Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 10 January 2023:
2 Chronicles 8:11 — Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter up from the city of David to the house that he had built for her, for he said, “My wife shall not live in the house of David king of Israel, for the places to which the ark of the LORD has come are holy.”
In 2 Chronicles 7, through great signs and dreams, God tells Solomon and the people what was required of them, and then in the next chapter, Solomon immediately compromises himself by becoming unequally yoked with an unbeliever — “Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter up from the city of David to the house that he had built for her, for he said, ‘My wife shall not live in the house of David king of Israel, for the places to which the ark of the Lord has come are holy’” (2 Chronicles 8:11; see 2 Corinthians 6:14) – Solomon married a woman even he considered unworthy to live in the house of David, though God’s intent for marriage is the union (undivided unity, oneness, becoming one flesh) of two followers of God for the distinct purpose of modeling His love for His people (Ephesians 5:25-33) and for raising up godly offspring (Malachi 2:15).
As 1 Kings 3 points out, Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter as a form of treaty or alliance with Pharaoh. This was a commonly accepted practice in ancient times intended to prevent war between potentially hostile nations; this was considered a very wise and noble thing for a king to do. However, it was contrary to God’s will for His people, requiring them to be holy and set apart. Unfortunately, as 1 Kings 11 points out, Solomon chose human wisdom over obedience to God and eventually married 700 wives, and “his wives turned away his heart.”
- Colossians 2:4, 8 — I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments…. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
- 1 Corinthians 3:19 — For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
Your faith will be tested when you have to choose God’s commands over “plausible arguments… human tradition… [and] the wisdom of this world,” worldly philosophies, social morality, and ‘common sense.’ Your faith will be tested when others judge your convictions in Christ to be foolish, unreasonable, hateful, and perhaps even dangerous.
- Colossians 2:23 — These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Your faith will also be tested when people encourage you to trust in religious works, good deeds, religious moralism, religious traditions, and various forms of performance rather than a humble reliance on the grace of God through faith in Jesus, which naturally produces obedience inspired by love rather than fear, pride or simply duty.
- Colossians 2:18 — Let no one disqualify you… going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind….
Still others who proclaim faith in Christ will test your faith with their ‘special word,’ which they claim is from the Lord. Do not be deceived by these puffed up people. God’s word has been provided to you, and you have been given as much access to the Holy Spirit, which is in you, as they have. Trust and obey God and His will as is clearly revealed in the Bible.
- Colossians 2:19 — holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
When there are no miraculous signs from God, and when so many around you are proclaiming various forms of truth and offering you all kinds of answers to today’s challenges, hold fast to Jesus, pray, remain in His word, be attentive to the Spirit, and seek first His Kingdom. When you fail, fail forward — repent, rejoice in God’s grace, return to prayer and your Bible, and try again. ““For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (2 Chronicles 7:3)
Matthew 7:1, 2 — “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
The Lord does not tolerate unforgiving recipients of forgiveness and ungracious beneficiaries of grace. While we were still sinners, before we ever asked for forgiveness, Christ died for us, suffering the Cross, paying the penalty of our sins, and giving us His righteousness rather than claiming it for Himself. While in unimaginable agony on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) So Christian, who are you having trouble forgiving? Who are you condemning? Who have you given up on? “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3, 4)
Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t confront others concerning sin as some have misunderstood these verses to mean – that would be unloving and would promote lawlessness. Jesus is saying we must rebuke others humbly and lovingly with the goal of reconciliation, never for self-interest but as ambassadors for Christ with the message of the Gospel. (2 Corinthians 5) He is also saying we must emulate the character and behavior we hope to see in others. Saved by grace, we are compelled to live by grace as ministers and messengers of grace. As Christians, or ‘little Christs,’ we are called to follow Jesus’ example in relationships and ‘go to the cross’ daily for hurting, hurtful people –
- Ephesians 4:32 — Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
- Matthew 5:43-48 — You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Luke 6:35-38 — But love your enemies, and do good, and 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. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.
- Luke 9:23 — And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
As you will soon see as we continue in our readings, some of Jesus’ harshest words are reserved for those who don’t give grace as they have received grace. Yesterday Jesus taught, “Pray then like this: …forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Are you ready to pray that God would only forgive you the way you forgive others? “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)
Matthew 7:15, 20, 21-23 – “Beware of false prophets…. You will recognize them by their fruits…. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
From The Beatitudes through today’s readings, Jesus has addresses the heart of our problems – the problem with our hearts. We were created to love God and then to love others as His heirs of love, as His agents of love, an in His image with His heart of love. The Great Commandment of love sums up God’s will for us — “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) First, we are to love God with our entire being, then love others unconditionally and sacrificially (wanting with all our hearts to love others the way our First Love loves them); then we are to care about ourselves last, not wanting selfishness to get in the way of love. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
With this prioritization, we would naturally see others the way God sees them, and we would want others (who we love) to know our First Love as well as we do. What greater joy could we have than to serve as the reconciler between those we truly love? “For the love of Christ controls us…. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh…. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16, 20)
Unfortunately, we get it backwards. We tend to put ourselves first, then others next, and God last. From this perspective, we view everyone else (including God) as a resource, an opportunity, or a threat – an ally to protect our own self-interest or an enemy. People or circumstances become ‘good’ if they support our desires or narrative and ‘bad’ if they threaten our desires or narrative. All relationships become negotiated contracts – “I will give if I get; I will love others if they love me; I will do unto others as they have done unto me (as opposed to the Golden Rule).” Finally, we judge God from our perspective of His fairness and apparent efficacy. Consequently, we blame God for the consequences of sin, resenting Him and fearing Him as an ‘unjust’ or ‘uncaring’ God rather than a just God. Some will write Him off as a non-existent God rather than the omnipresent, omniscient sovereign God.
So, we judge others, not from God’s standard and for their benefit, but rather from our standard, based upon our self-righteousness and self-centeredness. We condemn others when we want to justify ourselves or when we feel threatened by them. (Matthew 7:1-6) And we judge God when He doesn’t give us what our selfish hearts desire, questioning His “goodness”; and we envy others (which is actually anger towards God) because they have what God hasn’t given us – “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:1-2)
The fruit of this backwards thinking becomes apparent eventually as self-centeredness and selfishness eventually prevail. From this perspective, forgiving and giving don’t make sense, unless we anticipate some sort of reward for it. But things like anger and indulgence do make sense as we fight to get and to protect what we see is rightfully ours. Galatians 5 describes the fruit that comes from the two different kinds of trees:
- Galatians 5:19-26 — Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Perhaps the most ominous part of today’s readings is when Jesus warns that, in their self-deception, many self-proclaimed Christians will be surprised on the Day of Judgment that their great religious studies, their preaching, their religious acts, and their miraculous deeds, were, in fact, worthless before God, even against His will. Rather than, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)
Workers of lawlessness? How were teachers of the law (Pharisees) breaking the law? These hypocrites (the Greek work for stage actors) are those who only pretended to love (thereby breaking the commandment of love), apparently so convincingly they even fooled themselves. They do good deeds for all the wrong reasons, from the wrong motivation, from the wrong heart.
The honest Christian we review the fruit of the Spirit and admit that they continue to fall short, too often their lives reveal works of the flesh. However, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” We can rejoice in our knowledge of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, “that though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that [we] by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
In our failure to love as we should, as we desire, we are to have confidence in God’s mercy and grace and draw closer to Him, not further away. Prayer is key!
- Matthew 7:7, 8 — “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
- James 4:5-10 — “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Matthew 7:24 – Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
“The Christian life is hard work. Christianity involves systematically striving to implement the truths of God’s Word into your life. Spiritual depth and maturity do not come without consistent effort.
Jesus had just concluded the Sermon on the Mount, which sets forth some of the most profound truths ever spoken. The Son of God had clearly explained the kind of life that is pleasing to the Father. Yet Jesus knew, even as He was concluding His sermon, that some of His listeners would leave and never apply a word they had heard.
Jesus said that a man who takes the words of God and builds them into his life is like a wise man who builds his house on a rock. Rocks are hard to build on. It takes great effort to attach a foundation to a rock. A house built on sand provides instant comfort; building on a rock is laborious and tedious. Yet building on sand leaves the builder in a vulnerable position, while the one building on the rock is secure.
How can you tell what kind of foundation a life has been built on? Watch to see what happens when a storm comes. A life built upon the Word of God will withstand the very storm that sweeps away the life that did not heed God’s Word.
There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. Maturity only comes through hard work and obedience to what God says. The next time you hear Jesus speaking, immediately begin to firmly build His truth into your life, so that no storm can unsettle you.” (Henry T. Blackaby)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 10 January 2023: Forgive unconditionally today and use the opportunity to share the Gospel. If there is anything unresolved between you and someone else, forgive them from your heart, pray for them and seek reconciliation without delay. As an ambassador for Christ, resolve to never stand in the way of grace and peace. Also, memorize Galatians 5:19-26 in order to review it daily. Pray that God will build you up in the fruit of the Spirit.