There is something about the raw energy of nature that just inspires awe. Crashing waves, peals of thunder, howling winds – these all demonstrate the raw power of creation. But as powerful as these elements of nature are, they are nothing compared to the sun. The Sun releases energy at the rate of a mass–energy conversion rate of 4.26 million metric tons per second, which produces the equivalent of 38,460 septillion watts (3.846×1026 W) per second. To put that in perspective, this is the equivalent of about 9.192×1010 megatons of TNT per second, or 1,820,000,000 Tsar Bombas – the most powerful thermonuclear bomb ever built! Now think about this for a moment: God spoke the sun into being.
God is powerful and his power is beyond human comprehension. Blaise Pascal said: “The greatest single distinguishing feature of the omnipotence of God is that our imagination gets lost thinking about it.” God is all-powerful or omnipotent. That means that God has the power or the ability to do whatever pleases him.
Deut. 10:17 described God as “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God”. There is no-one like God. Just listen to how the Bible describes God:
Even after reading all these verses, and there are many more, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of God’s power. As Paul explains in Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us”. No wonder then that one of the Bible’s favorite titles for God is “the Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18 and Rev. 1:8).
At this point you might be wondering if there is anything that God cannot do? For example, some philosophers have wondered whether God can create a rock that he cannot lift, or if God can draw a square circle. These are absurd and illogical questions. I believe CS Lewis summed it up best when he wrote: “His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense.” So is there anything that God cannot do?
God cannot go against his nature, his character. If God is truth (Isaiah 65:16), it follows that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2: “God, who never lies”). God can also not be tempted to sin. James 1:13: “God cannot be tempted with evil”. In other words, God’s power is only limited by his character – he will never do anything that contradicts his holy, gracious, righteous and loving character.
Why is this important? One of the most frightening things in life is when power is wielded by evil men. The gun in the hand of a criminal or an army in the hand of a tyrant – these are frightening. But God is not like that. God’s power is governed by God’s character and God is supremely, perfectly good. Therefore his children need never fear his power, they need only rely on it.
You see the power and the perfect character of God meet at the cross. In Matt. 19 we meet a rich young ruler. He ran up to Jesus and asked Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus took in to the law, not because he could by saved by obeying the law, but because the law would expose his inability to save himself. The young man could not see his own need, so Jesus pressed him: “sell what you posses and give to the poor” (v. 21). He went away sorrowful, because he had many possessions. Jesus then said something that alarmed the disciples: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 24). Jesus’ point was that it is impossible for a sinner to save himself, and the disciples understood. “Who then can be saved?”, they asked. Here is our assurance: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (v. 26).
God is omnipotent – all-powerful. All things are possible with him, even the salvation of sinners like us. Let us trust in the God who can.
Because of Christ,
Isaiah 66:1 says that heaven is God’s throne, but that does not mean that God is contained there. Thomas Brooks wrote: “Though heaven be God’s palace, yet it is not his prison.” God is everywhere. We call this attribute God’s “omnipresence”.
What is omnipresence? Omnipresence is often misunderstood or misrepresented. People often fall into one of three traps. The first is pantheism, which believes that God is everything and that everything is God. Budism, Hinduism and “mother nature” cults all hold to some form of pantheism. According to the Bible, however, God is unique and distinct from his creation.
The second trap is panentheism. This is more subtle. Panentheism doesn’t believe that everything is God or that God is everything, but that God is in everything and that everything is in God. Some theologians believe that this is what Paul had in mind when he said: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The problem with panentheism is that God and creation are seen as “interdependent”. As the philosopher Alfred Whitehead said: “It is as true to say that God creates the world as that the world creates God.” In panentheism God could not exist apart from creation. In subtle ways it denies that God is truly distinct from his creation and it denies that God made the world out of nothing. According to the Bible, however, God does not need the world; we need God.
The third trap is deism. Deism views God as so transcendent, so exalted, and so distinct from his creation that he is not actively involved in it. Deists believe that God created the world, but that God then withdrew from it. Deism pictures God as a divine clockmaker, who assembles the clock, winds it up, but then leaves it alone as it winds down. This view denies any form of divine intervention, does not believe in the power of prayer or miracles. God is completely aloof from creation.
Is that how the Bible portrays God? It is true that God is transcendent. Psalm 113:4-6 proclaims: “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” God is transcendent. But it is equally true that God is immanent, involved, near. Omnipresence means that God is everywhere all the time. God does not have size or dimensions, which means that he can be present at every point of space with his whole being.
Psalm 139:7-10 reveals a God who is near: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” For this Psalmist this was a great comfort, because there was nowhere he could go where God could not keep him. In Jer. 23:23-24 the Lord says: “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” God is everywhere.
How does this truth affect us? It should encourage us as we pray. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a praying contest: they each had to call upon their god and the one who answered with fire would be declared the winner. The prophets of Baal spent most of the morning and the early afternoon calling out to Baal, but there was no answer. Elijah mocked them, saying: “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (v. 27). Maybe Baal was out of town. But when Elijah prayed, he did not pray to a God who was aloof, far away or uninterested. He prayed to the God who is near: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (v. 36-37). God answered with consuming fire. God is close enough to hear us pray.
God’s omnipresence should also encourage us as we wrestle with sin. Yes, the thought that God is there when we commit our most heinous sins is frightening, as it should be. God knows our sinful thoughts, words and deeds. Psalm 139:11-12: “If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” How should we respond to God’s omnipresence when we’ve sinned? By running to him, not from him. It would be pointless to try and hide form God, like Adam and Eve did. We should rather confess and repent, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa. 57:15). God is near repentant sinners.
Finally, God’s omnipresence should encourage us as we go through trials. Before his ascension Jesus assured his disciples: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20). God will never lead you where his grace cannot keep you.
What a joy to serve the God who is near.
Because of Christ,
I think it was Adrian Rogers who said: “Has it ever occured to you that nothing occurs to God?” As fallible human beings we don’t know everything and we easily forget things we do know. God is not like that. In Job 37:16 God is called “him who is perfect in knowledge”. 1 John 3:20 says that God knows everything. These and so many other passages reveal God’s omniscience.
What is omniscience? Wayne Grudem offers this helpful definition: “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.” That is a mouthful, I admit. What does it mean?
God knows himself
First, it means that God knows himself. This might seem simple and unnecessary, but think about it for a moment. Scripture tells us that God is infinite, that there is no end to his glories and perfections. He is so exalted that the human mind will never be able to fully comprehend him. And yet, Scripture also tells us that God knows himself. In 1 Cor. 2:10-11 the apostle Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes: “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God... no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
There is nothing about himself that God does not know. We don’t even know ourselves fully. You didn’t know you liked icecream until you tried it. You didn’t know you had musical talent until you picked up the violin. We discover something about ourselves daily: wells of strength we did not know we had, sins that were hiding in the depths of our hearts. Our understanding of ourselves is limited; God’s isn’t. He never needs to discover anything about himself, because he knows himself fully and perfectly.
God knows reality
Second, God knows what everything that is. This includes everything that has been, is and will be. Nothing is hidden from God. Heb. 4:13 states: “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” 2 Chron. 16:9 says: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth”. God not only knows about the big events taking place in the world, but also about every detail of our lives. Jesus said: “even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30).
God not only knows the past and the present; God also knows the future. Isa. 46:9-10: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose”. The future is an open book to God. He is never caught by surprise.
God knows every possibility
Third and finally, God not only knows himself and everything that is, but also what could be. This means that God knows what could have happened, but did not happen. For example, in 1 Sam. 23 David is fleeing from Saul. He hid among the people of Keilah, but he wasn’t sure if he was safe there. So he asked the Lord if Saul would come looking for him in Keilah, and if he did, whether the city would deliver him over to Saul. Now listen to verse 11-13: “Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant." And the LORD said, "He will come down." Then David said, "Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?" And the LORD said, "They will surrender you." Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition.”
Saul did not find David at Keilah, nor did the people of Keilah deliver David into Saul’s hand. But the Lord knew what would have happened, had David remained in Keilah. Similarly, Jesus knew what would have happened if he did miracles in Tirus and Sidon: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matt. 11:21). Two verses later Jesus said what would have happened had he done his miracles in ancient Sodom: “For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” (Matt. 11:23).
Why is God’s omniscience important? There are a few ways we can apply this. First, God’s omniscience strengthens our faith. We can trust God’s plans, wisdom and purposes. Could things have worked out differently? Yes, but God knows what would have hapepned and he God chose this way, these circumstances, this plan. He knows best.
Second, God’s omnsicience humbles our pride. We like to think that we have it all figured out, but we don’t. Isaiah 55:9 reminds us: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We are in no position to ‘give advice’ to God. Also, God knows about every sin you have ever committed and will yet commit, and he sent Jesus to die for them. God knows you and loves you anyway.
Third, God’s omniscience fuels worship. The first 6 verses of Psalm 139 celebrate God’s omnisience: “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”
How wonderful it is to know the God who knows us so perfectly.
Because of Christ,
We are easily distracted, especially in our modern, noisy, technologically driven age. There is always another beep, another light, another notification fighting for our attention. Why are we so easily distracted?
Thomas a Kempis, author of The imitation of Christ, once wrote: “I confess truly that I am accustomed to be very much distracted; for oftentimes I am not there, where I am bodily standing or sitting, but am rather there where my thoughts carry me. There I am, where my thought is; and there, oftentimes, is my thought, where that is which I love.” Our distractions say a lot about where our hearts are – what we truly love, desire and delight in.
Have you ever been distracted by God? When was the last time your thoughts spontaneously wandered into the garden of God’s glory and majesty? Think about it for a moment. God’s majesty – with the entire country in lockdown because of Covid-19 you may not be able to gaze upon the majesty of the mountains or the oceans, but you can still meditate upon the majesty of God.
Who is like our God? In Deut. 33:26 Moses declares: “There is none like God… who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.” All that God does is majestic: “Full of splendour and majesty is his work” (Ps. 111:3). All that God says is majestic: “the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Ps. 29:4). All that God is, is majestic: “O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendour and majesty” (Ps. 104:1).
The Lord Jesus Christ gave his disciples a glimpse of that majesty on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9). Such was the majesty of the transfigured Jesus Christ that even talkative Peter struggled for words. Before such majesty every knee will one day bow.
What is majesty? I believe Novatian, the early church writer, summed it up best: “The mind of man cannot fittingly conceive how great is God and how majestic His nature… What can you say about Him that is worthy of Him – He who is more sublime than all sublimity, loftier than all loftiness, more profound than all profundity, brighter than all light, more brilliant than all brilliance, more splendid than all splendour, mightier than all might, more powerful than all power, more beautiful than all beauty, truer than all truth, stronger than all strength, greater than all majesty, more potent than all potency, richer than all riches, kinder than all kindness, better than all goodness, more just than all justice, and more merciful than all mercy? Every kind of virtue must of necessity be less than He who is the God and Author of them all. Nothing really can be compared to Him, for He is above everything that can be said of Him.”
Take up the challenge of Psalm 145:5 over these next 21 days: “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.”
Because of Christ,
On the 19th of February 1948 Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand was arrested on his way to church. His only crime was shepherding his flock and witnessing to others about his faith. He would spend 14 years in jail. His sole comfort, when all contact with family and friends was cut off, was the Word. Night after night he would console himself with verses stored away in his memory – something his communist captors could not take from him.
Stories like these illustrate the importance of memorizing Scripture. Here are five reasons every believer should memorize Scripture:
You may not live under the threat of persecution, but that does not diminish your need for God’s Word. Dallas Willard wrote: “As a pastor, teacher, and counsellor I have repeatedly seen the transformation of inner and outer life that comes simply from memorization and meditation upon Scripture.” So, which passage will you memorize first?
Because of Christ,
Hear me out. What makes you get up early on a Sunday morning, get dressed, and drive to church? You may enjoy the music, the atmosphere or the coffee. Maybe you come for the youth program. Your friends may be at this church. You might even enjoy the preaching. These aren’t bad motivations, but on their own they aren’t enough.
What happens when you don’t have friends at church, the youth program isn’t running, and the coffee is bad? Do you stay in bed? There should be more to our church commitment than preferences and personalities. What should bring us to church?
Love for Christ: Jesus said that if we love him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15). His Word commands us not to neglect meeting together (Heb. 10:25). His Word also reminds us that if we love him, we will love his people (see 1 John 4:20). You can’t love Christ by avoiding his people.
Love for his Word: When the church gathers it does so in obedience to the Word and to be instructed in the Word. The early church devoted themselves to “the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). Paul sought to instruct the church in the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He also commanded Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). If you believe that the Bible is the sword that the Spirit uses to cut away sin and cultivate godliness (Heb. 4:12), you will want to be where it is preached.
Love for the glory of God: There is a reason why we call our it a worship service. The focus of our gathering is the glory of God. We praise God for his character and works (Ps. 103:1-5). We pray for God’s Name to be “hallowed”, his kingdom to come and his will to be done (Matt. 6:9-10). We preach so that his church can grow in their understanding of his glories (1 Cor. 1:23). We proclaim that the world may see his glory (2 Cor. 4:5-6). Sundays help us refocus on what really matters: God’s glory.
Love for the body: Because of Christ’s love for us, we love his people (Eph. 4:32). This love is more than mere sentiment; it reveals itself in service. It is not enough to live in passive tolerance of God’s people; Christ calls us to serve them. Gal. 5:23 commands: “through love serve one another.” You’ve received gifts to “serve one another” (1 Pet. 4:10). The members should all “have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25). Care given and care received – it starts on Sunday.
These are just a few biblical motivations; there are others. The question you must answer, is: what brings you to church?
Because of Christ,
How would you like 2020 to be remembered? “Begin with the end in mind,” as Stephen Covey so famously put it. We often make the mistake of rushing off in a direction without really knowing where we are going. Or we leave our goals so vague and our dreams so nebulous that it is hard to judge whether we’ve even achieved them. As believers we often neglect to set goals for ourselves, and those that we do set often fall short of any biblical standard.
What should we aim for in 2020? The apostle Paul encourages us to aim high, really high: “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:1-2). Being heavenly minded means that we have set our minds and our affections on the Lord Jesus Christ and his kingdom. It changes how we view the world and our place in it.
This has a negative and a positive component. Negatively it means that we must “put to death” sinful acts, thoughts and attitudes: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry”, to name a few (v. 5, 8). Positively it means that we “put on” godly acts, thoughts and attitudes: “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (v. 12). The fountain from which such change flows, is setting our minds on Christ and his kingdom.
I suspect that we’ve been aiming to low. So instead of hoping that 2020 would be the year that you finish your first 5K race, stick to a diet or learn to waltz, aim higher. Aim for Christ-like character. May 2020 be remembered as the year you got to know Jesus better, more intimately, and in doing so, became more like him. Alan Redpath once wrote: “The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment; the manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime.” No time to start like the present.
Because of Christ,
This is an important question, because our salvation depends on it. Christ’s work of salvation requires his two-fold nature: God and man in one perfect, glorious Person. The incarnation makes salvation possible. But how? To answer this question we need to look at the offices of Christ. According to Scripture Jesus fulfils three offices: Prophet, Priest and King. Let’s look at each of these briefly.
As our Prophet Jesus reveals God and his will to us. Long ago, according to Hebrews 1:1-4, God spoke to us by the prophets, but now God has spoken to us by his Son. Jesus is the supreme prophet that God promised in Deut. 18:15-18: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers - it is to him you shall listen.”
What makes Jesus the supreme prophet isn’t simply his message, but his person. Unlike the other prophets who spoke for God, Jesus is God. This means that in his preaching and in his person, he reveals God to us.
In Isaiah 9:6 God promised us a ruler. The promise makes it clear that he would establish a conquering, peaceful, eternal, messianic, righteous reign. In order to be that promised king, Jesus had to be born in the line of David. In 2 Samuel 7:16 God promised: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
Jesus is that promised ruler. He has been given “as head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22). Unlike the kings who came before him, Jesus has the power and the character to establish this glorious kingdom, because he is God.
Hebrews 4:14-5:10 details how a priest was chosen from among the people so that he could be a sympathetic mediator. Jesus became a man so that he could bring the sacrifice and intercede for us before the Father’s throne.
While it is true that Jesus wasn’t born in the tribe of Levi or to the house of Aaron, he was ordained as a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). This means that his priesthood is superior to Aaron’s. Jesus is a sinless High Priest and offered one all-sufficient sacrifice, because he is both God and man.
Why did Jesus have to become a man? Because our salvation would not have been possible without it.
Because of Christ,
After the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC the longsuffering prophet Jeremiah chose to stay in Judea. There he dwelled in safety under the watchful eye of Gedaliah, the governor that Nebuchadnezzar had appointed to rule over the region. Finally, God’s beleaguered prophet had some rest… at least for a while.
A rebel group infiltrated Judea and murdered Gedaliah. How would Babylon respond to the assassination of their governor? The remaining leaders of Judea struck back at the rebels and chased them out of the territory. Would this appease the wrath of Babylon? Probably not, so the people come to Jeremiah for guidance: “pray to the Lord your God for us… that the Lord your God should show us the way that we should go and the thing that we should do.” (Jer. 42:2-3).
Here was an earnest and urgent request; God’s people asking after God’s will. Everything about their situation called for haste. Their enemies could return at any moment. How would God answer?
God didn’t answer… not for ten days: “At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.” (Jer. 42:7). God made them wait. What an agonizing ten days it must have been! The passage doesn’t tell us why God made them wait. It might be that God was testing them, sanctifying them or preparing them for the answer. Whatever God’s reason, He was clearly not as panicked as they were. He would answer – in his time, not theirs.
David wrestled with God’s apparent silence: “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14). Waiting is hard, especially in our instant-everything culture. Sometimes God makes us wait for an answer or an outcome, and we don’t always know why. But this we do know: that God is in control and that he is good.
How then should we wait? Wait trusting God’s unfailing love (Rom. 8:28). As one commentator explains: “God tests our faith by delaying the answer to our prayer. The time is not lost. It is profitably spent in the trial and culture of our own souls."
Because of Christ,
Our love is often little more than a sentiment. When the Beatles sang “All you need is love” in 1967 they captured our fascination with and our ignorance of love perfectly. The song does not reflect on the meaning of love, nor does it explain what love does. It highlights the priority of love, but it cannot explain why love should enjoy such prominence. If we want to understand true love we have to turn somewhere else and there is no better place than 1 Corinthians 13.
Love, as we find it in 1 Corinthians 13, gives meaning to our service and sacrifice (v. 1-3). It is not simply a feeling, but fuels action. Love gives birth to virtue (v. 4-7). Without love the patience, kindness, humility and compassion that believers are called to would be impossible. Clearly, love is vital to the Christian life.
As we reach the end of the passage Paul highlights another aspect of love: the permanence of love. In verse 8-12 Paul mentions many things that will “pass away” or “cease”. Surprisingly, he says that knowledge and the gifts of tongues and prophesy (which the Corinthian church coveted) have a short shelf-life. There will be a time when they will no longer be necessary. This does not mean that they are bad, but simply that they serve a purpose and that once that purpose has been served (which Paul compares to growing up or seeing with greater clarity, v. 11-12) they are no longer necessary. Right now, they are important, but some day (when we see “face to face”) they won’t be. Love, then, should govern even these gifts.
Paul closes the chapter with a reminder of what will “abide”: faith, hope and love (v. 13). Yet even here he elevates love to prominence. Why? According to Heb. 11:1 faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. Also, we are saved in hope, but “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:24). One day, when we meet our Lord in glory, we will see “face to face”. Our faith will be realized, our hope will be fulfilled, but love...? Love will be perfect, but it will not be replaced.
God is love (1 John 4:8). The closer we are to our Lord, the more his love will be revealed through us. How are you growing in love?
Because of Christ,
In his ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul makes it clear that our sacrifice and service mean nothing without love. This is not simply a feeling, but fuels action: it is a choice, a commitment that governs and guides everything we do. It seeks the good of others. That is how God loves us: for our eternal good and his glory. But what does Christian love look like? Verse 4-7 tells us.
First, “Love is patient and kind”. Patience is the opposite of being short tempered and is often used to describe God’s attitude towards us (for example 2 Pet. 3:9). Then add kindness, which tells you what that patience looks like while it puts up with other people.
Second, “love does not envy or boast”. These are two sides of the same coin. Pride is antithetical to love. Pride envies; it wants the good of others for itself. But love is not displeased with the success of others. Pride boasts; it flaunts its good in the face of others. But love rejoices in others, not in self.
Third, “it is not arrogant or rude.” Again pride is portrayed as the opposite of love. The Corinthians were prone to pride and it manifested in an arrogant, dismissive, party spirit (that is how the term is used in chapter 4). If you think so highly of yourself and so little of others, it is no wonder that you become “rude” (act disgracefully). True Love would rather be disgraced than disgrace another.
Fourth, “It does not insist on its own way”. This is in keeping with the previous statement. “My way or the high way” is not love. Loving others means we value their opinions and input.
Fifth, “it is not irritable or resentful”. Do we have a short fuse? That is the opposite of love. This often goes with a “resentful” spirit. It means that you keep a record of wrongs committed against you. Love, however, is eager to forgive (see Ephesians 4:32).
Sixth, “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” Love rejoices in what is true. Wrongdoing here not only points to the evil done to us, but to others. We do not delight in another’s pain. Love is not indifferent, but committed to truth.
To sum it up: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (v. 7). Do we practice love?
Because of Christ,
What is true Christian love? In his ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul used a unique word to describe love: agape. This was the most appropriate word to describe how God relates to his children, because this is not a romantic or temporary love. As Leon Morris explained, it is “a love for the utterly unworthy, a love that proceeds from a God who is love.” This, because of our union with God in Christ, is how believers should love one another.
To drive this point home Paul uses hyperbole in the opening three verses. A quick glance at 1 Cor. 13:1-3 reveals a life of supreme gifting and sacrifice… that amounts to nothing. Why?
Take the first example. In verse 1 he mentions the gift of tongues. This gift is discussed in great detail in the following chapter, because it was clearly a gift that the Corinthians valued. Paul takes that appreciation for the gift of tongues and turns it on its head: even if he had the most exalted form of tongues (the tongues of angels), without love it would simply be noise. What would the point of such a gift be without love?
His second example, prophesy, follows the same pattern. This, too, is discussed in chapter 14 and again it is clear that this gift was valued by the apostle Paul and the Corinthians. But even if they had such “prophetic powers” to understand all God’s mysteries and comprehend all knowledge, it would be meaningless without love. It would probably boost our egos and build our reputations, but it would not bless God’s church.
Paul also mentions faith that can move mountains (v. 2) and selfless sacrifice (v. 3). Somehow these get lost in the excitement surrounding the aforementioned gifts, but they are just as good and commendable. Yet, if they aren’t infused with and motivated by love, it profits nothing.
What is Paul saying? Whatever else we may believe about ourselves and our efforts, if they are not motivated and permeated by love, they mean nothing. And by nothing, we mean nothing. They will serve no spiritual good, will not benefit anyone, will not glorify God, and will not edify the body of Christ. Love has to be the priority.
Because of Christ,
First Corinthians 13 is one of the most striking passages in the New Testament. Adolf Harnack called it “the greatest, strongest, deepest thing Paul ever wrote”. If you’ve taken any time to study the chapter, you’d probably agree.
The main theme of the passage is love, but not the love between a husband and wife, or between a parent and child. The main focus of the passage is on the commitment to love within the local church. The context makes this clear. In the preceding chapter Paul addresses the varied gifts within the body of Christ, the church: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:4). These gifts, if they function well, serve to build the body. However, when these gifts are used for self, rather than service, they harm the body. That is what happened in Corinth.
While some looked down on the gifts and service of others, they exalted their own. This focus on self, rather than service, weakened the body and prevented the church from doing what God had called it to do. How do we ensure that the variety within the body builds rather than breaks? There is a “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31), and that way is love.
What is love? We know the Greek word that Paul used very well: agape. The word is used a total of 116 times in the New Testament. This was the most appropriate word to describe how God relates to his children, and how God’s children should relate to each other. This love is not romantic or temporary. It is seen most clearly in the cross of Christ, which God set forth as the supreme manifestation of his love for his children. It is, in the words of Leon Morris, “a love for the utterly unworthy, a love that proceeds from a God who is love. It is a love lavished on others without a thought whether they are worthy or not.”
That is agape love. In experiencing this love we are transformed. That transformation becomes clear in how we begin to love what God loves: his children. This is the challenge: have you experienced God’s love revealed on the cross of Christ? If so, do you love what He loves?
Because of Christ,
Life is hard. That may not sound very encouraging, but it is true. It is universally true. Jesus and his disciples weren’t spared the difficulties of life. Christ’s perfection did not shield him from trials. The disciples’ proximity to Jesus didn’t protect them from persecution. Did they despair? No, quite the opposite: they rejoiced!
How? We know that Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). The disciples had a similar perspective. In 1 Peter 1:6 the apostle Peter writes of believers who “rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials”. Where does this joy come from?
Part of it is found in their identity. In verse 1 Peter calls them “elect exiles”. God’s Old Testament people, Israel, were also called exiles or sojourners. This shaped their identity: they weren’t like the other nations around them; they weren’t at home among them; they were heading for a better home. Similarly, the church is God’s chosen people and that means that we shouldn’t be at home here. We are waiting for another home.
Joy is also found in their inheritance. Verse 3-5 details the promise of the gospel. They have been “born again to a living hope” and to “an inheritance”. Regeneration, also called being born again, makes us new. It changes us from the inside out: a new heart, renewed mind and the indwelling Holy Spirit are all part of this wonderful act of grace. With this new nature we are then also given an inheritance. Peter describes it as “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (v. 4). Amazingly, not only does God guard the inheritance, but he guards his children as well: “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith” (v. 5).
So when we read about their joy in verse 6 we understand that it was rooted in the gospel, not in their circumstances. We understand that believers can rejoice because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Yes, life is hard, but God’s children confess: “Though we have not seen him, we love him. Though we do not now see him, we believe in him and rejoice with you that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (adapted from 1 Peter 1:8).
Because of Christ,
There are things that are simply too great for me. They are too great for me to comprehend or control. The plans and purposes of God are mysterious – I simply cannot wrap my head around them. Things happen in the providence of God – I cannot change them. I may wish to understand or strive to control, but ultimately I have to confess that I am just too small. Thankfully, I am not alone.
David had a similar struggle. There were many things that David did not understand and could not control. So what did David do? He relaxed, or more accurately: he rested in the Lord. Note what he says in Psalm 131: “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.”
The Psalm starts with David humbling himself before the Lord. Lifting up your heart or raising your eyes signified pride (v. 1). Instead of overestimating his own abilities, David did “not occupy myself with things to great and too marvelous for me.” This does not mean that David did not wrestle with the Lord or that he was indifferent. David thought great thoughts about God and he did great things for God. But David knew his limits. He understood that some things were just beyond him: beyond his understanding and abilities.
In those moments David did not become restless, anxious or frustrated. He “calmed and quieted” his soul (v. 2). How do we do that? He tells us in the final verse: “hope in the LORD” (v. 3). In those moments he rested in God, “like a weaned child with its mother” (v. 2). You don’t understand it all, but God does. You can’t do it all, but God can.
What will you do when you are faced with “things too great for me”? Take David’s advice: “hope in the Lord”.
Because of Christ,
Congratulations. If you started the Read Scripture plan on the first of January, you’ve already read through Genesis and you are almost midway through Exodus. You’ve also read about a fifth of the Psalms. This might not seem like much, but you are well on your way to reading the Bible through from beginning to end.
But what if you’ve lost some ground? What if you’ve struggled to keep up with the reading plan? You are not alone. I started the reading plan on the first of January, but this last week I’ve struggled to finish the assigned reading for each day. I made a point of reading each day, but I struggled to finish every chapter for each day. After two days I was behind. So what do you do?
Give up or catch up?
You could abandon the plan altogether. To give up or catch up, that is the question. I’d like to encourage you to catch up. There are a few ways you could do that. The first would be to set aside some time on Sunday to complete the chapters you’ve missed. This is one of the best uses for a Sunday afternoon. A cup of coffee, a comfortable chair and the Word of God... turn it into an event, instead of a chore.
Catching up does not necessarily mean that you have to read it all a single day. Another way to catch up is to increase the amount of chapters you read for a few days. Read two Psalms instead of one. Another way to do this would be to read in the morning and in the evening: take the first day’s reading in the morning and the second reading at night. Before you know it, you are back on track.
A third suggestion would be to use your “idle” moments. Standing in line at the bank, waiting for the car to be washed or for your doctor’s appointment... use these moments to read God’s Word instead of grabbing the nearest magazine or newspaper. Obviously this is not ideal: you don’t have a quiet, uninterrupted time in God’s Word. This cannot replace our dedicated time with God. But when we’ve fallen behind and we don’t want to lose touch with our reading plan entirely, these moments can be used to claw our way back.
When my plan becomes a tyrant
Doesn’t this make me a slave to a reading plan? Your reading plan can feel like a tyrant sometimes. There are days when discipline feels like duty or drudgery. However, discipline turns duty into delight – just give it time.
In 1 Cor. 9:27 the apostle Paul said: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control” (ESV). The term Paul used usually meant “to strike under the eye”. This is not gentle language. The NIV translates it as “I beat my body” and the NASB as “I buffet my body”. Paul wasn’t advocating violence against our bodies (that would contradict the rest of Scripture), but he was serious about keeping his body under control. Discipline is not always enjoyable, but it is necessary. Paul concludes the verse with these words: “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Discipline can feel tyrannical, but its purpose is not to torment. Like a dedicated trainer, discipline wants you to achieve your goals. What is the goal of our reading plan? We want to get to know God better.
From duty to delight
In 1960 Maxwell Maltz published a book in which he explained that habits take about 21 days to form.Every self-help book written since have focussed on this supposed magical number: 21 days. To be fair, Maltz did say that it took at least 21 days to form a new habit. There is no magical number. The reality is a little more complex than that.
Subsequent studies have found that forming new habits differs from person to person, and sometimes from habit to habit. On average a person takes about 66 days or two months to form a new habit. In a study by Phillippa Lally of the University College London it was discovered that some people can form new habits in as little as 18 days, but most took much longer. Some took up to 254 days to form the new habit.
What does this mean for our new habit of reading through the Bible? It means that Genesis and Exodus will be hard, Numbers and Leviticus may be a little harder, but somewhere between Deuteronomy and 1 Kings you’re discipline will start to pay off. Your new habit will have taken root. That new habit will not just benefit you for the rest of this year, but for the rest of your life as you seek to walk with God. 1 Timothy 4:7-8: “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Because of Christ,
Resolutions have been made – now is the time to keep them. By the grace of God and with the aid of the Holy Spirit we will read through the entire Bible together. Let’s get started.
As I mentioned on Sunday, the first step to ensuring that the Word of God is a daily part of your life, is to make time. Setting aside time for reading the Bible means that we order our lives in such a way that Bible reading happens. For some, this means setting aside a set time in the evening. For others, it means setting aside time in the morning, before the day starts running away with you. For moms it might mean reading while Junior takes his nap.
Whatever your situation, look for a set time during the day where you have some measure of peace and quiet. If you can find such a time, make such a time. Get to bed 30 minutes earlier and get up 30 minutes earlier. Make time.
Stick to the Plan
The second step to ensuring that the Word of God is a daily part of your life, is to make a plan and stick to the plan. A reading plan helps you move through the Bible in a meaningful and orderly way. It takes us to passages we might choose to skip and prevents us from getting stuck on passages we prefer. Reading the whole Bible in a year gives you a great “bird’s eye view” of Scripture. It immerses you in the world and vocabulary of the Bible. There are a number of reading plans out there – you may even find one printed in the back of your Bible.
This year I’m going to follow the Bible Project Reading plan. It takes you through the Old and New Testament in a more or less chronological way. It includes a Psalm for every day, which is not only great to read, but also great fuel for prayer. I’ve also chosen this plan because it includes a series of videos which introduces each book. There are also a few videos that cover important topics you’ll encounter, such as Atonement or Holiness. This helps bring your Bible reading to life in a way that keeps the plan interesting and keeps you motivated. You can use the “Read Scripture” app (available on IOS and Android). The videos can be watched in the app, on the Bible Project website (www.thebibleproject.com) or on Youtube.
Once you’ve read the section of Scripture for the day, take a few minutes to consider these questions:
It helps to keep a diary, but it isn’t essential. One piece of advice with diaries: don’t try to write a commentary! A few lines, key words or verses that moved you should be enough.
May the Lord bless you as you seek Him daily in his Word.
Because of Christ,
A new year has dawned and with it an opportunity for growth. Most of us commit to making some kind of change to our lifestyles and priorities. These often take the form New Year’s resolutions. However, most of these lofty ideals are quickly forgotten. But what would happen if we kept our resolutions? And what might happen if those resolutions focused on God instead of self?
In 1722 a young Jonathan Edwards needed direction. He was 18 at the time and was a long way from becoming the pastor and theologian we read about today. He decided to set down his goals in a series of ‘resolutions’. This is how he prefaced his resolutions: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” This reliance upon God and denial of self became the foundation for his resolutions and for his life.
What were his resolutions? Here is his first: “Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory and to my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how ever so many and how ever so great.”
The apostle Paul had similar resolutions. In Romans 15:20 he wrote: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel”. Or in 2 Corinthians 5:9: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” Making and keeping these kinds of resolutions are what make men and women of God.
What will your resolutions for 2019 be?
Because of Christ,
A lot has been written about the effects of technology and social media on society. Our phones and apps have a tendency to distract us, to take us out of the moment so that we live our lives through a lens instead of being present. But this is not the only temptation that our modern obsession with social relevance brings. There is another danger. It is an ancient vice that has become a modern virtue: narcissism.
Legend has it that Narcissus was so beautiful that he fell in love with his own reflection. His self-obsession eventually cost him his life. That is what narcissism is: it is the worship of self. What does this have to do with social media? So much of our social media obsession is rooted in our desire to look good and to be admired. That is why we only post pictures of our “best sides”. We publish our achievements and ignore our failures. And when we don’t get the adoration we think we deserve, we become depressed. “Why didn’t anyone ‘like’ my photo? Why didn’t they comment?” The same applies when we pity ourselves on social media. It is another way of seeking attention – it is an expression, not of humility, but of wounded pride.
So what is the answer? Some suggest abandoning social media. It might help, but it won’t deal with the core issue. Self worship doesn’t need an internet connection. No, we need to abandon self. Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). This is the only way to eliminate self worship: true worship. Social media is a symptom, not the problem: our idolatrous hearts are the real issue. The only way to push self out is by inviting Jesus in. You’ll only do that if you believe that Jesus is worth it – that Jesus is better than self.
What do we want most: to look good or to look like Jesus? To be admired or to admire Jesus? Let’s look away from our reflections and “[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Because of Christ,
Why do we sleep? Our modern obsession with productivity views sleep as a hindrance or a burden. Sleep is usually one of the first things that we sacrifice to maintain the pace of our busy lives. We quote passages like Proverbs 6:10-11: “A little sleep, a little slumber… and poverty will come upon you like a robber”. We convince ourselves that we are following the example of our Lord when we rise “very early in the morning” (Mark 1:35) or work well after “sundown” (Mark 1:32). Didn’t the apostle Paul “not cease night or day to admonish everyone” (Acts 20:31)?
While the Bible condemns laziness and sloth, it also warns us against neglecting rest. At creation God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested” (Gen. 2:3). Rest was part of God’s design for the world, even before the Fall. Jesus confirms that God did this for our sake: “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). The cycle of day and night was part of God’s design; the God-ordained rhythm for our lives.
Jesus, as the incarnate Son of God, understood this. Jesus slept (Mark 4:38). Jesus also encouraged his disciples to rest after a season of intense ministry (Mark 6:31). God created us in such a way that we need sleep. However, it would be wrong to view sleep simply as a necessity. It is also a gift: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (Ps. 127:2). Only God does not sleep: “he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Ps. 121:4).
Sleep reminds us that God is God and that we are not. God does his work, keeps his children, and sustains the world all while we are sound asleep. Sleep is a reminder that we need God. Understood this way, sleep becomes an act of worship and faith.
Why don’t you sleep? Maybe we sleep less than we need to, because we don’t trust God as much as we should.
Because of Christ,