YEAR 2, WEEK 17, Day 5, Friday, 28 April 2023

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Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 28 April 2023:

Ecclesiastes 6:3 — If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.

You must choose to enjoy life.

Ecclesiastes 6:7-9 – All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.  For what advantage has the wise man over the fool?  And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living?  Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

“Unregenerate people lack insight into the character of God and those things that He finds most pleasing, but that does not mean that they are entirely destitute of wisdom or unable to see the futility of certain attitudes that we find prevalent in human society.  In fact, non-Christians are often quite adept at pointing out many of the absurdities of life in a fallen world.  For example, we hear many secular thinkers bemoan the insanity of ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ the relentless drive to match or even surpass the standard of living that their neighbors enjoy.  As some have observed, this drive—not to be outdone by those around us in regard to our wealth—leads to longer hours at work, greater exhaustion, and sacrificing time with family all in the name of getting more and more ‘stuff.’  What is craziest about all this is the fact that it never stops.  As soon as we attain one goal, the Joneses best us and we are driven to work even harder to keep up with them.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with working hard.  Scripture, of course, commends the sweet sleep of the industrious laborer (Eccl. 5:12), and the command to do all things to the glory of God exhorts us to put forth our best effort in all that we do (1 Cor. 10:31).  The problem comes when we think that laboring after the things of this world will bring us permanent satisfaction once we attain them.  People reach the level of the Joneses, but they keep on going because they discover that attaining the goal they have sought does not satisfy them.  They learn, as today’s passage indicates, that when we toil only for our mouths, our hunger is never satiated (Eccl. 6:7).

This failure to find satisfaction in living only for one’s cravings is the plight of both the wise man and the fool alike.  Both the wise man who occasionally slips up and lives for himself as well as the fool who lives continually for his material desires continue to hunger for more (v. 8a).  The poor man who seeks to ingratiate himself with kings in order to receive material benefit also finds worldly wealth not to be all that it has promised (v. 8b).  The perpetual, never-ending appetite for the things of this world means that even the delight we enjoy with our eyes cannot last.  We can never be content with worldly beauty because it cannot provide the infinite loveliness that our soul craves (v. 9).  Our souls were made for something much greater, even God Himself. Matthew Henry comments, ‘The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to give them any satisfaction.’

Those who live in societies that are characterized by great wealth and abundance must take special care not to make gods out of their appetites.  There is nothing wrong with having nice things, but if we think those nice things will make us content, we will never find ourself in a place of happiness.  The more that we own, the greater the temptation to make what we own the source of our contentment.  But Christ alone can satisfy us permanently.” (Ligonier Ministries)

Romans 13:1 — For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

God demands that you obey human authorities and says that disobeying human authorities is the equivalent of disobeying Him.

How should a Christian prepare for the next election cycle? “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our national problems are spiritual problems. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all the other issues become non-issues (Romans 13:14). The only hope for the nation is collective repentance among God’s people and revival. 

Romans 13:3-5 — For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but too bad.  Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval….  But if you do wrong, be afraid….  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

While the topic of the above verses is respecting governing authorities, how much more does it apply to respecting the authority of God in our own lives?  How much better would life be if we would simply obey all of God’s commands?  How much easier and more joyful would life be if we had a heart which truly wanted to obey God’s commands?  And if Christians made economic decisions based upon God’s commands, entertained themselves in ways which honored God, and chose politicians who truly honored God, how would that change the economic, political, and socioeconomic landscape?

God’s commands are a product of His perfect love and are intended to give us fullness of life, that our joy might be complete.  God’s commands are not hard to understand, but they are difficult to follow when our hearts are selfish and unloving.  The Bible describes God’s word as “goads” which were sharp-pointy sticks used by shepherds to guide animals where they needed to go.  Resisting the Shepherds goading is not only ignorant, it is needlessly painful –

  – Ecclesiastes 12:11 — The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.

  – Acts 26:14 — And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct (Romans 13:3).”  If you are a Christian, you have been saved from the penalty of sin through Christ and are being saved from the power of sin in your life as you mature in Christ; and one day you will be saved from the presence of sin when Christ returns to restore all things.  As you mature in Christ, your loving Father will never condemn you, but He will discipline you because He loves you (see Hebrews 12:4-12).  In Christ we can walk in the confidence (not fear) of God’s eternal love and grace, and we can obey Him in the strength of the Holy Spirit within us – “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)  We should be inspired to obey God because we love Him and desire to be united with Him, not because we are scared of His condemnation or discipline.  Love drives us closer to Him while fear stands in the way of our relationship with Him.  Stated in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  When we are confident in God’s grace and are living in love, we are obedient as a natural fruit of love; there is no need to fear.  Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.  The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them (John 14:21).”  John adds to Jesus’ words in 1 John 5:3 — “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome.”  When we mature in our love for God, it isn’t burdensome to obey His commands because we genuinely desire to do it.  Obedience is love lived out, which produces peace, not fear.  When we are confident of the Father’s perfect, undying love for us, we don’t fear but rather appreciate His discipline, understanding the He is only goading us to Christlike character (see Romans 8:28, ,29)  When we understand that our confidence in the Lord rests upon His perfect, eternal love and faithfulness rather than ours, and when we understand that the Sovereign, Almighty God, the Creator of All Things, loves us unconditionally and is fully committed to our spiritual development, we can remain joyful and peaceful even in our failures knowing that He will never leave nor forsake us and that He “who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

“One must be in subjection…. for the sake of conscience.” (Romans 13:5)  We should obey so our love isn’t hindered.  1 Timothy 1:5 says, “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  We cannot adequately love God or others without a clear conscience.  Guilt, particularly hidden guilt, puts up walls of separation between relationships.  It generates feelings of vulnerability and defensiveness.  It creates fear and doubt.  It is an unpaid debt that hangs over us.  The debt must be settled, either paid or forgiven.  God offers forgiveness, as should we.  Let no debt remain but the debt of love.  First, we should rest on the clear conscience we have in Christ – “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22) Then, we should eliminate those things in our life which grieve and quench the Holy Spirit and that prevent a clear conscience within us – “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16)

God cares about our obedience, but even more about the motives behind our obedience.  In immaturity, like a small child, we might obey God out of motives of fear, guilt, self-interest or even pride.  As we grow in maturity, obedience comes more and more from a genuine, heartfelt desire to please, honor and love God – similar to the motives that cause young adults to still obey their parents, not “because of possible punishment,” but from a heart of love and respect.”  The highest quality of character and maturity is selflessness.  Small children are naturally selfish, and even their obedience is self-centered – “What’s in it for me?” If you are motivated to obedience based on the potential for rewards or punishments, you are in one sense not much different than a small child or even an animal who responds to “stick and carrot” discipline.  However, God’s word encourages us to grow up in Christ, to no longer act like babies.  We are called not just to act righteous (like Pharisees) and to model the behavior of Christ, we are called to be righteous (in our hearts) and to model the attitudes of Christ.  The children of the God of Love should be inspired by love to do what is right and true because that is the only loving thing to do.  We must learn to abide in the love of Christ.  Paul encourages us, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:14).”  Think on Christ rather than sinful desires, and act upon what is on your heart and mind. 

Romans 13:7 — Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

God expects you to gladly pay taxes and to respect governing authorities.

Romans 13:8 — Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Settle your debts immediately.

Romans 13:9, 10 – For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

In today’s readings, Paul naturally transitions his conversation from obeying authorities to love, saying, “any… commandment [is] summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”  James said it this way: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right (James 2:8).” If we are disobedient or if we struggle to be obedient, it is a heart issue; it is a love issue.

Romans 13:14 — But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

God wants you to live like Jesus and to stop trying to be something you’re not. You are not an independent agent in life. The world will tell you, “Be yourself.” The Bible says, “Be Jesus,” the embodiment of his Spirit and character. Your life is over. You are now living His life on earth. “Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 28 April 2023:  Obey today, and consider your motives.

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