Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 30 Mar 18:
1. Deuteronomy 23:2 — “No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD.” A few points for consideration from this verse:
– The Old Testament Commands give us specific requirements/restrictions from God as well as enduring principles from God that reflect His character. Some of the commands are “Old Covenant,” meaning that, if one is in the New Covenant of Christ, they are fulfilled in Christ (not abolished but fulfilled). By the Law, a person born of an unholy union is not allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord, nor are his descendants. This restriction may have applied to both the assembly of worship and to marriage. However, the New Testament tells us, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Jesus did not abolish the Law for us, He fulfilled it. (Matthew 5:17) Through Jesus, we can now enter the most holy places. (Hebrews 10:19) However, God’s commands also give us enduring principles that reflect God’s holiness and remain relevant to the church today:
– Principle: Respect for God’s holiness take precedence over respect for the desires of people. For example, throughout the Bible, God places restrictions on who can serve in certain positions of leadership, and He also establishes restrictions and requirements on how they should serve. God also establishes His standards for worship. Exclusion from position or from certain ways of doing things does not imply a lack of love from God or individual worth in God’s eyes. Many people take acceptation to these principled restrictions and reject them, often calling them obsolete or case specific. Those who reject God’s enduring standards create complex arguments explaining why those canons don’t apply to them, but a close examination of motive will reveal that, ultimately, they want to do what they want to do and want to approach God on their own terms – deny self is not part of the calculus. Ultimately, God will not honor a misrepresentation of His character. If you don’t meet the biblical standard for becoming a deacon, for example, don’t let that hinder your relationship with God, your relationship with others, or your willingness to serve God in other capacities within the church body. Serve with humble thankfulness within your capacity. Churches today debate on which commands in the Bible are enduring ethical laws, civil laws (obsolete or still relevant), or obsolete ceremonial laws. However, the Bible is very clear, if we have to deny ourselves certain freedoms in order to keep others from stumbling, we should.
– As we continue to study the Laws of the Old Testament, it might be valuable to consider the thoughts of the late R.C. Sproul concerning which laws apply:
— “To this day, the question of the role of the law of God in the Christian life provokes much debate and discussion….
— The law, in its first use, reveals the character of God, and that’s valuable to any believer at any time. But as the law reveals the character of God, it provides a mirror to reflect to us our unholiness against the ultimate standard of righteousness. In that regard, the law serves as a schoolmaster to drive us to Christ…. The law remain[s] valuable to the Christian… because the law constantly drives us to the gospel….
— Second, the law functions as a restraint against sin…. Paul says in Romans 7 that in a sense the law prompts people to sin—the more of the law unregenerate people see, the more inclined they are to want to break it. Yet despite that tendency of the law, there still is a general salutary benefit for the world to have the restraints upon us that the law gives. Its warnings and threats restrain people from being as bad as they could be, and so civil order is preserved.
— Third, and most important, is that the law reveals to us what is pleasing to God. Technically speaking, Christians are not under the old covenant and its stipulations. Yet, at the same time, we are called to imitate Christ and to live as people who seek to please the living God (Eph. 5:10; Col. 1:9–12). So, although in one sense I’m not covenantally obligated to the law or under the curse of the law, I put that out the front door and I go around the back door and I say, “Oh Lord, I want to live a life that is pleasing to You, and like the Old Testament psalmist, I can say, ‘Oh how I love Thy law.’” I can meditate on the law day and night because it reveals to me what is pleasing to God.
— Let me give you a personal example. Several years ago, I was speaking in Rye, N.Y., at a conference on the holiness of God. After one of the sessions, the sponsors of the conference invited me to someone’s house afterward for prayer and refreshments. When I arrived at the house, there were about twenty-five people in the parlor praying to their dead relatives. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I said, “Wait a minute. What is this? We’re not allowed to do this. Don’t you know that God prohibits this, and that it’s an abomination in His sight and it pollutes the whole land and provokes His judgment?” And what was their immediate response? “That’s the Old Testament.” I said, “Yes, but what has changed to make a practice that God regarded as a capital offense during one economy of redemptive history now something He delights in?” And they didn’t have a whole lot to say because from the New Testament it is evident that God is as against idolatry now as He was then.
— Of course, as we read Scripture, we see that there are some parts of the law that no longer apply to new covenant believers, at least not in the same way that they did to old covenant believers. We make a distinction between moral laws, civil laws, and ceremonial laws such as the dietary laws and physical circumcision. That’s helpful because there’s a certain sense in which practicing some of the laws from the Old Testament as Christians would actually be blasphemy. Paul stresses in Galatians, for example, that if we were to require circumcision, we would be sinning. Now, the distinction between moral, civil, and ceremonial laws is helpful, but for the old covenant Jew, it was somewhat artificial. That’s because it was a matter of the utmost moral consequences whether they kept the ceremonial laws. It was a moral issue for Daniel and his friends not to eat as the Babylonians did (Dan. 1). But the distinction between the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws means that there’s a bedrock body of righteous laws that God gives to His covenant people that have abiding significance and relevance before and after the coming of Christ.
— During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, theologians said that God legislates to Israel and to the new covenant church on two distinct bases: on the basis of divine natural law and on the basis of divine purpose. In this case, the theologians did not mean the lex naturalis, the law that is revealed in nature and in the conscience. By “natural law,” they meant those laws that are rooted and grounded in God’s own character. For God to abrogate these laws would be to do violence to His own person. For example, if God in the old covenant said, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” but now He says, “It’s OK for you to have other gods and to be involved in idolatry,” God would be doing violence to His own holy character. Statutes legislated on the basis of this natural law will be enforced at all times.
— On the other hand, there is legislation made on the basis of the divine purpose in redemption, such as the dietary laws, that when their purpose is fulfilled, God can abrogate without doing violence to His own character. I think that’s a helpful distinction. It doesn’t answer every question, but it helps us discern which laws continue so that we can know what is pleasing to God.
2. Deuteronomy 23:5, 6 – “But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” People may try to curse you, but God can turn curses into blessings. You don’t depend on the favor of people, you depend in the favor of God – never forget that.
3. Deuteronomy 23:6 — “You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” God does not seek peace with everyone.
4. Deuteronomy 23:7 – “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land.” God expects His people to be leaders in reconciliation, to be kind and conciliatory in difficult relationships. The Israelites were continually treated harshly by both the Egyptians and the Edomites, but God called His people to seek reconciliation.
5. Deuteronomy 23:9 — “When you are encamped against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every evil thing.” Your holiness impacts your outcomes.
6. Deuteronomy 23:12-14 — “You shall have a place outside the camp, and you shall go out to it. And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement. Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.” Many are quick to point out that the adage, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” is not found in the Bible; however, the principles of cleanliness and order have practical value and also show deference to the holiness of God. God desires His people to be clean and organized, demonstrating godly order and holiness in all that we do. You can learn a lot about someone’s character by looking at how they live, how they keep their things, and how they take care of themselves. God is a God of order.
7. Deuteronomy 23:19 — “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest.” Christians don’t lend money to other Christians with interest, period. Christians are called to give openly to other Christians, taking care of their every need. You might be withdrawing inside as you read this because it defies common sense. Check your heart and your faith in God’s provision.
8. Deuteronomy 23:24 — “If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag.” God expects Christians to show generosity to others and also to not take advantage of another’s hospitality. Today, many people have so much stuff, not only can they not easily fit it all in their garages and basements, they are renting storage sheds to hold the rest. This is not godly behavior.
9. Deuteronomy 24:5 — “When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.” God is greatly concerned about the welfare of families and sees marriage as a national security issue.
10. Deuteronomy 24:6 — “No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge.” God forbids taking away another person’s livelihood.
11. Deuteronomy 24:10, 11 — “When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not go into his house to collect his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you.” God expects you to respect the dignity of others and honor their personal sanctuary.
12. Proverbs 30:1-3 – “The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.” Life outside of a genuine relationship with God and a life lived outside of His guidance will wear you out. Like so many before and after him, Agur discovers this late in his days. Now he is starting to gain wisdom. The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know. Socrates said, “’The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Proverbs says, the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, understanding our total reliance on Him.
13. Proverbs 30:4 – “Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know!” Too many people reject the word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit, preferring instead to seek wisdom from their own understanding, rejecting the guidance of the One who created all things and who is the actual source of all wisdom – how incredibly foolish! Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, follow His leadership as Lord, and He will make your paths straight.
14. Proverbs 30:6 – “Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” Many cults and false leaders add to God’s word.
15. Proverbs 30:7-9 – “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” Agur understood the limits of his own integrity and character. So, he prayed to God for strength of integrity. Wisely, Agur understood that the most important thing in life was the quality of his character before the Lord. Reputation is what others say about you, but character is what God knows to be true about you. With what sins are struggling? Are these issues at the center of your prayer life? The things that hinder your relationship with God (sin) should be your greatest prayer concern. Remember, self-control, the power to do what you ought, is a fruit of the Spirit, not of the intellect. For the most part, people know what they should do; they just fail to do it because the sinful desires within them (the flesh) has not been surrendered to the Holy Spirit. Pray for God to reveal the truth of you and to strength your faith, hope, and love that you would be “one” with God in thought, word, and deed. This was Jesus’ prayer for you before His crucifixion. (see John 17)
16. Proverbs 30:10 – “Do not slander a servant to his master, lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.” Be very careful what you think and say about a fellow Christian. You don’t know what God is doing with them and within them. We are quick to see the faults of others, but we cannot know from where they have come and to where they are going. In God’s economy, He may view them as more worthy to be praised than you. For example, the one who grew up in a good environment might act better than the one who grew up in a bad environment, but the latter might still have a more receptive heart for the Lord than the former.
17. Proverbs 30:11-14 – “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers. There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift! There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind.” Once again, the Bible reminds us that the character is formed in the home. The way people treat their parents is how they will treat others. The respect they have for their parents reflects the respect they have for God. If parents allow their children to speak disrespectfully to them, they will likely grow to be disrespectful, unloving people. The power of the Holy Spirit can heal old wounds and change old habits that were forged during childhood, but it will also take much effort on the part of the person who learned the bad habits.
18. Mark 9:2 — “And he was transfigured before them.” Peter, James, and John were given a brief glimpse of a spiritual reality or realm that was always there but not discernible with the normal human senses.
19. Mark 9:3 — “…and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Color is caused by the absorption of certain wavelengths of light by a substance. Nothing could absorb the brilliance of Jesus.
20. Mark 9:24 — “I believe; help my unbelief!” Jesus can help you with your unbelief if that is what you really want and you ask Him.
21. Mark 9:30, 31 — “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples.” Jesus prioritized His trusted disciples over the crowds.
22. Mark 9:35, 29 — “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all…. This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Few Christians actually accept and live out this teaching. Being led by the Spirit rather than the flesh and denying self is a daily effort that only comes through a deep, intimate relationship with Jesus. It must be empowered by the Spirit, through unity with the Spirit. Ultimately, what is Spiritual is not obtained through the physical. Our greatest battle is against the flesh, and “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” However, prayer often seems to be our last resort – we say, “All we can do now is pray.” However, Jesus says that prayer is absolutely vital, a ‘first thing.’ A primary indicator that we are not living by the Spirit is selfishness which is marked by pride, boastfulness, greed, envy, rudeness, self-seeking, anger, slothfulness, etc. Also, a lack of prayer is indicative of a distant relationship with God. Flesh-led selfishness promotes fear, disunity, and isolation (from God and from others). (Mark 9:32, 34) It causes us to ‘hide in the garden’ from both God and others. It causes us to focus on earthly kingdoms rather than the Kingdom of God. Today, in Mark 9, the disciples immediately demonstrate why they were powerless to drive out demons (though Jesus had given the authority to do so) by arguing about who among them would be the greatest and then by criticizing someone who was not part of their group – they were allowing themselves to be guided by the flesh rather than by the Spirit. Though they were walking with Jesus as believers, they, ultimately, remained focused on self. Pray!
23. Mark 9:38, 39 — “‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him….’” God, not people, validates the faith and works of people. People have a tendency to compete over the favor of God like children compete for the parent’s attention, contrary to God’s desires.
24. Mark 9:42-50 — God takes sin very, very seriously. Do you?
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 30 March: Make a conscious effort to place everyone above yourself, to be the true servant of all. Also, take a hard look at your prayer life. The vitality of your prayer life is an indicator of how much you are prioritizing your relationship with God and walking in the Spirit. It reveals what you think has the most power in your life and what you truly value most. Consider dedicating one full, uninterrupted hour to prayer in solitude today. (Mark 9:29, Mark 9:35)