truth

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 2

Today we’re reading 1 Samuel 23 and Ezekiel 2.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 2.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and prophesied during much of the same era of time. This was the time when the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been displaced by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was in decline and would eventually be taken captive by the Babylonians. The difference between them is that Jeremiah prophesied before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and after it fell where as Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry began only after Jerusalem fell while he was with the other exiles in Babylon (1:1). Instead of serving God as a priest, which he would have by birth (1:2), Ezekiel was called by God to see visions (chapter 1) and to prophesy to God’s people in exile. Here in Ezekiel 2 he received a direct message from God himself, a message that commissioned him to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent. Jeremiah had faithfully proclaimed the word of the Lord, even when he was imprisoned for his message and when the Lord’s enemies plotted to take his life. Ezekiel, too, was told to be faithful with the message the Lord gave him (vv. 4-8) regardless of whether people responded in repentance and obedience or not. The reason God sent Ezekiel and told him to keep prophesying even when there were no results was that “they will know that a prophet has been among them” (v. 5c). God’s people may have rejected his message, but God would not withhold that message from them.

What purpose was served by sending prophets to people who would not listen and repent? The answer is that it removes their excuse and renders them guilty before God (see Rom 3:19). While it is hard to keep speaking truth in a hard-hearted world, God has a purpose for his word going out even when there is no response to it. Messengers like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and us are not held accountable for how people respond to the message. Only God can transform a heart that his hard to his message through the power of the Spirit. What we are responsible for is to be faithful—faithful in speaking what God said without subtractions, additions, or apologies and faithful in living the truth in our own lives.

Maybe you’ve been praying for someone and witnessing to them when you can or maybe you’ve been praying about witnessing to someone but feel like it will be useless to do because you’re sure they won’t respond in faith. Let God’s word to Ezekiel in this chapter speak to you, too. God put us where he put us for a purpose and he commanded us to be faithful in speaking his word for his purposes. Success in evangelism is always encouraging, but lack of success isn’t an indictment of you as a messenger. The only time we have failed to serve God in evangelism is when we have failed to speak for God when we have the chance. Let’s learn to trust the Lord’s word and his purposes and just be faithful in giving the message—as clearly, compassionately, and convincingly as we can, yes. But none of those is as important as speaking faithfully.

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 1

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 21-22 and Ezekiel 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 21-22.

Yesterday I attempted to demonstrate that Jonathan’s lie to Saul, while unwise, was not held against him by the Lord because his intention was to save David’s life from the murderous intentions of Saul. In today’s passage, David lied unnecessarily to Ahimelek the priest (vv. 1-3). Ahimelek’s instinct was to be concerned when he saw David without any of the usual soldiers who fought with him (v. 1); instead of dealing truthfully with Ahimelek, David lied to him. What possible reason could have justified David’s lie? It is possible that he was concerned about Ahimelek’s allegiance to Saul but the text gives us no indication of that. Probably, then, it was just easier. It was easier for David to make up a false story on the spot to get David’s help than it was to be truthful with Ahimelek and risk being refused the help David needed. This is an example, then, of a lie that was told to manipulate someone into doing your will rather than being truthful and trusting God. Had David trusted God in this situation, Ahimelek could have inquired of the Lord for guidance. Or Ahimelek could have helped David knowing full well the risk he was taking on. Instead, David’s lie got him what he needed in the short term (vv. 4, 9) but he exposed Ahimelek to the dangers of Saul. Indeed, David knew that he was responsible for Ahimelek’s death because of his lies as we see in verse 22. David even admitted that he put Ahimelek in danger knowingly, for he told Abiathar, Ahimelek’s son, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” As great and godly as David was, his dishonesty in a crucial moment cost an innocent man his life. You and I are unlikely to ever be put into a situation where we have to lie to save someone’s life. Most of the time when we lie (or are tempted to lie), it is our own convenience or our own advantage we are seeking or we are attempting to cover up another sin that we have already committed. Since God is truth and is able to provide and protect those who trust in him, we as his children should be truthful.

1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 20.

Jonathan believed his father when Saul told him that David would not be put to death, as we read yesterday in 19:6. We do not know how much time passed between Saul’s assurance in 19:6 and the rest of the events of chapter 19, but we do know that Saul did not keep his commitment to Jonathan to stop hunting David. According to today’s reading in chapter 20:2, Jonathan was unaware of Saul’s attempts on David’s life in chapter 19 that followed his conversation with Saul in 19:1-6. Here in chapter 20, David concocted a plan to prove to Jonathan whether Saul was intent on killing him still or if he was faithful to his word to Jonathan. Although David was supposed to join Saul for a New Moon feast (v. 5a), David hid instead (v. 5b). When Saul asked Jonathan where David was, Jonathan was instructed to lie and tell Saul that David was attending a family ritual instead (vv. 6-7). Both David and Jonathan expected Saul’s response to this ruse to reveal definitively whether Saul was intent on killing David or not (vv. 8-18). Note that the text is clear: Jonathan’s answer to Saul was a lie; there was no sacrifice for Jesse’s family. Instead, David was hiding in a field (v. 5b, 24a). As good as their motives were, Jonathan and David created a plan that required Jonathan to lie So what do we make of a passage like this?

First of all, the Bible commands us to speak truthfully (Eph 4:25). God is truth and, as his people, we should be committed to truth as well. Most of our lies are designed to benefit us in some other unrighteous way. We tell lies to manipulate someone else into doing what we want them to do, or we lie to cover up something else that we’ve done that is evil or we lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. That last one is especially insidious because we think we’re doing it for them—to avoid hurting their feelings, but the truth is that we tell “little white lies” so that someone else will like us.

Jonathan and David lied here to protect David’s life. And this is also why Rahab lied when she was protecting the spies. These are the only instances in scripture were someone lied and was not condemned or punished for it. The lie was told to prevent an even greater sin namely, the unrighteous taking of human life. These lies were told to PREVENT a greater evil not to cover up an evil or to manipulate someone for personal advantage or to get approval from someone unrighteously. That’s what makes them different than most of the lies we tell.

It would have been better and wiser if Jonathan and David could have devised a test of Saul’s intent without lying. It would have been better because there could have been severe consequences for both of them if their lies were discovered. You don’t lie to the king and just get away with it easily. So lying was not the best course of action in this instance. But since their lie was designed to protect David’s life, God was merciful to them and, I believe, did not count this as a sin against them. Would it ever be appropriate for us to lie? Based on this passage, the only instance where I believe it would be justifiable is if you or I lied to save someone’s life—our own or someone else. If a man with murderous intent tries to get you to expose a victim and lie to save that person’s life, passages like this one lead me to believe that God will not condemn you. Any other reason for lying, as far as I can tell, is sin.

Judges 5, Jeremiah 16

Today, read Judges 5 and Jeremiah 16.

Somehow on Friday I jumped to Jeremiah 18 instead of Jeremiah 16 and I continued this mistake yesterday. So we need to read Jeremiah 16 today and 17 tomorrow and we’ll be back on it by Tuesday. Sorry.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 16:19-21.

The forecast for Judah, according to Jeremiah, continued to be bleak. There was going to be so many deaths from disease, famine, and sword that God told Jeremiah not to get married or have any children (vv. 1-4). Don’t start a family, Jeremiah, because you will lose some or all of them in death. That was God’s word to Jeremiah. Bleak.

Furthermore Jeremiah was prohibited from paying his respects at anyone’s funeral (vv. 5-7) or enjoying a feast at someone’s home (vv. 6-13). When the Lord’s punishment for Judah came, people would be terrified and then many of them would die.

As usual, the Lord made no apology for bringing this punishment. God’s people had forsaken him and done much evil in his sight (vv. 11-12, 17-18). As hard as it is for us to accept, they deserved to be punished by a just and holy God, just as all of us do.

Compounding their sin was the fact that they had the truth. The true Lord, the one real God, had revealed himself to them but they exchanged that for false gods (v. 18).

As bleak as all of this was, Jeremiah held out hope in the Lord and his promises. Someday, he knew, God would restore his people (vv. 14-15) and the knowledge of God would spread throughout the world (v. 19). Those who worship false gods would realize that their gods were false and would come “from the ends of the earth” to know the true God. This is a prophecy of us Gentiles coming to know God through Christ and, when they come, they will not find an angry God who is looking for people to kill. Instead they will find a willing instructor: “I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord” (v. 21).

This is what we’re doing in evangelism. We are exposing the false gods that people worship (v. 20) and calling them to find truth in the LORD. This is the only hope that anyone has for avoiding the justice of our holy God. Better than that, when God has gathered in everyone he will save, we will enter his kingdom together and spend eternity at the feet of a God who said, “I will teach them” (v. 21). Instead of looking at his word as a burden to bear, something to choke down like a vegetable because it is good for us, we will eagerly feed ourselves with God’s nourishing truth and rejoice and be satisfied in his presence as he teaches us.

Who can you share this saving message with in the coming week?

Joshua 14-16, Jeremiah 8

So..., I made mistakes the past two days. According to the schedule, we were supposed to read Joshua 12-13 on Monday and 14-15 yesterday but I had you read Joshua 12 on Monday and Joshua 13 yesterday. As a result:

OK? Sorry for my mistakes. This devotional is about Jeremiah 8:7e-8: “But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord. “‘How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?”

Here God is mystified by the unnatural actions of his people. If they are his people, they should follow his ways. It should be instinctive, just like the instinct we have to get up when we fall down (v. 4) and instinct that birds have to migrate (v. 7). The instincts of “God’s chosen people,” however, was not to follow the Lord’s ways. Instead, their instincts were to pursue “their own course like a horse charging into battle” (v. 6e-f).

They did not know, however, that they were off course when it came to following the Lord. They thought they were doing well; verse 8a records them as saying, “We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord.” God’s response, however, was, “But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord.” Their instincts were bad and their lives were off course because the didn’t know God’s word, even though they thought they did. And who was faulted in this passage for their ignorance of God’s word? The scribes: “...the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” This interesting phrase is not explained in Jeremiah’s prophecy. Did they intentionally change the manuscripts they were copying? Or is this referring to some kind of teaching material they wrote?

We don’t know. But, the point of this statement is that God’s people can be led astray when God’s word is distorted. Distortion can mean mistranslation, misinterpretation, miscopying or outright changing God’s word. It reminds us how important careful, faithful handling of God’s word is. Be careful, then, about who you listen to or who you read. When you pick up a book for spiritual nourishment, find out if the author is a capable and faithful handler of God’s word. Even if he or she is, be a believer who evaluates what you’re reading carefully. Is what you’re reading scriptural or is it falsely handling God’s truth?

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 8, Song of Songs 6, Psalm 119:49-72

Here are today’s OT18 Bible readings: Numbers 8, Song of Songs 6, Psalm 119:49-72.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:72: “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

Would you rather be wealthy or smart?

On one hand...

  • You might be tempted to choose “smart” if you think that superior intellect can be used in multiple ways, including to earn you wealth.
  • You might be tempted to choose “wealthy” if you think that money can buy you brains.

On the other hand...

  • If you’re wealthy but lack intelligence, someone smarter than you might swindle you out of all your money.
  • There is no guarantee that being smart will make you wealthy. I read somewhere once that really smart people are risk-averse because they can think of ways in which things might go wrong. Earning wealth often requires risk so people with very high I.Q.’s tend to take jobs instead of starting businesses because a job feels safer.

So, money or smarts? A good case can be made for either. Here in Psalm 119:72, the Psalmist knew the answer to a similar question. That question was, “Would you rather be wealthy or have God’s word?” His answer was, “God’s Word.” He put more value on God’s revelation than on a vast amount of wealth. Why?

One reason was that he had been “afflicted” (v. 67, 71a). This describes the discipline of the Lord in his life which corrected his disobedience and put him back on a righteous path. In that incident of discipline, the author of this song learned how valuable truth and obedience are. Wealth can make problems go away but only God’s word and God’s loving discipline can change your life. This is one reason why God’s word is more valuable than wealth.

Another reason is that money is temporary. Even if you inherit a large fortune and use skill to make it grow, you will die someday. After you die, your money will be useless to you and your eternity will be set. God’s word has saving power to create faith in your heart so that you can be redeemed from God’s wrath by his grace. That’s an eternal value that makes scripture more valuable than any human wealth.

What’s most valuable in your life? What would need to be true for you to value scripture above anything else?

Exodus 36, Proverbs 12, Psalm 84

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 36, Proverbs 12, and Psalm 84.

This devotional is about Proverbs 12:6: “The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them.”

This cryptic little proverb takes some thinking to make sense of. The first part of the proverb says, “The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood....” What could that possibly mean? to “lie in wait for blood” evokes the image of a hunter. The goal of a hunter or trapper is to take the life of his prey. He goes out looking for prey and hides, lying “in wait” until that animal arrives. Unaware of the danger nearby, the animal walks into the crosshairs of the hunter’s rifle or trots into the trapper’s trap. In that moment, his life ends and he becomes the trophy of the man who plotted against him. When Solomon wrote, “the words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,” he described someone who lays a trap for someone else and waits. This is a way to describe dishonest speech. It might be speech that misleads for a purpose or lies that entrap someone else. Either way, it is dishonesty that is deliberately calculated to take advantage of someone else.

What saves someone from this kind of verbal trap? The truth: “but the speech of the upright rescues them” (v. 6b). The truth leaves clues most of the time. The person whose words make the best sense of those clues is most likely to be believed. When we are dishonest, we maybe be playing into the hands of someone wicked who wants to trap us. When we tell the truth, we can escape those traps, even when we walk right to them unaware.

It is a sobering thought that there are people out there trying to use words to entrap us, but there are. Instead of being cynical about others, or becoming defensive and hyper-vigilant, just tell the truth in every situation in life. When we are always truthful, we not only save ourselves from traps, we mirror the glory of our God who IS truth. Protect yourself and glorify God by speaking the truth always and never lying.

Exodus 23, Job 41, Psalm 71

Today we’re reading Exodus 23, Job 41, and Psalm 71.

This devotional is about Exodus 23.

We all desire acceptance and approval. When we feel like the majority of people around us disagree with us on something, each of us feels a strong psychological pull to fall instep with the opinions of the majority.

Exodus 23:2-3 warn us about allowing social power to control us. Three types of situations were addressed in these verses:

  • justifying a sinful action with the rationalization that “everyone is doing it” (v. 2a).
  • testifying falsely in court because there are more people on one side of the dispute than on the other (v. 2b).
  • letting your sympathy for a poor person cause you to hand down a verdict in court in their favor even though the facts prove that the other party in court is in the right.

Let’s focus on the first of these situations. In verse 2a, God’s command to Israel was, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” When groups use their power--either social power or the power of sheer numbers--to overrule what is morally right, that is sinful in the sight of God. Although we may feel a desire to do the sinful thing that they are doing or to do it just to fit in within, God’s word calls us to stand apart even if that means standing alone.

These days, social pressure is being applied to us on a host of moral issues such as cohabitation, abortion, easy divorce, affirming homosexuality or transgenderism. Political correctness mandates that we say only what is societally accepted on these and other issues. Dissent from the prevailing opinion is not allowed. Our options often feel like either to keep quiet or repeat the politically correct position as if we agree with it. Some christians and churches have come out and affirmed the unbiblical position on these things. They follow the crowd and make it stronger. Already the Christian faith as we practice it is being labeled as bigoted and hateful. Someday--not too far off--there may be calls to censor our doctrine and prosecute our teachers and preachers for hate speech when we teach what the Bible says on these subjects.

Truth is not a matter of public opinion and that is what the laws in the early verses of Exodus 23 are designed to protect. As the Lord’s people, we need to be reminded periodically to be truth-driven, not pressure-driven or personality-driven. Next time you feel pressured to join in or go along with something unbiblical that lots of people are doing, remember what God told Israel in Exodus 23:2: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.”

John 19

Today’s reading is John 19.

Pontius Pilate was a Roman. He was assigned a powerful position in the Roman Empire over the area of Judea so he had to keep tabs on potential threats and problems in his region. But there was really no reason for him to fear anyone in Israel. With Roman soldiers at his disposal, any uprising by the Jewish people could be easily squelched. Any political would-be leaders could be dispensed with easily.

It is surprising, then, to read in verse 8 that “Pilate... was even more afraid” when he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. I would expect a man as Roman and as powerful as he was to laugh at such a claim. Pilate, however, did not laugh. He seems to have taken the charge very seriously. In verse 9b he asked Jesus where he was from and in verse 10 he scolded Jesus for not answering him. When Jesus finally did answer Pilate, stating that all the power he had was allowed him by God (v. 11), Pilate did not react as one who was insulted. Instead, “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (v. 12). It took some political bullying by the Jewish leaders (v. 12bff) to get Pilate to send Jesus off for crucifixion (vv. 13ff).

What caused Pilate to be so fearful of Jesus? Remember that anything Jesus said was God’s word by definition. Since it was God’s word, it had the power of God behind it. That power, plus the witness of the Spirit, gave Jesus’ words self-authenticating power. Pilate knew that he was hearing the word of God and, on some level, knew that Jesus was the Son of God.

Do you understand the self-authenticating power of God’s word? Unbelievers like Pilate may resist God’s word and evade accountability to it. But, because it is God’s word, they feel the conviction of sin within when they heard God’s word. They know through the convicting work of the Spirit that Jesus is truly God.

Let’s harness this power of the word and share frequently and scripturally the message about Christ.

John 17

Today we’re reading John 17.

This chapter records Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and the disciples who would believe through their witness (v. 20). The main subject of his prayer was unity (v. 11f, 21) and the standard for that unity was high: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a). It is hard to imagine any group of Christians being as tight as the Father, Son, and Spirit are, but that’s what Jesus prayed for.

Such unity would be powerful, too: “...so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). The unity of believers in Christ would be a powerful witness to the truth of Christianity.

I have heard many people bemoan the lack of unity in the body of Christ, and I understand and sympathize with them at times. Usually, though, the prescription that is given for a lack of unity among Christians is to dumb down our faith to the common essential elements. It is like ordering a cheese pizza for 5 people because nobody can agree on anything more than that.

There is a place and a value to discussing what theologians have called the “irreducible minimum” that anyone must believe to be considered a Christian. But Jesus did not pray that we would unify around the irreducible minimum. His prescription for unity was not about finding the least common theological denominator; his prescription was for us disciples to know the truth.

Just before he prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21a), he prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). What sets us apart and unifies us is truth--the revelation of God’s word. What we need as disciples to unify us is not to avoid disagreements but to press into the scriptures together to find the truth.

Evangelical Christians have a remarkable amount of unity when it comes to the doctrines of the faith, if you think about it. We may disagree about baptism or eschatology, but we fully agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the depravity of humanity and our absolute need for grace, the importance and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and other factors. This unity has been worked out over the past 2,000 years or so, not by avoiding issues of conflict but by studying, discussing and debating, and accepting the scripture’s teaching on these things.

I keep thinking of more to say about this, but that’s enough for now. God is answering Jesus’s prayer here in John 17 but we need to keep coming to the truth--the word of God--to find our unity there.

2 Timothy 2

Today we’re reading 2 Timothy 2.

Paul’s life was coming to an end. Timothy, apparently a much younger man, would not live forever either. If the church in Ephesus was going to survive and thrive beyond the short term, the false teaching in it needed to be rooted out (vv. 16-17). While Timothy was doing that, however, he needed to be instilling good doctrine. Verse 2 commanded him to take “...the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Verse 14 commanded him to “keep reminding God’s people of these things.” Truth is the antidote for false doctrine but it is also the mother’s milk of spiritual growth.

Have you ever discipled another person, passing on what you’ve learned of our faith to someone else? It is one of the best ways to grow strong in the faith yourself. It is also important for the growth and development of the gospel. The process Paul described in verse 2 of taking “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses” and entrusting them “to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” must not break down. Look around and find someone who could use a good model of Christian growth or a faithful instructor of God’s word. Then, invite that person to grow with you by learning God’s word through personal discipleship.

2 Thessalonians 2

Today the NT17 schedule calls for us to read 2 Thessalonians 2.

Paul continued to discuss end time events in this chapter, telling the Thessalonians (and us) that “the day of the Lord” will not come until the “man of lawlessness” comes first, proclaiming himself to be God (v. 4), displaying great powers that will deceive many people into following him (vv. 9-12). Those who believe him will face God’s judgment because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10). By contrast, those who trust in Christ do so because we have been set apart by the Holy Spirit and “through belief in the truth” (v. 13). These statements remind us again how important truth is to the Christian life. While faith in Christ is a supernatural gift of God’s grace given to us when we hear the gospel through the new birth, part of that conversion process is a desire to receive the truth. This means receiving the truth about ourselves--that we are sinners deserving God’s punishment and the truth about God--that he is just and will punish sinners but also loving so that he came in the person of Christ to take away our sins.

These truths were the means God used to save us; in addition to these truths, however, God gave us a love for all of his truth. That “love” breaks down our hostility toward believing in the supernatural or in doctrines that we find difficult to accept. Since God has removed our hostility to the truth, then, Paul commands believers to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (v. 15). Doctrine is important and those who love Jesus love doctrine, too. While there are some disagreements among believers about how to interpret the scriptures in some areas, we should keep looking together at the scriptures and seeking to find the correct interpretation because we are people who love truth.

James 5

Today read James 5.

Are you a man or woman of your word? If you tell someone you will do something or be somewhere or arrive at a certain time, can that person count on you? Or, do you have to preface or follow something you’ve said with the statement, “I swear!” or “I promise!” Those phrases are necessary when we know we can’t be trusted. When we’ve just failed to keep a commitment or have a habit of being undependable, we have to resort to saying, “I swear” or “I promise” to manufacture a little bit of credibility for ourselves.

Jesus commanded us, his followers, not to say these things. James repeats those words of Jesus here in James 5:12: “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.” The point of saying “a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” is that you will do what you agree to do or you will be honest if you can’t, won’t, or don’t want to do it. Because we want people to like us, we all have a tendency to say “yes” to things that we really don’t want to do. James reminds us that following Jesus means being upfront and honest with others. A person who is consistently honest and keeps his or her word is someone who can be trusted in the future. That kind of person, so rare in our world, never needs to say, “I swear” or “I promise.”

Look, life happens sometimes and prevents us from keeping our word when we had every intention of doing so. When that happens, the best thing to do is go to the person who was counting on you and apologize, taking responsibility and explaining--truthfully--what happened. These days, of course, everyone has a cellphone on them, so missed commitments can be renegotiated. A renegotiated commitment is not a broken commitment. A person who keeps his commitments will keep his commitments or he’ll contact you to explain or apologize as soon as possible.

Today you will be asked for things--to show up at a meeting, to take on a responsibility, to come for an appointment, to bake cookies for your kids’ bake sale--whatever. Being Christians means being people of truth; if you can’t do what is being asked of you, there is absolutely no shame in saying, “No.” Remember that is one of the options James said we could say in verse 12. As followers of Christ, let’s make our commitments slowly, carefully, and with every intention of fulfilling them. Do this day after day, week after week, and people will learn that you can be trusted. That is a character quality that pleases the Lord.

1 Chronicles 13–14, James 1, Amos 8, Luke 3

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Chronicles 13–14, James 1, Amos 8, Luke 3. 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 Amos 8.

What happened when God withdrew his blessing from people and brought the covenant curses he promised in Deuteronomy for their disobedience? Lots of things happened--defeat in war, drought & famine, and ultimately, exile. Our passage today highlights a lesser known but far worse consequence of God’s judgment: the loss of his word. Verses 11-12 say, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.’” Although God was speaking to Daniel and Ezekiel during the exile, they were in Babylon, not in Israel or Judah. The temple in Judah was destroyed so there was no reading God’s written word there and no priests to teach it and discuss it. 

The Bible indicates that this is how God typically responds when his word is neglected, disobeyed, and rejected. In a passage we’ll come to in my messages on Luke, Luke 8:18 says, “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” When we respond to God’s truth obediently, we get more truth. When we don’t respond well to God’s truth, we get less. This is, perhaps, why it is easier than ever to find a church--maybe even a very large church--in America, but harder to find one that teaches God’s word. We have become familiar, complacent even, with God and his word but as a generation, it seems, there is less concern for personal holiness, less hunger for truth. The warnings of Amos and Jesus remind us to realize how precious God’s word is and to treat it preciously by desiring it, learning, growing and obeying it.

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.

1 Samuel 21–22, 1 Corinthians 3, Ezekiel 1, Psalm 37

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 21–22, 1 Corinthians 3, Ezekiel 1, Psalm 37. 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 1 Samuel 21-22.

Yesterday I attempted to demonstrate that Jonathan’s lie to Saul, while unwise, was not held against him by the Lord because his intention was to save David’s life from the murderous intentions of Saul. In today’s passage, David lied unnecessarily to Ahimelek the priest (vv. 1-3). Ahimelek’s instinct was to be concerned when he saw David without any of the usual soldiers who fought with him (v. 1); instead of dealing truthfully with Ahimelek, David lied to him. What possible reason could have justified David’s lie? It is possible that he was concerned about Ahimelek’s allegiance to Saul but the text gives us no indication of that. Probably, then, it was just easier. It was easier for David to make up a false story on the spot to get David’s help than it was to be truthful with Ahimelek and risk being refused the help David needed. This is an example, then, of a lie that was told to manipulate someone into doing your will rather than being truthful and trusting God. Had David trusted God in this situation, Ahimelek could have inquired of the Lord for guidance. Or Ahimelek could have helped David knowing full well the risk he was taking on. Instead, David’s lie got him what he needed in the short term (vv. 4, 9) but he exposed Ahimelek to the dangers of Saul. Indeed, David knew that he was responsible for Ahimelek’s death because of his lies as we see in verse 22. David even admitted that he put Ahimelek in danger knowingly, for he told Abiathar, Ahimelek’s son, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” As great and godly as David was, his dishonesty in a crucial moment cost an innocent man his life. You and I are unlikely to ever be put into a situation where we have to lie to save someone’s life. Most of the time when we lie (or are tempted to lie), it is our own convenience or our own advantage we are seeking or we are attempting to cover up another sin that we have already committed. Since God is truth and is able to provide and protect those who trust in him, we as his children should be truthful. 

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.

Joshua 11, Psalm 144, Jeremiah 5, Matthew 19

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Joshua 11, Psalm 144, Jeremiah 5, Matthew 19. 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 Jeremiah 5.

Jeremiah was called by God to proclaim judgment to Judah, the Southern Kingdom. He is called “the weeping prophet” because he saw the judgment he prophesied happen and wrote a lament about it in the book of the Bible known as “Lamentations.” The reason for God’s judgment on Judah is that they did not worship God; instead, they turned after idols. Jeremiah talks about that in this chapter in verses 7-25, but the opening verses of this chapter look at the problem differently. In verses 1-3 God tells Jeremiah to search Jerusalem, capital of the Southern Kingdom, to find a truthful person. Verse 1b issues this challenge: “If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.” But in verse 2 the Lord tells them that everyone he meets is dishonest. They may swear in God’s name to be telling the truth but they are lying. Jeremiah knows this to be true, but believes that the problem is confined to the poor who “do not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God” (v. 5b). He was confident that the leaders of Judah would know better. “Surely they know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God” he said to himself in verse 5b, so verse 5a recorded his resolve to speak to the leaders to see if he could find that one honest man that would spare the whole kingdom from judgment. But, no. According to verses 5c-6, even the leaders of Judah had traded truthfulness for dishonesty. 

Since the root problem was that Judah did “not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God” (v. 4), that they had “sworn by gods that are not gods” (v. 7b) and “‘have been utterly unfaithful to me,’ declares the Lord” (v. 11), why is there such a focus on telling the truth in the early verses of this chapter? The answer is that truth is an attribute of God. An untruthful person is showing the evidence of their unbelief; it is a measurable symbol of what they worship. The further a person or a society strays from God, the more untruthful they will become. Unbelievers do tell the truth at times; they may even be generally truthful in what they say. But people like us have an uncanny ability to lie to and deceive ourselves. We all speak sincerely at times about our beliefs but if we’ve chosen to believe something to be true that is actually false, we are not objectively truthful. Eventually whole societies are swallowed up in nonsense because they—collectively—have agreed to believe and to affirm what is false. Unless you know God, you can’t live a life of truth. 

As Christians, we too struggle to be truthful. We sometimes deceive others purposefully and we often deceive ourselves. We do this when we make excuses for sin (our own or others) or give assent to what is popular even though it is unbiblical and often irrational. This passage should remind us that the God of truth that we worship calls us to reflect his nature in our lives by being truthful people as we grow to become like him. Jeremiah could not find a truthful man because he couldn’t find a man who really worshiped the Lord. Let us who know the Lord, then, choose to show the glory of God, the God of truth, in the honest, truthful ways in which we speak.

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.