righteousness

2 Chronicles 6:2-42, Habakkuk 1

Today, read 2 Chronicles 6:2-42 and Habakkuk 1.

This devotional is about Habakkuk 1.

Habakkuk, a prophet to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, was very upset with the Lord in the first four verses of this chapter. He saw so much sin and violence (v. 3) among the Lord's people but, when he called for God's justice, he got nothing (v. 1).

God may have declined to respond to Habakkuk's earlier complaints but he was more than happy to answer Habbakuk's questions in verses 2-4 with an answer in verses 5-11. And what was that answer? God would punish the violence and sinfulness of the Jews by delivering his peopel in defeat to the Babylonians (v. 6).

Now Habakkuk had a much bigger theological problem. He couldn't understand why God wouldn't judge his countrymen but, when God did promise to punish them, Habakkuk couldn't understand why he'd use a wicked nation like the Babylonians (v. 15). God is holy and eternal (v. 12a-b), so why would he use such unholy people? It made no sense.

We'll have to wait until tomorrow's reading of chapter 2 for God's response but, in the meantime, consider the problem of the sliding scale of righteousenss. Habakkuk knew God's people were doing evil (vv. 2-4) but the Babylonians were worse! Verse 13 asked the Lord, "Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?"

We can probably identify with Habakkuk's complaint. If you've ever felt outrage when a good person died young while evil men live into their 90s, you know how Habakkuk felt. If you ever cried, "Unfair!" when you were punished for something when someone else was doing something worse, you're using the same kind of reasoning that Habakkuk used.

The truth is that we are all guilty before a holy God. What Habakkuk said in verse 13a was right on the money: "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing" so his next statement could have been, "...so we deserve your punishment, no matter how it comes." But part of our sinful state is to demand that we be tested on a curve. "I am sinful, but not as bad as others" we reason, "so let God go after the worst offenders first! And, when he comes for me, I should get a much lighter sentence!"

But God's justice is always just; that is, he pays out the wages of sin according to the pricetag that every sin has---death--regardless of how many or how few sins we accumulate. Instead of complaining to God about our circumstances and wondering why he hasn't treated others worse than he treated us, we should take a very hard look at ourselves. We are guilty before a holy God. One violation of his law carries the death penalty so none of us has anything to complain about.

In fact, Judah had God's law, their own history, and prophets like Habakkuk. The Babylonians were wicked but they were also going on much less truth than Judah had. As Jessu told us, the more truth you have, the greater your accountabilty will be before God.

In God's great mercy, he poured out his justice on Jesus so that you and I could be saved from the eternal condemnation we deserve. God may allow the natural consequences of our sin to play out on this earth but at least we will be delivered from hell based on the righteousness of Christ. So we should be thankful for that.

But more than that, the awful cost of our sins that Jesus bore should teach us the truth about divine justice and adjust our expectations accordingly. So, have you found yourself complaining that you're paying too much for your sins why others are not paying enough? Then think about this passage and let it realign your understanding of justice accordingly.

We have nothing to complain about and everything--because of God's mercy--to be thankful about. Let's thank God, then, for his perfect justice and for the mercy that Jesus provided us with by taking God's justice for us on the cross.

1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5

Today, our schedule calls for us to read 1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5.

This devotional is about Amos 5.

Many religions are built around rituals. Rituals may involve memorizing words and saying them at certain times. They may involve lighting candles or attending gatherings or giving money. Religious rituals can center on what someone eats, what kind of clothing (or underwear) they wear. Most religions have certain expectations that followers of that religion must do or should do or are supposed to do.

Judaism was no different; in fact, Old Testament worship had many, many rituals. It regulated how often and when people gathered, how much they gave, what they wore, what they ate, and on and on.

Rituals can be meaningful but they can also just become habits. Like most habits, we can do rituals without thinking or caring very much. This is especially true if someone equates their relationship to God 100% with the performance of the ritual. If someone thinks that God is pleased because he or she performed a religious act or consistently performed a bunch of religious acts, that person needs to look more closely at scripture.

And, if we do rituals in God’s name while also practicing sinful habits the rest of the time, we are deceiving ourselves. Here in Amos 5:21-24, God condemned the observance of Jewish religious rituals in the harshest of terms. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” he said in verse 21. Forget the sacrifices, too (v. 22) and your worship music, no matter how emotive it is or how skillfully you play it (v. 23).

Instead, God wanted those who loved him to do what is right: “...let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (v. 24). Christ has fulfilled the sacrifices so that we can be declared righteous and God can be just. But if we name the name of Christ and diligently do what Christians are supposed to do yet we break God’s commands routinely in our daily lives, we are deceiving ourselves about the state of our relationship with God.

How about ti? Are you living a life that is right with God in your home, your workplace, and in our community? If someone from one of those contexts found out that you are a Christian, would they be surprised? God wants living sacrifices; our daily choices, ethics, values, how we treat people, and the words that we say reveal far more about our faith than does our church attendance, giving, and Bible reading. Those things--church attendance, etc.--are designed to help us live a more righteous life. They are important for growing and strengthening our faith, not for measuring our compliance with Christian expectations.

God judged his people for many things including religious performance without righteous living. Let’s learn from their painful example and truly walk with God.

2 Kings 11-12, Hosea 3-4

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Kings 11-12, Hosea 3-4.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 11-12.

God’s covenant with David was that one of David’s descendants would always be king while Israel was a nation. That promise was why Solomon’s son Rehoboam remained king over Judah even though the rest of Israel was torn away from him and became the Northern Kingdom.

These two chapters of scripture show us a situation where the promise of God almost was broken. Athaliah married into the Davidic family when she married king Jehoram and he gave birth Judah’s next king, Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:26). But her son, King Ahaziah of Judah was killed by Jehu in his zeal to rid the earth of Ahab’s descendants (2 Kings 9:27-28). This was outside of God’s command to Jehu who was supposed to bring Ahab’s family to justice.

Here in 2 Kings 11:1, Athaliah decided to become the ruling queen. She killed every possible heir to the throne except Joash, her grandson, who was an infant at the time (vv. 203). The priests in the temple understood how important it was to defend Joash and to put him on Judah’s throne as soon as possible. They organized a constant guard for Joash (vv. 4-10) and then anointed him king when he was only seven years old (v. 21). Their actions were used by God to keep the promise he made to David that his house would be a dynasty.

These priests could easily have said no they were approached to hide Joash in the temple (v. 3a) and then to guard him (vv. 4ff). They could have said, “That’s a political problem. It’s none of our business; we’ll just continue to do the Lord’s work.” Instead, they put themselves at risk of Athaliah’s unjust punishment in order to do the right thing.

None of us will ever find ourselves in this serious of a situation but the faith these men had in God’s promises and his protection should encourage us. It should teach us to be willing to put ourselves at risk to do the right thing because we trust God to keep his promises and to take care of us.

Are you avoiding doing the right(eous) thing somewhere in your life right now?

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 30

Read 2 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 30 today.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 23:3c-4: “‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’”

The writer of 2 Samuel has been wrapping up his account of the united kingdom of Israel in these past few chapters. There is still another important story about David to come in tomorrow’s readings, but this chapter began with “the last words of David” (v. 1).

In these last words David was conscious that God was speaking through him (v. 2) but, as with all writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, the human author was speaking just as much as God was. David, in this brief speech, reflected on what a godly leader is like. The main words of description for a godly leader is that he “rules over people in righteousness.” More simply put, he does the right thing. He is just in his judgment, not favoring his family, or the politically connected, or a special group, or even the disadvantaged. Instead, a godly leader seeks to do the right thing with impartiality, even if Satan himself was the victim of injustice and came seeking a hearing before the king.

What causes someone to rule in righteousness? Verse 3d tells us: a godly king rules in righteousness “when he rules in the fear of God.” Only a person who fears God will do what is right when he doesn’t want to, or when it is costly, inconvenient, or goes against a friend or family member. The “fear of God” teaches us that we are accountable to God for our actions and that we will answer to him if we deviate from his standard of righteousness. That’s what makes someone do the right thing even when he deeply wants to do wrong.

In verse 4 David described what life under a righteous government is like: “he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’” Notice the repetition of the idea of light: “he is like the light... like the brightness after rain....” A godly king brings light to his kingdom. He creates conditions where good things grow and thrive. Verse 4d says his brightness “brings grass from the earth.”

In a society where there is true, blind justice, bribes are ineffective. Governments pass laws that are applied equally without exceptions or “carve outs” for people or corporations who lobby effectively and make substantial campaign donations. In a nation with righteous government, contracts between people and parties will be honored because both sides know that the king will rule against them if they renege.

Contrast that to the way things are moving in our country. Things could be worse and are worse in other nations, but more and more our government favors certain [corporations(http://www.atimes.com/article/tariff-carve-outs-to-spare-apple-products-report/) or favors the government over the individual to cite just two examples. In our nation, legal documents are sometimes said to be “living” and “dynamic” allowing judges to read into them things that are not there.

I could keep going on, but I probably don’t need to go on for you to understand the point. David’s last words reveal what a good ruler looks like and what the results of his rule will be. But they also imply a warning that, when one rules over people unrighteously, darkness will pervade the land and, instead of flourishing, the society will wither and might even die.

What’s the answer to all this? One answer is to use the power we have--voting, lobbying, speaking out--while we still have it. But the better answer is to cry out for Christ to come and establish his true kingdom. Until Jesus is king, there will be unrighteous rule to some degree or other. This is why our hopes and dreams should never reside in any nation but only in the one true King, our Lord Jesus Christ. So live for him and pray for his kingdom to come.

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22 which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?

Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59

Read Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59.

This devotional is about Isaiah 59.

What is wrong with our society, our culture? Read these words from Isaiah 59:9-11: “justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away” (vv. 9-11). Do you feel like those words describe our society?

I do. Truth and righteousness are endangered species. Justice is a label that is slapped on to all kinds of counterfeit causes. People make choices in life like someone “feeling [his] way like people without eyes” (v. 10b).

How did we get here? For Judah, verses 12-13 explain that “our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God....” As a result, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (vv. 14-15).

Although America is not Israel and Christians do not inherit all the promises made to the Jews, these verses address universal truths. God is our Creator; he created the world to function in righteousness according to his standards and laws. All humanity has rejected his word and we stand separated from him (vv. 2-3). Therefore, we do not have his light, his truth, a consistent standard of righteousness and justice, so we grope about in moral and ethical darkness.

America has had times of revival which turn back some of these sinful things for a time and that could happen again. But we will never escape the problems we have as a society; we need to be redeemed from them by the grace of our Lord Jesus when his kingdom comes. There will be punishment as God defends his cause (vv. 15-18) but there will also be grace and salvation (v. 19). Read those words; they are so gracious and hopeful: “From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.” And then God will save his people along with us: “‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord” (v. 20). This is another promise, another prophecy that Jesus will reign as king. Then we will live in a society that is truthful, righteous, just, and good. Why? Because we will be transformed, our sins removed: “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord.”

Until that day comes, we are here like exiles praying for Christ’s kingdom to come but also warning people of his coming judgment and asking God to give repentance and salvation to them. This is your job and mine as servants of the Lord. Are you ready to speak gospel truth to someone you meet today?

Numbers 15, Isaiah 5, Psalm 121

Today’s Bible readings are Numbers 15, Isaiah 5, and Psalm 121.

This devotional is about Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

In this chapter Isaiah continued his prophecies against Judah. This chapter is more about why God will punish them for doing wrong than what will happen in the future. One of the many reasons for punishment in this chapter is that God’s people intentionally re-defined morality. They said that good was evil and evil is good. Instead of measuring what is moral but the character of God--the only true righteous standard there is--the people of Judah substituted their own opinions for the genuine will of God. The “woe” pronounced in verse 20 was a statement that God would judge them so they should feel a great sense of angst.

Calling good evil and evil good was not something that only Judah did. In fact, throughout human history people have been trying to substitute our own opinions for the word of God. The same is true today. All kinds of things that God’s word condemns as evil are called “good” by our society.

God pronounced a woe on these people because they had forsaken truth. That’s what the next two phrases in verse 20 say: “...who put darkness for light and light for darkness...” Since God is truth he is the only true standard for what is true of false, right or wrong. Likewise, when you reject God and his revelation, you are left with only your preferences and thought patterns. Since each of us is a sinner, we have a strong tendency to try to rationalize our sins, leaving us with no light but only darkness. God provides us with the light of his truth. If we reject that, the best we can do is to try to redefine truth based on our own preferences. This thrusts us into the darkness of ignorance and unbelief. But, if we humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for his truth, he gives us the light of his wisdom to guide us daily.

Leviticus 11-12, Proverbs 26, Psalm 98

Today the schedule calls for us to read Leviticus 11-12, Proverbs 26, Psalm 98.

This devotional is about Psalm 98.

The end of the world, at least as we know it, is usually thought of as something to be feared. The unbelieving world around us frets about the extinction of humanity through climate change, or an asteroid hitting the earth, or the sun exploding or dying. We Christians read the book of revelation and stand in fearful awe of the tumult that will precede the coming of Christ’s kingdom.

Unbelievers have much to fear about the end of world, but not for the reasons that they think. The end of this world means accountability before God. The Bible tells us that each person who has ever lived will stand and give an account of his life before a holy God. Apart from the righteousness of Christ credited to us by God’s grace, none of us will have a satisfactory answer for how we’ve lived our lives. And, as he promised, God will punish everyone who died in their sins.

It is sobering--and very sad--to think about the billions of people who will be tormented for eternity for their sins. It is surprising, then, to read the Psalmist’s encouragement to sing “for joy” (vv. 4, 6, 8) because God “comes to judge the earth” (v. 9b). And, how will that judgment be delivered? “He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity” according to verse 9c-d. In other words, when God’s judgment comes, he will give everyone exactly what they deserve.

So, given that everyone will get what they deserve and that, apart from Christ, each of us deserves God’s eternal wrath, why does the Psalmist encourage us to sing for joy? Two reasons.

First, those who die in their sins have no excuse. Verses 2-3 tell us that “the nations” and “all the ends of the earth” have seen “his salvation” (vv. 2a, 3d). No one who dies apart from Christ, then, can plead ignorance. God has revealed himself and humanity turned a blind eye to him.

Second, the world cries out for judgment and righteousness. Everyone who has ever been sinned against understands the pain that injustice causes. When Jesus “comes to judge the earth” (v. 9b), he will be doing what is right. This world, which is distorted by sin, will finally be restored to what God created. If you’re in Christ by faith, that is a very good thing, something that should give you joy. When Jesus comes to judge, God will no longer be disregarded or questioned or mocked. He will restore the world to the state he created, a state where sin is punished and joy reigns because of righteousness. All the heartaches and problems that sin has caused in this world will be banished and, for the first time ever, a righteous society will exist. These are reasons for joy.

This Psalm, then, calls each of us who believe in Jesus to rejoice in our hearts and sin with joy from our lips because of God’s salvation (vv. 1-3) and because of his judgment (vv. 7-9). Do you rejoice in these truths?

Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36

Today we are scheduled to read Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36.

This devotional is about Psalm 36.

After we sin, and the pleasure of it is gone, and the price tag comes due, it feels pretty stupid.

Before we sin, however, sin seems like a great idea. We delude ourselves into the think that we won’t get caught or we justify our disobedience by telling ourselves that our case is exceptional. Or maybe we don’t even think very far beyond the moment; the promise of sin clouds our thinking and keeps us from counting the cost.

David had a message for us in this Psalm. Sin is not only stupid, it is arrogant. Verse 2 says, “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” This is how our hearts deceive us. Your heart and mine tells you and me to ignore the truth of God’s word and the wisdom about life that is offered there and to trust our own judgment. When we choose to do wrong, we flatter ourselves into thinking that we have it all figured out.

Verses 5-9 sing to the Lord, praising him for his faithfulness, his righteousness, his justice, his love, his abundance, his life, and his light. Believing these truths about God can cause us to make righteous choices in our lives. When I want to do wrong but choose to do right, it is a choice to follow God’s wisdom over my own. It is an act of faith, believing that God’s ways will be better than following my own ways--no matter how flawless my plans seem or how brilliant my evil heart tells me I am.

Verse 12 calls us to look at those who’ve come before us. They’ve already made the moral choices that we are tempted to make. The believed the lies of their sin-cursed hearts. What happened to them? “See how the evildoers lie fallen—thrown down, not able to rise!”

Sin will please you for a moment and kill you in the end. God’s commands, however lead us to better things: “ People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (vv. 8-9).

Choose the light.

Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23

Today’s readings are Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 13.

Nehemiah was a real jerk. At least, that’s how other people probably regarded him. He insisted on obedience to God’s word. When he found out that others were letting disobedience slide, Nehemiah reacted strongly and emotionally. Consider these incidents:

  1. When a priest allowed one of God’s enemies to have a big apartment in the temple, Nehemiah personally carried his belongings out and threw them on the front lawn (v. 8). When he found out that God’s servants weren’t being paid, Nehemiah called out the civic leaders and made them pay up (vv. 10-12), even designating some stand-up guys to be responsible for this in the future (v. 13).

  2. When he learned that non-Jews who lived in Jerusalem were selling stuff on Saturday (the Sabbath), Nehemiah “rebuked the nobles of Judah” (v. 17), stopped the city gates from opening so that nothing could come in for sale (v. 19) and threatened to arrest those who still came hoping to sell (vv. 20-22).

  3. When he found out that men of Judah had married foreign wives, he “rebuked them and called curses down on them... beat some of the men and pulled out their hair “(v. 25)!

Yep, he was a jerk if it was your hair that he was pulling out. The thing is, he had scriptural reasons for everything he did. He also had some anxiety about it. I say that because of these repeated statements:

  • “Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services” (v. 14).
  • “Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love” (v. 22b).
  • “Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites” (v. 29).
  • “Remember me with favor, my God” (v. 31b).

If you want to live a godly life, you will be forced to choose, at times, either (a) to say nothing in order to preserve your reputation and likability or (b) to speak up about sin and be thought a jerk. When Nehemiah asked God to remember him after these incidents, he is showing us the human side of doing what is right. He paid a price in his relationships in order to lead God’s people to obedience; but he did that because he believed in God’s word and trusted in God to reward him for doing the right thing.

Are you up to that? Have you been looking the other way when people sin around you so that people will like you? Nehemiah understood the pressure. I do, too; in fact, I wish I could say I was better and more consistent about showing the kind of moral leadership that Nehemiah showed. May the Lord help us all to be bolder in our stand for His commands.

[Probably not necessary to beat anyone or pull out his/her hair....]

Philippians 3

Today’s reading is Philippians 3.

In many of the places where Paul founded churches, he faced immediate opposition and follow-up opposition. Immediate opposition refers to the persecutions he faced from locals--sometimes Jewish, sometimes Gentile--who were opposed to the growing gospel message. We read about these frequently in the book of Acts. Although there was much opposition, God saved his chosen ones and a new church was founded.

“Follow-up opposition,” as I referred to it in the previous paragraph has to do with the infiltration of false teachers in the churches that were established. It is in Paul’s letters, not the book of Acts, where we learn about this type of opposition. There were different types of false teachers--for instance, the church at Ephesus faced a different kind of threat from false teachers than the church at Colossae faced. But one type of false teaching that these new churches faced was from a group that has been called “the Judaizers.” This was a group of Jewish people who would come to these Gentile churches. They would tell the new Gentile converts to Christ that the men had to be circumcised (ouch!) and all of them needed to start obeying the Law of Moses. Here in Philippians 2:2, Paul warned the Philippian church about this group when he said, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision....” The point of these words was to tell the believers that there was nothing deficient about their relationship to God. Christ fulfilled the Law so there was no need to be obedient to it any longer. We saw this in the remainder of verse 3 when we read, “it is we... who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” The phrase, “boast in Christ Jesus” is a short-hand way of speaking about how Christ has kept the law for us. Theologians call this “the active obedience of Christ” and, like his death (which they call his “passive obedience”) it is credited (imputed) to us at the time of our salvation. God wants his people to know that everything that was necessary for them to be right with God was fully accomplished in Christ. There is no act of positive obedience you must do to be declared right before God nor is there any personal sacrifice you must make to be declared right before God.

In verses 4-6 Paul described his personal religious credentials. More (v. 4b) than any Judaizer who might come to Philippi, Paul was religiously qualified under Judaism to obtain “righteousness based on the law” (v. 6b). But in verses 7-11, Paul described how being justified by faith in Christ was so much better than the (theoretical) righteousness a law abiding Jew might think he has. He wrote in verse 9 that he wanted to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Because of this salvation by faith, he pursued knowing Christ and living for him (vv. 10-14) as all mature believers should (v. 15).

Today there are groups who call themselves Christians but emphasize the need to obey the Law. Some of these people are Jewish; others (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Catholics) are simply legalistic. Many people find a feeling of spirituality by performing rituals and rites or by obedience to some Old Testament dietary command. But the books of the New Testament--and this chapter is an excellent example--teach clearly that Christ has done everything you ever need to be right with God. Obedience to him is a matter of loving service, not a matter of earning his favor. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that you need faith in Jesus plus something else--some ritual or obedience to some command. Christ is all we need and in him is hidden all the riches of wisdom and knowledge. Our goal as believers, then, is “to know him” (v. 10). That’s what the Christian life is all about.

Acts 24

Today’s reading is Acts 24.

So, Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea to protect his life from a plot by his Jewish opponents at the end of yesterday’s reading in Acts 23. Five days (v. 1) after Paul arrived in Caesarea, his Jewish opponents showed up there to charge him with stirring up conflict among the Jews (vv. 2-9). Paul answered the charges against him by appealing to what actually happened and the lack of proof his opponents had for their charges (vv. 10-13). Paul skillfully wove the gospel into his defense starting in verse 14. Felix, the governor who was handling this case, punted the case to a later date (vv. 22-23).

But a few days later, Felix and his wife Drusilla set up a private meeting with Paul (vv. 24-26). This meeting allowed Paul to specifically bring the gospel to this couple. An interesting aspect of this is that Felix was a Gentile, a Roman governor, but his wife Drusilla was Jewish (v. 24b). So Paul had a mixed audience religiously when he spoke to this couple. How did he handle this opportunity? According to verse 25, “Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come....” Let’s break that down:

  • “righteousness” refers to what is right, how someone measures up to a standard. In this case, the standard is God’s perfect holiness as revealed in his Law.
  • “self-control” has to do with a person’s ability to say no to his sinful impulses and choose to do what is right instead.
  • “judgment to come” of course, refers to the fact that every person will stand before God to give an account of his or her life.

In other words, Paul spoke to Felix and Drusilla about right and wrong, about their inability to control themselves enough to do what is right, and about the fact that God would judge them individually for doing what was wrong. What was the reaction? “Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave...” (v. 25b). In other words, Paul’s conversation with them caused Felix to feel the conviction of sin and his need for a savior.

Unfortunately, he did not repent at Paul’s teaching and find forgiveness in Christ. But once again Paul’s approach when talking to him is instructive for us when we speak about Christ to unbelievers. Almost any point of sin is an adequate starting point for the gospel. When you are talking with an unbeliever, if they complain about an injustice in the news or about crime or about the lack of self-control they see in others or in young people, that is an opportunity to talk about Christ. Why do people dislike it when others can’t exercise self-control? Because an uncontrolled population is dangerous and difficult to live in. But what standard do unbelievers use to complain about the sins, injustices, and failures of self-control in others? They appeal to God’s standards, even though they may not know it or even may deny it. The Bible says that the law is written on the heart of every human. That means that we have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. Use that! Show them how they too fall short of the standards they apply to others and admit to them that you, too, fall short but that Jesus didn’t. This will give you the opportunity to share what Christ has done for us to deliver us from the coming judgment of God at the end of the age.

Romans 10

Read Romans 10 today.

In this chapter, Paul continued discussing the unbelief of his people Israel. He spoke directly about his desire and prayer even for the salvation of his countrymen (v. 1). Then he reflected on his own experience and said, yes, we Jews are very enthusiastic about God, but not according to knowledge (v. 2). And what was the knowledge they lacked? That righteousness comes from God (v. 3) to “everyone who believes” (v. 4b). Since they did not know this, they “sought to establish their own” righteousness (v. 3b).

Verses 4-13 contrasts the “righteousness for everyone who believes” (v. 4) with the “righteousness that is by the law” (v. 5). The righteousness that comes by the law is given to those who obey the law; as verse 5b put it, “The person who does these things will live by them.” That’s the promise of righteousness by the law--do what the law says and you will live.

Israel’s history--and yours and mine, too--shows that we can’t keep the law. Because we are sinners, as we saw in Romans 7, we can’t keep God’s law even when we want to--and most of the time, we don’t want to. That’s why Christ came. He is, according to verse 4, “the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” He kept the law we could not keep in order to give us the righteousness we could not earn. The way to righteousness (that is, “to be right with God”) is by faith in Christ (vv. 9-13). This has always been the case as we see from Paul’s quotations of the Old Testament here in Romans 10:

  • v. 8 quotes from Deuteronomy 30:14
  • v. 11 quotes from Isaiah 28:16
  • v. 13 quotes form Joel 2:32

This is why God sends his servants into the world--to spread the message, the good news, of righteousness before God in Jesus Christ (v. 15). As we share the good news, we must remember that people are saved not through our slick presentation or clever arguments; rather, “faith comes from hearing the message,(Y) and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (v. 17). The message itself carries the ability to create faith in those God has chosen.

So, let’s be faithful about carrying the message!

Psalms 72-74

Today’s Sunday Psalms are Psalms 72-74.

The problem with political power is that there is an ever-present temptation to use that power for the benefit of the powerful rather than for the benefit of the nation. Probably every government scandal ever happened because the leader(s) acted in their own best interest against the interest of the whole nation. This is true in other power centers such as business, sports teams, and, yes, even churches.

Psalm 72 is refreshing in its cry to God for a king who rules with justice and desires to “bring prosperity to the people.” Solomon, at least at this point in his life, wanted God’s grace so that Solomon would put what was right ahead of what was best for himself. His song here Psalm 72 is refreshing compared to the self-serving words and actions of too many leaders. How blessed, prosperous, and joyful a nation (or corporation or church or family or whatever) would be if its leaders had this kind of servant’s heart.

Unfortunately, Solomon’s ambition in this chapter did not work out fully in his life. No leader is perfect but Solomon gave way to the temptations of leadership as Israel’s king. Only Christ, the perfect king, could rule and reign in the way Solomon described in this chapter. The failures and abuses of our human leaders should, because we know Christ, make us long for his kingdom to be established when we will rule and reign with him in righteousness.

Until then, though, we have the mind of Christ, the wisdom of God in the scriptures, and the Holy Spirit within us to help us be the kind of leader that Solomon described in this chapter but failed to be on his own. If you are a leader of any kind--ministry, civic, government, family, business, etc.--do you view your position as a platform to benefit others to the glory of God? Do you try to embody the traits of a servant leader who makes decisions and sets a course for the good and service of others instead of the enrichment of yourself? Ask God to endow you with righteousness and justice (v. 1), to bring prosperity to those you serve (v. 2), to deliver the needy around you (vv. 12ff) for the glory of God.

And, as we come together to worship the Lord this morning, let the failures of human leaders turn your heart to claim God’s promise of a future kingdom by faith and to long for the day when he will rule over us more perfectly and completely than Solomon could have imagined in this chapter.

Psalms 48-50

Today’s Psalms are Psalms 48-50.

A comforting fact about our faith is that God is always near us, always with us, and for those who trust in Christ, he is watching us and listening to our prayers like a loving father. These are important truths; we should be thankful for them and take advantage of what they offer to us.

Equally important, however, is to recognize and remember the greatness of God. That’s what the Sons of Korah wanted us to reflect on here in Psalm 40. God is near us and he is love but it is also true that “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise” (v. 1a). The rest of verse 1 through verse 3 applied that greatness to Israel and her king. In verse 1b we were told that God is great “in the city of our God, his holy mountain.” This phrase described Jerusalem, the city of David which was elevated and sheltered by other mountains. But as great as the mountains which surrounded Jerusalem were and as lofty as Jerusalem itself was, God himself was greater, more exalted and lofty than any of them.

This gave God’s people confidence that they would be delivered by his power when attacked by their enemies (vv. 2-8). But in verses 9-11 praised God for a different reason--his moral perfection. A powerful God who was unrighteous, unjust, and unloving might demand worship by his raw power but we would never--could never--worship that kind of God with love, only with fear. Our God, however, is both powerful and perfect. His love is unfailing (v. 9b) and his “right hand is filled with righteousness” (v. 10b). Because these things are true, Mount Zion rejoices [and] the villages of Judah are glad.

Our sin nature is replaced by God’s righteousness and justice but Christ came both to redeem us from the just punishment that we deserve and to give us a heart that loves righteousness. Because we are in him, then, we can rejoice today that God reigns. As chapter 48:14 says, “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.”

Let these thoughts prepare your hearts as we come together to worship this morning.

Proverbs 10:1-16

Today read Proverbs 10:1-16.

The word “righteous” means “that which is right” or “one who is right.” Being “right” requires some kind of standard for measuring the “rightness” of something. In the Old Testament, the thing that is “right” is God’s law because it came from God himself who is always righteous. So, when the book Proverbs talks about “righteousness” or a “righteous” person, it is describing someone who acts as God would act, or as God expects us to act as defined by his laws.

Today’s reading from Proverbs 10 refers to righteousness directly in some way or other in verse 3, 6, 7, 11, and 16. Each of these verses praises the benefits of righteousness--the righteous won’t go hungry (v. 3), wear a crown of blessings (v. 7), have their names used as blessings (v. 7), speak words that are “a fountain of life” (v. 11), and earn life as their wages (v. 16a). Wisdom, then, calls a person to a righteous life. It points people to God’s character as revealed in his word and says, “Live this way and you will be blessed in so many ways in your life.”

Let’s drill down on verse 7, though, and think about what it is saying. The verse says, “The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot.” What comes to mind when I mention the names:

  • Bernie Madoff
  • O. J. Simpson

These are two high profile examples of people who made a name for themselves--Madoff in finance and Simpson in professional sports. Both of them were heroes to many for a long time in their lives. Before his “investment firm” was exposed as a Ponzi scheme, many people thought Madoff had made them wealthy or increased their wealth. Some of these people may have raised a toast to him or named their children after him in years past. But while they were praising his investment prowess, he was spending their money, not investing it. His wicked ways eventually caught up with him and his name is now synonymous with fraud, fulfilling this proverb, “the name of the wicked will rot.” Something similar could be said about O. J. Simpson, among guys who became interested in football or rooted for him or bought his jersey or made money in Buffalo because of his popularity.

In addition to these high profile people, there are millions of smaller examples of people who exploited others for their own selfish reasons. Though they may have once had a good reputation, their name is now rotting because of their wicked ways.

Those who lived a righteous life, however, are remembered fondly by spouses, by their children and grandchildren, by their business partners or co-workers, by civic leaders and neighbors. I see this whenever I attend a funeral for someone who lived a righteous life; people line up to say good things about that person because “the name of the righteous is used in blessings.”

In addition to the fact that we will answer to God for how we live on this earth, there is something to be said for considering your reputation when you make moral choices. Is this decision something you want to be said about you or is it something you would never want to be known? These questions can guide us toward wiser decisions in our lives.

Let me add, of course, that nobody is completely righteous--that’s a fundamental truth of scripture. God’s grace covers our sins and even those who have harmed their reputation can rebuild it with repentance and through sustained obedience. Don’t let this proverb cause you to feel guilty; let it warn you and motivate you to wise--righteous--in the decisions you make with your life going forward.

2 Kings 17, Titus 3, Hosea 10, Psalms 129–131

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 17, Titus 3, Hosea 10, Psalms 129–131. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Hosea 10.

Our reading here in Hosea 10 gave the prophecy of God’s judgment on Israel and we also read about the historical fulfillment of that judgment in 2 Kings 17. God’s people in Israel and Judah committed many sins against him; chief among those sins was idolatry. If Israel had worshipped their God, he would have empowered them to keep the other commands and to offer the sin offerings he prescribed when they failed to keep his commands. But his people did not worship the Lord, therefore, they were slaves to ever other sin and wickedness that humanity can think of. 

As we have seen over and over again this year, however, God always leaves room for repentance. Although he is just in dealing out the judgments promised in his covenant, his prophets come to warn the people to repent and return to righteous living. Here in Hosea 10 we see one of the most beautiful pleadings by a prophet to God’s people. Verse 12 says, “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love….” Don’t those words give you hope? Righteousness, of course, means right living according to God’s laws. Do what God says is right and you will reap the fruit of unfailing love. 

Obedience to this command requires some heart-work to prepare for. Verse 12b says, “…break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord….” This is a visual way of describing repentance. The “unplowed ground” refers to the hardness of the human heart. This hardness causes people to seek anything but the Lord—we seek the prosperity or pleasure or protection offered to us by idols. Our idols are our selfish desires for materialism or pleasure or recognition or whatever else competes with the Lord for our full attention. The Lord in this passage calls people to repent of those idols, to “seek the Lord” from a repentant heart. And how long should we do this? Verse 12b: “…until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” Even in the Old Testament there are passages that show us that God’s righteousness comes as a gift, like the rain showers of heaven that cause plants on earth to grow. God wasn’t commanding his people to try harder to do right; he was calling them to turn to him in repentance, receive his righteousness as a gift, then “sow righteousness for yourselves [to] reap the fruit of unfailing love.” Here is the basic outline of the gospel; the atonement of Christ is not spoken of here, but God’s people knew from the law that their sins needed to be atoned for. We believe and speak the same truths that Hosea held out to Israel. Turn to seek the Lord in repentance preparing the soil of your heart, receive his righteousness like the gift of rain, then plant the seeds of righteous living in your life and watch how God grows them into the fruit of his unfailing love. Do you believe that in Christ God has done all that you need to make this truth a reality? Are you living according to these truths, then, sowing the seeds of righteousness in your life?

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Ruth 3–4, Acts 28, Jeremiah 38, Psalms 11–12

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Ruth 3–4, Acts 28, Jeremiah 38, Psalms 11–12. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Ruth 3-4.

Once again we see the godly character of Boaz on display in today’s two chapters from Ruth. His actions protecting and providing for Ruth in chapter 2 may indicate his personal attraction to her, but he is aware of the age difference (v. 10) and another man who was a closer relative to Ruth and, therefore, had the first right to marry her (vv. 12-13). According to Old Testament law, the other man was supposed to marry Ruth and, with her, produce a son who would be heir to Elimelek’s estate. This nearer relative (plus the age thing) may have been why Boaz did not make a move for Ruth himself. Regardless, Ruth comes to him secretly, at night, and requested his protection for her and Naomi through marriage. Although some have suggested that Ruth’s actions of “uncovering Boaz’s feet” was a sexual act, the text indicates the opposite. The wording in the passage was “uncovered his feet and lay down” (3:7) so this would have to be some kind of Hebrew idiom/euphemism such as when we say two people “slept together.” But the fact that Boaz slept through Ruth’s actions and, later something “startled him” (v. 8), indicates that the plain reading of the text is the correct one. Ruth pulled the covers off Boaz’s feet, laid down on the ground by his feet and waited. 

Although the passage does not say so, it seems clear that Boaz was an unmarried man. Singleness was highly unusual in Israel; perhaps he was a widower whose original wife died before giving him any heirs, but we do not know. What we do know is that his blessing on Ruth (3:10) indicates his desire to be married to Ruth. Given that life during the period of the Judges resembled the wild west, Boaz may have been able to get away with undercutting the nearer relative of Ruth by marrying her before he was aware of her existence. However, despite his desire to marry Ruth and the possibility of doing so unrighteously, but without consequences, Boaz wanted to do the right thing. And, in chapter 4, he did. He gave the closer relative the opportunity to do right, then got what he wanted when the other man refused to do his duty. 

And, you have to admire Boaz and give him some style points for how he approached Ruth’s nearer relative. He mentioned the benefit of doing the right thing first when he asked the man if he would redeem the land that Elimelek owned (4:3). When the man stated his intention to buy the land from Naomi, then Boaz mentioned the string that was attached, namely the responsibility to marry Ruth, too (4:5). Notice how, at the end of Ruth 4, when Obed was born, the women said, “Naomi has a son!” (v. 17). The reason they said this is that Obed was the heir to Elimelek’s land. This legal entanglement was the reason the closer relative to Ruth did not want to buy the land if it meant marrying her. If she were to have a son before the other man’s original wife had a son, there would be “firstborn issues” and Obed might get everything. That’s what he’s saying in verse 6 when he said, “…I might endanger my own estate.” Boaz thought about this before he invited the man to buy Naomi’s property. In other words, although Boaz was determined to do the right thing, even if that meant losing Ruth, he still presented the situation in the best possible way to get what he wanted, namely the legal right to marry Ruth.

The lesson from this, for us, is to be careful about pursuing desires that are outside of the moral will of God. It is so easy for us to see situations like this in clear black and white terms when we are looking at the responsibilities and actions of others. But, when we ourselves want something that maybe outside of God’s will for us, we can easily make excuses that justify doing what we want to do. Couples who are considering marriage can do this kind of justifying when it comes to crossing lines of sexual activity. “We’re planning on getting married,” they might reason, “so it’s not wrong for us as long as we do get married anyway.” It is so easy to justify what we want to do and so hard, when our desires are engaged, to do what God commands us to do. But a man of moral character like Boaz and a woman of godly character like Ruth will seek to do right and wait for the Lord.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.