Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 29 June 2022:
Deuteronomy 25:3 – “Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.”
Luther said the Law serves us today as a curb, a mirror, and a guide – “First, the Law helps to control violent outbursts of sin and keeps order in the world (a curb). Second, the Law accuses us and shows us our sin [and total reliance on God’s grace] (a mirror). Third, the Law teaches us Christians what we should and should not do to live a God-pleasing life (a guide). The power to live according to the Law comes from the Gospel.” In Deuteronomy 25:3, the law of forty stripes is intended to provide restraint and to prevent inappropriate overreaction fueled by unbridled emotion. The law also seeks to preserve the dignity of people, even guilty people. And the law maintains mercy in justice, reflecting the character of God. This law specifically applies to the punishment of whipping, but the principle of restraint and compassion applies universally. The letter of the law was no more than forty lashes, but the intent was to prevent cruelty, to preserve human dignity, and to preserve merciful justice. However, hard-hearted people, who had lost sight of the intent of the law, learned how to stick to the letter of the law while still being cruel and merciless by making more destructive whips. The flagellum, uses to scourge Jesus, was a whip with several (at least three) thongs or strands, each perhaps as much as three feet long, and the strands were weighted with lead balls or pieces of bone. Many did not survive scourging with this instrument. The letter of the law is not enough – it cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit to change the heart. We need the power of the Holy Spirit which uses the law, God’s word, to convict our hearts and to coach us along the way to develop an increasingly Christ-like heart, increasingly united with Him in genuine love and purpose. Apart from the Holy Spirit, the heart is wicked beyond imagination and will always find a way to do evil despite the law. The heart of a man’s problem is the problem with his heart.
Deuteronomy 25:11, 12 – When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.
Throughout the Old Testament, there are very strict laws to protect the production and reproduction capacities of both people and animals. God protects livelihood and future growth.
Deuteronomy 25:16 – …all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.
Dishonesty is an abomination to the Lord. Do we take dishonesty that seriously?
Ephesians 5:1-2 — “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Wow! Even if you can’t find the time to read all the Bible readings today, take the time to read Ephesians 5 and meditate deeply upon it. Powerful! I believe that one of the major purposes of the Christian life is to tangibly reveal the truths of God to others. We are a manifestation of the Truth. How complacently we live our lives! What is the expectation? Imitate God, and walk in love and total selflessness to the point of death. Our faith must not be just “empty words” but a life of integrity before the Lord, Coram Deo, revealed to those around us. We must have nothing to do with any form of immorality. We are to “walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),” always striving to understand more and more “what is pleasing to the Lord.” To the Christian who continues to walk with the world, the Bible commands: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Repent right now as the Holy Spirit convicts, and don’t waist another second of your life in compromise (there is no such thing as a small compromise) – “[make] the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Surrender to God not to earn your way into Heaven or to get something from God, but simply out of reverence, love and gratitude to Him – “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And how do we show submission to God? We submit ourselves to others (Ephesians 5:21). Where do you start? You start with your closest relationships, particularly the challenging ones – “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. do good to those who hate you… lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil…. Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ…. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” To walk in love like Jesus is to give yourself up for others. We are called to act like God by loving others unconditionally.
Living the life of love: Christians like to talk a lot about love (rightfully so), but they don’t like to talk much about obedience. However the two go together: Deut 11:1, Deut 11:13, Jos 22:5, Neh 1:5, Psa 85:10, Psa 119: 88, 167; Pro 3:3, Hos 4:1, Dan 9:4; John 14-24, John 15: 10; Gal 5:22, 1 Pet 1:22, 1 John 2:5, 1 John 5:3. Sometimes we equate love to acceptance of sin, but today’s readings make it clear that “children of the light… have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” As Ephesians 4:15 instructed us yesterday, “Instead, [speak] the truth in love, [so that] we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Proverbs says it this way: Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wound from a friend can be trusted…. Iron sharpens iron.” Today, Paul is being very specific about how Christians should live: “Be imitators of God (of who?)” as “God’s holy people” without even a hint of impurity. Don’t have a faith of mere “empty words.” Live carefully, wisely, prudently, productively, soberly, thankfully, purely, and joyfully. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Submit to one another, not just for their sake, but out of reverence for Christ. This standard of living is something to strive for, without pride, fear, frustration, or comparison:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:12-21)
Ephesians 5:3-8 — “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them.”
Perhaps no temporal sin is more condemned in the Bible than sexual sin, which is pure selfishness and strikes at the foundation the most important ordained institution on earth – the family. There is nothing funny about sexual sin, nothing at all. There is no excuse for sexual sin. It is to be abhorred. Do not partner with the sexually immoral. This message is clear throughout the Bible but less and less popular today.
Ephesians 5:4 – “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Some joking is out of place for believers.
Ephesians 5:10 – “…and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
You can and are supposed to know what pleases God from your personal study and your receptivity to the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord,” much like a football coach says, try to catch the ball. It is within your capability, but it takes practice. At first, you will drop the ball more than you catch it, but with practice, you will improve. Without practice, without a willingness to keep trying persistently, you will never get better.
Ephesians 5:11, 12 — “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.”
God calls us to expose sin, much like John the Baptist did when he condemned Herod’s adultery (subsequently being executed). To be silent before sin is to condone it and to be culpable. What are you saying about fornication, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, etc?
Ephesians 5:15-16 – “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
Look carefully how you walk, one step at a time. Romans 8:29 points out that our goal is to grow in Christ-like character. Character is formed over time one decision at a time, one step at a time. What you choose to think, say and do in the moment both reveals your current character and shapes who you are becoming – thoughts become decisions; decision become actions; actions become habits; and habits become character, which in turn shapes your thinking. Some people are on a virtuous cycle of Christ-like character development, and others are on a vicious cycle, one step building upon another. Today’s readings say, rather than just envisioning your final destination or who you hope to become one day, watch your step today. Carefully examine the decisions you are making right now, in the little things which become big things over time. The steps you are taking today reveal the direction you are heading and who you are really following.
Make the best use of the time by focusing on today. “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) Rather than worrying so much about where God is taking us in life, we need to concentrate on being faithful today. The past is behind you, and the future is yet to be revealed, but today is yours to influence in order to promote a brighter future. Not that we shouldn’t plan, but even long-range plans require daily discipline to succeed. An infantryman’s focus on a long march to battle changes significantly when he knows he is crossing a minefield – no careless steps. Today’s readings warn, “Watch your step!” So, how do we do it? “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1, 2) To walk through today’s minefield, we need to follow Jesus’ lead, and step in his footprints. Jesus, said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Denying self, taking up your cross, and following Jesus isn’t a general principle, it is a continuing action. Just as your physical bodies require that your mind never stops working and your heart never stop beating, your spirit requires that you never stop following, one step at a time – “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)
- Genesis 5:24 — Enoch walked with God….
- Genesis 6:9 — Noah walked with God.
- Deuteronomy 8:6 — So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
- Psalm 86:11 — Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
- Psalm 116:9 — I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
- Psalm 26:3 — For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.
- 2 Chronicles 6:14 — “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart….”
- Micah 6:8 — He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
- John 10:27 — My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
- Proverbs 28:26 — Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
“These days we are bombarded with opportunities that entice us to invest our time and energy. Each day the voices of urgency cry out for every available moment. So many causes promise that time spent on them will reap great rewards; how can we recognize God’s voice among so many competing voices?
A fool makes unwise choices with his time. With every new opportunity that comes along, the fool chases off in a different direction, not questioning whether that is the best choice. The loudest voice gains his attention. At some point the fool discovers to his dismay that he has squandered the investment of his time.
The days in which you live are evil. Marriages are under tremendous pressure, families are disintegrating. Multitudes are dying each year without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Investing your life wisely is critical to you and to those around you. Foolishly spending your time in sinful or wasteful pursuits can cost you and others dearly.
Often, it is not evil pursuits that rob your time. Rather, the temptation is to sacrifice what is best for what is good. The enemy knows that blatantly tempting you with evil will be obvious, so he will lure you with distractions, leaving you no time to carry out God’s will. He will tempt you to so fill your schedule with good things that you have no time for God’s best. You may inadvertently substitute religious activity for God’s will, pursuing your own goals for God’s kingdom instead of waiting for His assignment. Time is a precious commodity. Be sure to invest it wisely.” (Henry T. Blackaby)
Ephesians 5:25 – “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her….”
Husbands must surrender their lives for their spouses.
Ephesians 5:32 — “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Marriage is designed to be a visible representation to the world of Christ’s love for His church. If you are married, your marriage is your primary testimony to the world.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 29 June 22: Today, keep in step with the Spirit and follow Jesus, one step at a time – one thought at a time, one decision at a time, one word at a time, and one action at a time. Partner with others who are equally committed to walking with Him today.