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True or False

Sometimes we have to look at a claim in Scripture and make a very clear, very personal decision. We have to answer a very simple question. Is what God inspired here true or false? Hopefully, that decision is already made by your commitment to the word of God, but in the reality in which we live, there will be times that truths hit us in the face and force us to again deal with the implications of a passage from the start.

Think about it. There are things in Scripture that, if you accept them as true, must inform all the rest of your theology. There are things in Scripture that, if you accept them as true, they will impact the way you see the entire universe. True or false is a big question.

Psalm 115:3

Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.

This claim is massive, absolutely massive. Is it true or false? If it is true, what does it say? If it is not true, well, then all of Scripture is out of whack.

The psalmist is comparing the real God to the idols of the nations. Our God is real, statues are false gods. The God of the Bible is real. Other gods of other religions are not. This is the claim.

But then, here in verse 3, the psalmist makes another claim, a worldview changing, theology altering claim. God does whatever he pleases.

Is that true? Does God do all that God pleases? If he does, then God is sovereign, and sovereign over all things. God is not just sovereign over some things while leaving other things to chance. If God does all that he pleases, then God is not, at any point, sitting in heaven disappointed that humanity will not do the thing he wanted them to do in their free will. If God does all that he pleases, then God is pleased, in the end, with the outcome of all human history. If God does all he pleases, no human being overrides the command of God to God’s sorrow. If God does all he pleases, eternally we will see that God was truly the Lord over all.

Ask yourself how your worldview must change if it is true that God does all that he pleases. What changes if you realize that you do not thwart God’s will, and neither does anyone else? What changes when you realize that there is no plan of God’s that will go unaccomplished? What changes when you see that there truly is no molecule in the universe outside of God’s control and no thing in the universe over which God cannot declare ownership?

This is a big truth. It raises big questions. And we who love thinking we are in control will struggle. But let yourself ask the true or false question? God does all that he pleases—true or false? If it is true, then you and I have to work from a point of view that places God highest and demonstrates that we are his subjects, not his rulers or judges.

Don’t Miss the Metaphor

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul is writing to Christians who are being led astray. The Corinthians had the gospel. But it seems that some other teachers were coming in with twists on the original. Some others were entering with a proclamation of the amazing, the mysterious, the charismatic. And the Corinthians were letting go of the simple gospel for what looked more exciting.

See Paul’s words to this group:

2 Corinthians 11:1-4 – 1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

First, see the surface. To turn from the simple gospel to embrace a mystical, exciting, new gospel, that is turning away from Christ. It is like Eve being led astray by the serpent. It is accepting falsehood instead of truth. It is choosing death over life. It is a really bad personal choice.

But don’t miss the metaphor. Paul opens by pointing out that he betrothed the Corinthians like a bride to Christ. These people, collectively, are a part of the bride of Jesus. This is a marriage metaphor. Thus, keeping the metaphor, these people are like a bride turning from their husband for something they find more exciting in a moment of selfish folly.

Do you get the emotional gut punch here? These people, by turning from the gospel of Christ, are similar to an adulterous spouse. Paul, inspired by God, is grabbing what I would say is perhaps the biggest emotional sledgehammer he can and using it to show us the absolute horror of what it is to turn from the true gospel for something else. Whether you have experienced the pain of a cheating spouse or not, can you at least imagine? Can you imagine the utter betrayal you would feel? That feeling, that wrongness, that evil, amped up to infinity because you are turning from the holy God who saved you, that is the image of what it is to have the gospel, and then to walk from it for something else that excites you more for a moment.

The metaphor in this passage is convicting and powerful. The point is simple. There is a human temptation to think that there is something more, something better, something more exciting than the gospel. But when we experience that temptation, it is a lie. It is a lie like the devil told Eve when he helped her believe that there was a great life to be had once she understood evil. It is a lie like the lie that adultery will lead a person to an exciting life that will never fade and never be found out. Believing that we need something more than the gospel of Jesus is a destructive lie that all Christians must guard themselves against. To think that we need something more than Jesus, something more than Scripture, something more than the means of growth that the Lord has given us in his word, that is foolish and dangerous. But it can be very tempting. We want something that will jump us up to a higher level and an easier life. We want the spectacle of new, ultra-dramatic experience. But chasing an experience is not following Christ.

Eve was tempted away from the perfect garden experience to look for something new. A wayward husband or wife buys into a lie that the forbidden affair will somehow be a thrill that never stops. And sometimes people connected to the church are drawn away from rock solid truth by similar lies, lies that promise a new way, an easier way, a more spectacular way. But in truth, we do ourselves damage, great damage, when we let go of the word of God, the simple gospel, and the life of the local church.

Compromise and the Church’s Top Priority

What is the priority of the church? Is it worship? Is it evangelism? Is it discipleship? Just what is the church here for?

If we ask that question of many believers, we will get a variety of answers. Some will tell us that the priority of the church must be evangelism, as, after all, evangelism is one of the very few things that the church can do here on earth that will not be possible in heaven. Others will prioritize worship, citing the Scriptural priority of the glory of God.

In truth, I’m not interested in what we say is the priority of the church right now. Instead, I am interested in what our actions display as the priority of the church. What do the things we do, the tactics we adopt, the choices we make indicate about what we really believe to be our priority? What are we willing to compromise on the one hand to accomplish what we think is most important on the other? That tells us much about what we value.

2 Corinthians 4:1-2 – 1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Paul shows us by what he would not do something of great value as to what is important for the church. In all that he did, in all the preaching and evangelizing, Paul would not cross a particular line. Paul would not tamper with or compromise the word of God. No cunning, no sly tactics, no underhanded ruse was an acceptable avenue. Paul wanted to glorify God by upholding the word of God and speaking the truth of God.

Paul would not compromise on the word of God, even to appeal to a broader audience. He would not say that the gospel should be unhitched from the offensive Old Testament. Paul would not say that we shift from the word of God to appeal to modern times. No, drawing a crowd and appealing to people apart from Scripture was not at all the priority that God inspired Paul to set for the early church.

And in our culture, any priority that causes us to hide, to tamper with, to reinterpret, or to do away with Scripture is not a godly priority. Honoring God by loving him in accord with his word is our priority. When that word causes people not to want the church, we must not tinker with the word or compromise the truth to try to avoid the hardships. No, God makes it clear that his glory and his word are above all priorities in the church.

Thankfully, his word calls us to love one another, to share the gospel, to sing God’s praise, and to do many other things that honor the Lord. We are not in an either-this-or-that position. We can love God, keep his word, and care for each other. We must do so. But the point is that we do not in any way shrink away from the word of God for any other thing. To do so is to adopt a priority that was not Paul’s and is not God’s.

Psalm 138:2

I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.

Two Thoughts on Comfort and Afflictions

A passage that has always been beautiful to me is the opening of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. There Paul speaks, in that first paragraph after the greeting, of the comfort of God that is ours in affliction. And there Paul reminds us that God comforts us so that we too may comfort others with the comfort we have received.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 – 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Let me quickly remind us of one lovely and one hard truth that we should see in this passage. On the lovely side, we have our God comforting us and letting us comfort others with the same comfort we have received. When you hurt, when you struggle through something to the glory of God, when God helps you, one thing you can know is that the comfort he has given you is not yours alone. Your pain, even when it seems to have no purpose, can at least be to testify to the comfort of Christ and to share that comfort with others who are going through similar pains. This is good. It is good to know that our pain is never useless. It is good to know that our comfort is part of how we can be connected to the people of God.

But then there is the harder side of this. If this is beautiful; if it is a good thing that God’s children are comforted by God in their afflictions, the truth must be clear that Christians will face afflictions in which they will need comfort. In short, we will hurt in this life. Being a Christian does not put that to a stop. And we are foolish if we think that being saved is somehow going to be our way out of hardship and pain in the here and now.

The reason that I highlight this harder truth is that I know that, for myself at least, when I hurt, I really want to cry out against it. I want to let God know that he shouldn’t be letting me feel this way. He should not let me go through hardships. After all, I am his child. But the Lord, when we read Scripture with honest and open eyes, shows us that, lives surrendered to him are lives that will walk through pain. After all, how can we rejoice in being comforted in all our affliction’s if the Lord does not allow afflictions to touch us?

Friends, sometimes God is more glorified when he comforts us in times of affliction than when he keeps us from pain. This is a truth that we need to keep alive in our brains so that our hearts are not bewildered when pain comes. But the great news is that, in all afflictions, the Lord does comfort us and give us the ability to use that comfort to proclaim his glory and spread his healing in the church.

Where Wisdom Begins

I want you to imagine that you have a job to do. Perhaps it is Christmas time, and you must work your way through the assembly of some sort of child’s toy. This work is tedious, painful, and often the cause of a need for marital counseling.

Imagine that you have the supplies. Imagine that you have the tools. And imagine that you have the instructions. But, then, imagine that the one thing that you determine you will not do is to allow the instructions to influence you regarding the steps that you should take to assemble the toy. How well do you think you would really do?

Psalm 111:10

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!

The flaw in my above illustration is that, if you are mechanically inclined, you might actually succeed at assembling the toy. But give me a moment of thought. In general, you know it would be crazy talk to eliminate from your mind the actual instructions that tell you how to properly get the job done.

Consider with me how sad it is, then, when people think they can accomplish something of much greater difficulty, living the human life, without consulting genuine wisdom? How crazy is it for us to think that we have, in ourselves, what we need to make it through this world.

The word of God tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If this is the beginning of wisdom, we must also see that the word of God is telling us that there is not wisdom that does not begin with fearing God. If you do not fear God, you are rejecting wisdom out of hand. You cannot come across wisdom that does not begin with you fearing God. You cannot get down the path of wisdom without starting at its entry point, the word of God.

If you do not know the Lord, understand that he tells you that fearing him is the starting point for wisdom. You will not, you cannot, figure out life without him. You must come to him in humble repentance and faith.

And, Christians, we should believe Scripture enough to agree with this Psalm. Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom. We should not try to make people think that we believe there is wisdom out there that does not have the fear of God as its starting point. And you and I can mislead people if we choose to make arguments or offer pieces of life advice that do not start with the fear of God and the word of God. Let’s be careful to see to it that we show, by our thinking, by our apologetics, by our counsel, and all else that we do that we know that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Don’t Miss This When You Pray

Psalm 109:26-27

26 Help me, O LORD my God! |
Save me according to your steadfast love!
27 Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O LORD, have done it!

In Psalm 109, the psalmist is in great distress. Enemies have tried to destroy him with evil words and false accusations. And the Psalmist is miserable. He is suffering in many ways, emotional and physical. And, as we might expect, he is asking God to deliver him.

This all seems normal, but then we look at the thing that the psalmist asks for in how he asks to be delivered. The psalmist is conscious of the fact that the best way for him to gain victory is when that victory is to the glory of God. The psalmist asks for God to make sure that his enemies know that it was god who delivered him.

There is a simple lesson here for us. When we pray, we often pray for our own comforts and desires. We often pray for health or for the growth of our churches. But we sometimes forget that we need to be praying that the Lord show the world that he is the one who did the amazing thing. God and his glory are uttermost. When we pray, our prayers need to remind us that, in our circumstances, the best possible outcome is the outcome that demonstrates that our God is glorious and worthy of praise.

Why did God Do That?

What is God’s motivation for his actions? If God is perfect, then so too must be his motivation. When God chooses to do a thing, the thing he does is right, because the thing is a thing that the holy god does. And the motivation behind the thing is the best possible motivation, because the motivation comes from the holiness of God.

Consider, then, the glorious rescue of the Israelites from Egypt. Why did God do that?

Psalm 106:7-8

7 Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,

did not consider your wondrous works;

they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,

but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.

8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,

that he might make known his mighty power.

Why did God save Israel, even though the people did not remember his glory or honor him beforehand? The answer is that God did this for God’s name’s sake. God did this so that his mighty power might be made known far and wide. Spreading the truth of the glory of God, honoring the name of God, these are the reasons behind the Exodus.

If this is true, then we must grasp not only that God did some stunningly amazing things for his own glory, he also did some incredibly rough things for his own glory. The parting of the sea was for God’s glory. The drowning of the Egyptian army was for God’s glory. The saving of lives in mercy was to the glory of God. The crushing of the rebellious was to God’s glory.

And, if God is holy, then his motivation, to promote his own glory and reputation, is the best possible motivation he could have had for doing what he did. God could not have rescued Israel for a better reason than for his own glory. God could not have judged the Egyptians for a better reason than for his own glory.

Thus, we see once again that God does what God does for God’s glory. And the motivation that is best is to glorify God. So, for you and for me, our highest motivation and purpose in life is to glorify the God who made us.

If you are like me, a person without anything like a clean record of pure living in your past, you will understand that God is so very good and so very gracious. Had God chosen to leave me in my rebellion, he would have been just and glorious to do so. That God would have drawn me to himself and saved me, that too is to his glory and honor. I am grateful to God for that grace. And I owe to God the honor of accepting that all that he does is right, and all that he does is rightly motivated. God’s glory according to what God desires and commands, is the highest of all goods in the universe. May we learn to better shape our lives to give him that glory. And may we accept his revelation of himself in his word as the only thing we need to see that his ways, even the ones we struggle to understand, are always perfect.