Speaking a Good Word

Recently as I was reading through Proverbs, I came across Proverbs 12:25, which reads, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good work cheers it up.” There is so much truth packed into this one verse. Each one of us can identify with both halves of this verse. Maybe you are weighed down with anxiety right now. We know God does not desire for us to be anxious and weighed down by burdens. Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7 ESV). As believers, our response to anxiety should be prayer. Now, this is not intended to be trite. Years of anxiety may not be overcome in a few minutes of prayer, not that the God of the universe is incapable of relieving you of years of anxiety as you cry out to Him. We don’t usually get into trouble overnight nor do we usually get out overnight. It is likely to take some time, and a lot of prayer, to work through the anxiety.

In Proverbs 12, we are made aware of the weight of anxiety. It wears us down! Anxiety takes a terrible toll on our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. It is no one’s friend! The second half of Proverbs 12:25 tells us, “A good word cheers it up” (i.e. the heart). Encouraging words lift up a person’s countenance and outlook, even if he or she is weighed down by anxiety. Can you recall a time when another person spoke timely encouragement to you? Are you able to remember what the person said? What did the encouragement do for you? The Christian ministry of encouragement is so much more important than most of us realize. Our words have the potential to strengthen someone’s faith and obedience to Christ. They also have the potential to weaken someone’s faith and obedience to Christ.

I think the key to this practice of encouragement is what kind of words are used. The Hebrew word use here is טוֹב (tov), which is translated by the HCSB as “good.” It has a wide range of meaning based on the context, from “pleasant” to “kind.” Its general meaning is “good” as in “good in character and value” (HALOT). Words the help, “cheer [one] up” are words that God would view as good. So, how do we speak, “a good word” to fellow believers?

Let’s picture our church family and the disciplemaking ministry we are seeking, by the Lord’s enablement, to faithfully carry out. There are those who serve as: ushers, S.S. Teachers, S.S. Superintendant, Junior Church teachers, technology and sound technicians, nursery workers, praise team members, those who pray and/or read Scripture, provide special music, share a testimony, AWANA leaders, helpers, teachers, etc… Some greet others in a friendly manner (without having a title or office). Some ask how others are doing and encourage faithfulness to the Lord. There are those who write encouraging notes, text messages, or emails. Some say thank you to someone else for his or her ministry and/or example. Some share with someone else that they have been praying for him or her or for one of their family members. In view of these ministries and acts of service to the Lord Jesus, how can you speak “a good word” to someone else on a weekly basis?

The Power of Ideas – part one

ideas, light bulb

How powerful are ideas? They are everywhere. People from every walk of life have ideas every day. Billboards, commercial advertisements, podcasts all broadcast ideas. You can travel from coast to coast in the U.S. Attending conferences about the power of ideas, dealing with a range of subjects from business to education to politics to the environment. History itself testifies to the power of ideas. They can be good, bad, or they can be very dangerous.

Romans 12:1-2 urges Christ-followers, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1–2). What does this have to do with the power of ideas? Verse two reminds us that the world, presents ideas to us, seeking to mold us into its image. The “world” refers to the present world system that is opposed to God and under the authority of Satan. John wrote, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The Lord wants us to resist and reject those unbiblical values and practices. Why? James says, “Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy” (Jas. 4:4). So, tolerating, absorbing, and implementing these worldly values and practices into our lives is displeasing to God.

How do we to determine what are worldly values and practices? What constitutes worldly? Scripture reveals to us what is truth and what is error. “The entirety of Your word is truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure forever” (Ps. 119:160). Therefore, we learn what is godly and what is worldly from the Bible. James wrote, “But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace” (Jas. 3:14–18). James 3 contrasts what is worldly and what is godly. Let’s look at one more passage. Paul wrote, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Philippians 4 provides characteristics of things Christians should value, prioritize, and fill our lives with.

So, how do we use these passages in our lives to ensure we are faithful to God’s will, being godly rather than worldly? First, we must know that God’s Word says these things. Christians must read God’s Word. We don’t like mandatory things though, do we? Some would propose this is because they are non-conformists or even strong leaders. Truly it is because we are sinners and our sin nature fights against divine obligations. Even more, our sin nature craves the world’s wisdom and practices. So, as we read God’s Word we aware introduced to truth, righteousness, and goodness. Our hearts and minds, exposed to divine revelation, become aware of what is beneficial and are warned to turn from those things that are harmful. “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” (Ps. 119:105). This is not meant merely to be a slogan. It is truth for living!

How valuable is God’s Word? Jeremiah said, “Your words were found, and I ate them. Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart, for I am called by Your name, Yahweh God of Hosts” (Jer. 15:16). The psalmist write, “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (119:103). Again here, “The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad; the command of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are reliable and altogether righteous. They are more desirable than gold— than an abundance of pure gold; and sweeter than honey, which comes from the honeycomb. In addition, Your servant is warned by them; there is great reward in keeping them” (Ps. 19:8–11).

So, am I inferring that the Bible is the only reliable authority? Yes! The Bible is the source of knowing what is godly and what is worldly. But, what about Christian books and music? What about teaching and advice from Christians? They are valuable and good inasmuch as they agree with the Word of God. Can Christian books, music, teaching, and advice contradict the Scriptures? Yes, they can and often do. Every professing Christian is a sinner, including you and me, and has the capacity to say and do things which directly oppose God’s truth. So, how do we know what is true and godly? We must be people who read, think on, memorize, love, and apply God’s Word in our daily lives. We must compare all truth claims, advice, teaching, etc… to the truth of Scripture.

Read Christian books.12 Listen to Christian music. Listen to Christian teaching and advice. But, evaluate all things in light of the Bible. Accept and benefit from those things that uphold the Scriptures and agree with them. Reject those that don’t. You may be thinking, “Hmmm… this sounds really close minded to me. I like that book because it inspires me and makes me feel good. The song has a really catchy tune and makes me smile. The advice I was given is what I feel would be best for me and make me happy.” Does this mean we will read different books; listen to different music; choose a different path than the advice given because rejecting the advice keeps us on the road of obedience? Yes, it does, that is if we want to be godly rather than worldly. As Christians, we need our minds renewed, so that we may, “Discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2b). The Bible is the measure of what is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Life is short. “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Ps. 144:4). What will define our lives, Christians? Will it be worldliness or godliness? It is a daily battle, for which we are insufficient. Yet, Christ is sufficient. John Owen wrote, “On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy” (The Glory of Christ). How do we see the glory of Christ, during this time while we are still in the flesh and He is at the right hand of the Father in heaven? We see Christ’s glory in His Word, as it reveals Him (2 Cor. 4:4, 6; cf. Heb. 1:3).

Let us immerse ourselves in the Bible, so that it will change how we think, speak, and live. By our familiarity with it, we will become keenly aware of counterfeits. By our knowledge of it, we will know the truth and wisdom of God.

In part two we will look at the subtle effects of worldly ideas on followers of Christ.

1Especially the good ones! It is obvious that each of us will be drawn to different authors and types of Christian literature. But, the good ones are the ones that extol the glory of the God of the Bible and are in full agreement with the plain interpretation of His Word. This also holds true for music, teaching, and advice.

2John Piper said the following about Christian literature, “I don’t think we ought to be reading new books all the time. I think we should read old books. And then the question is whether time and history has proven them. There are some books that have been around forever, and they are, generation after generation, witnessed to as being very shaping to people’s lives. So I think we should constantly be exposing ourselves to those classics and not always reading the latest thing… So I recommend reading 1) things that relate to the passions of your life, 2) recommendations from people that are responsible and that you respect, and 3) time-proven, classic, deep works on various issues.”

Why the Offense?

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13, 16). Our words and actions are to glorify God. This is in stark contrast with the ways of the unbelieving world around us. We are citizens of heaven, and we live in such a way, even though we currently live here on earth (Phil. 3:20). Our motivation for living in obedience to the Scriptures is a sincere love for God (1 John 5:3). As children of God, we desire to please and honor the Lord. Unbelievers, on the other hand, do not desire to please God and they are convicted by Christlike living. Peter wrote, “For there has already been enough time spent in doing what the pagans choose to do: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and lawless idolatry. So they are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of wild living – and they slander you. They will give an account to the One who stands ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet. 4:3-5).

When we consider the world’s response, it is somewhat puzzling. Why do unbelievers care how Christians live? It is the result of Christ’s righteousness being manifested in the lives of believers and it is offensive to the lost. It pains them, due to the conviction they experience. In Scripture, as in life today, unbelievers can respond to truth in one of two ways: brokenness or anger. So, next time you encounter an unbeliever accusing a Christian (or even you) of thinking he or she is “better than everyone else,” be slow to make assumptions as to the validity of the claim. Sadly, there have been occasions when genuine believers (including each of us) have acted arrogantly toward others. But, this is not always the case when such an accusation is made.

Born again believers are sinners saved by the unmerited favor of God (Eph. 2:8-9). We are no better than anyone else. Everything we have accomplished that is good, everything God-honoring we are capable of, everything we possess that is good, all of it is from the hand of God (Jas. 1:17). A proper view of self does not result in arrogance or despair in the life of a Christian. Being saved by grace fosters humility and fills us with joy. Forgiveness and justification in Christ bolsters the soul. Believers, a proper view of self and of God, supplies insight as to why unbelievers are offended by true Christianity. They see and hear Christ in us. The Lord uses believers to convict unbelievers of their rebellion against Him. It is a mistake to think, in such moments, that the lost are rejecting us (cf. 1 Sam. 8:6-9). They are rejecting One Person – God. You and I, we are merely the messengers (2 Cor. 5:17-21).

Such knowledge should not lead to idleness. Do not cease to speak the incalculable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8b). Do not cease to pray for the souls of those who have not yet believed. They need to come to terms with the One we serve. Do not lose heart! Do not grow weary in well doing (Gal. 6:9a)! The message of the gospel changes lives! Jesus is building His Church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18b)!

Thanksgiving

For what do you give thanks this year?  Consider this, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning” (Jas. 1:17 HCSB).

The blessings of God bestowed upon humanity, especially the redeemed, are innumerable.  How do we respond to this truth?  Do we give thanks?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, listen to these words, “By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures” (Jas. 1:18 HCSB).  Christians, there is no end to the material for which we can (and should) offer thanks to our God.

May our hearts well up and spill over in heartfelt gratitude to the only Savior and Lord.

 

 

The King

The Lord sat enthroned at the flood; the Lord sits enthroned, King forever” (Psalm 29:10 HCSB).

Have you ever really considered the details of the flood? The Lord examines the human race and finds them to be continually evil. This is not hyperbolic language either. Their sin and wickedness so grieves Him that He chooses to wipe the vast majority from the face of the earth. God sovereignly chose the means of a deluge to end the lives of all humanity but eight. Water is used for our hydration. In fact, no one can live longer than three days without water. It is also used to cleanse things. In the case of the flood, the Lord was “cleansing” the earth of its uncleanness with the waters. Immediately following the departure of Noah’s family from the ark, we are reminded that sin is still present in the human race (Gen. 9:20-23). The flood waters did not eradicate sin. As long as unglorified humanity lives on this planet, sin will be present.

Why should we consider the flood beyond a cursory glance? First of all, the LORD is the One who was actively ruling over creation and the events of the flood. The worldwide event known as the flood was the act of an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful God. He sat enthroned at the flood. The Creator chose by His own purpose and will to end the lives of the majority of humanity because He could not and would not tolerate their willful rebellion against Him any longer. God has a holy hatred for sin. John Stott wrote God’s wrath, “does not mean… that he is likely to fly off the handle at the most trivial provocation, still less that he loses his temper for no apparent reason at all. For there is nothing capricious or arbitrary about the holy God. Nor is he ever irascible, malicious, spiteful, or vindictive. His anger is neither mysterious nor irrational. It is never unpredictable but always predictable, because it is provoked by evil and by evil alone” (The Cross of Christ, p. 173). The flood was not an accident or simply a natural disaster. The flood happened because God was provoked by the evil actions of humanity and could tolerate it no longer.

Secondly, the flood is a reminder of what is to come. Scripture reveals that the Lord will judge all who rebelled against Him and rejected His Son (Rev. 20:11-15; 2 Peter 3:10-13). God is just and cannot perpetually overlook the offense of sin. He is patient but His righteousness brings about an end to His withholding of judgment. We must remember how repugnant and odious sin is to a holy God. This knowledge of the Lord’s holy hatred of sin is essential to our progress in personal holiness and our proper understanding of the necessity of divine wrath. Some ignore or redefine portions of Scripture detailing divine wrath and God’s holy hatred of sin. They find these essential attributes of God unfit for their enlightened sensibilities. The holiness of God and His just wrath are not attractive to the unbelieving mind, especially when the wrath is directed at their own personal sin.

Psalm 29:10 is a comfort for believers. You may wonder at such a statement. It is a reminder that no matter what may occur: the spread of persecution against Christians, plagues, earthquakes, war, disease, cancer, famine, drought, etc… our God is King! There is no time in which He ceases to be King! He is in complete control of everything in this universe. He is not the creator of sin. He has never sinned, nor will He ever. When God allows pain and difficulty to occur in the life of a Christian, He has a holy, God-glorifying purpose for them. We need not be afraid when the darkest night (sometimes week, month, or year) occurs. Does that mean we won’t be afraid? No, most likely we will be afraid. But, it should drive us to our knees in prayer. It should drive us to the Word of God and its promises. Psalm 29:11 says, “The Lord gives His people strength; the Lord blesses His people with peace” (Psalm 29:11 HCSB). Our lives intersect with trials and loss because of the fall (Gen. 3). The trials and loss we experience bring out the need for divinely bestowed strength and peace. This is why Paul wrote, “I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9b HCSB).

What a comforting thought, in the chaos of the floodwaters, the Lord was King! When the Lord and Savior of the world hung on the cross forsaken by the Father, the Lord was King! When thousands upon thousands of Christians died at the hands of their persecutors, the Lord was King! In the chaos of a rapidly changing world, the Lord is King. In the uncertainty of a post-Christian United States, the Lord is King! In the midst of a terrifying diagnosis, the Lord is King. In the midst of death, the Lord is King! Christian, find comfort in the fact that our God reigns in the past, present, and future. He is in control of your life and circumstances. He is able to redeem even the most painful moments His people experience (Gen. 50:20).

If you haven’t repented of your sin and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, Psalm 29:10 is a clear reminder of the future judgment that will fall upon all who refuse to repent and believe (cf. John 3:16-18, 36; 1 John 5:12-13). The question of your life is, what will you do with Jesus Christ? Christian, how will you pray for those who need to be reconciled to God through the gospel? How will you share with those who need to be reconciled to God through the gospel?

Happiness and Relief

Lord, happy is the man You discipline and teach from Your law to give him relief from troubled times until a pit is dug for the wicked” (Ps. 94:12–13).1

Brothers and sisters, how often do we consider ourselves happy (or traditionally rendered blessed) when we are disciplined by the Lord? Hebrews tells us, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (12:11). So, the discipline is not enjoyable but it is a blessing. God’s discipline in our lives is meant to instruct us in godliness. He is lovingly training us for our good and for His glory. This is why the psalmist pairs discipline with teaching. The Lord is always at work to conform believers to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). This sovereign sanctifying work only occurs in the lives of born again believers. Therefore, to experience the Lord’s merciful ministry of discipline and teaching in one’s life is truly a source of happiness (i.e. blessing).

In the second half of the verse the psalmist declares the individual who experiences the Lord’s discipline and teaching ministry is not only happy (i.e. blessed), he also receives relief from troubled times. How specifically does the individual receive relief? Furthermore, what kind of trouble is being discussed? Well, the passage tells us we receive relief through the Lord’s divine discipline and teaching from His law. Imagine the fact that God’s discipline in the life of a believer brings relief! Hebrews clearly teaches that experiencing divine discipline is a proof of being a child of God (12:5-8).

God’s gracious teaching ministry does not always come in the form of intellectually stimulating information. In His sovereign wisdom the Lord often utilizes the school of hard knocks because it is the most effective means of teaching His people. Spurgeon preached, “Do we not also learn by affliction our own frailty, and our own impatience? We are wonderfully patient when we have nothing to suffer, as we are all great heroes and very courageous when there is no fighting to be done.”2 It is a profound thought, isn’t it? We learn what we are made of in the difficult times of life. The Holy Spirit moved Peter to write, “You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith —more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire —may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6–7). Just as gold is refined by fire to remove its impurities, so are believers refined by trials to remove the impurities from their lives.

So, brothers and sisters, the next time you are facing trials from the sovereign hand of God, remember He is disciplining you to conform you to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Find comfort and relief from the wisdom of His Word. Take heart, the discipline is proof you are a child of God. This sanctification process has been designed by the Lord to take our whole lifetime. We frequently become discouraged with our lack of progress. It brings to mind this chorus,

“He’s still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me.”3

This reality caused John Newton to write, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”4 Where are you in your walk with the Lord Jesus Christ?

1Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, HCSB®, and Holman CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

2 C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 40 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1894), 387.

“A Commentary on Exodus” by Duane A. Garrett [A Review]

I received A Commentary on Exodus by Duane A. Garrett from Kregel Publishers in exchange for an honest review. First of all I have to say that I really like this series of exegetical commentaries. I previously reviewed A Commentary on Judges and Ruth by Robert B. Chisolm and found that to be extremely well done also. In the near future I plan to purchased the three volume Psalms commentary by Allen Ross. Garrett’s Exodus commentary begins with an extensive introduction which addresses documentary hypothesis (JDEP – which he dismisses), date of authorship, Egyptian history, Canaanite history, and other “debated” subjects (the Red Sea, plagues, etc…).

In the chapters that follow, Garrett digs into the biblical text section-by-section and verse-by-verse. He begins each section of verses with a brief introduction, followed by his own English translation of the Hebrew text, commentary, and concluded with a “Theological Summary of Key Points.” There are also plenty of original language, exegetical footnotes found on the pages of this commentary. Throughout the chapters, in pertinent sections, Garrett provides tables to highlight events occurring in the text; ex. the twelves miracles of Exodus (pp. 271, 293).

The commentary also delves into the nature of the “twelve miracles” as Garrett refers to them (traditionally known as the “twelve plagues”). The historical, cultural background shared on these pages (along with the dispelling of some unlikely theories) is worth the entire commentary. Garrett highlights the fact that there is not always a clear connection between the miracles and a defeat of specific Egyptian deities (p. 301). We know that YHWH demonstrated Himself sovereign over the Egyptian gods through the miracles and the exodus. Garrett demonstrates that point here, “When a nation is defeated, its gods are defeated” (p. 301).

Garrett discusses dating the exodus and the location of the sea crossing. Anyone familiar with the variety of scholarly views on these topics (and the whole book for that matter) will know that there are early and late date proposals. In regard to the location and identity of the Sea of reeds, we know there are varying opinions. Garrett posits that the pillar of cloud/fire was not as awe inspiring as ordinarily thought because the Israelites did not look to it as providing safety from Pharaoh’s army, nor did Pharaoh’s army seem terrified by it (pp. 386-388). Some is this is conjecture on the author’s part. Clearly the nation of Israel as a whole were not confident that the presence of the pillar of cloud/fire would ensure their deliverance, but there is no indication that the Egyptians were relatively unimpressed by it. It appears to be an argument from silence since there is no clear textual indication either way about the appearance. It is interesting to consider Garrett’s hypothesis as he suggest contemporary application, “Perhaps we, too, can have a great work of God in our midst and not recognize it” (p. 388). I cannot dogmatically suggest Garrett is wrong since there is no textual evidence either way, other than the pillar kept the army at bay.

The formatting of the book is very well done and is easy to follow. The author’s arguments and commentary are presented very well and are clearly thought out. Any pastor, student, or teacher/professor will find this particular commentary on Exodus to be a very well done and useful resource. The volumes of this commentary series that have been released thus far are of scholarly depth but would not be over the head of those teaching Sunday School or a small group in a local church setting. I highly recommend this present volume of the Kregel Exegetical Library.