Does God Help Those Who Help Themselves?

Matthew 5

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever heard someone say that “God helps those who help themselves”?

It’s a popular notion that’s been around for years. But is it biblical?

To be fair, there are numerous passages in the Proverbs that extol the virtues of hard work and the foolishness of being lazy. (See Proverbs 10:4; 12:24, 27; 13:4; 19:15, among others)

Additionally, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul issues this admonition:

“Even while we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Whoever does not work should not eat.”

However the sentiment of this popular bit of cultural wisdom is not meant to discourage laziness but instead, it promotes an attitude of self-sufficiency and rugged individualism that is associated more with American culture than biblical values.

Jesus teaches the exact opposite. Instead of teaching that “God helps those who help themselves”, Jesus teaches that ”God helps those who CANNOT help themselves.”

To be poor in spirit means to recognize your own spiritual need; to recognize the poverty of your own soul. The New Living Translation says it this way:

“God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” (Matthew 5:3, NLT)

The reality is that we are all broken and there is nothing we can do to help ourselves. Many people mistakenly believe that we come to Jesus only to be rescued from an eternity in hell.

While Jesus does save us from the judgment we deserve, we still need Jesus every day, even beyond our initial conversion experience. We are broken and only Jesus can empower us to live the kinds of righteous and holy lives He desires. Only Jesus can provide fullness of life.

Jesus doesn’t just promise to save us from hell. He promises us LIFE. REAL LIFE. Unfortunately, we cannot experience that life if we subscribe to the idea that we must help ourselves first. NO. We cannot help ourselves. We need Jesus to help us every moment of every day!

Reflection

What are some ways our culture promotes the kind of attitude that is expressed in the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”?

In what ways have you seen this kind of thinking filter into our church and Christian doctrine?

Besides your conversion experience what are some other times or situations where you recognized your own brokenness and need for Jesus?

What are some ways that people can cultivate an attitude of being “poor in spirit”?

 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Dealing with Differences of Opinion

Is one day more important than another? Paul answers this question and others in Romans 14.

Romans 14

1Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won’t. And those who won’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should.

5In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter. 6Those who have a special day for worshiping the Lord are trying to honor him. Those who eat all kinds of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who won’t eat everything also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7For we are not our own masters when we live or when we die. 8While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. 9Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.

10So why do you condemn another Christian ? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. 11For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,‘every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.’”

12Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God. 13So don’t condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian’s path.

14I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15And if another Christian is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16Then you will not be condemned for doing something you know is all right.

17For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too. 19So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

20Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble. 21Don’t eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble. 22You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by doing something they know is all right. 23But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn’t eat it. They would be condemned for not acting in faith before God. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.
(Romans 14:1-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In Romans 14, Paul is dealing with a common issue among Christians – how should we handle issues on which we disagree?

In a previous post on this chapter of Scripture, I addressed the issue of whether Paul was advocating moral relativism. The short answer is “No”, but you can read my thoughts and explanation in my post “Does Paul Advocate Moral Relativism?”.

In this post, I want to focus instead on Paul’s admonition that we not condemn one another by arguing about minor doctrinal views and personal preferences. For some reason, probably pride and arrogance, people everywhere have this tendency to think all of their views and preferences are correct. Christians are not immune to this phenomenon, so we can tend to think that all of our doctrinal views and religious preferences are also correct, whereas those who may disagree with us or think differently must be wrong in their thinking and understanding.

As a result, we can fall into the trap of trying to correct every view and idea of others that differs from our own.

Paul says that when we condemn other Christians for their actions and preferences which differ from ours, we are potentially putting an obstacle in their path. Instead of taking on the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others, we should let God do the work of convicting and transforming.

Several years ago, in my first ever seminary class, I learned some valuable principles that I think apply here.

Alan Scholes, in his book “What Christianity is all About” outlines three different categories of thought that we can place almost all of our views and positions into. In the book, these categories were talking about doctrinal positions but I think the categories can extend beyond just our doctrinal views and can include other views and positions as well.

The first category is what Scholes refers to as Opinions. Opinions are thoughts and beliefs I have regarding a particular topic or issue but I recognize that others may have different views and I don’t assert that my view is necessarily correct or the only view that a person can have.

The second category is what Scholes calls Persuasions. A persuasion is stronger than an opinion. I may have done some research on an issue and therefore may be persuaded that my position is logically correct, but I still allow for others to hold different positions.

The third category is what he calls Convictions. A conviction is a persuasion that is so strong that if someone were to disagree with me, it could impact or hinder my relationship or my ability to be in fellowship with that person.

Scholes argues that for followers of Christ there should be a limited number of doctrinal issues that we hold at a conviction level, which would limit our ability to partner with or fellowship with that person.

It doesn’t mean I couldn’t have a relationship with them but if we differ on these critical conviction issues, it may limit my ability to work with and partner with them.

Most other issues I should hold at an opinion or persuasion level.

The problem that many Christians experience is we too often elevate opinion level preferences to conviction level status. Paul gives several examples of this happening in his own experience. He first gives the example of whether you can eat meat or not, and then follows up with the example of whether worship should be reserved for a specific day for everyone.

Paul says that these issues are not critical. It’s ok to have your own opinion and you may even be persuaded that your view is right, but you shouldn’t impose your opinions and persuasions on others who may have a different view. On these non-critical issues, we should allow for a diversity of views and allow God to work in people’s hearts and minds if a change in view is required.

You may be wondering what constitutes a “non-critical” issue. Couldn’t someone argue that we should allow for a diversity of issues on just about any doctrine and position?

The answer is no, we shouldn’t allow for diversity in every doctrine and there are definitely issues we should hold at a conviction level. If you want to know what those issues are, just familiarize yourself with the scriptures because they are clearly spelled out.

For example, Paul leaves no room for people to hold a diversity of views on the nature of God or the person of Jesus. Those who taught a divergent view of Jesus were labeled as false teachers by Paul and other New Testament writers. See my posts here and here regarding this.

In general, if a person’s doctrinal viewpoint results in false teaching or an inaccurate or deficient view of God, Jesus or salvation, then it should be rejected. But if the person’s view has no impact on our view of God or our understanding of critical doctrines such as the doctrine of salvation, then some latitude should be allowed.

In Paul’s examples, you can see that whether or not a person eats meat is not relevant or critical to our understanding of God or salvation. Similarly, the exact day of the week that is reserved for worship has no impact on our understanding of salvation.

Paul’s advice on how to deal with differences of opinions can be summed up well by verse 19, which states:

So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Reflection

What are some critical doctrines that you think you should hold at a conviction level, meaning that if others disagreed with you it would negatively impact your ability to fellowship with them or even consider them to be legitimate followers of Jesus?

What are some opinion-level issues that you see Christians today elevating to conviction level status?

What are some issues or views that you personally hold at a persuasion level? What makes it a persuasion for you rather than just an opinion?

What steps can/should you take if other believers are condemning you for views that you think are opinions or persuasions and not convictions?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

Further Proof that Jesus is God

Titus 3

3Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled by others and became slaves to many wicked desires and evil pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated others, and they hated us.

4But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. 5He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. 6He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. 7He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life. 8These things I have told you are all true. I want you to insist on them so that everyone who trusts in God will be careful to do good deeds all the time. These things are good and beneficial for everyone. (Titus 3:3-8, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

“The Bible never claims that Jesus is God!”

Perhaps you’ve heard someone make this claim. The argument essentially says that the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is God, but teaches that Jesus is something less than God, such as “Son of God”, or “Son of Man”, or “Messiah”, or “anointed one”, etc.

Because the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is God, then Jesus must not BE God and therefore, the traditional Christian teaching that Jesus is divine must be false. Hence Christianity is false.

But is it true that the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is divine?

No.

The evidence for the deity of Jesus is overwhelming and generally falls into three categories: 1) Direct claims of deity that Jesus made – I covered one such incident here.  2) Passages that show Jesus has attributes that only God could possess and 3) passages in which Jesus’ followers clearly identify Jesus as divine. This passage in Titus is one such example.

Jesus’ divinity is not hard to demonstrate from this passage and only a basic understanding of logic is necessary to prove that Paul believed and taught that Jesus was God.

Verse 4 says clearly:

“But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love.”

Verse 6 states that:

“He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did.”

So in one verse, Paul refers to God our Savior, while just two verses later, he refers to what “Jesus Christ our Savior did.”

These two verses show that God is Savior AND Jesus Christ is Savior. Therefore, Jesus Christ is God.

There are dozens of other passages that demonstrate that Jesus’ own followers saw him as divine and even worshiped Him. Keep in mind that for the Jew, worship was reserved for God alone. Therefore, when a Jewish person worships Jesus, they are doing so because they believe He is God and therefore worthy of worship.

This one passage may not be enough to convince your non-Christian friends that Jesus is indeed God, but it should help convince you. Jesus not only made direct claims of deity but His followers also ascribed deity to Jesus and promoted their understanding of Jesus’ nature to others.

Reflection

What has been your understanding of the nature of Jesus? In what ways have your views changed or been substantiated?

In what ways do you find the above logic regarding proof of Jesus’ divinity convincing? In what ways are you not convinced?

If you are not convinced that Jesus is God, what are your reasons for not believing? Conversely, what basis can you give to support the idea that Jesus IS God?

Why do you think it matters whether a person has a correct understanding of the nature of Jesus? What are the consequences for having a wrong understanding of who Jesus is? (For my thoughts on these questions, see my posts here, and here.)

 

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Should Christians Obey the Government?

Titus 3

1Remind your people to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. 2They must not speak evil of anyone, and they must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. (Titus 3:1-2, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

How do you view the government? Do you see the government as good or evil? How much control should our government have? Should we, as Christians, obey the government, or are we free to disobey the government when it suits us? What should the Christian’s response be towards our government and its leaders?

In Paul’s letter to Titus, he closes his thoughts in this final chapter with the admonition that people should obey the government and its leaders.

Paul’s command is not just that we would obey, but that we should do good, avoid quarreling and act with humility towards everyone. Honestly, when I nose around on social media for any extended period of time, I don’t usually see many believers who are actively heeding Paul’s words.

Whenever I see believers actively resisting the government these days, most often the basis given is that the government is evil, or the government is violating our constitutional rights or something similar.

Keep this in mind: when Paul wrote these words, Nero was in power over the Roman Empire. To say that Nero was not kind to the Christian community would be a gross understatement. Nero was so antagonistic towards Christians that he blamed the great fire of Rome in AD 64 on the Christian community. And yet, Paul here is urging Titus to tell his people that they should submit to the government and its officers.

There are two things to be aware of here regarding Paul’s command:

First, obeying government leaders is not a tacit admission that everything the government does is somehow holy and good.

Secondly, Paul’s command to obey the government is not a universal command to obey ANYTHING that the government says. It’s meant to be a general statement about our posture towards our leaders. In general, we should obey what the authorities are asking us to do. But that doesn’t mean that there are no circumstances where we would be justified in disobedience.

How do we know when we should obey or disobey?

Acts 4 provides a helpful guideline on this topic. The disciples are brought in before the religious leaders because of a miracle that has been performed in healing a crippled man at the Temple. As a result of this healing, many people were praising God. Peter and John took advantage of the situation and shared the gospel to a captive, curious and open audience. As a result, many believed in Jesus and became followers of Christ on that day.

But the religious leaders weren’t happy, so they brought the apostles into their presence for questioning. They used this opportunity to warn them not to continue spreading their “propaganda”. They told them to stop preaching the message about Jesus.

Peter and John’s reply is recorded in Acts 4:19, in which they say:

“Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19, NLT)

Here’s the principle: in general, Christians should obey their government and its leaders, particularly when there is no morally objectionable reason to disobey.

However, if our government or its leaders ask you to do something that is immoral or contradicts God’s laws or decrees, then we, as Christ followers, are morally obligated to reject that request and instead, pursue those activities that represent God’s moral law. In other words, when earthly laws and regulations contradict or oppose biblical laws and/or values, the biblical value should trump earthly rules every time.

Reflection

What are some laws or regulations that you are most likely to see Christians disregarding?

Why do you think believers are sometimes quick to resist government authorities and regulations? What are some of the reasons cited?

What are some government rules and regulations that you think Christians SHOULD reject and disobey? What reasoning can you give to explain why Christians should disobey those particular rules and regulations?

What would it look like for people to show gentleness and true humility to everyone?

 

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

 

Where Did that Ball Come From?

Romans 1

18But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves. 19For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. 20From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.

21Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. 22Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead. 23And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people, or birds and animals and snakes.

24So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen.

26That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27Note And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved.

28When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do things that should never be done. 29Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They are forever inventing new ways of sinning and are disobedient to their parents. 31They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving. 32They are fully aware of God’s death penalty for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway. And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Romans 1:18-32, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

I heard a humorous story a long time ago that goes like this:

A guy is talking to his atheist friend and poses this series of questions:

“You’re walking along the beach and you see a tennis ball. What do you assume? Is it the product of random ocean forces that somehow mixed random ocean materials together to create a tennis ball and then washed it up onto the shore?

“NO! It’s a tennis ball. I assume someone left it here after playing with it on the beach.”

“Ok. Let’s say you’re walking along the beach and you see a bigger ball, like a soccer ball. What do you conclude? Was it designed or did it create itself through some random process?”

“It was obviously designed and placed there by someone.”

“Ok. Let’s say you’re walking along the beach and you see an even BIGGER ball, like a weather balloon. What do you conclude?”

“Well, since a weather balloon has purpose, it must have been created by someone who understood that purpose.”

“Great. What about an even BIGGER ball? What if you’re walking along and you see the EARTH? What do you conclude? Was it the product of an intelligent designer?”

“Oh no. The Earth was not created by an intelligent being. It’s the product of billions of years of random chance processes.”

Romans 1 is the classic Bible chapter outlining the process by which people, in the futility of their own mind, devolve into the depths of their own sinfulness.

Paul speaks to the fictional exchange above in verses 18-20, which state that it’s obvious when you look around that there must be some powerful, creative force behind all that we see. Given our own understanding and experience with creating and designing advanced, complex machines and electronics, how could anyone come to the conclusion that something like our universe, which is so intricately, beautifully and purposefully designed is the result of random chance?

It really makes no logical sense.

William Paley, in the early 1800’s, posed this scenario when he developed his “Watchmaker” analogy. In his analogy, he said in effect,

If I stumbled upon a stone and asked how it got there, I would think the question is absurd. It has been there forever. But if I stumbled upon a watch and asked how it got there, the answer would be different, for a watch is obviously designed with purpose, showing evidence of a designer.

So what is the reason people will acknowledge that man-made items such as watches, computers and automobiles are obviously designed, yet something much larger, more complex and intricate that includes biological living things and entire eco-systems, is NOT the product of a designer?

Paul’s answer in this chapter is spelled out in the first verse of this section (verse 18), when he says:

“But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves.

The short answer is that people suppress the truth that is inherently obvious to them. To suppress truth is to deny it and reject it.

Paul’s discourse outlines the depth of the problem of sin. Sin is not just doing bad things or saying bad things, but sin has penetrated to the very depths of our heart.

The heart represents our will, our most inner motives and desires. Paul is saying that though God’s qualities are obvious to all through creation, people end up suppressing (rejecting) this truth through a downward spiraling pattern of inner rebellion.

How does this happen?

It starts when people who know God, or at least know there is a God, refuse to give thanks to God or acknowledge His role in our lives. Next, people develop an image of God that matches their own preferences. They fail to acknowledge God as He is, but instead begin to create a god in their mind who matches their own desires and preferences.

As people begin to follow and worship their own view of god, their hearts become darkened. Why? Because they are not following the truth but they’re following a distorted and false image of god that represents their own preferences and desires. In effect, people begin to train and condition their own moral values away from God’s standards and towards their own sinful desires.

As people continue on this course, God gives them over to their own base desires. In other words, He gives people the freedom to follow their choices and also experience the natural consequences of those choices. People’s thoughts, attitudes and actions become more and more vile and wicked as they reject God’s standards of morality and choose to follow their own inclinations.

The end result is that people develop their own moral values that contradict and oppose God’s values in varying degrees. What sinful humanity now thinks and calls normal and good, God views as wickedness. These rebellious acts show up in every possible area of our lives, from the way we talk to others, the way we conduct our business, our sexual practices, etc.

The final stage in this rebellion is a declaration that our sinful acts are righteous (thus, morality is redefined) along with an encouragement for others to follow these new moral guidelines.

In order to justify the new moral order, people either eliminate God altogether (atheism) or they re-create God in such a way that He actually advocates and endorses these attitudes and behaviors that have traditionally been seen as sinful (paganism/idolatry).

I think verse 31 is a fitting summary that characterizes the attitude of the person Paul is describing, when he says,

“They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving.”

This sounds a lot like our current culture to me, and the thing is, none of us are immune to these outcomes. If we are not intentional about caring for our spiritual life, we may find ourselves, over time, slowly drifting away from God until one day we resemble the person described in Romans 1:28-32.

How can we avoid this?

I’m sure there are many practical steps that could help but if we did these three things consistently: acknowledge God, give thanks to Him for His goodness, and worship Him for who He is, we would likely safeguard ourselves from entering the downward spiral which starts the progression.

Reflection

What are the typical reasons you hear people giving to reject God and His existence?

What examples can you see in our current culture where people are redefining morality and changing their view of God in order to accommodate their own life choices and preferences?

What biblical moral standards do you struggle with the most? What do you think are the reasons you (and others) struggle with those particular moral values?  

In what ways are you most tempted to re-define God in order to meet your own personal moral preferences?

 

Photo by Kevin Mueller on Unsplash

Is Wealth Immoral? (Part 2)

1 Timothy 6

6Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth. 7After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. 8So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. 9But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

Ecclesiastes 11

1Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.
(Ecclesiastes 11:1, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Yesterday, I posted here about a passage on wealth from Luke 12, in which Jesus tells a story calling a rich person foolish because he tore down his barns to build bigger barns so he would have a place to store his massive amounts of material possessions.

My post sought to address the issue of whether Jesus was condemning wealth in His story.

You see, there’s a lot of talk about equity these days and one of the areas where people are seeing inequity is in the wide array of financial positions held by people in our society. Some people are poor and some people are extremely rich, and a lot of people are somewhere in between.

In our very polarized society, it’s become fashionable to point to those who have extreme amounts of wealth and declare it to be immoral. It is assumed or implied that the only way people could have that much money is because of greed. To be fair, not everyone is directly declaring it to be immoral, but using words like “insane”, “outrageous”, “crazy” and “unnecessary” to describe the amount of wealth some people have makes the same point. Whether expressed directly or indirectly, many people are offended by the amount of wealth that some people have.

But is it immoral to be wealthy? Was Jesus, in his story, condemning wealth? You can read the details and explanation of my response here but the short answer is no, I do not believe Jesus was condemning wealth. What He was condemning was greed.

As if to reinforce that point, a portion of my reading today consisted of the passages above, which also speak to the issues of money, wealth and greed.

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul speaks to the need for contentment and then follows with a warning of the dangers that exist for people who “want to get rich”. Paul is speaking about greed.

Paul says that when people are greedy they find themselves “trapped by many foolish desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.” There are many examples of how this could play out but I initially think of a person who, in their hopes of making a big score, wastes all of their money playing the lottery or gambling.

The key verse in this passage is verse 10, where Paul says “the LOVE of money is at the root of all kinds of evil.”

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that money is evil. He says that the love of money is the problem. He continues by saying that many who crave money have wandered away from the faith. To “crave money” is another way of describing greed.

Just as Jesus’ story in Luke 12 was predicated on His warning to not be greedy, this passage from Paul also is delivered primarily as a warning against greed, not a condemnation of wealth.

As was stated in yesterday’s post, wealth is simply a tool. It is neither good nor bad, but can be used for good and honorable purposes or it can be used for evil and destructive purposes.

The Ecclesiastes verse above is a reminder that we are to be generous no matter how much money we have. If you have a lot of money, you have the opportunity be extremely generous.

Most of us are not in that extremely wealthy category, so it’s easy to look at those who have more than enough and wonder, “how can they possess so much money?” We might even begin to entertain the idea that it’s unfair and unjust, which is just a small step away from deciding that it’s immoral.

But be careful. Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth per se and as I demonstrated yesterday, there are many biblical figures who were, in fact, quite wealthy. How do we reconcile these truths if God is against wealth?

Instead of pointing to those who have more than enough and calling it unfair or even immoral, we should check our own heart and motives first. Greed is not a sin that just afflicts the rich. Anyone, from any socio-economic background can be lured by greed. However, those of us who aren’t rich can often cloak our greed by attempting to disguise our envy as justice.

Reflection

What do you think is the difference between greed and envy? When have you struggled with greed or envy in the past?

Paul warns of the dangers of “craving money”. When have you craved money, or any other material possession?

What examples can you think of in your own life or circle, where someone was “plunged into ruin and destruction” because of their “love for money”?

What steps can you take to avoid or resist greed and envy?

Do you agree or disagree with the idea that some people may attempt to point to extreme wealth as a sort of attempt to right an “injustice” when they may be simply expressing their own greed in the form of envy? Explain your view.

 

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Do You Pray for Your Political Rivals?

1 Timothy 2

1I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. 3This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

You may or may not know that Timothy was Paul’s “son in the faith”, which simply means that Timothy came to know Christ through Paul’s ministry. Timothy became one of Paul’s traveling companions, learning from Paul and being discipled by Paul.

Timothy eventually became the pastor of the church at Ephesus and Paul, knowing that he is nearing the end of his time on this earth, pens this letter to Timothy with many practical instructions designed to help him lead others.

In this section, Paul gives an exhortation concerning prayer.

Paul’s admonition is for Timothy to pray for ALL PEOPLE.

This was a pretty radical thought, since we as humans are typically inclined to pray only for ourselves and those who are closest to us. We certainly are not inclined to pray for those we don’t know, but that’s exactly what Paul tells Timothy to do.

What’s even more amazing about this passage is the fact that Paul commands Timothy to pray for kings and those in authority, “so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.”

Given the state of our country these days, I wonder how many people are actively taking these commands to heart.

We are more divided than ever and much of our division is a result of our political views that are not embraced by those on the other side of the political aisle.  But if I’m taking this passage to heart and seeking to implement this wisdom that Paul gave to Timothy so long ago, then I need to pray for those in authority, EVEN IF THEY DON’T REPRESENT MY POLITICAL POSITIONS.

This means that if you’re a conservative, you should be praying for those who are more liberal, and if you happen to be liberal, you should be praying for those folks, leaders included, who happen to be conservative.

The reason Paul gives for praying for those in authority is “because it pleases God.”

Now I know what you’re thinking – you cannot possibly pray for the evil people on the other end of your political spectrum because they believe a, b, and c and they do x, y and z. How could anyone pray for “those” people?

Paul’s exhortation does not imply that you need to embrace the beliefs of those with whom you disagree nor are you required to condone their actions or their policies. You simply are commanded to pray for them. The reason, again, is “so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.”

The intent and desire is to live in peace. Praying for those with whom you disagree often has the effect of enabling you to disconnect emotionally from the other person’s beliefs and policies and see that person in their humanity. It’s only at that point that we can begin to understand people and demonstrate love toward them.

Reflection

What has been your habit and/or practice in praying for “all people” and in praying for kings and those who are in authority over us?

What barriers keep you from praying for those who are our political leaders?

The reason Paul gives for praying for those in authority is so that we can “live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.” What are some things in your life (people, habits, etc.) that make it difficult for you to “live in peace”? 

What are some things you can do that would help you to live in peace and quietness with others?

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Are You Drunk on God’s Spirit?

Ephesians 5

15So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. 16Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. 17Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. 19Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this section of Ephesians Paul is summarizing what He’s shared earlier in chapter 5 where he has given a number of examples and admonitions for what it means to follow God.

The summary of all the guidelines is to live wisely instead of foolishly.

What does it mean to live wisely and what does it look like to live foolishly?

Examples of wisdom and foolishness are replete throughout the Bible. The book of Proverbs contains a wealth of knowledge contrasting wisdom from foolishness. Additionally, Paul gives many exhortations and commands in his many New Testament letters, including what he’s shared earlier in chapter 5.

However, in this short segment, Paul summarizes wise and foolish living with 3 ideas:

First, people who live wisely make the most of their time. They don’t waste their time, but use their time for doing good.

Secondly, the wise person doesn’t act thoughtlessly but considers what the Lord’s will is. The implication here is that the wise person KNOWS the Lord and His word. Knowing God’s word is vital to understanding His will because it is the primary means by which we understand God’s character and His purposes.

Third, the wise person doesn’t get drunk but instead is filled with the Holy Spirit.

I think it’s interesting that Paul compares and contrasts being filled with the Spirit with being drunk. Why does he do this? How are these two things similar and how are they different?

Most states have strict laws about driving while drunk but if you get pulled over and charged, the official term is often “DUI”, which stands for driving under the influence.

When we drink too much, we are under the influence of alcohol and it affects us mentally, physically and emotionally. In short, we lose control of ourselves and often do things and act in ways that are totally out of character.

In the same way, to be filled with the Spirit is to be under the Spirit’s control. It means that I allow God’s Spirit to lead me and influence my decisions and my actions.

According to verse 18, the end result of being drunk is that it ruins our lives. Some translations say that being drunk leads to “dissipation”, which means “wasteful living.” The idea is that really nothing good comes from being drunk. It’s a waste of time and energy that leads to nothing good or productive.

The key question is: who is in control of my life? Is it me? If I’m in control, making my own decisions and living for myself, then I’m living foolishly and I’m apt to do foolish things, just as someone who is drunk.

However, if God’s Spirit is in control, then I’m living wisely, following His lead, doing good instead of evil and as a result, my life has purpose and direction.

Reflection

How are you using your time? In what ways does your schedule reflect God’s priorities? Are there things in your schedule that are time wasters? 

What are some examples that come to mind that demonstrate how drunkenness can lead to ruined lives or wasteful living?

Paul contrasts being drunk with being filled with the Spirit. How can a person be controlled by God’s Spirit? What steps can one take to be under the influence of God’s Spirit?

If you were to create your own list of foolish living versus wise living, what items would be on each list? What is the source of items for each of your lists?

How can you know what God’s will is? What steps and actions can you take to understand God’s will and ensure that you’re following God’s will?

 

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Have You Been Scammed?

Galatians 3

1Oh, foolish Galatians! What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. 2Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4You have suffered so much for the Good News. Surely it was not in vain, was it? Are you now going to just throw it all away?

5I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law of Moses? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.

6In the same way, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him righteous because of his faith.”  7The real children of Abraham, then, are all those who put their faith in God.

8What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would accept the Gentiles, too, on the basis of their faith. God promised this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9And so it is: All who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.

10But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all these commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” 12How different from this way of faith is the way of law, which says, “If you wish to find life by obeying the law, you must obey all of its commands.”  13But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14Through the work of Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, and we Christians receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:1-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The letter to the Galatians, like many New Testament letters, was written as a response to an issue that had cropped up within the early church. In this case, the church in Galatia had been infiltrated by false teachers who were teaching a “different” gospel. This “different” gospel is still being taught today and therefore, Paul’s words are particularly appropriate in our current culture.

The nature of the false teaching had to do with the law. The false teachers were labeled “Judaizers” because of their strict adherence to the Old Testament rules and rituals. These teachers were advocating that belief in the Jewish Messiah was just the first step in the process of salvation. It was necessary, according to these teachers, to continue to observe all of the Old Testament laws and rituals, including circumcision, after accepting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

The issue of what is necessary to be saved was quite controversial in the early church, especially when Gentiles (non-Jews) began responding to the gospel. Some within the church, particularly those who had been Pharisees before conversion, continued to advocate for strict adherence to Old Testament laws and rituals, which meant that Gentiles would have to adopt all Jewish cultural rites, including circumcision. But Paul and Barnabas disagreed and did not require new Gentile converts to become “Jewish” culturally in order to gain admittance into the church.

This issue became so contentious that the church convened a special session to discuss the matter. The details of this Jerusalem Council are recorded in Acts 15 and I wrote about it previously here.

Paul’s words to the Galatians are strong. He calls them “foolish” and asks them “what magician has cast an evil spell on you?” Most translations use the word “bewitched” to describe the response to this false teaching. The idea Paul is communicating is that they’ve been duped or scammed. One version uses the word “hypnotized”.

Why would Paul say they were “bewitched”? Exactly what was so bad about this teaching and how were they being “tricked”?

To answer that question, let’s first explain what Paul had taught and compare it with the false teaching the Galatians had begun to follow.

Paul’s gospel says that EVERYONE is a sinner and NOBODY is righteous enough to earn their way into God’s presence. Trying to follow all of the Old Testament laws is futile. It cannot be done because we are sinners and we are going to fall short. Therefore, any system that requires adherence to a religious code in order to gain favor with God is doomed to failure.

Jesus offers a different way and this is what makes it good news. According to verse 13, Jesus died in our place, paying for our sin so that we could escape the penalty the law required. We are thus saved, not by our own good works, but by Jesus’ shed blood on the cross.

The false teachers said that once a person places their faith in Jesus, they must maintain their right standing before God by the things they do, namely by following all of the commands of the law. Paul argues that if one has to follow the law to maintain their right standing before God then they are no longer trusting in Jesus alone to provide the righteousness that is needed to enter God’s presence.

Hence, if you are going to follow the law as a means of maintaining your salvation, then you must follow the law completely in order to secure it in the first place.

The differences between Paul’s gospel and the false teaching can be clearly seen in how each system views a person gaining the righteousness required to enter into God’s presence. Paul’s gospel says that Jesus gives us His own righteousness (which is perfectly holy) when we place our faith in Him. This righteousness cannot be lost because it is based on Jesus’ complete work of atonement on the cross.

The Judaizers taught that righteousness is maintained by our adherence to Jewish laws and rituals. Hence, the source of righteousness is the individual’s own good works and personal efforts.

Though these teachers acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, their doctrine was really a back-door method for maintaining a works-based system of salvation.

We do the same thing today in our Christian circles. We invite people to accept Jesus by faith and then inevitably, we think, and even teach, that being a good Christian means following a set of rules. It’s not likely that circumcision is on our list of what makes a good Christian, but you probably can come up with your own list of “sins” to avoid and “activities” that are required, or “strongly encouraged” in order to maintain your Christian “witness.”

We teach people that salvation is a “free gift” but then subtly give the impression that staying saved is more like a privilege that can be forfeited if we don’t toe the line.

Paul calls this kind of gospel and this line of thinking foolish and those who fall into this trap as being bewitched.

It turns out that this theological trickery is the oldest scam in the book. And yet, people are still falling for it today.

Reflection

How do you think you can tell if someone has been bewitched? Or, to put it another way, how would you determine if a person was following a false, rules-based gospel instead of the true gospel that Paul preached?

What are some religious activities that you may be tempted to elevate to “required” status in order to evaluate a person’s eligibility for salvation?

What are some of the “sins” that Christians have used in the past as evidence of someone not being a “true” Christian?

Why do you think people of every generation and culture tend towards rules-based religious systems as a means of appeasing God and gaining His favor?

 

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

Are You a Christian Who Smells?

2 Corinthians 2

12Well, when I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord gave me tremendous opportunities. 13But I couldn’t rest because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him.

14But thanks be to God, who made us his captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume. 15Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and by those perishing. 16To those who are perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? 17You see, we are not like those hucksters—and there are many of them—who preach just to make money. We preach God’s message with sincerity and with Christ’s authority. And we know that the God who sent us is watching us. (2 Corinthian 2:12-17, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

There’s a commercial that has been running lately on a local hit radio station I listen to.

A woman is upset that she can’t get a plumber to tell her over the phone how much they charge to unclog a drain.

Queue the sound of a harp, signifying the entrance of another person.

The woman says, “Wow, you smell good. Who are you?”

“I’m Mike Diamond, the smell-good plumber.” Diamond goes on to tell the potential customer that they will gladly come and unclog almost any drain for $99.

I’m aware of a stereotype about plumbers but it doesn’t involve how they smell. Nevertheless, the plumber in this radio spot is trying to set himself and his company apart from others in the industry by marketing themselves as plumbers who show up on time, are clean and smell good.

Paul, in this chapter of 2 Corinthians says that Christians have a smell. To some, our smell is fragrant but to others, our smell is rotten. What’s he talking about? What is going on in this passage?

Paul begins this section by comparing Christ’s conquest over death to a Roman triumphal procession. A Roman triumphal procession was a great honor that was only bestowed on generals who had accomplished great victories over a foreign enemy, usually resulting in the end of a conflict that involved great military spoils.


NOTE: For more information on the Roman triumphal process, check out this article on britannica.com


The procession was essentially a parade that consisted of political leaders in the front, followed by musicians and then sacrificial animals. Then came the spoils of war (the prisoners), followed by the general, and lastly, the general’s soldiers.

Throughout the procession, the burning of incense to the gods created a ubiquitous aroma that filled the air with a fragrance that added to the aura of the occasion.

When the procession reached its conclusion at the Temple of Jupiter, the prisoners were usually slain while thank offerings were made to Jupiter and the political and military leaders feasted.

Thus, if you were a prisoner in that procession, the aroma, though pleasant to the nostrils, was literally the smell of death. For the rest of the procession, and those cheering in the crowds, the smell signified victory.

Paul says that we as his followers have been taken captive by Christ and we are now a part of his procession. We are commissioned by Jesus to share the gospel with others. Paul says that this act of service is like a sweet perfume, an offering of worship made to God himself.

This fragrance is perceived by our fellow humans in two different ways. For those who respond to the message, the smell is life-giving, but to those who reject the message, the smell is one of death and doom.

Notice that we don’t determine whether the smell is a life-giving fragrance or the smell of doom to others. That is determined solely by the response of the listener.

Though we can’t control how others perceived our smell, we can control whether we smell or not. We can choose to not smell at all by ignoring God’s command to share the message, or we can choose to smell by sharing the message with others without regard to how they will perceive it.

We have an awesome opportunity to invite others to be a part of Jesus’ triumphal procession. The reality is that everyone is already a part of the procession. For those who don’t know Jesus, they are the prisoners who are on their way to certain death. However, If they respond to the gospel message, they can be freed from impending doom and join us as captives in the back of the procession, becoming a part of God’s mighty, victorious army!

Reflection

Paul says that when we share the good news with others, people will perceive it (smell it) in two different ways. But that presupposes that we are involved in sharing with others. What motivates you to “smell” (share the gospel) with others? What keeps you from smelling?

In your own experience, what was it about the message of Christ that made it “life-giving”?

In your opinion, what are some things we can do as Christians to make our “smell” more attractive to those we are trying to reach?

 

Photo by Lenka Sluneckova on Unsplash