GreetingJames 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Testing of Your Faith2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
God tests us, but the difference between God’s testings and the devil’s temptations is this: God sets up His tests for His students to pass. The temptations of the devil are set up so that his students will fail. God is never the author of temptation, so we’ll have to place the blame elsewhere. The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
A second principle is that temptation begins with our individual desire. The picture I have in my mind here is that of a hook with bait on it. The mother fish warns her babies not to be tempted by the worm they see dangling in the water, for if they bite into it they are going to be supper for the fisherman. But little Freddie Fish decides his mother is getting old and losing it, so he decides to take a bite of the worm. The hook grabs him, and he’s history. Now that may be a silly illustration, but it conveys the idea. We get ourselves hooked by sin because we want the worm. The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Hearing and Doing the Word19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 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.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
The Sin of PartialityJames 2 1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith Without Works Is Dead14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Taming the TongueJames 3 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
Wisdom from Above13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Warning Against WorldlinessJames 4 1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Boasting About Tomorrow13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Warning to the RichJames 5 1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
Patience in Suffering7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. 12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
The Prayer of Faith13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
ESV Study Bible
What I'm Reading
When Church Discipline Goes Really Public
By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra 12/19/16
This fall, a man named Jason Thomas posted to Facebook a year-old letter of discipline from his church, Watermark, in Dallas, Texas.Click here to go to source
Christmas for the discouraged ones
By Lindsay Swartz 12/16/16
Even before I stepped on the plane, I knew it would be anything but a holly jolly Christmas. I was walking into the home of family members who were left hollowed by an ugly divorce. And I was determined to bring whatever joy I could into an otherwise sad and awkward situation.Click here to go to source
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 143My Soul Thirsts for You
143 A Psalm Of David.
7 Answer me quickly, O LORD!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
9 Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
I have fled to you for refuge.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
3. As I have hitherto stated only what is plainly and unambiguously taught in Scripture, those who hesitate not to stigmatise what is thus taught by the sacred oracles, had better beware what kind of censure they employ. If, under a pretence of ignorance, they seek the praise of modesty, what greater arrogance can be imagined than to utter one word in opposition to the authority of God--to say, for instance, "I think otherwise,"--"I would not have this subject touched?" But if they openly blaspheme, what will they gain by assaulting heaven? Such petulance, indeed, is not new. In all ages there have been wicked and profane men, who rabidly assailed this branch of doctrine. But what the Spirit declared of old by the mouth of David (Ps. 51:6), they will feel by experience to be true--God will overcome when he is judged. David indirectly rebukes the infatuation of those whose license is so unbridled, that from their grovelling spot of earth they not only plead against God, but arrogate to themselves the right of censuring him. At the same time, he briefly intimates that the blasphemies which they belch forth against heaven, instead of reaching God, only illustrate his justice, when the mists of their calumnies are dispersed. Even our faith, because founded on the sacred word of God, is superior to the whole world, and is able from its height to look down upon such mists.
Their first objection--that if nothing happens without the will of God, he must have two contrary wills, decreeing by a secret counsel what he has openly forbidden in his law--is easily disposed of. But before I reply to it, I would again remind my readers, that this cavil is directed not against me, but against the Holy Spirit, who certainly dictated this confession to that holy man Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away," when, after being plundered by robbers, he acknowledges that their injustice and mischief was a just chastisement from God. And what says the Scripture elsewhere? The sons of Eli "hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them," (1 Sam. 2:25). Another prophet also exclaims, "Our God is in the heavens: he has done whatsoever he has pleased," (Ps. 115:3). I have already shown clearly enough that God is the author of all those things which, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. 45:7); that no evil happens which he has not done (Amos 3:6). Let them tell me whether God exercises his Judgments willingly or unwillingly. As Moses teaches that he who is accidentally killed by the blow of an axe, is delivered by God into the hand of him who smites him (Deut. 19:5), so the Gospel, by the mouth of Luke, declares, that Herod and Pontius Pilate conspired "to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done," (Acts 4:28). And, in truth, if Christ was not crucified by the will of God, where is our redemption? Still, however, the will of God is not at variance with itself. It undergoes no change. He makes no pretence of not willing what he wills, but while in himself the will is one and undivided, to us it appears manifold, because, from the feebleness of our intellect, we cannot comprehend how, though after a different manner, he wills and wills not the very same thing. Paul terms the calling of the Gentiles a hidden mystery, and shortly after adds, that therein was manifested the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). Since, on account of the dullness of our sense, the wisdom of God seems manifold (or, as an old interpreter rendered it, multiform), are we, therefore, to dream of some variation in God, as if he either changed his counsel, or disagreed with himself? Nay, when we cannot comprehend how God can will that to be done which he forbids us to do, let us call to mind our imbecility, and remember that the light in which he dwells is not without cause termed inaccessible (1 Tim. 6:16), because shrouded in darkness. Hence, all pious and modest men will readily acquiesce in the sentiment of Augustine: "Man sometimes with a good will wishes something which God does not will, as when a good son wishes his father to live, while God wills him to die. Again, it may happen that man with a bad will wishes what God wills righteously, as when a bad son wishes his father to die, and God also wills it. The former wishes what God wills not, the latter wishes what God also wills. And yet the filial affection of the former is more consonant to the good will of God, though willing differently, than the unnatural affection of the latter, though willing the same thing; so much does approbation or condemnation depend on what it is befitting in man, and what in God to will, and to what end the will of each has respect. For the things which God rightly wills, he accomplishes by the evil wills of bad men,"--(August. Enchirid. ad Laurent. cap. 101). He had said a little before (cap. 100), that the apostate angels, by their revolt, and all the reprobate, as far as they themselves were concerned, did what God willed not; but, in regard to his omnipotence, it was impossible for them to do so: for, while they act against the will of God, his will is accomplished in them. Hence he exclaims, "Great is the work of God, exquisite in all he wills! so that, in a manner wondrous and ineffable, that is not done without his will which is done contrary to it, because it could not be done if he did not permit; nor does he permit it unwillingly, but willingly; nor would He who is good permit evil to be done, were he not omnipotent to bring good out of evil," (Augustin. in Ps. 111:2).
4. In the same way is solved, or rather spontaneously vanishes, another objection--viz. If God not only uses the agency of the wicked, but also governs their counsels and affections, he is the author of all their sins; and, therefore, men, in executing what God has decreed, are unjustly condemned, because they are obeying his will. Here will is improperly confounded with precept, though it is obvious, from innumerable examples, that there is the greatest difference between them.  When Absalom defiled his father's bed, though God was pleased thus to avenge the adultery of David, he did not therefore enjoin an abandoned son to commit incest, unless, perhaps, in respect of David, as David himself says of Shimei's curses. For, while he confesses that Shimei acts by the order of God, he by no means commends the obedience, as if that petulant dog had been yielding obedience to a divine command; but, recognising in his tongue the scourge of God, he submits patiently to be chastised. Thus we must hold, that while by means of the wicked God performs what he had secretly decreed, they are not excusable as if they were obeying his precept, which of set purpose they violate according to their lust.
How these things, which men do perversely, are of God, and are ruled by his secret providence, is strikingly shown in the election of King Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:20), in which the rashness and infatuation of the people are severely condemned for perverting the order sanctioned by God, and perfidiously revolting from the family of David. And yet we know it was God's will that Jeroboam should be anointed. Hence the apparent contradiction in the words of Hosea (Hosea 8:4; 13:11), because, while God complained that that kingdom was erected without his knowledge, and against his will, he elsewhere declares, that he had given King Jeroboam in his anger. How shall we reconcile the two things,--that Jeroboam's reign was not of God, and yet God appointed him king? In this way: The people could not revolt from the family of David without shaking off a yoke divinely imposed on them, and yet God himself was not deprived of the power of thus punishing the ingratitude of Solomon. We, therefore, see how God, while not willing treachery, with another view justly wills the revolt; and hence Jeroboam, by unexpectedly receiving the sacred unction, is urged to aspire to the kingdom. For this reason, the sacred history says, that God stirred up an enemy to deprive the son of Solomon of part of the kingdom (1 Kings 11:23). Let the reader diligently ponder both points: how, as it was the will of God that the people should be ruled by the hand of one king, their being rent into two parties was contrary to his will; and yet how this same will originated the revolt. For certainly, when Jeroboam, who had no such thought, is urged by the prophet verbally, and by the oil of unction, to hope for the kingdom, the thing was not done without the knowledge or against the will of God, who had expressly commanded it; and yet the rebellion of the people is justly condemned, because it was against the will of God that they revolted from the posterity of David. For this reason, it is afterwards added, that when Rehoboam haughtily spurned the prayers of the people, "the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah," (I Kings 12:15). See how sacred unity was violated against the will of God, while, at the same time, with his will the ten tribes were alienated from the son of Solomon. To this might be added another similar example--viz. the murder of the sons of Ahab, and the extermination of his whole progeny by the consent, or rather the active agency, of the people. Jehu says truly "There shall fall unto the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, which the Lord spake concerning the house of Ahab: for the Lord has done that which he spake by his servant Elijah," (2 Kings 10:10). And yet, with good reason, he upbraids the citizens of Samaria for having lent their assistance. "Ye be righteous: behold, I conspired against my master, and slew him, but who slew all these?"
If I mistake not, I have already shown clearly how the same act at once betrays the guilt of man, and manifests the righteousness of God. Modest minds will always be satisfied with Augustine's answer, "Since the Father delivered up the Son, Christ his own body, and Judas his Master, how in such a case is God just, and man guilty, but just because in the one act which they did, the reasons for which they did it are different?" (August. Ep. 48, ad Vincentium). If any are not perfectly satisfied with this explanation--viz. that there is no concurrence between God and man, when by His righteous impulse man does what he ought not to do, let them give heed to what Augustine elsewhere observes: "Who can refrain from trembling at those Judgments when God does according to his pleasure even in the hearts of the wicked, at the same time rendering to them according to their deeds?" (De Grat. et lib. Arbit. ad Valent. c. 20). And certainly, in regard to the treachery of Judas, there is just as little ground to throw the blame of the crime upon God, because He was both pleased that his Son should be delivered up to death, and did deliver him, as to ascribe to Judas the praise of our redemption. Hence Augustine, in another place, truly observes, that when God makes his scrutiny, he looks not to what men could do, or to what they did, but to what they wished to do, thus taking account of their will and purpose. Those to whom this seems harsh had better consider how far their captiousness is entitled to any toleration, while, on the ground of its exceeding their capacity, they reject a matter which is clearly taught by Scripture, and complain of the enunciation of truths, which, if they were not useful to be known, God never would have ordered his prophets and apostles to teach. Our true wisdom is to embrace with meek docility, and without reservation, whatever the Holy Scriptures, have delivered. Those who indulge their petulance, a petulance manifestly directed against God, are undeserving of a longer refutation.
END OF THE FIRST BOOK.
 See Calvin, adv. Libertinos, cap. 15. 16., and Augustin. de Ordine, Lib. 1. and 2., where he admirably discusses the question, Whether the order of Divine Providence includes all good and evil?
 2 Sam. 12:12; Jer. 1:25; Is. 5:26; 10:5; 19:25; 2 Sam. 16:10; 1 Kings 11:31; 1 Sam. 2:34.
 The French is, "Car ils meslent perversment le commandement de Dieu avec son vouloir secret, veu qu'il appert par exemples infinis qu'il y a bien longue distance et diversité de l'un à l'autre;" for they perversely confound the command of God with his secret will, though it appears, by an infinite number of examples, that there is a great distance and diversity between them.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
The Right to Be a Christian
By Albert Mohler 1/01/2017
Moral revolutions require legal revolutions. This is certainly the case with the sexual revolution and its various causes of sexual liberation. A revolution is only complete when the legal structure aligns itself with a new moral understanding. This alignment is exactly what is taking place in American public life on the issue of gay liberation.
Every society has a structure of systems that either influence or coerce behavior. Eventually, societies move to legislate and regulate behavior in order to align the society with what is commonly, or at least largely, considered morally right and wrong. Civilization could not survive without a system of moral controls and influences.
Throughout almost all of Western history, this process has played out in a non-threatening way for the Christian church and Christians in the larger society. So long as the moral judgment of the culture matched the convictions and teachings of the church, the church and culture were not at odds in the courts. Furthermore, under these conditions, to be found on the wrong side of a moral assessment was unlikely for Christians.
All that began to change in the modern age as the culture became more secularized and as Western societies moved more progressively distant from the Christian morality they had embraced in the past. Christians in this generation recognize that we do not represent the same moral framework now pervasively presented in academia, the creative culture, and the arena of law. The secularization of public life and the separation of society from its Christian roots have left many Americans seemingly unaware of the fact that the very beliefs and teachings for which Christians are now criticized were once considered not only mainstream beliefs, but essential to the entire project of society. As the sexual revolution pervades society, and as the issues raised by the efforts of gay liberation and the legalization of same-sex marriage come to the fore, Christians now face an array of religious liberty challenges that were inconceivable in previous generations.
In one of the most important of these cases, a judge found that a wedding photographer broke the law by refusing to serve at a same-sex wedding. In an incredibly revealing decision, the court stated that the religious liberties of the photographer would indeed be violated by coerced participation in a same-sex wedding. Nevertheless, the court found that the new morality trumped concern for religious liberty.
Similarly, we have seen religious institutions, especially colleges and schools, confronted by demands that amount to a surrender to the sexual revolution with regard to nondiscrimination on the basis of sex, sexual behavior, and sexual orientation. In some jurisdictions, lawmakers are contemplating hate crime legislation that would marginalize and criminalize speech that is in conflict with the new moral consensus.
We now face an inevitable conflict of liberties. In this context of acute and radical moral change, the conflict of liberties is excruciating, immense, and eminent. In this case, the conflict of liberties means that the new moral regime, with the backing of the courts and the regulatory state, will prioritize erotic liberty over religious liberty. Over the course of the last several decades, we have seen this revolution coming. Erotic liberty has been elevated as a right more fundamental than religious liberty. Erotic liberty now marginalizes, subverts, and neutralizes religious liberty—a liberty highly prized by the builders of this nation and its constitutional order. We must remember that the framers of the Constitution did not believe they were creating rights but rather acknowledging rights given to all humanity by “nature and nature’s God.”
The religious liberty challenge we now face consigns every believer, every religious institution, and every congregation in the arena of conflict where erotic liberty and religious liberty now clash. This poses no danger to theological liberals and their churches and denominations because those churches have accommodated themselves to the new morality and find themselves quite comfortable. Furthermore, some of these liberal denominations and churches style themselves as defenders of the new morality and actually advocate legal modifications that restrict the religious liberty rights of more conservative churches and denominations.
Interestingly, Jonathan Rauch, one of the early advocates of gay marriage, warned his fellow moral revolutionaries that they must be careful lest they trample upon the conscience rights and religious liberty of their adversaries. In his book, Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Rauch voiced his concern:
Today, I fear that many people on my side of the gay-equality question are forgetting our debt to the system that freed us. Some gay people—not all, not even most, but quite a few—want to expunge discriminatory views. “Discrimination is discrimination and bigotry is bigotry,” they say, “and they are intolerable whether or not they happen to be someone’s religion or moral creed.”
Rauch also stated, “I hope that when gay people—and non-gay people—encounter hateful or discriminatory opinions, we respond not by trying to silence or punish them but by trying to correct them.” There are few signs that Rauch’s admonition is being heard. A review of the religious liberty challenges already confronting the conscience, conduct, and belief rights of convictional Christians shows us how daunting all this really is. We can be sure this is not the end of our struggle. It is only the beginning.
Albert Mohler Books | Go to Books Page
The Importance of Theology
By Michael Allen 1/01/2017
“Systematic theology” is a label with admittedly clinical connotations. It conjures a picture of the theologian as someone who takes in hand the living Word of God only to dissect and dismember the body of biblical truth into various pieces so that he might label (often in Latin!) and arrange those pieces in categories of his own meticulous devising. Though such a connotation of systematic theology is not uncommon in popular Christian culture, it does not represent what most Christian theologians have intended by the label. Far from attempting to divide the seamless garment of biblical truth, systematic theology considers what “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) teaches on any given topic and reflects upon the divinely revealed relations between the Bible’s various topics.
In systematic theology, we not only ask, “What does the Bible teach about salvation?” or “What does the Bible teach about good works?” We also ask, “How does the Bible relate salvation and good works?” The Bible’s answer to the latter question, of course, is that salvation does not follow from good works (Eph. 2:8–9). Rather, salvation precedes good works (v. 10). That salvation precedes rather than follows good works is just as vital for understanding the nature of salvation and good works as it is for understanding salvation and good works as isolated topics. Indeed, one cannot have a biblical understanding of either topic without understanding the relationship between them.
Systematic theology thus contemplates the body of biblical teaching as a living organism, offering loving attention to its various members and tracing their organic relations to each another. Ultimately, systematic theology helps us better understand God and all things in relation to God, a relation that is encapsulated in the living bond between Jesus Christ, “the head,” and the church, “which is his body” (Eph. 1:22–23). In what follows we will consider how systematic theology may serve the church and inform the Christian life: (1) by shaping a mind characterized by wonder and (2) by directing a life characterized by worship and witness.
Wisdom That Promotes WonderSystematic theology can be classified as a species of biblical “wisdom.” According to Augustine, wisdom involves more than the knowledge of distinct objects and more than the practical “know-how” needed to navigate different circumstances. For Augustine, true wisdom involves a contemplative awareness of the relationship between temporal and eternal realities, the relationship between creatures and the triune God, who is the author and end of all creatures.
In describing wisdom in this manner, Augustine captures something significant about the way the Bible teaches us about various topics. When Moses begins his account of creation, he begins with God: “In the beginning God” (Gen. 1:1). When John begins his account of salvation, he too begins with God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The psalmist contemplates the marvelous variety of God’s creatures and, yet, for all their variety, he discerns in them a unified chorus, ready to praise the name of the Lord (Ps. 148). Having considered the mysterious outworking of God’s plan of salvation for Jew and Gentile through the manifold twists and turns of redemptive history, Paul bursts forth in awe and wonder before the God “from whom and through whom and to whom are all things” (Rom. 11:36).
As a species of biblical wisdom, systematic theology considers the triune God, the supreme subject matter of biblical teaching, and all things in relation to God. Systematic theology contemplates God the Holy Trinity: it considers God in his being, perfection, persons, counsel, and works. Systematic theology also contemplates all things: it considers creation, sin, Christ, and so forth. In considering the latter topics, systematic theology is always concerned to view them in relation to God, their author and end. Systematic theology thus exhibits a God-centered organizing principle.
Herman Bavinck well summarizes the nature of systematic theology in this regard. According to Bavinck, systematic theology “describes for us God, always God, from beginning to end—God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name.” Given its focus on God and all things relative to him, Bavinck continues, systematic theology “is not a dull and arid science. It is a theodicy, a doxology to all God’s virtues and perfections, a hymn of adoration and thanksgiving, a ‘glory to God in the highest’ (Luke 2:14).” Systematic theology, we might say, is for singing. Dogmatics (another name of systematic theology) serves doxology. In sum, systematic theology is biblical wisdom that promotes God-centered wonder.
Wisdom That Directs Worship and WitnessSystematic theology not only shapes wisdom, but that wisdom also enables a life of worship and witness. Paul’s words to the Romans turn in just this direction. After those lofty praises found in Romans 11:33–36, the Apostle turns toward moral guidance: “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. 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” (Rom. 12:1–2).
God desires worship, the offering of one’s own self in its entirety. In this regard, surely the mention of “your bodies” is meant to suggest that even the most base or mundane element of the self—this wretched body that suffers and will die due to the effects of sin and curse—may and can be offered unto God in praise. Paul follows the instruction of Deuteronomy 6 here, wherein the singularity of God (v. 4) beckons forth the whole-hearted, all-inclusive devotion of self to God’s service in worship: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (v. 5). God desires not merely tithes and offerings, rites and ceremonies, but a “living sacrifice” entailing one’s whole being.
Such devotion does not come unopposed. First, of course, Paul warns against the encroachments of a godless culture: “Do not be conformed to this world.” The Apostle calls us to put a spiritual stiff-arm between our souls and the devious pressures of the devil and this sinful world. Whether in Egypt, Canaan, first-century Rome, or the twenty-first century West, we can see how cultures lead astray, and we are called to be alert. But it is not merely a godless culture that might draw innocents into its sway.
We are ourselves a part of the problem, for we see that Paul continues, “But be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” We dare not be drawn into the sinful cycles of the world, but we must also be drawn from the evil inclinations of our own hearts. Our spiritual status quo is not acceptable; we must be sanctified and transformed within.
If these external and internal threats lurk, how does Paul suggest we fend them off and pursue the kind of worship and witness for which we were made? Our minds must be renewed, he says, so that we might be discerning. The “renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2) involves reorienting your frame of mind to God and to God’s merciful work done on your behalf already (Rom. 11:33–36). That is why the moral call of Romans 12:1–2 follows logically from the preceding exposition of God’s glorious grace in Romans 1–11. (This relationship is alluded to by the transitional word therefore in Rom. 12:1). “By the mercies of God,” we are to worship God in reasonable ways, thereby renouncing the foolish and futile worship of the world (1:21–23). Systematic theology displaces and relocates our obedience, reminding us always to see ourselves through the lens of God’s mercy. Only when we know ourselves and our calling in that framework, are we capable of discerning “what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). Paul is sketching a form of intellectual discipleship by which we are enabled and matured unto wise and godly discernment so that we can honor God with our worship and attest God by our witness, pouring forth the fame of His abundant goodness and singing aloud of His righteousness (Ps. 145:7).
To sum up, then, the Christian life is a life of “reasonable worship” (Rom. 12:1; translation ours). As one called to a life of “worship,” the Christian is called to be a “living sacrifice” (12:1), to dedicate his life to the glory of God and the good of his neighbor. As one called to a life of “reasonable worship,” the Christian learns what it means to dedicate his life to God and neighbor through the “renewal” of his “mind” (12:2). Systematic theology is especially suited to assist us in the call to “reasonable worship.” Systematic theology shapes a mind of wisdom and wonder by helping us view reality from a God-centered perspective. Systematic theology also directs a life of worship and witness by helping us consider how all things (not least our own redeemed selves) relate to God as their author and end: “to him be glory forever” (Rom. 11:36). Michael Allen is Associate Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has an MA and PhD from Wheaton College. He serves as general co-editor of the Zondervan New Studies in Dogmatics series.
Caring for Widows
By R.C. Sproul 2/01/2017
In biblical terms, to be religious does not necessarily mean you are godly. To be religious can mean simply that you’re involved in the trappings of religion, that you may be a member of a false religion. Yet, the Scriptures sometimes speak of religion in a positive sense, in the sense of practice that is the fruit of true faith in Christ and commitment to His Word.
The Apostle James focuses on religion as the practice of those who have true faith in Jesus, and he says that true religion demonstrates the presence of saving trust in the Lord (James 2:14–26). What true godliness looks like, he tells us, is not a matter of merely holding to right doctrine with our minds, though that is essential. No, true godliness means that doctrine shapes our lives to such a degree that we manifest the kind of life God wants us to live. And James gives us a succinct definition of true religion, of true godliness: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: To visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James elevates the activity of caring for widows and orphans as the very essence of pure and undefiled religion. That strikes me as being very significant, and it’s an idea that is neglected in the church today.
In this article, I want to focus particularly on widows. Widows and their care figure prominently in the agenda that God has set for His church. One of the earliest problems that arose in the Apostolic church was that the widows were being neglected. And if that was a problem in the first-century church, how much more likely is it that we, twenty centuries later, would be guilty of neglecting the widows in our midst?
After my grandfather died, my grandmother moved into our home and lived with us for many years as I was growing up. On several occasions, she would talk to me late at night and weep, telling me of the burden of pain she had in feeling like she had not only lost her husband but that she had also lost her place in the community. Once her husband passed, she suddenly felt excluded from the things she was intimately involved with alongside him while he was alive. When a person loses her lifelong mate, it’s like losing an integral, intimate part of one’s self because husband and wife, we are told, in the mystery of marriage are one flesh. So, the pain of widowhood brings a unique dimension of loneliness. It’s jarring to suddenly be alone when one has been accustomed to the constant companionship with one’s spouse over a long period of time. Since God is the great Comforter of His people, it makes sense that He would have such concern for widows given the pain they experience.
Now, why does James not mention the widowers? After all, the widower also experiences that same pang of suffering that goes with losing a lifelong mate. Well, every man that I’ve ever talked to always says they want to go first because they can’t imagine living life without their wives. I can’t prove it, but I think that’s one of the reasons why the normal life expectancy of the man is shorter than the life expectancy of the woman, because God is gracious to us men, and He knows that we’re not as strong as women. But what I do know for sure is that widows have always experienced particular difficulties in every age and culture. They faced particular problems in the ancient world. There weren’t insurance programs, annuities, or other sorts of things, and without a husband, the widow was usually the most vulnerable and helpless person in the community. Widows had little or no means of support in ancient societies. Thus, the care of the widows was given to the church both in the Old Testament and in the New.
Jesus frequently pays attention to widows in His teaching. Just consider the story of the widow’s mite in Mark 12:41–45. Who is it that normally gets the attention in the church? The people who are the big donors, the ones whose donations are so important to the ongoing funding of the church’s budget. Few pay attention to the poverty-stricken person who makes a tiny donation that’s insignificant to the budget’s bottom line. But Jesus noticed what everyone else overlooked. He told His hearers to look at the poor widow. Even though the woman gave only the equivalent of two pennies to the temple, she put in more than all the rest of the people who donated heavily to the treasury because in giving out of her own poverty, she gave out of her devotion to God.
One of the most tender moments recorded in the New Testament is found in John 19:16b–27. While Christ was on the cross, He looked in the direction of His mother, who was an eyewitness to His passion, and He said to her, “Woman, behold your son!” He was not asking His mother to look at Him. Obviously, she already was looking at Him. Then, Jesus said to John, “Behold your mother!” In His dying moments, Jesus was commending the care of His widowed mother to His beloved disciple, John. On the cross, Jesus said to John, “John, you take care of My mother. She’s a widow, so let her be to you as your own mother.” To Mary, He said, “Mother, let John be to you as your own son.”
What are sons for? To look after their mothers. What are mothers for but to look after their children? When you think of all of the years and the opportunities where mothers have looked after their children when they enter into their loneliness, the first line of care is to be the surviving family. But it by no means stops there, because the larger family is the church. James, the brother of Jesus, sees this mandate to care for widows as so important that he uses it to describe the crystallized essence of true religion. Do you think you’re religious, but you don’t care about the widows? Your religion is an exercise in futility, because James says pure and undefiled religion is the care of widows and of orphans in times of trouble.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
Is Christ Enough
By Augustus Nicodemus Lopes 2/01/2017
In the letter he wrote to the Colossians, Paul had to deal with a false teaching that scholars often refer to as “the heresy of Colossae.” This designation is due to the unique character of the teaching and the fact that it seems to have flourished only in that region. It was a combination of Jewish elements with ascetic and mystical practices—all connected by an incipient Gnosticism. Its supporters had managed to infiltrate the Christian churches in Colossae and probably churches of other cities located in the Lycus River Valley as well. We have no evidence that this sect settled in other places.
It seems that the appeal of this dangerous sect to the Christians was the promise made of fullness, perfection, and satisfaction in God by a certain knowledge (gnōsis) that had not been previously revealed by the ministry of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. This gnōsis involved Jewish practices such as circumcision, their dietary laws and their religious calendar, together with ascetic practices and mystical worship based on contact with the angels. We can deduce that the Christians at Colossae had begun to listen to the proponents of these ideas. Paul writes this letter in order to prevent them from fully adopting these teachings.
The Centrality of ChristThe central argument of Paul in the letter is that in Jesus Christ, Christians already have everything that the sect falsely offered: wholeness, fullness, perfection, and satisfaction in God. In other words, Paul responds to false teachers by presenting the sufficiency of Christ.
Paul’s argument is first presented from the person of Christ. He is “the image of the invisible God” (1:15) in whom, through whom, and for whom all things were created (v. 16). He is before all things; in Him all things are held together (v. 17). He is the firstborn from the dead who takes precedence over all things (v. 18). It pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell (v. 19), and through Him God should reconcile all things to Himself (v. 20). In Christ dwells the whole fullness of deity (2:9).
As a result of being united to Christ, believers have already received graciously from God perfection, wholeness, fullness, and satisfaction. The ultimate gnōsis of God is actually in Christ. He is the mystery of God, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:2–3), something infinitely superior to the gnōsis offered by the false teachers.
The Superiority of ChristThe teaching of these teachers was based on subtle philosophical arguments. Among them was what Paul calls the “elemental spirits of the world,” a possible reference to spiritual, angelic beings who, according to Gnostic teaching, dominated the planets and other celestial bodies and filled the space (fullness) between men and God, functioning as mediators. Paul’s answer to this teaching is that in Christ dwells the fullness of deity bodily (2:8–9). Jesus Christ is God Himself incarnate as a man. There is no need for angelic mediators to reach up to God and reach perfection. Those who are in Christ by faith are already perfected (v. 10).
Similarly, requirements like the practice of the works of the law are unnecessary. Circumcision has been fulfilled through the baptism in Jesus’ name and is a superior circumcision (vv. 11–12). In His life, Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the law for His people. On the cross, He paid their debt (v. 14). The works of the law, such as dietary rules and the keeping of holy days, were like a shadow cast by the body of Christ, and once the body arrived, the shadow became unnecessary (v. 17).
Christ also triumphed over the principalities and powers, the angelic beings that, according to Gnostic teaching, dominated the basic elements of the universe (v. 15). Therefore, believers should reject the idea that it is necessary to worship the angels. Such teaching is the result of hallucinations of a sensuous mind (v. 18). In Christ, believers are dead to the “elemental spirits of the world” (v. 20).
The Sufficiency of ChristAnd finally, the ascetic practices demanded by the false teachers as necessary to dominate sensuality and other sinful passions are useless. Actually, the ascetic rigor exhibited by the proponents of this teaching is self-worship or self-made religion. It has no power to stop the passions of the esh (vv. 20–23). However, through union with Christ in His death and resurrection, believers can mortify the flesh and live for God (3:1–17).
Thus, Paul teaches the believers in Colossae that Jesus Christ is sufficient to meet all the needs of those who are His. Christ satisfies our thirst for wholeness. He satisfies our longing to know God, our deepest yearnings to be full. By daily communion with Christ through the means of grace, we find full satisfaction for all our needs. This satisfaction enables the Christian to serve God here in this world with a heart full of fervor and dedication. A happy heart in Christ empowers the believer to overcome sin and dedicate himself entirely to the service of his Lord and Redeemer. Dr. Augustus Nicodemus Lopes is senior pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Goiânia, Brazil, and vice president of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil. He is former chancellor of Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo, Brazil, and he is author of several books, including The Supremacy and Sufficiency of Christ.
Observing Baptism as a Means of Grace
By Matt Ryman 2/01/2017
Take a moment to recall the last time you observed a baptism. It was likely during a worship service. The pastor surely took time to remind the congregation of what baptism is and what it represents. Once the sacrament had been administered, the congregation may have responded with applause. It was a special moment for the one being baptized and his or her family. But if you’re a believer, it was intended to be special for you too.
Christians believe baptism is a means of grace for the one being baptized. What some do not realize is that baptism is also a means of grace for believers as they observe the baptism of others. The Westminster Larger Catechism says observing the baptism of others gives us an opportunity to practice “the needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism” (Q&A 167). We improve our baptism by seeking to experience its meaning in deeper and more powerful ways and by living out its implications. While we can think about the meaning of baptism any time, we can do this in a unique way when we observe a baptism.
It is important to remember certain things about the sacraments. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only two sacraments Jesus instituted for the church. Both are means of grace. Both involve sensible signs (things we can see, touch, taste, and so on). And, for both sacraments, it is imperative to make a clear distinction between the signs and the things signified.
In the Lord’s Supper, for example, bread and wine are the signs, and the broken body and shed blood of Christ are the things signified. As we consume the elements physically, we feed on Christ spiritually. Our hearts and minds are focused not on the signs but on what they signify: Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf. As we meditate upon what Christ has done for us on the cross, we experience “spiritual nourishment and growth in grace” (WLC 168). And while there is nothing magical about them, the signs, by engaging our senses, play an important role in our experience. In fact, I believe it is important for the congregation to see the pastor break the bread when he administers the Lord’s Supper. But let’s get back to how observing a baptism is a means of grace for believers.
As with the Lord’s Supper, we distinguish between the sign and the thing signified in baptism. Historically, Christians have recognized that several things are signified in baptism: union with Christ, the forgiveness of sins, regeneration, adoption, new life, and resurrection. But what is the sign? Most would say water, and I would agree. But I would suggest there is more to it than that.
The Westminster Larger Catechism describes the administration of baptism in this way: “the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Q&A 165). In first-century Palestine, to baptize something was to wash it (see Mark 7:4). We might say the sign isn’t just water but washing with water. This means, regardless of which mode we believe to be proper, when we observe a baptism, we see someone being washed by someone else. Think about that.
Remember that John the Baptist said, “I have baptized [washed] you with water, but he will baptize [wash] you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). Here is the reason observing a baptism is a means of grace for the believer. As we watch the pastor washing dirt off a person with water, it serves as a picture of Jesus washing our sin off of us with the Holy Spirit. And our faith is the proof that Jesus has truly and permanently washed away our sin. But that’s not all.
When we observe a baptism, we should also remember Jesus’ baptism. Picture the scene. Jesus came to be baptized in the Jordan River. John the Baptist exclaimed, “I need to be baptized [washed] by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented (Matt. 3:14–15). What was happening? Jesus inaugurated His ministry by being baptized. In so doing, He identified Himself with sinners who desperately needed to have their sins washed away. Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus was baptized after “all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem” had been baptized by John (Mark 1:5). Sinclair Ferguson beautifully captures the importance of the moment. He writes, “Here already [Jesus] indicates how He will become our Savior: by standing in the river in whose waters penitent Jews had symbolically washed away their sins, and allowing that water, polluted by those sins, to be poured over His perfect being.” Therefore, a baptism not only serves as a picture of Jesus’ washing our sin away, but also as a picture of His taking our sin upon Himself. And it even provides a picture of the cross. Remember that Jesus referred to His death on the cross as a baptism (Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50). On the cross, God poured out His wrath for our sin onto Jesus—instead of us. Through unimaginable suffering, our sin was washed away, and it is now as far from us as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12).
When you have an opportunity to observe a baptism, see these things through faith. Believe Jesus has washed away your sin. Believe He took your sin upon Himself. And believe your sin was washed away on the cross and is gone forever. Few things so powerfully prepare our hearts for worship.
Stewardship, Tithing, and Giving
By R.C. Sproul 2/01/2017
A widespread cynicism toward giving exists in our culture. Some nonprofit organizations have mismanaged funds. Thus, many people are reluctant to support these organizations with their donations. But the cynicism extends even to the Christian community. Some unscrupulous televangelists have given tithing a bad name, so many believers do not contribute to the work of the church. This, I believe, is a significant error, for the Bible commands Christians to be good stewards of their resources for the sake of the kingdom of God.
The whole concept of stewardship begins with creation. Creation is celebrated not only in Genesis but throughout Scripture, especially in the Psalms, where Israel celebrated God’s ownership of the whole universe. “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). God is the author of all things, the Creator of all things, and the owner of all things. Whatever God makes, He owns. What we own, we own as stewards who have been given gifts from God Himself. God has the ultimate ownership of all of our “possessions.” He has loaned these things to us and expects us to manage them in a way that will honor and glorify Him.
The steward in the ancient culture was not the owner of the house. He was hired by the owner to manage his house affairs. He managed the property and was responsible to allocate the resources of the home. The steward’s job was to make sure that the cupboards were filled with food, the money was taken care of, the lawn was tended, and the house was kept in good repair.
Humankind’s stewardship began in the garden of Eden, where God gave Adam and Eve full dominion over the entire creation. Adam and Eve were not given ownership of the world; they were given the responsibility of managing it. They were to ensure that the garden was tilled and cultivated and not abused or exploited, and that the goods God provided were neither spoiled nor wasted.
In our own households, we learn that if we spend fifty dollars on clothes, that’s fifty dollars we no longer have for other purposes. Everyone, even billionaires, functions with limited resources. Every time we use a resource, we make a decision, and that decision reveals what kind of stewards we are. That’s where God holds us accountable. He held Adam and Eve accountable for how they took care of the garden. God is interested in how we take care of our ministries, personal lives, homes—every aspect of life. All of these areas deal with managing and allocating resources.
At the center of the biblical concept of stewardship is the tithe, which first appears in the Old Testament. The word tithe means “tenth.” The basic principle was that every person was to return one-tenth of his increase to the Lord on an annual basis.
The beauty of the tithe is that it precluded class warfare and the politics of envy. It prohibited unequal taxes from being imposed wherein one group of people paid a higher percentage than another. When that happens, economics becomes politicized, and it creates vested interest groups where justice is ignored for the sake of power.
In Israel, everyone gave the same percentage but not the same amount. In this structure, a person who makes $10,000 per year returns $1,000 in tithe. The person who makes $1 million per year returns $100,000. The rich person returns far more money, but it is the same percentage that the poor person pays.
Trouble developed in the Old Testament when the people held out on their tithes. They were not obedient to God’s law. Malachi 3:8–10 tells us:
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
This means that if the tithe principle is still in effect, we systematically rob God when we don’t tithe. Let me repeat that. Malachi’s teaching indicates that when we fail to tithe, we are not merely robbing the church, the clergy, or Christian educators—we are robbing God Himself. But note that God had words not only of condemnation for the people but also a promise of prosperity were they to change their ways. God challenged them to be faithful, giving His own promise that He would open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon them.
Why did God institute the tithe in the first place? In order to support the Levites, who had no tribal allocation of land. The Levites were set apart to take care of the spiritual and educational responsibilities of the nation, and their work and physical necessities were paid for by the tithe (Num. 18). Under the new covenant, the tithe continues to support the work of building up people in the truth of God and reaching sinners with the gospel. Christ works through churches, seminaries, parachurch organizations, missionaries, and many others to build and grow His kingdom.
When we don’t tithe, we reduce the ministry of Christ. One of the greatest barriers to expanding the kingdom of Christ in this world is financial. A fundamental principle is at work here. If we have $100 to work with in ministry, we are limited by that dollar amount. We can waste that money and do only $10 of actual work. But even if we are expert managers and scrupulous stewards, we cannot do $110 of ministry.
Christian ministry depends upon Christian giving. That giving always and everywhere limits the work of ministry.
Of course, my argument assumes that the tithe continues in this new covenant era. Some deny that the tithe continues today, but that’s not what the earliest Christians believed. In the Didache, written at the end of the first century or early in the second, there is a significant amount of material on the question of supporting the work of the kingdom. The tithe principle is clearly communicated in this work, showing us that the primitive Christian community continued the practice of the tithe. Also, there is in the Didache a prudential warning given to the Christian, saying, “Let your donation sweat in your hand before you give it.” An interesting metaphor, isn’t it? The injunction is not for your hand to squeeze the money so hard that you never give it. That’s not the point. The point is to be very careful, very discerning where you give your donation.
That brings up a controversial question with respect to financing the kingdom. Again, in Malachi 3:10 God says, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house.” In the Old Testament, the tithe, either in animals or produce, was brought to a central location, the storehouse, which was managed by the Levites. The whole tithe from the whole nation was brought into this single receiving place, and it was then distributed by the Levites according to the needs of the people.
Some people believe that means that in the New Testament age, there should be a single storehouse where all the tithes go and from which they are distributed. There are two problems with that. In the first place, in the Old Testament, the people of Israel had a single central sanctuary. When the New Testament church began, churches were established in every town and every city—in Ephesus, in Corinth, in Thessalonica, and so on. No longer was there one central sanctuary. So the idea of bringing tithes into one central storehouse becomes problematic.
Some people believe that the local church is the storehouse, and is, therefore, the only appropriate place for us to give our tithes. But nothing in the New Testament equates the local church with the Old Testament storehouse. If we believe that the local church is the storehouse, we would then have to argue for a central location where the tithes of all Christians would go. All of your tithes would have to go to a central receiving house and then be distributed from there. I have never heard a local church favor that. It is simply not biblical to require people to give their entire tithe to their local church. I do believe that the lion’s share of it should go to the local church, but I also think that the principle of letting your donation “sweat in your hand before you give it” implies not only discernment but also liberty in giving so that your giving may include a seminary, a Christian college, and other worthy ministries.
The Bible teaches that we are to invest in the kingdom of God. We live in a country that was built on the principle of capitalism, and the fundamental idea of capitalism is this: delayed gratification. Instead of taking the money we make and spending it all now, we save it and invest it. This allows our capital to go to work for us, expanding our wealth.
The most important investment we can ever make is in the kingdom of God, because it has eternal returns. These returns are not just for us but also for our family, our children, our grandchildren. This generation of Christians must invest in the things of God for the sake of the next generation. This follows Jesus’ admonition: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
I honestly believe that if you invest in the kingdom of God, you won’t lose anything in the final analysis. Tithe from the top, and learn to do that as early as you can in life. If your child gets a dollar allowance, make sure that the first ten cents goes into the collection plate on Sunday, so the child learns the principle early. We know we cannot spend the tax the government takes out of our paycheck. We must live on our “take home” pay. Our obligation to God takes precedence over our obligation to government. God should get paid first, “from the top.” If you want to know how serious you are about investing in God’s kingdom, look at your checkbook. It is an objective, concrete record of where your treasure is and where your heart is.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
Fox's Book Of Martyrs (Chapter 22)
By John Foxe 1563
Missionary Beginnings• 1800. Carey's first convert baptized.
• 1804. British and Foreign Bible Society organized.
• 1805. Henry Martyn sails for India.
• 1807. Robert Morrison sails for China.
• 1808. Haystack meeting held near Williams College.
• 1810. American Board organized.
• 1811. Wesleyans found Sierra Leone Mission.
• 1812. First American Board missionaries sail.
• 1816. American Bible Society organized.
• 1816. Robert Moffat sails for South Africa.
• 1818. London Missionary Society enters Madagascar.
• 1819. Methodist Missionary Society organized.
• 1819. American Board opens Sandwich Islands Mission.
• 1819. Judson baptizes first Burmese convert.
Epilogue to the Original EditionAnd now to conclude, good Christian readers, this present tractation, not for the lack of matter, but to shorten rather the matter for largeness of the volume. In the meantime the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ work with thee, gentle reader, in all thy studious readings. And when thou hast faith, so employ thyself to read, that by reading thou mayest learn daily to know that which may profit thy soul, may teach thee experience, may arm thee with patience, and instruct thee in all spiritual knowledge more and more, to thy perfect comfort and salvation in Christ Jesus, our Lord, to whom be glory in secula seculorum. Amen.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs
The Continual Burnt Offering (2 John 8)
By H.A. Ironside - 1941
December 212 John 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. ESV
We should be careful to distinguish between reward for service and salvation by grace. All who trust in the Lord Jesus are saved, and this completely apart from human merit. But all who profess to believe in Him are responsible to serve Him and to use whatever gift, ability, or means they have for His glory and to further His interests in this world. There are those who profess to be servants who are not even born of the Spirit. But God holds men accountable for what they know and profess. It is incumbent on all who believe His Word to serve whole-heartedly in view of the day when every one of us shall give an account. In that solemn hour no one will regret having been overly concerned about living for Him, but many will regret the hours spent in selfishness and folly which might have been used for His glory. Many will regret talents wasted or hidden away that, if properly invested in the light of eternity, would have earned Christ’s “Well done.” He will reward all that is in accordance with His Word (1 Corinthians 3:13).
1 Corinthians 3:13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. ESV
A group of boys and girls may be
My God-appointed task;
Help me to lead each one to Thee—
What greater could I ask?
I ask no place of prominence
Where all the world can see,
But in some needy corner, Lord,
There let me work for Thee.
No task too great, no task too small,
Sufficient is Thy grace;
The darkened heart, my mission field,
My light, the Saviour’s face.
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
12/21/2017 Bob Gass
‘Phebe…hath been a succourer of many.’
(Ro 16:1–2) I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. ESV
Your church needs members committed to supporting and encouraging each other. People like Phebe, whom Paul calls ‘a succourer of many’. Succour: In Greek, it applied to Olympic coaches who supported athletes and made sure they were trained and equipped to win. Bible scholar H.F. Moule describes Phebe as ‘a champion…who stood up for others…a devoted, brave friend of converts in trouble, who fought battles of protest where she found oppression…and pleaded the cause of the poor’. That’s a heavy-duty assignment! And in today’s ‘Me Generation’ not many are willing to take it on. But the truth is, there’s no greater investment than people. When you invest in another person you give yourself a gift, because you can’t light their path without brightening your own. And the divine rewards outweigh any earthly compensation: ‘Whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:8 NKJV). As one pastor observed: ‘You have something nobody else can give. Think about how you can make somebody else’s life better. Who can you support and strengthen? Somebody needs your encouragement today…needs to know you believe in him, that you’re for him, that you think he has what it takes to succeed. Looking back, chances are someone played a pivotal role in helping you get where you are today. A parent or teacher who had confidence in you…a boss who placed you in a higher position when you didn’t feel qualified…somebody who saw more in you than you saw in yourself.’ Now it’s your turn!
UCB The Word For Today
by Bill Federer
The captain of a slave trading ship, he was so depraved that once in a drunken stupor he fell overboard. His crew, in order to rescue him, threw a harpoon through his leg and reeled him back on board. His constant limp reminded him of God’s grace. His name was John Newton, and he died this day, December 21, 1807. Spending the rest of his life working to rid England of slavery, John Newton is best known writing: “Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.”American Minute
by C.S. Lewis
Reflections on the Intimate Dialogue
Between Man and God
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
Chapter 19 December 21
Now the value, for me, of the magical element in Christianity is this. It is a permanent witness that the heavenly realm, certainly no less than the natural universe and perhaps very much more, is a realm of objective facts-hard, determinate facts, not to be constructed a priori, and not to be dis solved into maxims, ideals, values, and the like. One cannot conceive a more completely "given," or, if you like, a more "magical," fact than the existence of God as causa sui.
Enlightened people want to get rid of this magical element in favor of what they would call the "spiritual'' element. But the spiritual, conceived as something thus antithetical to "magical," seems to become merely the psychological or ethical. And neither that by itself, nor the magical by itself, is a religion. I am not going to lay down rules as to the share-quantitatively considered-which the magical should have in anyone's religious life. Individual differences may be permissible. What I insist on is that it can never be reduced to zero. If it is, what remains is only morality, or culture, or philosophy.
What makes some theological works like sawdust to me is the way the authors can go on discussing how far certain positions are adjustable to contemporary thought, or beneficial in relation to social problems, or "have a future" before them, but never squarely ask what grounds we have for supposing them to be true accounts of any objective reality. As if we were trying to make rather than to learn. Have we no Other to reckon with?
I hope I do not offend God by making my Communions in the frame of mind I have been describing. The command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand. Particularly, I hope I need not be tormented by the question "What is this?"-this wafer, this sip of wine. That has a dreadful effect on me. It invites me to take "this" out of its holy context and regard it as an object among objects, indeed as part of nature. It is like taking a red coal out of the fire to examine it: it becomes a dead coal. To me, I mean. All this is autobiography, not theology.
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
A person that does not know
how to be angry
does not know how to be good.
--- Henry Ward Beecher
Anger is one of the sinews of the soul,
He who lacks it has a maimed mind.
--- Thomas Fuller
Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.
--- Albert Einstein
What experience and history teach is this-- that people and governments never have learned anything from history.
--- George Wilhelm Hegel
... from here, there and everywhere
by D.H. Stern
the prophecy with which his mother disciplined him:
2 No, my son! No, son of my womb!
No, son of my vows!
3 Don’t give your strength to women
or your ways to that which destroys kings.
4 It is not for kings, L’mu’el,
not for kings to drink wine;
it is not for rulers to ask,
“Where can I find strong liquor?”
5 For they may drink, then forget what has been decreed,
and pervert the justice due to the poor.
6 Give strong liquor to one who is perishing,
wine to the deeply depressed;
7 let him drink, forget his poverty
and cease to remember his troubles.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
Experience or Revelation
We have received … the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
--- 1 Cor 2:12.
Reality is Redemption, not my experience of Redemption; but Redemption has no meaning for me until it speaks the language of my conscious life. When I am born again, the Spirit of God takes me right out of myself and my experiences, and identifies me with Jesus Christ. If I am left with my experiences, my experiences have not been produced by Redemption. The proof that they are produced by Redemption is that I am led out of myself all the time; I no longer pay any attention to my experiences as the ground of Reality, but only to the Reality which produced the experiences. My experiences are not worth anything unless they keep me at the Source, Jesus Christ.
If you try to dam up the Holy Spirit in you to produce subjective experiences, you will find that He will burst all bounds and take you back again to the historic Christ. Never nourish an experience which has not God as its Source, and faith in God as its result. If you do, your experience is anti-Christian, no matter what visions you may have had. Is Jesus Christ Lord of your experiences, or do you try to lord it over Him? Is any experience dearer to you than your Lord? He must be Lord over you, and you must not pay attention to any experience over which He is not Lord. There comes a time when God will make you impatient with your own experience—‘I do not care what I experience; I am sure of Him.’
Be ruthless with yourself if you are given to talking about the experiences you have had. Faith that is sure of itself is not faith; faith that is sure of God is the only faith there is.
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
You ask why I don't write.
But what is there to say?
The salt current swings in and out
of the bay, as it has done
time out of mind.
How does that help?
It leaves illegible writing
on the shore. If you were here,
we would quarrel about it.
People file past this seascape
as ignorantly as through a gallery
of great art.
I keep searching for meaning.
The waves are a moving staircase
to climb, but in thought only.
The fall from the top is as sheer
as ever. Younger I deemed truth
was to come at beyond the horizon.
Older I stay still and am
as far off as before.
bore you? They explain my silence.
I wish there were as simple
an explanation for the silence of God.
The Poems of R.S. Thomas
God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. --- Acts 17:27.
Two people are in deep suffering; the same great woe has fallen on each of them. Phillips Brooks, “The Nearness of God,” downloaded from the Web site The Unofficial Episcopal Preaching Resource Page, at www.edola.org/clergy/episcopalpreaching.html, accessed Aug. 21, 2001. They need, with their poor bruised and mangled souls, some healing, some strength that they cannot make for themselves. Why does one of them seem to get it and the other fail? Why does one lift up the head and go looking at the stars, while the other bends and stoops and goes with eyes on the ground? Is one God’s favorite more than the other? Is God near to one and far from the other? We imagine such unreal discriminations and favoritisms! We think that one soul is held in the great warm hands, while the other is cast out on the cold ground! But then comes in our truth: “He is not far from each one of us.” The difference, then, cannot be in God and in his willingness; it must be in the souls.
What, then, can we say to anyone who seems to be left comfortless when others all around are gathering in plentiful comfort? We may say this: God is comforting and helping you even when you do not know it. Do not for a moment imagine that God’s help is limited by what you can feel and recognize. If you are looking to God for help, he is sending you help although you do not feel it. Feeling is not the test. Your soul is feeding on it, though your eyes may not see it, any more than they can see the sweet and wholesome air by which you live.
In something that you are, not in anything that God is, must be the secret of the darkness of your soul. Do not let yourself for one moment think or feel that God has turned his back on you, that he has gone away from you and left you to your fate. Don’t ask yourself, If he had, who are you that you should call him back? Who is he that he should turn round at your calling? That way lies despair. No, “He is not far from each one of us.” He is not far from you. You must turn to him, and when you turn, his light is already shining full on you. What a great truth it is, how full of courage, this truth that we may go away from God, but God cannot go away from us! How God loves his own great character of faithfulness! He cannot turn his back on his child. If his face is not shining on you, it must be that your back is turned on him. And if you have turned away from him, you can turn back to him again. That is the courage which always comes to one who takes all the blame of life on himself or on herself and does not cast it on God. In humility there is always comfort and strength.
--- Phillips Brooks
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Have They No Souls?
When Hernando Cortes and the other Spanish explorers led conquistadors against the Aztec and Inca empires, their goal was to claim land, seize gold, and share the faith. In the name of Christ, thousands were slaughtered and enslaved. Entire civilizations perished. Some of the conquistadors sincerely believed they were expanding the faith. “Gunpowder against Indians is incense to the Lord,” said one of them. But it is important to know that many voices in the church rose in righteous, angry opposition.
On December 21, 1511 Antonio des Montesinos stood before his church in Hispaniola with fire on his lips:
I have climbed to this pulpit to let you know of your sins, for I am the voice of Christ crying in the desert of this island, and you must not listen to me indifferently. You are in mortal sin; you not only are in it, but live in it and die in it because of the cruelty and tyranny you bring to bear on these innocent people. By what right do you wage your odious wars on people who dwelt in quiet and peace on their own islands? Why do you oppress and exploit them, without even giving them enough to eat? They die, or rather, you kill them, so that you may extract more and more gold every day.
Are they not human? Have they no souls? Are you not required to love them as you love yourselves? How can you remain in such profound lethargy? I assure you, in your present state you can no more be saved than Moors or Turks who reject the faith of Jesus Christ.
His audience was stunned, and his words leaped the oceans. In Spain a furious King Ferdinand told Christopher Columbus, “I have seen the sermon … and although he was always a scandalous preacher, I am much surprised by what he said, which has no basis in theology or law.”
Montesinos refused orders to retract his statements, and increasing numbers joined him in reminding the world that not everything done in the name of Christianity is of Christ.
I command you to preach God’s message. Do it willingly, even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. You must correct people and point out their sins.
--- 2 Timothy 4:1b,2a.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
God Is In The Manger (Day 4)
The Great Turning Point of All Things
What kings and leaders of nations, philosophers and artists, founders of religions and teach¬ers of morals have tried in vain to do-that now hap¬pens through a newborn child. Putting to shame the most powerful human efforts and accomplishments, a child is placed here at the midpoint of world his¬tory-a child born of human beings, a son given by God (Isa. 9:6). That is the mystery of the redemption of the world; everything past and everything future is encompassed here. The infinite mercy of the almighty God comes to us, descends to us in the form of a child, his Son. That this child is born f or us, this son is given to us, that this human child and Son of God belongs to me, that I know him, have him, love him, that I am his and he is mine-on this alone my life now depends. A child has our life in his hands....
How shall we deal with such a child? Have our hands, soiled with daily toil, become too hard and too proud to fold in prayer at the sight of this child? Has our head become too full of serious thoughts ... that we cannot bow our head in humility at the wonder of this child? Can we not forget all our stress and struggles, our sense of impor¬tance, and for once worship the child, as did the shepherds and the wise men from the East, bowing before the divine child in the manger like children?
"The Government upon the Shoulders of the Child," Christmas 1940.
Go to Romans 8:31-34 Click Here
God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas
Legends Of The Jews
Though Ahasuerus had taken every precaution to prevent intemperate indulgence in wine, his banquet revealed the essential difference between Jewish and pagan festivities. When Jews are gathered about a festal board, they discuss a Halakah, or a Haggadah, or, at the least, a simple verse from the Scriptures. Ahasuerus and his boon companions rounded out the banquet with prurient talk. The Persians lauded the charms of the women of their people, while the Medians admitted none superior to the Median women. Then “the fool” Ahasuerus up and spake: “My wife is neither a Persian nor a Median, but a Chaldean, yet she excels all in beauty. Would you convince yourselves of the truth of my words?” “Yes,” shouted the company, who were deep in their cups, “but that we may properly judge of her natural charms, let her appear before us unadorned, yea, without any apparel whatsoever,” and Ahasuerus agreed to the shameless condition.
The thing was from God, that so insensate a demand should be made of Vashti by the king. A whole week Mordecai had spent in fasting and praying, supplicating God to mete out punishment to Ahasuerus for his desecration of the Temple utensils. On the seventh day of the week, on the Sabbath, when Mordecai after his long fast took food, because fasting is forbidden on the Sabbath day, God heard his prayer and the prayer of the Sanhedrin. He sent down seven Angels of Confusion to put an end to Ahasuerus’s pleasure. They were named: Mehuman, Confusion; Biztha, Destruction of the House; Harbonah, Annihilation; Bigtha and Abagtha, the Pressers of the Winepress, for God had resolved to crush the court of Ahasuerus as one presses the juice from grapes in a press; Zethar, Observer of Immorality; and Carcas, Knocker.
There was a particular reason why this interruption of the feast took place on the Sabbath. Vashti was in the habit of forcing Jewish maidens to spin and weave on the Sabbath day, and to add to her cruelty, she would deprive them of all their clothes. It was on the Sabbath, therefore, that her punishment overtook her, and for the same reason it was put into the king’s heart to have her appear in public stripped of all clothing.
Vashti recoiled from the king’s revolting order. But it must not be supposed that she shrank from carrying it out because it offended her moral sense. She was not a whit better than her husband. She fairly revelled in the opportunity his command gave her to indulge in carnal pleasures once again, for it was exactly a week since she had been delivered of a child. But God sent the angel Gabriel to her to disfigure her countenance. Suddenly signs of leprosy appeared on her forehead, and the marks of other diseases on her person. In this state it was impossible for her to show herself to the king. She made a virtue of necessity, and worded her refusal to appear before him arrogantly: “Say to Ahasuerus: ‘O thou fool and madman! Hast thou lost thy reason by too much drinking? I am Vashti, the daughter of Belshazzar, who was a son of Nebuchadnezzar, the Nebuchadnezzar who scoffed at kings and unto whom princes were a derision, and even thou wouldst not have been deemed worthy to run before my father’s chariot as a courier. Had he lived, I should never have been given unto thee for wife. Not even those who suffered the death penalty during the reign of my forefather Nebuchadnezzar were stripped bare of their clothing, and thou demandest that I appear naked in public! Why, it is for thine own sake that I refuse to heed thy order. Either the people will decide that I do not come up to thy description of me, and will proclaim thee a liar, or, bewitched by my beauty, they will kill thee in order to gain possession of me, saying, Shall this fool be the master of so much beauty?’ ”
The first lady of the Persian aristocracy encouraged Vashti to adhere to her resolution. “Better,” her adviser said, when Ahasuerus’s second summons was delivered to Vashti, together with his threat to kill her unless she obeyed, “better the king should kill thee and annihilate thy beauty, than that thy person should be admired by other eyes than thy husband’s, and thus thy name be disgraced, and the name of thy ancestors.”
When Vashti refused to obey the repeated command to appear before the king and the hundred and twenty-seven crowned princes of the realm, Ahasuerus turned to the Jewish sages, and requested them to pass sentence upon his queen. Their thoughts ran in this wise: If we condemn the queen to death, we shall suffer for it as soon as Ahasuerus becomes sober, and hears it was at our advice that she was executed. But if we admonish him unto clemency now, while he is intoxicated, he will accuse us of not paying due deference to the majesty of the king. They therefore resolved upon neutrality. “Since the destruction of the Temple,” they said to the king, “since we have not dwelt in our land, we have lost the power to give sage advice, particularly in matters of life and death. Better seek counsel with the wise men of Ammon and Moab, who have ever dwelt at ease in their land, like wine that hath settled on its lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel.”
Thereupon Ahasuerus put his charge against Vashti before the seven princes of Persia, Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, who came from Africa, India, Edom, Tarsus, Mursa, Resen, and Jerusalem, respectively. The names of these seven officials, each representing his country, were indicative of their office. Carshena had the care of the animals, Shethar of the wine, Admatha of the land, Tarshish of the palace, Meres of the poultry, Marsena of the bakery, and Memucan provided for the needs of all in the palace, his wife acting as housekeeper.
This Memucan, a native of Jerusalem, was none other than Daniel, called Memucan, “the appointed one”, because he was designated by God to perform miracles and bring about the death of Vashti.
When the king applied for advice to these seven nobles, Memucan was the first to speak up, though in rank he was inferior to the other six, as appears from the place his name occupies in the list. However, it is customary, as well among Persians as among Jews, in passing death sentence, to begin taking the vote with the youngest of the judges on the bench, to prevent the juniors and the less prominent from being overawed by the opinion of the more influential.
It was Memucan’s advice to the king to make an example of Vashti, so that in future no woman should dare refuse obedience to her husband. Daniel-Memucan had had unpleasant experiences in his conjugal life. He had married a wealthy Persian lady, who insisted upon speaking to him in her own language exclusively. Besides, personal antipathy existed between Daniel and Vashti. He had in a measure been the cause of her refusal to appear before the king and his princes. Vashti hated Daniel, because it was he who had prophesied his death to her father, and the extinction of his dynasty. She could not endure his sight, wherefore she would not show herself to the court in his presence.44 Also, it was Daniel who, by pronouncing the Name of God, had caused the beauty of Vashti to vanish, and her face to be marred.45 In consequence of all this, Daniel advised, not only that Vashti should be cast off, but that she should be made harmless forever by the hangman’s hand. His advice was endorsed by his colleagues, and approved by the king. That the king might not delay the execution of the death sentence, and Daniel himself thus incur danger to his own life, he made Ahasuerus swear the most solemn oath known to the Persians, that it would be carried out forthwith. At the same time a royal edict was promulgated, making it the duty of wives to obey their husbands. With special reference to Daniel’s domestic difficulties, it was specified that the wife must speak the language of her lord and master.
The execution of Vashti brought most disastrous consequences in its train. His whole empire, which is tantamount to saying the whole world, rose against Ahasuerus. The widespread rebellion was put down only after his marriage with Esther, but not before it had inflicted upon him the loss of one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, the half of his kingdom. Such was his punishment for refusing permission to rebuild the Temple. It was only after the fall of Haman, when Mordecai had been made the chancellor of the empire, that Ahasuerus succeeded in reducing the revolted provinces to submission.
The death of Vashti was not undeserved punishment, for it had been she who had prevented the king from giving his consent to the rebuilding of the Temple. “Wilt thou rebuild the Temple,” said she, reproachfully, “which my ancestors destroyed?”
Ginzberg, L., Legends of the Jews
They cast Pur?
... they cast Pur? What is this about? OK, they cast lots, but why? Couldn’t he
have just picked a date? Did he want his gods on his side? Is this a test of gods? Is it an appeal to Who or That which is beyond our understanding? Haman wanted God on his side, so when Adar came up would Haman know that Moses died in that month? If he did would he think he was somehow ahead of Moses? According to the
Talmud this is exactly what Haman thought. Interesting, don’t you think? Have you noticed in our reading how often specific dates show up? Why is that? Where else in Scripture is there a casting of lots? Several places, but one is at Yom Kippur, the most holy time of the year for the Jewish people. Remember that at this time the high priest would cast lots to see which of two goats would be set free to carry the sins of the Jewish people into the desert and which would be sacrificed to God. Jewish people celebrate Purim as a party, Yom Kippur is a time of fasting. It is my understanding that Purim is the most physical day of the year for the Jewish people. The Talmud says you are supposed to get drunk on Purim, yep, drunk. Purim is all about the salvation of the body, but Yom Kippur is all about soul searching, repentance, the salvation of the spirit. It is the time of the year when man comes closest to being like the heavenly. So they party on one day and pray on the other. Jesus was a good Jew so wouldn’t he have celebrated Purim? Haman did not know that though the month of Adar was the month Moses died, it was also the month he was born, according to the Talmud. What comes boldly out of this story is that God chose Israel. God works through the natural to bring about God’s salvation. History stands as the proof and witness of God's protection. Could this be why there have been so many attempts to kill all of the Jewish people?
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - December 21
“Yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant." 2 Samuel 23:5.
This covenant is divine in its origin. “HE hath made with me an everlasting covenant.” Oh that great word HE! Stop, my soul. God, the everlasting Father, has positively made a covenant with thee; yes, that God who spake the world into existence by a word; he, stooping from his majesty, takes hold of thy hand and makes a covenant with thee. Is it not a deed, the stupendous condescension of which might ravish our hearts for ever if we could really understand it? “HE hath made with me a covenant.” A king has not made a covenant with me—that were somewhat; but the Prince of the kings of the earth, Shaddai, the Lord All-sufficient, the Jehovah of ages, the everlasting Elohim, “He hath made with me an everlasting covenant.” But notice, it is particular in its application. “Yet hath he made with ME an everlasting covenant.” Here lies the sweetness of it to each believer. It is nought for me that he made peace for the world; I want to know whether he made peace for me! It is little that he hath made a covenant, I want to know whether he has made a covenant with me. Blessed is the assurance that he hath made a covenant with me! If God the Holy Ghost gives me assurance of this, then his salvation is mine, his heart is mine, he himself is mine—he is my God.
This covenant is everlasting in its duration. An everlasting covenant means a covenant which had no beginning, and which shall never, never end. How sweet amidst all the uncertainties of life, to know that “the foundation of the Lord standeth sure,” and to have God’s own promise, “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” Like dying David, I will sing of this, even though my house be not so with God as my heart desireth.
Evening - December 21
“I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers’ skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk.” --- Ezekiel 16:10.
See with what matchless generosity the Lord provides for his people’s apparel. They are so arrayed that the divine skill is seen producing an unrivalled broidered work, in which every attribute takes its part and every divine beauty is revealed. No art like the art displayed in our salvation, no cunning workmanship like that beheld in the righteousness of the saints. Justification has engrossed learned pens in all ages of the church, and will be the theme of admiration in eternity. God has indeed “curiously wrought it.” With all this elaboration there is mingled utility and durability, comparable to our being shod with badgers’ skins. The animal here meant is unknown, but its skin covered the tabernacle, and formed one of the finest and strongest leathers known. The righteousness which is of God by faith endureth for ever, and he who is shod with this divine preparation will tread the desert safely, and may even set his foot upon the lion and the adder. Purity and dignity of our holy vesture are brought out in the fine linen. When the Lord sanctifies his people, they are clad as priests in pure white; not the snow itself excels them; they are in the eyes of men and angels fair to look upon, and even in the Lord’s eyes they are without spot. Meanwhile the royal apparel is delicate and rich as silk. No expense is spared, no beauty withheld, no daintiness denied.
What, then? Is there no inference from this? Surely there is gratitude to be felt and joy to be expressed. Come, my heart, refuse not thy Evening hallelujah! Tune thy pipes! Touch thy chords!
“Strangely, my soul, art thou arrayed
By the Great Sacred Three!
In sweetest harmony of praise
Let all thy powers agree.”
WE THREE KINGS OF OrIENT ARE
Words and Music by John H. Hopkins, 1820–1891
And when they were come into the house, they [the wise men] saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshiped Him; and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)
Each of the participants involved with Christ’s birth—Mary and Joseph, the inn keeper, the angels, shepherds, and wise men—has much to teach us.
Although there is no scriptural basis for stating dogmatically that there were three wise men, the fact that three distinct gifts are mentioned has given rise to this traditional idea. Master artists throughout the centuries have depicted three wise men on camels as one of their favorite nativity themes.
The number of wise men is not important, but the fact that they persisted in following the light that was given them until they found the object of their search, that they responded in worship, and that they returned home to share their experience with others—all has much to tell us. Also, the gifts presented to the Christ-child were both significant and appropriate: gold, symbolic of His kingly reign; frankincense, symbolic of His priestly ministry; myrrh, symbolic of our redemption through His death. How important it is that our gifts of love and devotion be offered to Christ after we have first found Him and then have bowed in true adoration before Him.
The author and composer of this well-known Christmas hymn was an Episcopalian minister from Pennsylvania. John Hopkins has been credited with contributing much to the development of music in his denomination during the 19th century, writing a number of fine hymns and hymn tunes. One of his publications, Carols, Hymns and Songs, enjoyed four editions.
We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown Him again, King forever, ceasing never over us all to reign.
Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh; prayer and praising, all men raising, worship Him, God on high.
Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom: Sorr’wing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
Glorious now behold Him arise, King and God and Sacrifice; alleluia, alleluia! Earth to heav’n replies.
For Today: Matthew 2:1–11
Follow the light of God’s Word and the leading of His Holy Spirit to worship Christ and to share His love. Carry this tuneful message ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
This doctrine affords us motives to obey, and directs us to the manner of obedience.
1st. Motives to obey,
(1.) It is comely and orderly. Is it not a more becoming thing to be ruled by the will of our Sovereign than by that of our lusts?—to observe a wise and gracious Authority, than to set up inordinate appetites in the room of his law? Would not all men account it a disorder to be abominated, to see a slave or vassal control the just orders of his lord, and endeavor to subject his master’s will to his own? much more to expect God should serve our humor rather than we be regulated by his will. It is more orderly that subjects should obey their governors, than governors their subjects; that passion should obey reason, than reason obey passion. When good governors are to conform to subjects, and reason veil to passion, it is monstrous! the one disturbs the order of a community, and the other defaceth the beauty of the soul. Is it a comely thing for God to stoop to our meanness, or for us to stoop to his greatness?
(2.) In regard of the Divine sovereignty, it is both honorable and advantageous to obey God. It is, indeed, the glory of a superior to be obeyed by his inferior; but where the sovereign is of transcendent excellency and dignity, it is an honor to a mean person to be under his immediate commands, and enrolled in his service. It is more honor to be God’s subject than to be the greatest worldly monarch; his very service is an empire, and disobedience to him is a slavery. It is a part of his sovereignty to reward any service done him. Other lords may be willing to recompense the service of their subjects, but are often rendered unable; but nothing can stand in the way of God to hinder your reward, if nothing stand in your way to hinder your obedience (Lev. 18:5): “If you keep my statutes, you shall live in them; I am the Lord.” Is there anything in the world can recompense you for rebellion against God, and obedience to a lust? Saul cools the hearts of his servants from running after David, by David’s inability to give them fields and vineyards (1 Sam. 22:7): “Will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, and make you captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds, that you have conspired against me?” But God hath a dominion to requite, as well as an authority to command your obedience; he is a great Sovereign, to bear you out in your observance of his precepts against all reproaches and violence of men, and at last to crown you with eternal honor. If he should neglect vindicating, one time or other, your loyalty to him, he will neglect the maintaining and vindicating his own sovereignty and greatness.
(3.) God, in all his dispensations to man, was careful to preserve the rights of his sovereignty in exacting obedience of his creature. The second thing he manifested his sovereignty in was that of a Lawgiver to Adam, after that of a Proprietor in giving him the possession of the garden; one followed immediately the other (Gen. 2:15, 16): “The Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden, to dress it; and the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it,” &c. Nothing was to be enjoyed by man but upon the condition of obedience to his Lord; and it is observed that in the description of the creation, God is not called “Lord” till the finishing of the creation, and particularly in the forming of man. “And the Lord God formed man” (Gen. 2:7). Though he was Lord of all creatures, yet it was in man he would have his sovereignty particularly manifested, and by man have his authority specially acknowledged. The law is prefaced with this title: “I am the Lord thy God” (Exod. 20:2): authority in Lord, sweetness in God, the one to enjoin, the other to allure obedience; and God enforceth several of the commands with the same title. And as he begins many precepts with it, so he concludes them with the same title, “I am the Lord,” Lev. 19:37, and in other places. In all his communications of his goodness to man in ways of blessing them, he stands upon the preservation of the rights of his sovereignty, and manifests his graciousness in favor of his authority. “I am the Lord your God,” your God in all my perfections for your advantage, but yet your Sovereign for your obedience. In all his condescension he will have the rights of this untouched and unviolated by us. When Christ would give the most pregnant instance of his condescending and humble kindness, he urgeth his authority to ballast their spirits from any presumptuous eruptions because of his humility. “You call me Master, and Lord; and you say well: for so I am” (John 13:13). He asserts his authority, and presseth them to their duty, when he had seemed to lay it by for the demeanor of a servant, and had, below the dignity of a master, put on the humility of a mean underling, to wash the disciples feet; all which was to oblige them to perform the command he then gave them (ver. 14), and in obedience to his authority, and imitation of his example.
(4.) All creatures obey him. All creatures punctually observe the law he hath imprinted on their nature, and in their several capacities acknowledge him their Sovereign; they move according to the inclinations he imprinted on them. The sea contains itself in its bounds, and the sun steps out of its sphere; the stars march in their order, “they continue this day according to thy ordinance, for all are thy servants” (Psalm 119:91). If he orders things contrary to their primitive nature, they obey him. When he speaks the word, the devouring fire becomes gentle, and toucheth not a hair of the children he will preserve; the hunger-starved lions suspend their ravenous nature, when so good a morsel as Daniel is set before them; and the sun, which had been in perpetual motion since its creation, obeys the writ of ease God sent it in Joshua’s time, and stands still. Shall insensible and sensible creatures be punctual to his orders, passively acknowledge his authority? shall lions and serpents obey God in their places? — and shall not man, who can, by reason, argue out the sovereignty of God, and understand the sense and goodness of his laws, and actively obey God with that will he hath enriched him with above other creatures? Yet the truth is, every sensitive, yea, every senseless creature, obeys God more than his rational, more than his gracious creatures in this world. The rational creatures since the fall have a prevailing principle of corruption. Let the obedience of other creatures incite us more to imitate them, and shame our remissness in not acknowledging the dominion of God, in the just way he prescribes us to walk in. Well then, let us not pretend to own God as our Lord, and yet act the part of rebels; let us give him the reverence, and pay him that obedience, which of right belongs to so great a King. Whatsoever he speaks as a true God, ought to be believed; whatsoever he orders as a sovereign God, ought to be obeyed; let not God have less than man, nor man have more than God. It is a common principle writ upon the reason of all men, that respect and observance is due to the majesty of a man, much more to the Majesty of God as a Lawgiver.
2d. As this doctrine presents us motives, so it directs us to the manner and kind of our obedience to God.
(1.) It must be with a respect to his authority. As the veracity of God is the formal object of faith, and the reason why we believe the things he hath revealed; so the authority of God is the formal object of our obedience, or the reason why we observe the things he hath commanded. There must be a respect to his will as the rule, as well as to his glory as the end. It is not formally obedience that is not done with regard to the order of God, though it may be materially obedience, as it answers the matter of the precept. As when men will abstain from excess and rioting, because it is ruinous to their health, not because it is forbidden by the great Lawgiver; this is to pay a respect to our own conveniency and interest, not a conscientious observance to God; a regard to our health, not to our Sovereign; a kindness to ourselves, not a justice due to the rights of God. There must not only be a consideration of the matter of the precept as convenient, but a consideration of the authority of the Lawgiver as obligatory. “Thus saith the Lord,” ushers in every order of his, directing our eye to the authority enacting it; Jeroboam did God’s will of prophecy in taking the kingdom of Israel; and the devils may be subservient in God’s will or providence; but neither of them are put upon the account of obedience, because not done intentionally with any conscience of the sovereignty of God. God will have this owned by a regular respect to it; so much he insists upon the honor of it, that the sacrifice of Christ, God-man, was most agreeable to him, not only as it was great and admirable in itself, but also for that ravishing obedience to his will, which was the life and glory of his sacrifice, whereby the justice of God was not only owned in the offering, but the sovereignty of God owned in the obedience. “He became obedient unto death; wherefore God highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:8).
(2.) It must be the best and most exact obedience. The most sovereign authority calls for the exactest and lowest observance; the highest Lord for the deepest homage; being, he is, a “great King; he must have the best in our flock” (Mal. 1:14). Obedience is due to God, as King, and the choicest obedience is due to him, as he is the most excellent King. The more majestic and noble any man is, the more careful we are in our manner of service to him. We are bound to obey God, not only under the title of a “Lord” in regard of jurisdiction and political subjection, but under the title of a true “Lord and Master,” in regard of propriety; since we are not only his subjects but his servants, the exactest obedience is due to God, jure servitutis; “When you have done all, say you are unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10), because we can do nothing which we owe not to God.
(3.) Sincere and inward obedience. As it is a part of his sovereignty to prescribe laws not only to man in his outward state, but to his conscience, so it is a part of our subjection to receive his laws into our will and heart. The authority of his laws exceeds human laws in the extent and riches of them, and our acknowledgment of his sovereignty cannot be right, but by subjecting the faculties of our soul to the Lawgiver of our souls; we else acknowledge his authority to be as limited as the empire of man; when his will not only sways the outward action, but the inward motion, it is a giving him the honor of his high throne above the throne of mortals. The right of God ought to be preserved undamaged in affection, as well as action.
(4.) It must be sole obedience. We are ordered to serve him only; “Him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10): as the only Supreme Lord, as being the highest Sovereign, it is fit he should have the highest obedience before all earthly sovereigns, and as being unparalleled by any among all the nations, so none must have an obedience equal to him. When God commands, if the highest power on earth countermands it, the precept of God must be preferred before the countermand of the creature. “Whether it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye” (Act 4:18, 19). We must never give place to the authority of all the monarchs in the world, to the prejudice of that obedience we owe to the Supreme Monarch of heaven and earth; this would be to place the throne of God at the footstool of man, and debase him below the rank of a creature. Loyalty to man can never recompense for the mischief accruing from disloyalty to God. All the obedience we are to give to man, is to be paid in obedience to God, and with an eye to his precept: therefore, what servants do for their masters, they must do “as to the Lord” (Col. 3:23); and children are to obey their parents “in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1). The authority of God is to be eyed in all the services payable to man; proper and true obedience hath God solely for its principal and primary object; all obedience to man that interferes with that, and would justle out obedience to God, is to be refused. What obedience is due to man, is but rendered as a part of obedience to God, and a stooping of his authority.
(5.) It must be universal obedience. The laws of man are not to be universally obeyed; some may be oppressing and unjust: no man hath authority to make an unjust law, and no subject is bound to obey an unrighteous law; but God being a righteous Sovereign, there is not one of his laws but doth necessarily oblige us to obedience. Whatsoever this Supreme Power declares to be his will, it must be our care to observe; man, being his creature, is bound to be subject to whatsoever laws he doth impose to the meanest as well as to the greatest: they having equally a stamp of Divine authority upon them. We are not to pick and choose among his precepts this is to pare away part of his authority, and render him a half sovereign. It must be universal in all places. An Englishman in Spain is bound to obey the laws of that country wherein he resides and so not responsible there for the breach of the laws of his native country. In the same condition is a Spaniard in England. But the laws of God are to be obeyed in every part of the world; wheresoever Divine Providence doth cast us, it casts us not out of the places where he commands, nor out of the compass of his own empire. He is Lord of the world, and his laws oblige in every part of the world; they were ordered for a world, and not for a particular climate and territory.
(6.) must be indisputable obedience. All authority requires readiness in the subject; the centurion had it from his soldiers; they went when he ordered them, and came when he beckoned to them (Matt. 8:9). It is more fit God should have the same promptness from his subjects. We are to obey his orders, though our purblind understanding may not apprehend the reason of every one of them. It is without dispute that he is sovereign, and therefore it is without dispute that we are bound to obey him, without controlling his conduct. A master will not bear it from his slave, why should God from his creature? Though God admits his creatures sometimes to treat with him about the equality of his justice, and also about the reason of some commands, yet sometimes he gives no other reason but his own sovereignty, “Thus saith the Lord;” to correct the malapertness of men, and exact from them an entire obedience to his unlimited and absolute authority. When Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac, God acquaints him not with the reason of his demand till after (Gen. 22:2, 12), nor did Abraham enter any demur to the order, or expostulate with God, either from his own natural affection to Isaac, the hardness of the command, it being, as it were, a ripping up of his own bowels, nor the quickness of it after he had been a child of the promise, and a Divine donation above the course of nature. Nor did Paul confer with flesh and blood, and study arguments from nature and interest to oppose the Divine command, when he was sent upon his apostolical employment (Gal. 1:16). The more indisputable his right is to command, the stronger is our obligation to obey, without questioning the reason of his orders.
(7.) It must be joyful obedience. Men are commonly more cheerful if their obedience to a great prince than to a mean peasant; because the quality of the master renders the service more honorable. It is a discredit to a prince’s government, when his subjects obey him with discontent and dejectedness, as though he were a hard master, and his laws tyrannical and unrighteous. When we pay obedience but with a dull and feeble pace, and a sour and sad temper, we blemish our great Sovereign, imply his commands to be grievous, void of that peace and pleasure he proclaims to be in them; that he deserves no respect from us, if we obey him because we must, and not because we will. Involuntary obedience deserves not the title: it is rather submission than obedience, an act of the body, not of the mind: a mite of obedience with cheerfulness, is better than a talent without it. In the little Paul did, he comforts himself in this, that with the “mind he served the law of God” (Rom. 7:25); the testimonies of God were David’s delight (Psalm 119:24). Our understandings must take pleasure in knowing him, our wills delightfully embrace him, and our actions be cheerfully squared to him. This credits the sovereignty of God in the world, makes others believe him to be a gracious Lord, and move them to have some veneration for his authority.
(8.) It must be a perpetual obedience. As man is a subject as soon as he is a creature, so he is a subject as long as he is a creature. God’s sovereignty is of perpetual duration, as long as he is God; man’s obedience must be perpetual, while he is a man. God cannot part with his sovereignty, and a creature cannot be exempted from subjection; we must not only serve him, but cleave to him (Deut. 13:4). Obedience is continued in heaven, his throne is established in heaven, it must be bowed to in heaven, as well as in earth. The angels continually fulfil his pleasure.
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