Category Archives: Scripture

The Spiritual Battle from Three Scriptures

In Sunday school this weekend, we continued to work our way through the third chapter of Ephesians, where Paul prays on behalf of the church there.  Here is this prayer in its entirety:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

As we broke his prayer down into smaller pieces to focus more closely on single words or phrases, one of the phrases that really grabbed my attention was in verse 17, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”.

I had spent some time reading through and reflecting on Romans 7 last week, and when I read that, it brought to mind these verses from that chapter:

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:14-20)

Did you catch that?  Verses 17, 18, and 20: “sin that dwells within me… nothing good dwells in me… sin that dwells within me.”

So which is it?  Is it sin that dwells within me or is it Christ?

God immediately brought to mind Jesus words in Matthew 12 when our Savior was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, specifically Matthew 12:29:

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matthew 12:22-29)

I would like to hear your feedback on this.  Please comment.

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The World, The Christ, and Us – Part 3

The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life…

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NKJV)

15Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  17The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NASB)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NKJV)

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.  (1 John 2:15-17 ASV)

15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. Because everything that belongs to the world— 16 the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1 John 2:15-17 HCSB)

15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17 KJV)

15Love not ye the world, nor the things in the world; if any one doth love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,  16because all that [is] in the world — the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the ostentation of the life — is not of the Father, but of the world,  17and the world doth pass away, and the desire of it, and he who is doing the will of God, he doth remain — to the age. (1 John 2:15-17 YLT)

15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NIV)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the des ires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

It is interesting to note, also, that what the Apostle is doing in this warning passage is not just referring to the world, but to all three of the cords that bind our souls for destruction: the flesh, the world, and the devil.  The lust of the flesh obviously refers to the flesh.  The lust of the eyes refers to the desire to obtain and find pleasure in the things of this world.  And the “ostentation” or vain-glory of life is that Satanic influence to exalt and glory in ourselves, rather than to be humbled to the dust by the glory of our magnificent Creator.

Consider what our Lord Himself says in the gospels.  In the gospel of Matthew, we read his words:

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:28-30)

In the gospel of Mark, we hear something very similar:

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'” (Mark 9:43,45,47-48).

In the passage from Matthew, Jesus starts with the heart and the sinful intent.  He then goes on to say it is better to cut off your hand or tear out your eye if they cause you to sin.  Of course, it is not the hand and the eye that cause the sin; they are the just the medium for its consumption.  It is the heart (or mind or affections) that control the members of the body.  The addition of the foot in the gospel of Mark is interesting, since this suggests the way we walk as well as that which we stand upon.  The Greek word “peripateo” means “to live” or “to walk”.  For a practical example of how our “walk” is basically the same as the life that is lived out of our heart, see Ephesians chapters 4 and 5.

Considering these warning passages in the gospels, there seems to be many parallels in John’s epistle.  I do not think that Jesus, the great physician meant for people to literally maim and mutilate themselves.  I do think He intended to underscore the severity of dealing with our sin.  The hands that so often feed the flesh the desires of its appetites; the eyes full of desire, seeking their satisfaction in whatever delights them; and the feet–the way we walk and what it is we are standing on.  They are both saying the same things different ways.  Seeking sensual pleasures, earthly treasures, and self-glorification will separate you from God eternally.  They are antithetical to the will of God.  Their end is hell and hopelessness.  If we are pursuing such ends, we MUST REPENT and turn again… for “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:26)

It should also be noted that the fruit of the hand and the eye grows from the root of heart.  A rotten heart may produce bad fruit (the works or use of the hands and eyes), but they do not make the root bad.  It is not the fruit that corrupts the root, but the fruit stems forth from what is in the root.

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Luke 6:43)

And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?  Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:16-20)

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” (Luke 11:34-35)

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The World, The Christ, and Us – Part 1

The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life…

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NKJV)

15Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  17The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NASB)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NKJV)

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.  (1 John 2:15-17 ASV)

15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. Because everything that belongs to the world— 16 the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1 John 2:15-17 HCSB)

15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17 KJV)

15Love not ye the world, nor the things in the world; if any one doth love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,  16because all that [is] in the world — the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the ostentation of the life — is not of the Father, but of the world,  17and the world doth pass away, and the desire of it, and he who is doing the will of God, he doth remain — to the age. (1 John 2:15-17 YLT)

15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NIV)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the des ires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

I looked this verse up in many translations that I would consider to be reliable and printed them here to reflect on.  I like the ESV translation, especially with regards to the first two of the three—“the desires of the flesh” and “the desires of the eyes”—but as I continue to mull over and meditate on this passage I think that “pride in possessions” falls a little short of what I think John is saying.  I’ll try to make more sense of that as I proceed.  First, though, I’d like to consider the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes.

The lust (or the desires) of the flesh… these are physical appetites of the body.  It is important to understand that these may be God-given needs—such as food to feed the body, physical comfort (so that we may rest), and sex (both for pleasure and for pro-creation).  But as a result of Adam’s sin, and of our fallen and corrupt natures, these physical needs and appetites are distorted and out of balance.  We should be in control of our appetites.  But because of sin, they are most often in control of us.  We are slaves to food, alcohol (or other intoxicants), and to sexual passions, but God did not create man to be enslaved by these things.  He created these (some of them anyway) for man’s enjoyment, not his enslavement.  The enslavement to them is a result of sin, and results in further bondage to sin.

I understand the lust (or the desires) of the eyes pertain to those things that are external to our bodies.  The lust of the eyes is most often associated with covetousness.  Our eyes are seeking things to derive pleasure (or worth) from, although this is a certainly different from the sensual pleasure that comes from sex, food, or intoxicating substances that have a direct effect on our physical nature.  The pleasure that comes from gambling or winning the lottery, from buying a boat or a new car or a new house, or even some new clothes or jewelry is very real and can be very intense.  And most certainly there is an emotional aspect to the acquisition of such things, but it is obviously pleasure of a very different sort than would be had from a large meal, sexual intercourse, or an intoxicating substance.  It is a pleasure that is more oriented to the mind or, as our Christian forefathers centuries ago might say to the “affections” (or the heart) than it is to the body.

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Reality, Utopia, and Christ

Well, in my last post I mentioned an email that a friend of mine sent out to several people mentioning an article he came across on the movie “Avatar” actually resulting in depression for several viewers.  He asked some good questions: What strikes your mind as you read it? What does it say to you about Christianity (the religion) as we know it, the current level of Kingdom influence in our world, and about what we should be doing?

Well, I have given everyone who comes by to visit my site a few days to respond, and since neither of you did, I’ll go ahead and post my own response to these questions my friend asked…

I have not seen the movie, but I think it is a sad indictment that culturally we have moved so far away from the REALITY of God’s Word that a movie about a virtual world and the possibilities within *that* place, stir us to greater heights and depths of emotion than what is taking place not just here in the *real* world, but also in the heavenly realm which is our real home.  We were not made to be permanent residents of this world, but rather we are warned not to fall in love with this world, not to be dragged away by passions that can only be satisfied by it, and to live here as aliens… as *sojourners*.  This brings us into a conflict that affects all of us–believers and unbelievers alike.  We cannot find our satisfaction here.

I think it is important, though, to remember who we ARE as a result of the Fall.  In the book of Romans, Paul lays it out pretty clearly and we can see this image of man reflected back through everything we see on television and in the movies.  Collectively speaking, this is who we are:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

It is little wonder that someone who is confronting this *reality* (whether it is a result of seeing a movie, reading their Bible, or dealing with the recognition of their own depravity) would become depressed.  It is depressing news.  Any time we begin to really see the impact of man’s fallen nature and the effects of our sin on God’s creation (whether it is our own personal corruption or the collective corruption of mankind), it is overwhelmingly depressing.

For the believer, though, we have a blessed hope.  We are the “called-out” ones.  But paradoxically, we are not called *out* of this world when we hear His voice.  We are called *into* it.  We are given a savage mission: to live IN this world as aliens and strangers, to *suffer*, and to work as unto the Lord.  And He has given us a task: to glorify Him, to be a witness for Him to the ends of the earth.  He has promised us joy in this, but He has also promised us suffering on His behalf.  We will toil, we will suffer, but we will not lose heart.  We have a blessed hope, a Rock, a Refuge, and an eternal home.

For the one without hope in Christ and who wants even a temporary escape, nothing provides like technology.  In fact, I think it is this desire to “escape reality” that has driven most of the major advances in technology over the last hundred or so years, and truth be told it isn’t just unbelievers who are guilty of falling victim to it.  It throws an appealing lure, and it is natural for us to take the bait.

“Real life” is hard.  It demands sacrifice and serving others.  “Real life” does not always work out the way we would like it to.  We are not in control of it.  It includes wayward children, strained marriages, death and disease, addictions and abuse.  It places demands on us we do not always want to meet, requires more from us than we often want to give, and also tends to grant us far less than we would like to have.  It can be painful, difficult, and full of trial.  No wonder, people want to check out and look for some way—ANY way—of escape.  If you look with eyes that can see, most of the way people use technology in their daily life is “escape”… a way of staying distracted (i.e. “entertained”) so that they can forget about “real life” for a while.

Some find their escape in sports, others in movies… or some other visual form of entertainment (TV, game systems, computer games, pornography, etc.). For some, it is cell phones, texting, Facebook, shopping, collecting, or whatever else brings some pleasure for a time.  But it is always and only for a time.  That’s because for the believer and unbeliever alike, there is no real and lasting satisfaction to be had in this world.  The grass withers, and the flower falls… moth and rust destroy… thieves break in and steal.  We were not created to be satisfied in a fallen world tainted by the corruption of sin and death.  For the one who has no real, eternal hope in Christ, they find their “best life now”–finding some small joy in trinkets and distractions, though only for a little while.  BUT GOD

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Don’t run past that last sentence too quickly.  We are HIS workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (we are a NEW creation in Him) for good works.  We are not saved by good works, but for them.  Now, if this is true, then as I said earlier we are not saved OUT of this world, but INTO it.  We are called to be salt and light, and instruments for His glory.  We are not our own, but have been bought with a price and are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20).

And we can find our encouragement and our greatest example in Christ, who did not look for any way of escape, and who would not be distracted from His eternal purpose, but for the JOY set before Him endured the suffering…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

BE OF GOOD COURAGE! Listen one more time to the words of the Apostle Paul.  Do not be depressed or discouraged—be it by a movie or by a man.  The Apostle who suffered countless beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and death itself for His love of Christ could experience all those things with JOY because His eyes were right.  He wrote to encourage the church in Corinth:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)

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Obedience, Worship, and Sacrifice

I am reading Dale Ralph Davis’s commentary on 1 Samuel right now, and have found it to be a terrific read.  He has a keen insight regarding the problem with Saul in 1 Samuel 15.  We’ve actually seen the trouble with Saul brewing since his impatience in chapter 13 drove him to offer the burnt offering himself instead of waiting on Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8-14).  At that time, Samuel told Saul that his kingdom would not continue and that God would seek out a man after His own heart.  So what exactly was the problem with Saul’s heart?  Did he not offer sacrifice?

In chapter 15, Samuel gives Saul clear instruction to wipe out the Amalekites — to completely wipe them out:

1    And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD.
2    Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt.
3    Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'”

As we read just a few verses later, though, this is not at all what Saul did.  Departing from the command of the Lord, Saul spared Agag and chose to keep the best of the plunder for himself and his people.

7    And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt.
8    And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword.
9    But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.

Samuel sharply rebukes Saul, and demands an explanation.  Notice how Saul tries to justify himself, indicating that partial obedience to what the Lord commanded is sufficient, and then making excuses for his transgressions.

12    And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.”
13    And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
14    And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”
15    Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.”
16    Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.”
17    And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel.
18    And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’
19    Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?”
20    And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction.
21    But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”
22    And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
23    For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”

In his remarks on verse 22 regarding sacrifice and obedience, Dale Ralph Davis writes:

Samuel negates sacrifice not absolutely but relatively; he is saying that formal worship cannot be substituted for obedient life, external devotions for internal submission.  Your Gloria Patri, Apostles’ Creed, Christian luncheons, and all-star Bible conferences – none of these matter unless you are keeping Christ’s commandments (1 John 2:3-4).  The Berleburg Bible caught Samuel’s reasoning: “In sacrifices a man offers only the strange flesh of irrational animals, whereas in obedience he offers his own will, which is rational or spiritual worship.” (Dale Ralph Davis: commentary on 1 Samuel 15, page 158)

Surely, David learned this lesson, for we hear the echoes of it in his cries of repentance in Psalm 51 (verses 10-19:

10    Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11    Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12    Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13    Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14    Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15    O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16    For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17    The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18    Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19    then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

And again, we hear the same from the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans (verses 12:1-2):

1    I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
2    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In the gospel of Mark (Mark 3:32-35), Jesus speaks of the great blessing that rests upon those who have abandoned the world and denied themselves to learn from Him and live according to His word.  They who do the will of God, it is them who are blessed:

32    And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.”
33    And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
34    And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!
35    For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

In John 14:15, our Lord Jesus reiterates, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

The Apostle John also stresses the necessity of obedience to the will of God as well in his first epistle (1 John 2:15-17), contrasted with obeying the flesh and its passions (see also 1 Peter 2:11 and Romans 6:12-14):

15    Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16    For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.
17    And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

And James, the brother of Jesus adds (James 1:22-25):

Jas 1:22  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Jas 1:23  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.
Jas 1:24  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
Jas 1:25  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Again, I really appreciate how the Berleburg Bible states this so simply and succinctly: “In sacrifices a man offers only the strange flesh of irrational animals, whereas in obedience he offers his own will, which is rational or spiritual worship.”


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J.I. Packer – Technology, Reading, and Biblical Ignorance

I picked this up from a site called The Scholar’s Corner.  I italicized some of Mr. Packer’s comments below :

An Interview With J.I. Packer

Last November the executive officers of SC had the distinguished opportunity for a private interview with the well known lecturer and author, Dr. J.I. Packer. Rev Packer was born in Gloucestershire, England in 1926, educated at Oxford University (degrees in classics and theology; D.Phil. 1954) and ordained in the Church of England. He has held numerous teaching positions and has preached and lectured widely in Great Britain, America and Canada. He is well known by his writings, among which are: Knowing God, 1973; God’s Words, 1982; Hot Tub Religion, 1987; and Rediscovering Holiness, 1992. He is a Senior Editor and Visiting Scholar of Christianity Today and is currently working on a number of books.

SC: As you can see, Dr. Packer, we are concerned about the crisis of Biblical illiteracy in the Church and society today. How would you estimate, or evaluate this condition? Do you see a problem?

Packer: I certainly think there is a problem. In our churches there is little emphasis on the importance of getting to know your Bible. Whatever else people do in between church services, they don’t “soak” themselves in the Bible in order to get to know it well. I think it gets worse year by year; that is people are reading the Bible less and less as each year passes.

SC:. Where would you put the blame for this problem? Is it in the ministry, the seminaries, the congregation?

Packer: I hesitate to allocate the blame specifically on one group alone. But I would start by saying Christian parents simply haven’t stressed to their children the importance of the Bible being their favorite book. That’s where it starts.

Then, in the churches I’d blame pastors who are not stressing the fact that if you are to be a Christian, you should, as I like to say, have the Bible ‘running out of your ears’. Most people only read a certain number of verses for some devotional thoughts, not to know what the book is actually saying.

And then I’d blame modern culture which aggressively distracts the people from becoming really literate in anything, not just the Bible. It is partly due to modern life being filled with so many things, you know, but also the attitude that you can get by in this world with only a smattering of knowledge about anything. As Christians, we are to be different than the world around us. In particular, we are to attain a fuller knowledge of the Word of God, whereas the world around us hasn’t got a fuller knowledge of anything.

SC: It is not difficult for us to diagnose the real problem of Biblical illiteracy in our modern culture. Do you have any recommendations as prescriptions for a cure?

Packer: The idea of a fuller knowledge simply doesn’t register in the minds of a majority of believers. Comprehensive Bible study is difficult to start today. It draws a negative reaction. Yet, it is so very important that all of the books of Scripture, particularly all of the books of New Testament, are meant to be read as units.

The epistles of Paul, for instance, are actual letters written personally to fellow believers about genuine concerns of welfare and spiritual growth. Letters (consider your letters to your friends) are not written simply for someone to pick out single sentences. They are written to be read as units. So let’s see what it is like to read a New Testament letter as a unit.

While I was a student I heard it said that repeated reading of the same scripture is a wonderful way to grasp the real meaning of its content. So, one Sunday, I read Hebrews ten times. Well, Hebrews remains one of the richest books of Scripture to me. The insight that I caught of the sense of the whole truth of the glory of the priesthood of Christ became wonderfully vivid. That wasn’t simply the result of a discipline; that was the Holy Spirit blessing the Word.

Now if I was a pastor, perhaps I would offer my people an experiment. We would spend the first week with a covenant that we would, all of us, read the book ten times. Then come together and ask them to tell what the repeated reading has done for them. I believe a strong interest in all the scriptures would arise out of the impact of such a reading.

SC: We are working hard to present Biblical studies using the latest high-tech tools for Distance Learning. Do you consider the “Information Superhighway” a valuable method of increasing Biblical literacy?

Packer: Well it could be, if people are motivated to use it. The basic problem is motivating people that don’t read much to read more, and motivating people that don’t read at all to start reading. See, I’m a historical theologian. I know very well that in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries there were more people who wanted to learn to read than there were people to teach them. Neither do you have a problem with wanting to read in primitive tribal situations; they beg visiting moderns to teach them to read.

You have enormous problems nowadays with illiteracy in the modern world because so much is done for us by our technology. People find that life is easier, that they can get along without the “sweat” of reading, and so they choose instead to watch the television, read the cartoons. You don’t have to read, except to fill out a form.

The first thing you must do is convince people that it is a wonderful thing to read. Competing with the MTV generation is difficult, if not impossible. Somehow you must make people aware of the benefit of reading, the excitement of reading, the fun of reading — strike whatever note is going to motivate them. Start there.

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Puritan Richard Baxter on Television

Okay, so maybe Puritan Richard Baxter did not know much about Facebook or Television, but I find that what Richard Baxter wrote regarding books and reading is just as applicable today as it was when he wrote it.  This is essentially his insight and advice regarding the most popular medium for the exchange of ideas among the people of his time.  Over 300 years ago, books were the medium that people invested their money, time, and mind in; books were what our forefathers turned their attention to, tuned into, and went for knowledge.  Today (and sadly I will say), people spend less time turning to books, but what Baxter wrote is not just applicable to books, but to all forms of media that carry a message to our hearts.

Written by Richard Baxter (1615-1691):

[Reprinted from the Banner of Truth, Issue 11, June, 1958, p.1]

“Make careful choice of the books which you read: let the holy scriptures ever have the pre-eminence, and, next to them, those solid, lively, heavenly treatises which best expound and apply the scriptures, and next, credible histories, especially of the Church . . . but take heed of false teachers who would corrupt your understandings.”

1. As there is a more excellent appearance of the Spirit of God in the holy scripture, than in any other book whatever, so it has more power and fitness to convey the Spirit, and make us spiritual, by imprinting itself upon our hearts. As there is more of God in it, so it will acquaint us more with God, and bring us nearer Him, and make the reader more reverent, serious and divine. Let scripture be first and most in your hearts and hands and other books be used as subservient to it. The endeavours of the devil and papists to keep it from you, doth shew that it is most necessary and desirable to you.

2. The writings of divines are nothing else but a preaching of the gospel to the eye, as the voice preaches it to the ear. Vocal preaching has the pre-eminence in moving the affections, and being diversified according to the state of the congregation which attend it: this way the milk comes warmest from the breast. But books have the advantage in many other respects: you may read an able preacher when you have but a average one to hear. Every congregation cannot hear the most judicious or powerful preachers: but every single person may read the books of the most powerful and judicious; preachers may be silenced or banished, when books may be at hand: books may be kept at a smaller charge than preachers: we may choose books which treat of that, very subject which we desire to hear of; but we cannot choose what subject the preacher shall treat of. Books we may have at hand every day. and hour; when we can have sermons but seldom, and at set times. If sermons be forgotten, they are gone; but a book we may read over and over, till we remember it: and if we forget it, may again peruse it at our pleasure, or at our leisure. So that good books are a very great mercy to the world: the Holy Ghost chose the way of writing, to preserve His doctrine and laws to the ‘Church, as knowing how easy and sure a way it is of keeping it safe to all generations, in comparison of mere verbal traditions.

3. You have need of a judicious teacher at hand, to direct you what books to use or to refuse: for among good books there are some very good that are sound and lively; and some good, but mediocre, and weak and somewhat dull; and some are very good in part, but have mixtures of error, or else of incautious, injudicious expressions, fitter to puzzle than edify the weak.

While reading ask oneself:

1. Could I spend this time no better?

2. Are there better books that would edify me more?

3. Are the lovers of such a book as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life?

4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?

We could just as easily reword these questions for today:

1. Could I spend this time no better?

2. Are there better books (or magazine, or TV shows, or web sites, etc.) that would edify me more?

3. Are the lovers of such a book (or magazine, web site, TV show, music CD) as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life?

4. Does this book (or magazine, web site, TV show, music CD, etc.) increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?

Tough questions.  But necessary.  Do you make a regular habit of asking these of yourself?  And if not, why not?

Are you spending the time God has given you purusing Him or pursuing things that take you away from Him?

In the letter to the Ephesian church, the Apostle Paul writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 )

And John tells us, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

Brothers and sisters, we do not prove our love for Christ by simply saying that we love Him, but by the way we live our lives. . . by the way we spend our time, and the way in which we love and serve others.  Consider the conversation between our Lord and Peter at the end of the gospel of John:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)

The Lord does ask Peter if indeed His disciple loves him three times, and three times Peter assures His Master with the profession of his mouth that he loves Him.  But notice Jesus’ response all three times.  He gives Peter an instruction each time — how Peter must demonstrate his love for Jesus.  Peter confesses with his mouth his love, but Jesus instructs him what he must do if he truly loves Him.  Peter must give his life to Christ for the good of His church.  And indeed, he did.  And we know of this disciple’s love for His master precisely because of what he did, not just by what He said.

O Brothers and Sisters, how I pray that the way we live our lives will bear witness to the faith we profess with our mouths.  As James, the brother of Jesus said, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  Let us not deceive ourselves with vain professions that we believe Jesus Christ is Lord, but be convinced by our daily habits: our death to self and our selfish desires, our hatred for (our own) sin, our love for our Master and His Bride, and our obedience to His commandments.

O Father, do not let us be deceived, but search our hearts and reveal to us whether or not we are truly following Christ.  Is He in fact the Lord of our lives, or do we run after and serve the things of this world.  Do not let us rest until we know the truth about ourselves, and Father if the truth is not in us make it known.  Help us, great and merciful Father, to trust You, to follow Christ, and to offer our lives to You as a living sacrifice. . . that You would be glorified through us, and we would not bring reproach upon the name of Jesus.  It is in His holy and precious name that I pray, amen.

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