How Much Provision?

When you pray for God to meet your financial needs and provide for you and your family, how much do you ask for? Do we follow the model of the prosperity preachers and claim the right to have a jet, sports car, and mansion? Do we follow the path of the ascetic, asking for only enough bread and water not to starve?

Proverbs 30:7-9

7 Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

In the proverb here, we see a simple wisdom regarding what we should desire from God when it comes to finance. There are two requests. The writer asks for God not to give him too much and for God not to give him too little.

The prayer for God not to give too little is an obvious one. We do not want to lack; none of us like that. I would think that everybody of the modern age who has prayed about provision has asked for God not to leave us without something we need.

But the other prayer is interesting. The writer also asks for God not to give him too much. That one is strange to our ears. Most folks do not say to God, “Be careful. Do not give me more wealth and comfort than I should have.”

What you need to see is the rationale behind why the writer prays both things. The same motivation is behind the proverb writer’s prayers not to have either too much or too little. The writer does not wish to dishonor the Lord. He wishes to properly show the value and the glory of God. And thus, the writer prays for God to give him just enough, neither too little nor too much.

Having too little could lead the writer to dishonor God. The man is honest. If he lacks food to feed his family, he might be reduced to stealing. He does not want to steal, as he knows that theft dishonors God. But he also knows that letting his own family starve would dishonor God. The man does not want temptation to do wrong to gain wealth, so he asks God to provide. But the prime motivation, please see it, is to be sure he properly honors the name of God.

Similarly, in the prayer that we find weird in our greed-saturated, comfort-focused culture, the proverb writer asks God not to give him too much. Why? He has the same motivation. He does not want to get so comfortable that he forgets that he still needs God. He does not wish to dishonor the Lord. He wants to live to the glory of God, and that includes being sure that he does not become so self-sufficient that it appears to him that he can make it on his own.

Friends, we can learn from these prayers. Our prayers need to be focused first and foremost on the honor of the name of the Lord. What will give God glory? What will show the world around us that God is great. What will prevent us from falling into sin and so dishonoring the Lord? These are the things that we should be asking God to give us. We should always ask God to answer our prayers in the ways that will most give him the glory he is so richly due.

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Another Call not to Add to God’s Word

Proverbs 30:5-6

5 Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
God’s words are all true, every one of them. All Scripture is perfect and perfectly inspired by God. As believers, our lives hang on that truth. If God’s word is untrue, there is simply no source of authority upon which we can rely. Since God has spoken, inspiring a perfect word, we can know him and know what he requires.

In the proverb above, we also see the wise reminder that we must not add to that holy and perfect word of God. If we do, God will prove us to be liars.

Where does it happen that mankind attempts to add to the word of God? Some add to God’s word by declaring that god has said to them things he did not say. Be very careful when you claim that God has told you something. It is much wiser for a Christian to express that he or she feels like something is the Lord’s will or that he or she, after much prayer, has a strong desire to do this or that. But when a person says that God has told them something, he or she is walking on dangerous ground. If that thing that you claim that the Lord has told you proves to be untrue, are you not entering the realm of the false prophet?

But it is not merely the false claim of divine communication that is adding to the word of God today. Many add to the word of God because they are submitting to the culture around us and extrapolating principles from secular thinking to read back into God’s word. The person who adds to Scripture a secular standard of justice is, in a sense, adding to the word of God. The person who reads into Scripture modern sexual ethics is adding to the word of God. The one who reads into Scripture modern views of gender that differ from the clearly given Scripture is adding to the word of God. And the word of God tells us that, in all these, the person who reads such things in such ways will be proven a liar by God himself.

May we treasure the word of God. May we remember that there is no value that we can add to the word of God. We are far better off honoring God by simply reading, understanding, and faithfully explaining the word of God. God wants you to know his word, understand his word, apply his word, and live by his word.

Context is King

In biblical interpretation, no rule rises above the simple necessity of interpreting a verse in its context. All Scripture is breathed out by God. All Scripture, every individual word and verse, is perfect and perfectly inspired by God. We call that the doctrine of plenary, verbal inspiration. All Scripture is sufficient to bring about in us all that the Lord intends for us concerning life and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3).

As we deal with this perfect and holy text, one major mistake that we make is in thinking that we can handle an individual verse as an individual thing. This is not the case. Verses of Scripture are not individual pearls that can be separated from the strand and admired as single jewels. Instead, the flow of verses together, the building of arguments and proclamations are vital to our rightly handling the Bible.

Take the verse often quoted in prosperity theology, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Out of context, that appears to be a verse in which a man or woman can claim aptitude for any profession and strength for magnificent accomplishment in Christ. Thus, a Christian baseball player hits a homerun every time because of Jesus (Don’t ask what happens if the pitcher is a believer too.).

But let’s take a peek at context. Paul was in prison in Rome and writing to the Philippians. The Philippians had found out about Paul’s time of trial, and they had sent help his way. They were concerned for his wellbeing, and they seem to have sent a gift or two to supply his physical needs while under arrest. Look at the passage in that light.

Philippians 4:10–13 – 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

In verses 11-12, Paul says that he is particularly not trying to tell the Philippians that he could not survive without a little more money. ON the contrary, Paul was telling the church that he, under the tutelage of Christ, had learned to be content. He was content when he had nice clothes and a soft bed. He was content when he suffered great hardships.

Paul’s willingness to survive whether he has plenty or goes hungry is the context for the statement, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The phrase, “all things,” does not have anything to do with hitting a baseball, leading a corporation, performing a miracle, or investing in the stock market. No, the all things that he can do, in context, is the all things of living in times of plenty and times of want. Paul is saying, in the all things he can do through Christ, that he can be poor, devastatingly poor, and still love Jesus. And Paul is saying that he can have a very nice cash flow, and not love it more than Jesus.

Paul’s words have nothing to do with naming a prosperity and claiming it as his right. On the contrary, Paul is saying that he will joyfully live through all circumstances, happy and sad, by the strength of Jesus. As we often hear in wedding vows, Paul is saying that he has learned to joyfully trust in Jesus for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity.

Let Philippians 4:13 give you joy, but not ripped out of the flow of the text. That verse reminds us that we can love Jesus and be OK in all sorts of easy and hard times. Our circumstances, our wealth, our poverty, have nothing to do with our relationship with God. There will be wealthy Christians and poor Christians. There will be sick Christians and healthy Christians. There will be pro athletes and folks who cannot control their weight. There will be corporate CEOs and hard-working ditch-diggers. And the trick is for us to know that, because of Jesus, because of his strength, because of his Holy Spirit, we can learn to do all things, handle all circumstances, because of our Lord.

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Biblically Discovering God’s Top Priority

The following questions and answers from Scripture were part of a message on honoring God from Malachi 1:6. Many of these came from Desiring God, but many are my own additions to that list.

Why did God create people?

Isaiah 43:6-7 ()

6 I will say to the north, Give up,

and to the south, Do not withhold;

bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the end of the earth,

7 everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.

Why did God choose a people for himself and make Israel his possession?

Jeremiah 13:11

For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

Why did God rescue Israel from bondage in Egypt?

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 part the Red Sea, rescue Israel, and destroy Pharaoh’s army?

Exodus 14:15-18

15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

Why did God spare Israel again and again in the wilderness?

Ezekiel 20:14

But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.

Why didn’t God cast away his people when they rejected him as king and asked for a king like the nations?

1 Samuel 12:20-22

20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.”

Why did God use his sovereign power to bring back his people from exile after punishing four generations of sin?

Isaiah 48:9-11

9 “For my name’s sake I defer my anger,

for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,

that I may not cut you off.

10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;

I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,

for how should my name be profaned?

My glory I will not give to another.”

Ezekiel 36:22-24, 32

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. … 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

Why does God forgive sins?

Isaiah 43:25

“I, I am he

who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,

and I will not remember your sins.

Why did the Son of God come to earth and to his final decisive hour?

John 17:1

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you”

Why did God refrain from judgment until he sent Jesus to die?

Romans 3:23-27

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

Why did God predestine our salvation?

Ephesians 1:5-6

5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:11-12

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Why did God give the Holy Spirit?

Ephesians 1:13-14

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Why will Jesus come again in the great day of consummation?

2 Thessalonians 1:9-10

9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

Why will every knee bow and every tongue confess Jesus as lord?

Philippians 2:10-11

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Why Does God do all things?

Romans 11:36

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

If you were not convinced by the verses above, check out this list of some extra questions that will show you that God does what He does for the sake of His own glory.

What was the purpose of Lazarus’ sickness and death? – John 11:4

Why did King Herod die? – Acts 12:23

Why should we do what we do? – 1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17

Why will every knee bow and every tongue confess? – Philippians 2:10-11

What was Jesus’ prayer as he approached his passion? – John 12:27-29

Why does God bring salvation and obedience to the Gentiles? – Romans 1:1-3

Why did God raise Pharaoh to power? – Romans 9:17

Why did Christ accept us? – Romans 15:7

Why was Paul praying for the Thessalonians? – 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Why were slaves commanded to behave well? – 1 Timothy 6:1

Why are our sins forgiven? – 1 John 2:12

Why let your light shine before men? – Matthew 5:16

Why would Peter be martyred? – John 21:19

Why will God bring peace to his chosen ones? – Isaiah 60:21, 61:3

What was God’s purpose in judging Sidon? – Ezekiel 28:22

Why did God command the temple to be rebuilt? – Haggai 1:8

Why will Jesus answer prayers? – John 14:13

Who Understands Justice Completely?

Maybe it is simply because justice is such a buzz word lately, but this verse leapt out at me in my reading of Proverbs 28.

Proverbs 28:5

Evil men do not understand justice,
but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.

Here we have an antithetical parallelism. That is a poetic technique often employed in Hebrew poetry, especially in wisdom literature, in which a clear contrast is made. We often will see two opposite kinds of people or attitudes compared and two opposite results obtained.

In this verse we are dealing with who understands justice. One group lacks the capacity to understand justice at all. Another group will have complete understanding of justice. If the Bible is going to be this clear on who gets and who does not get justice, we probably should pay attention.

The comparison is simple too. We see evil men on the one hand. That should lead us to expect a polar opposite on the other. And, in fact, we get that opposite, but not perhaps what people would expect. The opposite of evil men is not good men. No, the opposite is those who seek the Lord. Of course, this would open a nice can of worms regarding seeking God. WE know from other passages in Scripture that no one seeks after God without God first doing a work in their hearts, but that is a point for another post.

How do we seek the Lord? One might seek the Lord through prayer. One might seek the Lord through sincere participation in acts of worship. But I believe we know enough to recognize that, in a biblically sound church, we understand that seekers of God are those who look for the ways and will of the Lord in his holy and inspired word. (Note: My argument here hangs on an acceptance of the fact that the way to seek the Lord and to know the Lord is through his word. I’ll not take the time here to prove that this is the case.)

Thus, we see that we have a comparison between those who cannot grasp justice and those who understand it fully. The difference in those groups is a difference of either being evil or seeking God. And if we accept that seeking God is something we do through the word of God, then we must understand that having a grasp of justice, true justice, God-pleasing justice, non-evil justice, is only available to the one who seeks for justice in the seeking of God through his holy word.

In this understanding is a warning for many modern believers. Many today are seeking for justice in people’s expressions of their experiences. Others are seeking for justice in the embrace of critical theory with all of its rejections of biblical standards. Many are claiming that the only justice they can find is the justice being sought, not by the word of God, but indeed by those who reject the standards of God at every turn.

But God’s own word and his wisdom teach us that to understand justice requires, not first a seeking of an understanding of systemic oppression or secular theories of intersectionality, but first a seeking after the Lord in his word. God has shown us who he is and what he requires. God has shown us what he proclaims to be true about every human being, every nation, every people group. And if we want to understand justice, if we want to not be counted as evil, we must seek our understanding of justice in a biblically faithful seeking of the Lord. That means we never twist Scripture to make it fit a secular theory. Nor do we read Scripture through a filter of secular ideas. Instead, we go humbly to the word, let God’s law define justice for us, and then seek with all our hearts to please the Lord revealed in that law.

We Want To Look Normal

In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel sin against the Lord by demanding that God give them a king. Before this time, the people had covenanted with God to be under his personal rule and protection. But as time passed, the nation began to desire a human ruler.

Samuel even warns the people that having a king will be to the people’s harm, not to their good. The king will require servants, taxes, and a military. The king will cost the people a great deal without bringing them benefits.

But here is how the people respond.

1 Samuel 8:19-20 – 19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

The people demand a king, even when they know that they are violating the will of God and are asking for something that will hurt them. Why? What motivates them? They want to be like all the other nations around them.

Now, without over-interpreting this, let’s simply ask ourselves if we are susceptible to that temptation? Just watch the modern church. Isn’t it obvious? How often will modern Christians turn away from the word of God and choose a thing that God says is not his will simply so that they can be like all the people around them? How often will we do what hurts us spiritually simply to look normal to society? How often will we embrace sin, violations of Scripture, in order to have others who hate God approve of us?

Dear believers in Christ, may we learn from the mistakes of others here. May we repent and love the word of God. And may we throw off the desire to be just like all the peoples around us. Instead, may we desire nothing more than to be pleasing to our Lord, regardless of how strange that looks to the world.

Everything Stinks or Fret Not

Have you ever felt the need to take a break from social media and national news? I think many of us know what that feels like. We read enough snarky comments, we see enough bad news, we digest enough nastiness that we just want to turn it all off. Too much focus on the news of things we feel powerless to change can drive us to distraction or even despair.

It is nice to see that God’s word has a reminder for us when we begin to worry because of wickedness.

Proverbs 24:19–20

19 Fret not yourself because of evildoers,
and be not envious of the wicked,
20 for the evil man has no future;
the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

Fret not. That is a good little sentence right there. Do not let yourself become fretful, worried, overwhelmed because of evil doers.

For some reason, I am here reminded of a silly movie that was, in one scene, presenting a spoof of a conservative news talk show called “Everything Stinks.” When we spend too much of our time digesting news of politics and national scandal, it is possible for us to feel like we belong as a host of “Everything Stinks.” But to do that eventually takes us to a place of despairing over the evil acts of evil people.

Verse 20 of the proverb reminds us that the evil person has no future. In the long run, whether in this life or in the age to come, the wicked person’s lamp will be put out by the judgment of God. God will deal with those who would mislead the church into heresy. And knowing that we serve an all-powerful God who is holy and just gives us hope. God will deal with those who would divide the nation based on skin color. God will deal with those who delight in the murder of the unborn. God will deal with those who hate his design. God is not going to be beaten.

Surely do not misunderstand me here. I do not propose that Christians ignore what is going on in the world abroad whether in the church or in politics. But we must not become so focused on those issues that we fret because of evil doers. WE must have appropriate checks that prevent us from allowing our souls to despair.

One such check is the one here in the Proverbs. Keep yourself from despair by remembering the sovereignty and justice of God. Those who hate the Lord and his ways have his judgment to face. God is not going to lose this battle. The Lord will be glorified. The name of the Lord will be praised from the rising of the sun to its setting. There is no corner of the globe over which the Lord will not rule. Set your hope and your mind there.

Another check that I will offer is to open your eyes to what the Lord is doing, not on the national political scene, but right in your own church and in your own family. We do not do one another good if all we do is share the latest Facebook post of all the horrors of Washington. Yes, we need to be informed. But we need even more to be informed about the way a friend’s child has learned to follow the word of God. We need to know about a sister in Christ who has a new job possibility. We need to know about a brother in Christ who is preparing to teach his first Sunday School class or preach is first sermon. We need to know about a couple that needs comfort because of a loss or another couple who is planning to get married. We need to let our minds and our hearts be filled with what the Lord is doing in the local body of Christ and not simply in the political swamps of DC.

Yes, know what is going on. Yes, be active. Yes, be sure that people know of the horrors of abortion and racism and abuse and all the rest. But play your role in the local church. Take part in investing in the lives of the people around you. And fret not because of evil doers, because the Lord will use his people to accomplish his will for his glory.