Tags: Asaph, church, church attendance, commentary on Psalms, local church, Psalm 73, sufficiency of Christ, Sunday School lessons on Psalms, theodicy
In Psalm 73 Asaph was dissatisfied because it looked to him like the wicked were prospering and the righteous were being treated unfairly by God. We know that this line of thinking is wrong for a number of reasons. First, everyone is wicked by God’s standard of holiness, so, in a sense, any time someone prospers, it is a case of the wicked prospering. Second, there are none righteous apart from God. Third, it is impossible for God to be unfair. He is perfectly just in all His ways and in Who He is. These types of remedial truths are more evidently revealed in the New Testament than in the Old Testament (although they are clearly there in both), so, when Asaph began to correct his thinking, it is actually kind of surprising to us New Testament Christians to see what got him back on the right track.
If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;
Remember, Asaph was a worship leader in the sanctuary. When he caught himself questioning God’s goodness, he got worried about how quitting his ministry position would affect other worshipers! That’s probably not the best reason to resolve to continue serving the Lord, but it’s certainly not a bad reason. And I really like what Asaph did next: he went to church.
Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
Church is essential for Christians.
Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.
What happens at church to remove our doubt and re-establish our faith in God?
Theodicy can be wrestled with and more easily defeated when we work as a team.
As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
Sometimes we reverently wrestle with God and the more-difficult doctrines of the Bible. But ultimately God is not a problem to be solved. He is a Person to be loved.
Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
I said earlier that it is essential for Christians to go to church. But is it possible to be a Christian and not go to church? Of course, it’s possible. It’s also possible to be married and to go home each day to see your spouse, or to never go home to see your spouse. But which makes for a better relationship?
When I get back to loving God with the reinforcement of my brothers and sisters in Christ, then the “prosperity” of the wicked gets revealed for what it really is: a fantasy. It becomes revealed and reviled.
For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
Asaph went to church without even being sure why he was going. But he left telling everybody that they need to go too.
But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.
Tags: commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 7, immanence of God, King Solomon, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes, transcendence of God, wealth, wisdom, Would You Rather?
Have you ever played the game “Would You Rather?” The idea is to take two equally unpleasant propositions (or, in a variation, two equally desirable propositions), and force the contestant to choose one. At least that’s how it was played at recess when I was a kid. “Would you rather get hit square in the face with a Nolan Ryan fastball or slide down a giant razor blade into a pool of rubbing alcohol?” Gross, huh? Well, I like to use the basic concept of this game in thinking about Ecclesiastes Chapter 7.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.
Would you rather have: wealth or wisdom?
They say that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but that, if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. If we think of wisdom as only the means to acquire wealth, it might seem preferable to take the short cut and receive the wealth without the effort, but, according to the Bible, wisdom itself is the more valuable commodity. The caveat to the idea that learning to fish is better than receiving a free fish is: God is still the One Who provides the fish – and the rod – and the bait – and the water – and the strength to set the hook.
Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?
In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.
Would you rather have problems or prosperity?
This is a no-brainer for most of us. However, in a previous lesson we did learn that problems are an inevitable part of life, and in some ways, they are extremely beneficial when facing an uncertain future. So the caveat to this one is: We have to accept adversity from God without getting bitter at God for sending it.
All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.
Would you rather have purity or pleasure?
As Christians we choose purity, which just so happens to contain real joy, which is far superior to temporal pleasure. But, again, there is a caveat: Beware of self-righteousness or pride.
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
Would you rather have infamy or ignorance?
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.
On the one hand, no one really relishes the idea of being ignorant, but on the other hand, do you really want to know what everyone is saying about you? Sometimes, they say, ignorance is bliss. Here is the caveat to this one: Only Christ can control our thoughts and tongues.
All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?
Would you rather have a God who is knowable or knowledgeable?
I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.
If you are a lady, you are probably not appreciating the smug satisfaction my sinful flesh is taking in knowing that at least Solomon found one man out of 1000 with some wisdom, while not finding a single woman! (Sorry, just kidding.) The fact is, we have a God who is both transcendent and immanent. We can never truly know the depths of His glory, nor His secret counsels, nor the fullness of His wisdom. Yet He has revealed Himself to us to a degree that allows us to know Him intimately. The caveat to this is: We must accept that we can never know as much as God, and, left to our own devices, we tend to go astray.
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.
Tags: 1 Corinthians 13, Christian marriage, extenuating circumstances, judgment, marriage, marriage counseling, mercy, mercy in marriage, Proverbs 18
A “C.A.L.M.” marriage is a marriage where the spouses are:
Christian love in marriage…
…[d]oth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
I Corinthians 13:5 (emphasis added)
In other words, true Christian love tends to think the best of the other person. It is not “censorious.” It makes charitable judgments. It assumes the best, not the worst, about your spouse. In a word, it’s “merciful.”
Even if you have a spouse as wonderful as mine, there are times – believe it or not – when your spouse will be wrong. There will be other times, though, when your spouse might be wrong.
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.
If I assume the worst about my spouse, I am being foolish (the Bible kind of “foolish,” which is the dangerous and deadly kind) and setting myself up for shame. I must learn not to think evil of my spouse just because something appears evil. Instead, when something looks amiss, I must learn to talk about it with her – courteously, accommodatingly, with a view toward mercy: “calmly.”
However, I also need to address the situation where something evil has actually taken place. Should I not think evil then? No! I must not be quick to judge the motives of my spouse. What did Jesus say when they were crucifying Him? Did He say, “Father, keep track of these who are driving the nails so that later on You can punish them more severely?” No, He said, “Father, forgive them.” Why? Because they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
Try your best to make charitable judgments about your spouse’s motives. Consider extenuating circumstances. Consider ameliorating (not necessarily exonerating) factors and exacerbating factors. In marriage we are to be merciful, and look for factors that excuse, not factors that further incriminate.
You will be injured in some way in your marriage. When that happens you need to be prepared to be C.A.L.M. (courteous, accommodating, longsuffering, and eagerly looking forward to extending mercy). If you are truly a Christian, then you realize that, if anybody has been treated mercifully, it is you. Would you greedily receive Christ’s mercy while refusing to extend it your spouse?
Tags: Acts 16, altar calls, belief, Jesus Christ, Romans 14, salvation invitations, saving faith, standing before God, the Gospel
I’m going to tell you something surprising: I can tell the future… Well, not “the” future. Not everything about the future, but one thing that will happen to every single one of us in the future. The event that I know is in the future of every single person reading this is that, one day, we will all stand before the Lord.
But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
I am very blessed because I know exactly what’s going to happen to me after I die. But here is where my ability to see the future becomes limited. I know that I will stand before the Lord with my sins forgiven – with the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ having paid for my sins. I know that my future is a future I do not deserve, even though it is a glorious future – because of God’s grace. But I can’t say the same for you. I hope and pray that your future is just as glorious, but the thing I know about myself – yet cannot know for sure about anyone else – is with Whom I will stand before the Lord.
Will you answer this question about yourself right now? When you stand before the Lord, will you stand there with your sin? Or with His Son?
Those are your only two choices. Those who stand there with their sin – uncovered by the blood of Jesus – will not be forgiven. If you are in that category on that day, it will not matter how many good deeds, fine works, church activities, baptisms, confessions, memberships, or whatever else you may try to use as a covering for your sin. It will not matter how you try to polish your sin, so it compares favorably, or doesn’t look so bad next to someone else’s sin. No, if you stand before the Lord with your sin, and without His Son, your future is an eternity of everlasting torment in the place commonly referred to as hell. That’s not anyone’s “opinion” or “position.” That’s the TRUTH – spelled out clearly and plainly – so that a child can understand it – in the Bible.
Personally, I like knowing that my future home is in Heaven and not in hell. That’s right, I said I “know” it. The Bible says that the way to be saved is to realize and admit that you are a sinner, to repent and believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, to believe that He was resurrected and that He lives forever, and to trust Him to save you.
The kind of belief that believes unto salvation is different than how we usually use the word “believe.” See, I believe I have some milk at home in the refrigerator. I saw almost a whole gallon in there before I left this morning. It should still be there when I get home. I’m not going to stop on the way home today and get some milk, because I believe I’ve already got some. I don’t believe milk just disappears. I don’t believe it can get up and walk away. I don’t think – even if somebody is burglarizing my house right now – they are going to steal an opened gallon of milk from my fridge. But is it possible that now, three hours later, I’m having a false memory and I really looked in the fridge yesterday instead of today? I believe that milk is going to be there, but I’m not staking my eternal soul on it. I’m staking my eternal soul on what God tells me about it.
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…
Tags: 2 Peter 3, Asaph, commentary on Psalms, Philippians 4, prosperity, prosperity preaching, Psalm 73, Sunday School lessons on Psalms, theodicy
[A Psalm of Asaph.] Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
Asaph was a Levite and a worship leader in the sanctuary. He began to question God when he saw the unrighteous prospering and the righteous suffering.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Have you ever asked that same question: Why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper? It is actually the wrong question. Considering that no one has ever been righteous apart from Jesus, a better question would be: Why does anyone at all prosper?
Other Bible passages which deal with this same issue are Psalm 37, Psalm 49, Job, and Habakkuk. It is sometimes called “theodicy.” From our finite point of view, as fallen sinners living in a fallen world, we have a tendency to question why God (Who is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient) would allow suffering or evil.
Asaph, despite his faulty questioning, wasn’t a complete fool. At least he never denied the existence of God. In verse 3 he stated that he was envious of the foolish, but he did recognize that they were foolish.
And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.
It’s bad enough to question God’s goodness, but at least that’s somewhat honest. It falls more under the category of doubt than unbelief. But to question God’s existence? That’s idiotic and dishonest. I’m drawing a distinction between disbelief and unbelief. When it comes to unbelief in the existence of God, what we’re really talking about is just willful ignorance.
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
II Peter 3:5
“Willingly ignorant,” as one preacher says, means “dumb on purpose.” It’s covering your eyes and ears and sticking your head in the sand, and saying I’m a blind deaf ostrich. Creation proves a Creator.
It is a sin to envy the wicked, but Asaph forgot that serving God is not a commercial transaction.
They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
You know people like this. They are not serving God, and they are even in open rebellion against God, yet they seem to be getting away with it, and from all visible indications, it appears that they’re doing just fine.
Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.
They have so many material possessions and treasures, and they appear to be so stuffed with blessings, that their eyes are bulging out.
They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
They claim that they don’t need God in Heaven because they’ve got everything they need here on earth. As my old Sunday School teacher used to say, their attitude is, “My name’s Jimmy, I’ll take all you gimme,” and people seem to do it! If somebody tells them, “You’re in trouble, you’re breaking God’s rules – you are going to need God one day,” their response is…
… How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?
Asaph’s frustration over his alleged lack of rewards for serving God was obvious:
Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
He says, “I’m trying to do right – and it’s for nothing!” We have to be careful not to be like Asaph. Satan often tests true Christians. His temptation is: “Sure, you’re serving God, but that’s because you’re trying to buy His blessing. Let God take away your blessing and we’ll see what you do.” Do you see the tricky word in that challenge? It’s the word “your.” Satan is subtle and he likes to insinuate that blessings from God are something we have a “right” to, or something we “deserve.” Our response should be, “It’s okay if God takes away His blessings. I never deserved them in the first place!”
All our needs are supplied in Christ, regardless of how things look from the temporal, earthly perspective.
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Tags: Deuteronomy 6, faith, faith and reason, Galatians 4, Hebrews 11, Puritan quotes, swim quotes, the Trinity, Thomas Watson, Thomas Watson quotes
Where reason cannot wade there faith may swim.
Thomas Watson, concerning the doctrine of the Trinity
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Tags: germophobia, hand-washing, Jesus Christ, legalism, Mark 7, OCD, personal hygiene, Pharisees, tradition, traditionalism
There is a famous quote that says, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Jesus’s disciples found themselves in the middle of a dispute about tradition and traditionalism in Mark Chapter 7.
Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
When the Pharisees and scribes pressed Jesus about His disciples’ hygiene habits, He must have felt pretty fed up.
He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
Tradition can be a valuable thing. We have over 2000 years of New Testament Christian history from which to learn if we will apply ourselves. When we try too hard to escape traditionalism, we often fall into the trap of rebellion just for the sake of seeming more “modern” or “fresh.” It is true that repetition over time does not always make a thing right. But it is also true that, in the final analysis, the Bible itself is our ultimate standard for faith, practice, and worship. Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes that they were…
…[m]aking the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
Tags: a good name, commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 7, good reputation, ointment, perfume, precious ointment, reputation, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes
A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.
Your “name” (your reputation) is a precious thing. In Bible times ointment was expensive and precious. It could be used for medicinal salve or for perfume, but it could be easily spoiled. One little dead fly could ruin a whole batch of ointment. Don’t ruin your name.
The name “Judah” meant “praise” in the Old Testament, but the name “Judas” is now forever associated with treachery and betrayal because of the act of one man. I have no idea what the names “Adolph” or “Hitler” brought to mind prior to 1930s Germany, but they certainly haven’t been very popular names since then. Do you know any “Adolphs?” Did you go to school with a kid named little Timmy Hitler Smith? What about Charles Manson Jones? Those names were pretty much ruined by the deeds of evil men.
Ointment in the Bible was good, but it was fleeting. It had an expiration date. A good name is something that can be passed on from generation to generation. It can earn and carry with it trustworthiness. Cherish and protect your name by living your life according to the principles of the Bible.
Tags: 1 Corinthians 13, anger, anger in marriage, Christian marriage, Ephesians 4, longsuffering in marriage, marriage, marriage counseling, peaceful marriage
Calm marriages are full of:
Christian love in marriage…
…[d]oth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
I Corinthians 13:5 (emphasis added)
I discussed this before when I wrote about I Corinthians 13:4 (“charity suffereth long…”), but here the Bible is focused on the problem of anger. Christian love in marriage is not short-tempered. Have you blown your cool and yelled at your spouse when you didn’t really mean it? How about when you really did mean it? The common excuse we give ourselves for this behavior is that, “I can’t help it, I’m just temperamental.” The problem is, most of us are “temperamental,” but we’re 90% “temper” and only about 10% “mental.” The other typical excuse for an outburst of anger is that, “When I lose my cool, it’s righteous indignation, but when my spouse loses her cool, she’s full of the devil.” The Bible does not accept these excuses.
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
This verse does not mean that, once we get angry, we should never let the “day of our anger” end (“do not let the sun go down…”). The most common application of this verse is that spouses should never “go to bed angry,” but even that is not the primary interpretation. What this verse is really telling us is that we need to do a serious analysis of why our anger is causing us to sin. We all have our little “idiosyncrasies” and “hot button issues.” Our challenge as Christian spouses is to identify these areas in each other and try to avoid unnecessarily pressing them, while at the same time bringing our own weaknesses before the Lord and our spouses, and working together to identify why these triggers are there, so they can be ultimately defused.