Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 6 February 2020

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. Philippians 3:1-2 (EHV).

In verse 2, Paul subtly echoes Psalm 22, which was a prophecy about Christ and both His death and His glory.   In this verse, Paul is not just calling out the Jews and Judaizers who were challenging the early church:   he also calls us out to do the same in our lives.

Tell me:  how hard is it to resist temptation?  If you’re like nearly everybody else, it’s one of the toughest things you’ll do, especially since we do it every day.  Especially since the evil one still attacks us the same way he did people in Paul’s time.

These days, people make fun of Mike Pence for his policy of not being in a room alone with a woman who isn’t his wife.   Billy Graham lived by that same policy.   So did President Harry Truman.  It seems ludicrous and old-fashioned, and their enemies make hay about it, accusing Graham and Pence of not trusting women.   But that’s not why they did / do it at all.   It’s because they don’t trust themselves.  It’s not that they wouldn’t have self-control.   It’s that they don’t want to put themselves in any situation where their morality could be compromised or given the image of impropriety.  They don’t want to bring dishonor or disrepute on God or their wives.  By removing the possibility of being tempted to do anything at all, they safeguard that morality (as well as their images as upright and honorable men).

Good for them.   What about you when your demons come calling?   Are you tempted to lash out online?   To insult back when someone insults you?   Are you tempted by porn or sexual thoughts?   Are you tempted to burst out in anger when you’re having a bad day?   How do you resist that temptation?

Same way Paul did:   first go to Jesus and ask for His help.  Put our faith in Him before being tempted, or especially if we’ve given in.  Let Him restore honor to your soul even if we have to face the physical consequences here.   It is only through the lens of Christ that we can look at temptation and not buckle before it.

Paul excoriated those who were accusing the nascent church of abandoning God by abandoning Jewish customs and Mosaic law.   He called out those who would put traditions over the Gospel of Christ.   And he warned his friends to stay far away from anyone who would tempt them to backslide.   Thousands of years later, that’s still Godly, excellent advice for any of us in any situation.

For further reading:   Psalm 22:16-20, Revelation 22:15, Philippians 3:3.

My Lord, lead me not into temptation and deliver me from the evil one.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 26 September 2018

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 1 Timothy 1:8 (NIV).

What is the law?   God’s law is the set of boundaries He gave to us, through the Old Testament, to help steer us back to Him in all things.  More than just the Ten Commandments, God’s law is a complex set of rules He gave to the Jews of old to live by.   It’s not just a bunch of “no’s.”   The law, given to us by a holy God, points us to our need for the forgiveness that only He (God) can give.   We don’t live by the law now, but if we reject God, we may die by it.   To quote Paul in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death and we all die.   Yet we can live.

In Romans 7, Paul illustrates that the law is holy in that it identifies our transgressions.   It does so in order for us to understand the consequences of sin (death).   When we are bound by the law, we’re buried in our sins, and through the law the only sure destination for us is death.  Sin – the defiance of God – works against us, using our knowledge of the law, given by a holy God, to mire us in the despair of our wrongdoings.

So many churches (and so many followers of Jesus) get so wrapped up worrying about what not to do that they forget a crucial thing about the law.

It’s holy.   It’s loving.

The law of God is holy, given to us by a God of loving justice, purity, and righteousness.   The motivation for the law isn’t punishment:   it’s love.   Jesus Himself said so: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.””

God didn’t give us the law to hurt us:   He gave it to us because of love.   Because He wants to see us turn to Him whenever the threat of anything wrong approaches us.  God’s character throughout all of history hasn’t changed.   The same God who flooded the world to destroy every sin-soaked creature on it (except those kept alive in His ark) is the same Jesus of Nazareth who prayed from the cross “forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

He gave us a code to live by because He means business, namely to join your soul to His in perfect love.   So that you and I might shy away from things that could try to tear us away.   So that we know the way home when we stray.   So that we would trust Him when He gives us tools like the law to properly guide our hearts.

For further reading:  Romans 6:29, Romans 7:4-12, Matthew 22:37-40, 1 Timothy 1:9

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your holy law.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 2 March 2018

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.  1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 (NIV).

Oh wow…so much to unpack.  Let’s not let ourselves get wrapped around some concepts that aren’t easily understood.   Instead, let’s speak plainly:   Paul isn’t being anti-Semitic.   He isn’t ‘hating’ on all Jews, but is rightfully condemning those with ungodly intentions.   In doing so, he denounces all sinners.  The people who were the subject of his remarks were, of course, the Jewish priests who both crucified Jesus and then persecuted His followers.  But one cannot read Paul’s words of love in this and other books and conclude that he was anti-Semitic or advocated anti-Semitism.   Paul didn’t hate the Jews:   he hated that they were antagonistic to Christ.   In some ways, he probably hated that he had once been part of that persecution.

In these verses today, Paul is reminding us that those who turn their backs on God displease Him.   They are hostile to believers and whatever believers say and do.  In their doing this, they are heaping up sin after sin on themselves, not just for their self-focused lives or meanness to others but because these things are meanness and sin against God.   In doing this, they are incurring the wrath of God, namely damnation.   They separate themselves from Jesus, possibly for eternity.  This is by choice, not because anyone forced them.  It’s not on God:  it’s on them.  As C.S. Lewis once said, the gates of hell are locked from the inside.

Saying “I believe in Jesus” sets you apart in this world, and it paints a target on your back.  People who don’t believe will separate themselves from you even as you separate yourselves from unbelieving behaviors (if not unbelieving people).  Your “illogical” acceptance of the supernatural will set you against anyone who embraces the easy path of believing other things.  The “establishment” doesn’t believe what you do, and they will come after you.    Plain speaking about matters of the heart can become common sense to you as you see that there is no real love apart from the love of Christ.

Paul experienced these things just as we do.  When he called out his fellow Jews for murdering the Christ, he was persecuted.   History has labeled him an anti-Semite for doing this.   It simply isn’t true.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Galatians 1:22, Acts 17:5, Luke 24:20, Acts 2:23, Acts 13:45, Matthew 23:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:15.

Lord, always remind me to never hate people You love.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 29 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 2:2.

Something else needs to be said before we move on.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, without God, everything is meaningless but nothing can contain Him.

I was reading about how Google Home doesn’t recognize the name of Jesus.   A story online said that the in-home smart speaker recognizes the names of Buddha, Allah, and even Satan and can relay to you a whole encyclopedia of knowledge about those names, but that it says “I’m sorry I don’t understand” (or something like that) when you ask it about Jesus or Jesus Christ.  Newsflash, my friends, God doesn’t need Google Home but He loves the people who make and use it anyway.   Ditto Alexa, Echo, Facebook, Bing, and any other gadget or browser we can think of.   Indeed, God’s word will spread even MORE when people deny it.

Crazy?   Yes, actually it is.   The conventional world can’t see how this makes sense, but the world that believes in Jesus can.   His word is too good to be contained; it’s too good to be bottled up or confined by the smallness of human activity.  People can try, but the good news always comes through.   It did in concentration camps.   It does in prisons, and inner cities, and communist re-education camps, and even in Hollywood.  It even happens in organized churches.

In this verse, Paul describes how people strongly opposed his preaching.  In Philippi Paul had been strongly opposed and it stung him.  He considered it outrageous that God’s word would be opposed, that anyone would try to interfere with or target or stop the preaching of words ordained by the Lord Himself.  Yet despite the opposition, word spread.   People all over Greece and Asia Minor wanted to know more about what these missionaries of “The Way” were saying.  Tyrannical Romans couldn’t stop the message.  Hostile Jews and their synagogues couldn’t stop the message.  Skeptical Greeks and hateful pagans couldn’t stop it.  By the time Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he was used to being opposed, and he began to recognize that it was to God’s glory that all this happened.

That was true 2000 years ago.   It’s still true today.   God doesn’t need us to preach His message.   He can get it out any way He chooses.   Yet He chooses us to do it for Him, to talk about it one on one, to build relationships based on common worship and understanding of Him because without Him everything else means nothing.   God chooses to work through us as we love one person at a time.  Nothing could contain that way back then; nothing can contain it now.

For further reading: Ecclesiastes, Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, I pray:  work through me today. Love others through me.   Teach me to represent You.