Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 16 June 2022:
Deuteronomy 12:19 – “Take care that you do not neglect the Levite as long as you live in your land.”
The Levites were not given an inheritance of land that they would be fully dedicated to their roles of spiritual leadership. Therefore, they depended economically on the faithfulness of the people. We will read later, unfortunately, that the people do end up neglecting the Levites. Of course, God knew that would happen, but He called the Levites into their dependent positions nonetheless. God is faithful when no one else is. He calls us to reflect His character by making our fidelity unconditional too. Love others who don’t love you back. Forgive the unforgiving. Give to the ungrateful. Display the love and faithfulness of Jesus. It won’t be easy, but it will be joyous if you are motivated by love.
Deuteronomy 12:2-3 – You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place.
God wants you to remove every obstacle to total devotion to Him.
Deuteronomy 12:10-11 – But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD.
God wants to give you rest and joy which comes from obediently following Him.
Deuteronomy 12:30 – …take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?— that I also may do the same.’
Victories bring new temptations. Be careful not to become prideful. God has a plan to remove all pride from your life. Notice is the Bible that God allows people to fail in their strength areas in order to humble them, to help them see their total dependence on God’s grace. Abraham was known for his faith, but he lied about his wife being his sister and had Ishmael with Haggar. Moses was the humblest man of his day, but his pride and anger kept him out of the Promised Land. David was known for his integrity, but then Bathsheba. Solomon was known for his wisdom, but he destroyed the kingdom and ended his day writing of his woes in Ecclesiastes. Peter, known for his courage, denied Jesus three times. You get the point. Our best will never be good enough. God will tear down our pride idols so that we can learn to rest in Him and Him alone.
Deuteronomy 12:29, 30 – “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them.”
Christians, living as ambassadors for Christ in a foreign land, must be very, very careful not to conform to the morals and habits of society. In most matters, the faithful Christian will stand in stark contrast to the general population, as a bright light. But the unfaithful Christian will look and act like the world around them.
Galatians 2:2 — “I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”
Paul was led by the Holy Spirit but still sought counsel from other faithful followers of Christ to ensure he was on track.
Galatians 2:6 — “And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.”
God does not care about social status or position. God is only interested in faithful servants, regardless their public acclaim.
Galatians 2:7-9 — “…they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised…. and when [they] perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
Paul was led to serve God in a completely different direction than the rest of the apostles, yet they fully supported him having recognized the Holy Spirit working through him. The church was not divided over Paul’s new and different approach? How do you respond to different forms of faithful ministry?
Galatians 2:11-14 — “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’”
Faith and love promote moral courage and true leadership. A lack of faith and love promotes moral cowardice, bad leadership, and destructiveness. Paul stood publicly and boldly against hypocrisy, deeds that did not match words, deeds that were not in step with the Gospel. The word hypocrite is the Greek word for “stage actor,” playing a role.
Peter was a chief apostle and a very important leader in the church who was used mightily by God, but he had a character flaw – at times, when challenged by others, he lacked moral courage and didn’t act according to his stated convictions. In today’s readings, we hear about just such a case which occurred in Antioch:
Peter clearly understood that people are “justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law,” (Galatians 2:16) that the Gospel had been provided to both Jew and Gentile alike, and that the Gospel brought equality and unity to all in Christ:
- Acts 10:34-35 — So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
- Romans 10:11-13 — For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
- Galatians 3:26-29 — …for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Therefore, Peter broke a deeply rooted cultural taboo and ate with Gentile Christians though he was a Jew. Jews separating from Gentiles to eat was never a requirement of the law, but many first-century Jews forbade the practice. However, Peter demonstrated the truth and power of the Gospel by tearing down those traditional social barriers – that is, until the Judaizers came to town, those false teachers who taught that salvation required faith in Jesus plus obedience to the Mosaic law and who treated Gentile Christians as second-class citizens. Fearing criticism from the “circumcision party,” Peter hypocritically separated himself from the Christian Jews, thereby visibly misrepresenting the Gospel before others; and because Peter was a key leader within the church, he caused this hypocrisy to spread rapidly, contributing to hurtful, destructive divisions within the body.
However, where Peter lacked the moral courage to lead, Paul didn’t. Paul “opposed him to his face,” which was no small thing to do considering that Peter was an unquestioned apostle and Paul’s authority as an apostle was being challenged by many. Paul was courageous because of his love for Christ and for others and because of his passion for the Gospel which tore down the barriers between those he so loved. Paul couldn’t stand idly by while the Gospel was being distorted in either word or deed.
Perhaps some would come to Peter’s defense and suggest that Peter was merely attempting to be “all things to all people,” (1 Corinthians 9:22) merely being sensitive to immature misunderstandings of the circumcision group. However, Peter’s actions were hurtful to others and divisive. He was essentially choosing one group over another and apparently validating a false hierarchy that had crept into the church –
- James 2:1, 9 — My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory…. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
- Romans 2:11 — For God shows no partiality.
- James 3:17 — But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
Does your faith and your love for God and others empower you with the moral courage to be a Christian leader and to challenge the norms for sake of proclaiming the Gospel? While everyone else is taking sides and dividing, are you serving powerfully as a messenger and minister of reconciliation, an Ambassador for Christ entrusted with the Gospel? Is your prayer for God’s people the same as Jesus’ prayer – “…that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”? (John 17:22, 23) Leaders know the way, go the way, and show the way. The Way is Jesus! Know Him more and more each day, and have the courage to follow Him and to show Him more and more each day.
- James 2:4 — Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
- James 2:9 — But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
- Revelation 7:9 — After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
Galatians 2:16, 18 — “…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified…. For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.”
We are saved by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone. We don’t obey God to be saved; we obey God because we are saved. It is our hearts desire to honor Him in deed and to reveal Him in deed.
One of the most misapplied principles in the Bible is grace. Too many use grace as a license to continue in sin. Grace does not abolish the Law, it fulfills the Law, not because of the Law but because of genuine love. If you continue in sin, you are not just disobeying the written Law, you are demonstrating a lack of genuine love. Paul said that the love of Christ compelled him in obedience, not the Law. If you are motivated by love, the Law will be fulfilled naturally.
Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
“The Christian life is an exchanged life. Jesus’ life for your life. When Christ takes control, your life takes on dimensions you would never have known apart from Him. When you are weak, then Christ demonstrates His strength in your life (2 Cor. 12:9-10). When you face situations that are beyond your comprehension, you have only to ask, and the infinite wisdom of God is available to you (James 1:5). When you are faced with humanly impossible situations, God does the impossible (Luke 18:27). When you encounter people whom you find difficult to love, God expresses His unconditional love through you (1 John 4:7). When you are at a loss as to what you should pray for someone, the Spirit will guide you in your prayer life (Rom. 8:16). When Christ takes up residence in the life of a believer, “all the fullness of God” is available to that person (Eph. 3:19).
It is marvelously freeing to know that God controls your life and knows what it can become. Rather than constantly worrying about what you will face, your great challenge is to continually release every area of your life to God’s control. The temptation will be to try to do by yourself what only God can do. Our assignment is to “abide in the vine” and to allow God to do in and through us what only He can do (John 15:5). Only God can be God. Allow Him to live out His divine life through you. He is the only One who can.” (Henry T. Blackaby)
“To become one with Jesus Christ, a person must be willing not only to give up sin, but also to surrender his whole way of looking at things. Being born again by the Spirit of God means that we must first be willing to let go before we can grasp something else. The first thing we must surrender is all of our pretense or deceit. What our Lord wants us to present to Him is not our goodness, honesty, or our efforts to do better, but real solid sin. Actually, that is all He can take from us. And what He gives us in exchange for our sin is real solid righteousness. But we must surrender all pretense that we are anything, and give up all our claims of even being worthy of God’s consideration.
Once we have done that, the Spirit of God will show us what we need to surrender next. Along each step of this process, we will have to give up our claims to our rights to ourselves. Are we willing to surrender our grasp on all that we possess, our desires, and everything else in our lives? Are we ready to be identified with the death of Jesus Christ?
We will suffer a sharp painful disillusionment before we fully surrender. When people really see themselves as the Lord sees them, it is not the terribly offensive sins of the flesh that shock them, but the awful nature of the pride of their own hearts opposing Jesus Christ. When they see themselves in the light of the Lord, the shame, horror, and desperate conviction hit home for them.
If you are faced with the question of whether or not to surrender, make a determination to go on through the crisis, surrendering all that you have and all that you are to Him. And God will then equip you to do all that He requires of you.
The inescapable spiritual need each of us has is the need to sign the death certificate of our sin nature. I must take my emotional opinions and intellectual beliefs and be willing to turn them into a moral verdict against the nature of sin; that is, against any claim I have to my right to myself. Paul said, ‘I have been crucified with Christ….’ He did not say, ‘I have made a determination to imitate Jesus Christ,’ or, ‘I will really make an effort to follow Him’ —but— ‘I have been identified with Him in His death.’ Once I reach this moral decision and act on it, all that Christ accomplished for me on the Cross is accomplished in me. My unrestrained commitment of myself to God gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to grant to me the holiness of Jesus Christ.
‘…it is no longer I who live….’ My individuality remains, but my primary motivation for living and the nature that rules me are radically changed. I have the same human body, but the old satanic right to myself has been destroyed.
‘…and the life which I now live in the flesh,’ not the life which I long to live or even pray that I live, but the life I now live in my mortal flesh— the life which others can see, “I live by faith in the Son of God….” This faith was not Paul’s own faith in Jesus Christ, but the faith the Son of God had given to him (see Ephesians 2:8). It is no longer a faith in faith, but a faith that transcends all imaginable limits— a faith that comes only from the Son of God.
These words mean the breaking and collapse of my independence brought about by my own hands, and the surrendering of my life to the supremacy of the Lord Jesus. No one can do this for me, I must do it myself. God may bring me up to this point three hundred and sixty-five times a year, but He cannot push me through it. It means breaking the hard outer layer of my individual independence from God, and the liberating of myself and my nature into oneness with Him; not following my own ideas, but choosing absolute loyalty to Jesus. Once I am at that point, there is no possibility of misunderstanding. Very few of us know anything about loyalty to Christ or understand what He meant when He said, “…for My sake” (Matthew 5:11). That is what makes a strong saint.
Has that breaking of my independence come? All the rest is religious fraud. The one point to decide is— will I give up? Will I surrender to Jesus Christ, placing no conditions whatsoever as to how the brokenness will come? I must be broken from my own understanding of myself. When I reach that point, immediately the reality of the supernatural identification with Jesus Christ takes place. And the witness of the Spirit of God is unmistakable— “I have been crucified with Christ….”
The passion of Christianity comes from deliberately signing away my own rights and becoming a bondservant of Jesus Christ. Until I do that, I will not begin to be a saint.
One student a year who hears God’s call would be sufficient for God to have called the Bible Training College into existence. This college has no value as an organization, not even academically. Its sole value for existence is for God to help Himself to lives. Will we allow Him to help Himself to us, or are we more concerned with our own ideas of what we are going to be?
We should battle through our moods, feelings, and emotions into absolute devotion to the Lord Jesus. We must break out of our own little world of experience into abandoned devotion to Him. Think who the New Testament says Jesus Christ is, and then think of the despicable meagerness of the miserable faith we exhibit by saying, “I haven’t had this experience or that experience”! Think what faith in Jesus Christ claims and provides— He can present us faultless before the throne of God, inexpressibly pure, absolutely righteous, and profoundly justified. Stand in absolute adoring faith “in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God— and righteousness and sanctification and redemption…” (1 Corinthians 1:30). How dare we talk of making a sacrifice for the Son of God! We are saved from hell and total destruction, and then we talk about making sacrifices!
We must continually focus and firmly place our faith in Jesus Christ— not a “prayer meeting” Jesus Christ, or a “book” Jesus Christ, but the New Testament Jesus Christ, who is God Incarnate, and who ought to strike us dead at His feet. Our faith must be in the One from whom our salvation springs. Jesus Christ wants our absolute, unrestrained devotion to Himself. We can never experience Jesus Christ, or selfishly bind Him in the confines of our own hearts. Our faith must be built on strong determined confidence in Him.
It is because of our trusting in experience that we see the steadfast impatience of the Holy Spirit against unbelief. All of our fears are sinful, and we create our own fears by refusing to nourish ourselves in our faith. How can anyone who is identified with Jesus Christ suffer from doubt or fear! Our lives should be an absolute hymn of praise resulting from perfect, irrepressible, triumphant belief.” (Oswald Chambers)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 16 June 22: Today, live the exchanged life.