Puerto Rico, he fell to his death while up on the wire.  Later his wife said that for as long as she had known him he always focused walking the tight rope, but on that given night for some reason, he kept focussing on the possibility of falling.

Often the difference in our success and failure is losing one’s balance and looking in the wrong direction.  The Scripture tells us to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the author, and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Solomon says, don’t look to the left or right, just keep your eyes on the heavenly Father (Proverbs 4:25-27).

____________________________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS:

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.

The Interlinear Bible

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP); English Standard Version (ESV); New King James Version (NKJV).

SANCTIFIED: To Be Set Apart As New Creatures

How often do we find ourselves trying to get a handle on religious vocabulary thrown around in Christian circles?  In this study, the words to “sanctify”; “sanctification” will be addressed.

In the generic definition, to sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer [Bible Study Tools- Dictionary].  The pencil was designed by its maker for the use of writing down information.  I used to chew on my pencils all the way through my school years with my mom pointing out…” that’s not what pencils are used for!”  In the theological sense, a human being is sanctified therefore when he or she lives according to God’s design and purpose, set apart for His service.

SCRIPTURE STUDY:  

For all you Word Detective followers, YES, I did a study in these verses in 2018. [THE QUESTIONS about WORLDLY ASSOCIATIONS]

Since some topics of conversation have come up recently in my own family regarding worldly associations, I’m re-visiting the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth.

Paul’s Second Letter to the Church

Paul wrote this second letter because of continued strife and tension over social issues and false teachers who had infiltrated the church attacking him as an Apostle.

Do we struggle in the church today concerning social issues?  Are we hearing messages from pulpits around the globe addressing the moral changes occurring all around us; touching each and every one of us in some way?  Or is “compromise” the word of the day?

The Word Is Constantly Changing

Many changes in society are necessary because we as human beings are not perfect.  For the same reason, much “development” goes in completely the wrong direction.  God’s Word, however, is perfect, and never changes.  Sin remains sin, even when it becomes widely accepted.

The Silver Ladle Story:

Helen was a wonderful Christian woman.  A single mother raising her only son Tom as best as she could to love God.  Helen became very worried when Tom told her that he was moving to the Big City.  A year went by and all seemed well.  Tom called his mother and told her, his friend Sarah was moving in with him.  He told his mom not to worry, they were just roommates, strictly platonic.  Helen knew if she could spend just a little time with them together she would know just how “platonic” it was.  She soon got the chance when invited over for dinner.  All went well until about two weeks later.  Sarah came to Tom and said, “Tom, I’m not saying she took it and I’m not saying she didn’t.  The fact of the matter is, my silver gravy ladle has been missing ever since your mother left.”  So Tom called his mother and left a message on her machine:  “Mom, I’m not saying you took it and I’m not saying you didn’t, but ever since you left two weeks ago, Sarah’s silver ladle has been missing.”  The next day Tom’s mother called and told him:  “Tom, I’m not saying you are sleeping with Sarah and I’m not saying you’re not.  The fact of the matter is, if she were sleeping in her own bed she would have found that gravy ladle.”

We are chosen people (1 Peter 2:9)

As believers in Christ Jesus, we are different.  We are not like any other, we are not supposed to be!

2 Corinthians 6:17 (NIV Bible)

Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate…”

As Christians, we are told by the Bible to live holy lives to reflect the nature of God.  We are to SEPARATE ourselves from actions, influences, or people who hinder our service to God.

True believers are to live differently from those in the world. 

Sounds simple, but there are a lot of people who think they can come to Christ–SAVED–and still hang out with the same crowd.  They think they can still go to the same places, but you can’t.

Being Separate–SANCTIFIED.

The Bible tells Christians to be separate from the world.  SEPARATED means when you are SAVED, you change your life, change your friends, and you change your hangouts.

But that said, that doesn’t mean you abandon your lost friends.

When I came to Jesus at the age of thirty, most of my friends abandoned me.  They thought I was a religious nut talking about how my life had really changed since I came to Jesus.  Their reaction was “The proof is in the pudding.  We’ll just keep an eye on how you’ve really changed.”

You still talk to your old friends, you just change the topic of your conversations.  You can still hang out with your old friends but change the locations.  Instead of going out with them, ask to bring them with you to church.

My point is, you don’t abandon sinners, but you don’t join them either.  As a Christian, you are to bring them up to your level, not let them bring you down to theirs.

A Christian is directed by God’s Word to apply the biblical principles of SEPARATION and avoid a few things:

1.  We are to steer clear of anything that attacks biblical standards. 

If the Bible said it was a sin 2000 years ago, it’s still a sin today.  The Bible doesn’t change to fit the changing culture.

2.  Avoid any association that will hinder your spiritual life. 

So, teenagers, that means if your boyfriend or girlfriend won’t come to church with you, then find a new one that will.  Not only boyfriends and girlfriends but any of your friends.

2 Corinthians 6:14, 16 (NIV Bible)

[14]  Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?

[16]  What agreement is there between the Temple of God and idols?  For we are the temple of the living God.  As God has said:  “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

3.  Avoid any situation that you are unsure of:

There are some sins that are plainly spelled out to us in the Bible, and there are sins that are your own personal convictions.  If you have any doubts as to whether or not something is a SIN, then for YOU…it’s a SIN.  Because of God’s word in Romans 14:23   that “whoever has doubts…for whatsoever is not of faith is a sin”.  In other words, if you aren’t sure if it’s a SIN, then for YOU…it’s a SIN.

JUST DO THE RIGHT THING!

James 4:17 says “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”  (NIV Bible)

If you are not living a life separate from the world, then how does the world know you’re different?  If you can still go out and commit the same sins as before you were SAVED, then I hate to tell you, you didn’t get SAVED!  I’m not saying a Christian is never going to sin, for God saved my soul. but I still live in the flesh until I go home to be with the Lord.  So anyone who says that they never SIN is calling God a liar, according to 1 John 1:10.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.  But I’m not talking about ‘slip-ups’ here.  I’m referring to instances where we intentionally sin.  Paul says in Romans 6:15 that Christians are under GRACE (God’s mercy and unmerited favor) and no longer under the law.  So does that give us the freedom to sin at will?  Paul said, “Certainly not!”  Even though Christians are no longer in danger of God’s condemnation, we will still answer to Him for the sins we commit.

Romans 6:12 says not to let sin reign in our bodies.  There’s a big difference between intentional sin and daily struggles of the flesh.

Paul says in Romans 7, that there is none of us who are perfect, that we’ll never be as long as we’re on this Earth.  And even though we aren’t perfect, we are to strive for excellence with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

If you think you can have it both ways, you’re wrong!  Once you accept Christ as your Savior, life will change. and you’ll want to SEPARATE yourself from the old life you had.  Will you completely change?  Of course not, but you will change!

You may ask, I know I’m SAVED but I still have a problem with SIN in my life, so how do I avoid those SINS?

As a Christian, when you sin, it is not the spirit that sins, but the FLESH and Paul said…

Some of the LUSTS of the FLESH are listed by Paul in verses 19-21:

  1. Adultery – any sexual contact outside the bonds of Holy Marriage is a sin – PERIOD.  There’s been a lot said to teenager’s conduct; about keeping their hands off each other, well the same goes for the adults.  If you aren’t married to them, keep your hands off them.
  2. Idolatry – anything that comes between you and your worship of God is an idol – your job, your family, your favorite football team, ANYTHING!
  3. Witchcraft – Harry Potter.
  4. Jealousy
  5. Wrath
  6. Envy
  7. Murder abortion.
  8. Hatred racism.
  9. Drunkenness

“And those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” 

Avoidance of the lusts of the flesh.

Any sin you commit that gives the devil ammo he needs to shoot your spiritual life down, and the ONE WAY to avoid this is to apply the words of Galatians 5:25 -If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.]  Amplified Bible.

Can we walk in the Spirit and the World too?  Not a chance, and that’s why we are to be separated from the sinful world.

Remember you can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

Is Jesus your Master, or are you a captive to the world; a SLAVE to this world and its master?  You can’t have it both ways, so get off the fence and choose today which master you’ll serve.

Remember the words of Joshua chapter 24, verse 15…

____________________________________________________________________________________________

CREDITS –

Commentary:  Come Out And Be New, contributed by Joseph Nordyke, December 12, 2008 – Sermon Cntral. [The Silver Laddle Story]

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search.

Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP), or as mentioned in the text.