Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 15 May 2023:
Isaiah 7:13-14 – And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
From Ligonier Ministries: “Judah’s only hope for avoiding disaster during the eighth century BC was to recognize its uncleanness, trust the Lord, and serve Him faithfully—like Isaiah did (Isa. 6). Yet Judah did not get the message during Isaiah’s lifetime, as today’s passage reveals.
Isaiah 7 records events that took place in about 735 BC. Years earlier, King Menahem of Israel had paid tribute to Assyria to preserve himself and his country as the Assyrian Empire battled for control of strategic lands such as Palestine (2 Kings 15:17–22). In 735 BC, a new king of Israel—Pekah—decided the northern kingdom had been a client state of Assyria long enough and stopped sending tribute, probably because he thought Assyria was too occupied in other lands to pay Israel much notice. Pekah was wrong, and when Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria moved to teach Israel a lesson, Pekah allied himself with King Rezin of Syria and set his face against Jerusalem. Their intent was to force King Ahaz of Judah into an alliance with Syria and Israel against Assyria or, should Ahaz refuse, to put a new king in Jerusalem who would support their efforts (16:5; Isa. 7:1).
A frightened Ahaz had two options. He could trust God to protect him from Pekah and Rezin, or he could appeal to Assyria for help. Isaiah called Ahaz to trust the Lord, telling him to ask God for a sign that would assure him of divine protection (vv. 2–11). Ahaz refused because he had already decided to trust Assyria, not because he truly believed it a sin to test God. The Lord gave Ahaz a sign anyway: a virgin would bear a son called “Immanuel”—God with us. He would be a sign that God was with His people, for Israel and Syria would threaten Judah no more before the child reached the age of moral decision-making (vv. 12–16). The defeat of Pekah and Rezin while the child was very young would confirm the truth of Isaiah’s prophecy and the Lord’s presence. But the Lord’s presence to save Judah from Israel and Syria would be a mixed blessing. He would also curse faithless Judah by sending Assyria against Jerusalem (v. 17).
Seven hundred years later, God would give the fullest realization of this sign in the incarnation of His Son. This Savior’s name would mean “God with us,” and He would be God with us in His own person as well. This sign would be greater, for Jesus’ birth to a true virgin would be unquestionably miraculous. He would be a sign also—a sign of eternal judgment for those who would reject Him (Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 2:34–35).
Scholars have long debated whether the original Hebrew of today’s passage is better translated ‘virgin’ or ‘young woman.’ This is a worthy debate, but if we are not careful, we could miss this key point: just as the son born in Isaiah’s day was a sign of Judah’s destruction for unbelief, Jesus is a sign of our destruction when we do not believe in Him. Christ is God’s sign to us of blessing and cursing—blessing if we trust only in Him for salvation, cursing if we deny Him.
1 Corinthians 8:2, 3 — “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
We cannot even comprehend how much we don’t understand and how completely dependent we are on the love of God.
We have a tendency to be prideful in our “knowledge,” considering ourselves better than others. However, in love we lift up others ahead of ourselves. The more we grow in love, the closer we get to God and the deeper our true knowledge and understanding. Paul said he desired to know nothing but Christ, and he desired to proclaim nothing but Christ. Is there any knowledge more important than the knowledge of Christ? How are you investing in your learning? How are you sharing the knowledge you have of Him?
1 Corinthians 8:13 — “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 8 deals with how our actions affect others, particularly weaker Christians. Two points jump out at me from this chapter:
First, within the church in Corinth, there were apparently some who still believed that there really were other gods – “Yet for us there is one God…. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” Though believing that there is no other god but God is an essential truth, Paul urges the church to go out of their way to be considerate of others’ weakness and lack of true understanding — “’knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.’”
Second, Paul encourages the church not to eat meat that had been previously sacrificed to idols (likely very good meat) for the sake of those who still had a weakness with idols. Paul was concerned about doing anything that might entice former idol worshippers to slip back into idolatry and fall back into the trap of immorality —
- Acts 15:29 – “…that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
- Acts 21:25 – “But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
- Revelation 2:14 — But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.
- Revelation 2:20 — But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
I have heard these verses used most in discussions concerning the use of alcohol – “Should Christians in America drink alcohol knowing that we have such a problem with alcohol in our nation?” It is clear from the Bible that drinking alcohol is not, in isolation, a sin; only drinking in excess is a sin. However, 1 Corinthians 8 puts a greater burden on the decision to drink or not to drink: When you exercise your freedom to drink, does it influence others who cannot handle the freedom to drink and who might be tempted into sin by your behavior? Should we condone alcohol use in a society that has such a problem with alcohol? This is a highly debated topic within the church which requires much prayer and thoughtful consideration.
From our readings today, I would say that if you have any doubt about the impact of your potential decision to drink, then don’t drink. What does it cost you? Just a little pleasure. This is a small price to pay for your weaker brother or sister. Conversely, should we be overly critical of the Christian who does drink? I think today’s verses would also tell us, “No.” I have seen Christians ostracize other Christians who drank socially (not in excess). This is not how the Bible teaches us to handle disputable matters — “’knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.’” With disputable matters, we should approach others “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2, 3).” On the contrary, with indisputable matters, such as blasphemous teachings or unrepentant sexual sin, the church must hold firm.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42) Here, “little ones” doesn’t just refer to young children who follow Jesus; “little ones” signifies all believers growing up in Christ-like maturity. “We can commit no greater evil against another believer than causing them to sin. After all, we impede their growth into Christlikeness and negatively affect their heavenly reward when we lead other Christians astray. So, it follows that treating other Christians properly entails doing what we can to avoid causing them to stumble. The end that awaits those who cause others to sin is horrible indeed.” (Ligonier Ministries, Tabletalk Magazine)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 15 May 2023: Be patient with those who are less spiritually mature than you, and seek to lead them (through example and through gentle counsel) to greater love, closer to Jesus. Be a leader in love who embodies fear of the Lord, humility, love, and faithfulness. When offended, take up your cross and fellowship with Jesus in that moment. Return nothing but good for evil. Speak the truth, but speak the truth in love, without defending yourself in any way. (1 Corinthians 8:13)