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July 16, 2013

Strive Not About Words

"Of these things put them in rememberance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers." (2 Timothy 2:14)

This command emphasizes the necessity to avoid "word fights." The apostle Paul has much to say about this in other passages. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29). Our words should be "wholesome words" (1 Timothy 6:3), "that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).

We are not to "give heed to fables and endless genealogies" (1 Timothy 1:4), but are to "refuse profane and old wives' fables" (1 Timothy 4:7). We are not to listen to "commandments of men, that turn from the truth" (Titus 1:14), and we must "avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law" (Titus 3:9), "knowing that they do gender strifes" (2 Timothy 2:23).

According to 1 Timothy 6:4-5, those who love "word fights" are "proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words." Such a person is a "questionaholic." Here is a short list of the biblical warnings about such fights.

It brings ill will toward others; wrangling; bickering.

It produces "railing" defamation or dishonor of others.

It encourages private plots to hurt.

It produces an incessant meddlesomeness.

It ends up rotting the intellect and robbing truth.

It equates personal gain with godliness.

May God protect us from those who are driven to strive "about words to no profit." May God increase our love for "acceptable words; and that which is written, upright, even words of truth" (Ecclesiastes 12:10). HMM III

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July 17, 2013

The First Love

"Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." (John 17:24)

This is the very heart of the moving prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ in the upper room before His arrest and crucifixion. As we hear Him pray, we are translated back in time, before time began, and there we encounter the indescribable love within the counsels of the triune Godhead—Father, and Son, and Spirit—three persons, yet one God.

Then, after speaking of this love, Jesus prayed—in the final words of His sure-to-be-answered prayer—"that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them" (v. 26).

This love—the love within the Trinity—was the primeval love and, therefore, is the spring from which flows every other form of true love—marital love, mother love, brotherly love, love of country, love of friends, love for the lost, or any other genuine love.

It is appropriate that the first mention of love in the Old Testament refers to the love of a father (Abraham) for his son Isaac (Genesis 22:2), and then that the first reference to love in the New Testament (Matthew 3:17) speaks of the heavenly love of God the Father for God the Son. In both cases, the son is called "beloved," yet in both cases the father and son are prepared to go to the altar of sacrifice, that the will of God might be done and a way of salvation be provided for lost sinners.

"He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). One day—as He prayed—we shall be with Him, see His glory, and even experience His own eternal love in our hearts. HMM

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July 18, 2013

The Turning of the Day

"Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light." (Judges 19:26)

This tragic story took place in Israel in a time when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). The woman was of the tribe of Judah, concubine to a Levite dwelling among the tribe of Ephraim. Although she had been unfaithful, he had taken her back and they were traveling to Ephraim, staying overnight in a city of Benjamin. The "sons of Belial" among the Benjamites, however, had abused the woman throughout the night, leaving her dead at "the dawning of the day."

The whole sordid story illustrates the depths of depravity to which even men among God's chosen people can descend under cover of darkness. We are commanded to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret" (Ephesians 5:11-12).

In the midst of this dismal record, however, there is an interesting scientific insight which should be noted. The evil events of the night terminated at what the writer calls "the dawning of the day." But the Hebrew word used for "dawning" (panah) is not the normal word for the dawn. Instead it is the word for "turning." Thus, it is not referring to the rising of the sun, but to the rotation of the earth which, after a dark night of evil, once again turns its face to the "light of the world."

Note also Job 38:14: "It |i.e., the earth's surface| is turned as clay to the seal," again suggesting the earth's axial rotation each day/night cycle. There is coming a glorious dawning, however, when we shall dwell in the presence of the One who is the true light of the world, and "there shall be no night there" (Revelation 21:25). HMM

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July 19, 2013

They That Wait upon the Lord

"But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

This is one of the best-loved promises of the Bible, for it is easy to grow weary and faint in our mortal bodies, even when doing the work of the Lord. The answer, we are told, is to "wait upon the LORD."

But what does this mean? The Hebrew word (gavah) does not mean "serve," but rather to "wait for" or "look for." It is translated "waited for" the second time it is used in the Bible, when the dying patriarch Jacob cried out: "I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD" (Genesis 49:18).

The first time it is used, surprisingly, is in connection with the third day of creation, when God said: "Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place" (Genesis 1:9). That is, the all-pervasive waters of the original creation, divided on the second day of creation, now are told to wait patiently, as it were, while God formed the geosphere, the biosphere, and the astrosphere, before dealing again with the waters.

Perhaps the clearest insight into its meaning is its use in the picture of Christ foreshadowed in the 40th Psalm. "I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry" (Psalm 40:1).

"The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary" (Isaiah 40:28), and His gracious promise is that we can "renew our strength" (literally, "exchange our strength," our weakness for His strength!) by "waiting upon |Him|." We wait patiently for Him, we gather together unto Him, we look for Him, we cry unto Him, we trust Him, and He renews our strength! HMM

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July 20, 2013

Walking in the Midst of the Sea

"But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left." (Exodus 14:29)

Liberal theologians, always seeking naturalistic explanations for biblical miracles, have attempted to explain this Red Sea crossing as a shallow fording of what they call the "Reed Sea" at the extreme northern end of the Red Sea. The biblical description, however, is clearly of a mighty miracle—not merely of a wind driving the shallow waters seaward. Instead, it describes a great path opened up through deep waters, supernaturally restrained as a wall on both sides of the wide freeway, deep enough to drown all the hosts of Pharaoh when the waters later collapsed.

The crossing was, of course, over a narrow northern arm of the Red Sea, enabling the Israelites to cross into the wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:22), but it was nevertheless a great miracle. Such a miracle required nothing less than the creative power of God, creating some unknown force or energy powerful enough to hold the deep waters as stationary walls against the force of gravity which was straining mightily to bring them down.

Later generations always looked back on this event as the great proof of God's divine call of Israel. The "song of Moses," composed after the deliverance, noted that "the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea" (Exodus 15:8).

Fifteen centuries later, the apostle Paul recalled the mighty miracle in these words: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; . . . Now all these things . . . are written for our admonition" (1 Corinthians 10:1, 11). HMM

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July 21, 2013

Why Did Christ Die?

"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

This passage is often considered the defining passage of the gospel, stating the great truth that Christ died for our sins, then was buried (thus stressing that His resurrection was a physical resurrection, not just spiritual), and then rose again. As such, it is interesting that verse 1 which introduces it ("I declare unto you the gospel") contains the central mention of the more than 100 times the Greek word for "gospel" occurs in the New Testament.

However, it does not say why Christ died for our sins. It was not just to pay for our salvation and make us happy. There are, in fact, numerous references to His substitutionary death which do give us further insight into just why Christ died for us and our salvation.

For example, "he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Corinthians 5:15). And consider Galatians 1:4, in which Paul tells us that Christ "gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world."

Peter's testimony and explanation was that the Lord Jesus "his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24). John said: "|God| loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:10-11).

There are many other verses to the same affect. Christ did not die merely to save our souls, but to empower us to live in a way that would glorify God right here on Earth. HMM

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July 22, 2013

The Sin of the Devil

"Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them." (Exodus 18:11)

This is the first mention in the Bible of the sin of pride, and it appropriately refers to the primeval sin of the "gods"—that is, the supposed deities of the heathen.

Led by Lucifer, a great host of the created angels had rebelled against their Creator, seeking also to be "gods" like Him. Lucifer, later to be called Satan (i.e., "adversary"), thought he could become the highest of all. "O Lucifer . . . thou hast said in thine heart, I will . . . exalt my throne above the stars of God: . . . I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell" (Isaiah 14:12-15).

Satan's sin—and that of the other self-proclaimed "gods"—was that of "being lifted up with pride . . . the condemnation of the devil" (1 Timothy 3:6). But they shall all, with him, eventually "be brought down to hell" and the "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).

This was also the sin of Adam and Eve, for Satan had seduced them with the promise "ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5).

It is also the sin of all humanists and evolutionary pantheists, from Adam's day to our day, for they seek to do away with God and make "gods" out of "corruptible man." They have "worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator" (Romans 1:23, 25).

But "pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Our Lord of creation is "above all gods," even in that "thing wherein they dealt proudly." The sin of pride was the very first sin and is still the most difficult sin to overcome, but "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5). HMM

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July 23, 2013

Christ in Suffering and Triumph

"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:8)

In the final book of the Bible occur seven great "I am" assertions by the glorified Christ, all speaking of His ultimate victory. However, in the book of Psalms occur seven vastly different "I am" statements by Christ, all speaking prophetically of His sufferings. These are in four of the wonderfully fulfilled Messianic psalms, all written 1,000 years before Christ, yet each psalm cited in the New Testament is fulfilled by Christ.

"But I am a worm, and no man" (Psalm 22:6, comparing Christ to a mother "scarlet worm" who dies so that her young may live, and in so doing gives off a scarlet fluid which protects and nourishes her young).

"I am poor and needy" (Psalm 40:17).

"I am . . . a stranger unto my brethren" (Psalm 69:8).

"I am full of heaviness" (Psalm 69:20).

"I am poor and sorrowful" (Psalm 69:29).

"I . . . am as a sparrow alone upon the house top" (Psalm 102:7).

"I am withered like grass" (Psalm 102:11).

In contrast to these lonely sufferings of Christ, there are the glories that shall follow. The first of the seven "I am's" of Revelation is our text above, and four of the others proclaim the same great truth (Revelation 1:11, 17; 21:6; 22:13).

The self-existing One, the "I am," Jehovah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who created all things (Alpha), will one day triumph and make all things new forever (Omega). Listen to the other two wonderful testimonies: "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Revelation 1:18). "I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star" (Revelation 22:16). HMM

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July 24, 2013

A Still, Small Voice

"And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." (1 Kings 19:12)

Elijah was in hiding for his life, even though God had spectacularly answered his prayer with fire from heaven. Jezebel, however, had not been intimidated by Elijah's victory and swore she would kill him. He fell into such depression that he wanted to die. If Jezebel could not be impressed with fire from heaven, how could Elijah ever hope to defeat her and her armies? Not even an angel could remove his doubts.

But then was sent "a great and strong wind," and "after the wind an earthquake" (1 Kings 19:11). But the Lord was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. God finally reached Elijah with "a still small voice," and that voice assured him that God was well in control of all circumstances. Similarly, Moses told the children of Israel, as they faced the Red Sea: "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD" (Exodus 14:13).

It was prophesied of the Lord Jesus that "he shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street." Nevertheless, it was also promised, "he shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth" (Isaiah 42:2, 4; see also Matthew 12:19-20).

In our human impatience, we think God should always move immediately in great strength. Unless there are large numbers of converts and displays of power, we grow discouraged, like Elijah. But God more often speaks in a still, small voice and works in a quiet way. "And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, . . . And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isaiah 30:18, 21). HMM

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July 25, 2013

When God Repents

"And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent." (1 Samuel 15:29)

There are a number of Scriptures that speak of God repenting. For example, in the days before the great Flood, "it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth" (Genesis 6:6). In the same chapter containing our text, God said: "It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments" (1 Samuel 15:11). Yet the Scriptures plainly teach that God changes not. "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19). Bible critics have made much of this apparent "contradiction" in the Bible.

There is no contradiction, of course. The words translated "repent" in both Old and New Testaments are used of actions which indicate outwardly that a "change of mind" has occurred inwardly. It is precisely because God does not repent concerning evil that His actions will change toward man when man truly repents (this human "repentance" can go either way, changing from good to evil, or vice versa), and God will respond accordingly, since He cannot change His own mind toward evil.

Thus, He said concerning national repentance: "If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them" (Jeremiah 18:8). That is, if the nation truly repents, then God will change His own projected course of action. He seems outwardly to "repent," specifically because He cannot repent in His inward attitude toward good and evil.

God has greatly blessed America in the past, but America's people have drastically changed in recent years. Can the time be long coming when God must say: "It repenteth me that I have so favored this apostate nation?" HMM

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July 26, 2013

Too Hard for God?

"Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son." (Genesis 18:14)

This rhetorical question posed to Abraham by the Lord was in response to Sarah's doubts concerning His promise that they would have a son. It would, indeed, require a biological miracle, for both were much too old for this to happen otherwise. With God, however, all things are possible, and He can, and will, fulfill every promise, even if a miracle is required.

This same rhetorical question was asked of the prophet Jeremiah. "Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying, Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?" (Jeremiah 32:26-27). The One who created all flesh, who raises up kings and puts them down, could surely fulfill His promise to restore Israel to its homeland when the set time was come.

But Jeremiah had already confessed his faith in God's omnipotence. "Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee" (Jeremiah 32:17). The God who called the mighty universe into being would not fail to keep His promise and fulfill His will.

Actually, the word translated "hard" in these verses is more commonly rendered "wonderful," or "marvelous," or an equivalent adjective, referring usually to something miraculous that could only be accomplished by God. For example, "marvelous things did he . . . in the land of Egypt" (Psalm 78:12). "For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone" (Psalm 86:10).

The first occurrence of the word (Hebrew pala), however, is in our text for today. There is nothing—no thing—too hard for the Lord, and we should never doubt His word! HMM

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July 27, 2013

That Old Serpent

"And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years." (Revelation 20:2)

This prophetic vision given to John leaves no doubt as to the identity of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. That "old serpent" (literally, "that primeval serpent") who deceived our first parents into rebelling against the word of God is none other than the Devil, or Satan, often viewed in Scripture as typified by a "great dragon" (Revelation 12:9), the fearsome animal of ancient times; probably the dinosaur.

His ultimate doom is sure—he will be bound a thousand years, then finally be "cast into the lake of fire . . . tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Revelation 20:10). At present, however, he is not bound, for "your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). We must be sober and vigilant, "lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Corinthians 2:11).

His devices are manifold, but all are deceptive (he was the most "subtle" of all God's creatures, Genesis 3:1), malevolent, and designed to turn us away from the true Christ. "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3).

He is a great deceiver. He can appear as a fire-breathing dragon or a roaring lion, deceiving us into fearing and obeying him instead of God. He can also be "transformed into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14), deceiving us into trusting the "feigned words" of his "false teachers" (2 Peter 2:3, 1) instead of the Holy Scriptures of the God of creation. Our recourse against his deceptions is to "put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). HMM

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July 28, 2013

Remember the Day of Rest

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates." (Exodus 20:8-10)

The Hebrew word for "remember" actually means to "mark" or "set aside." The Israelites didn't need to be told to "remember" the sabbath, because all nations had been keeping time in weeks ever since creation (Genesis 2:13). (Note the references to the sabbath in the sending of God's manna, prior to the giving of this commandment |Exodus 16:23-29|.) But they did need to be reminded to mark it as a holy or rest day, as God had done in that first week.

The Hebrew word for "sabbath" does not mean "Saturday" any more than it means "Sunday." It means, simply, "rest" or "intermission." The institution of the sabbath (that is, one day out of every seven days to be "set aside" as a day of rest, worship, and remembrance of the Creator) was "made for man" and his good (Mark 2:27). It was even of benefit to the animals used by man (note the mention of "cattle" in the commandment). It had been a pattern observed since the completion of God's six days of creation and making all things at the very beginning of world history (note Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:11).

It is still appropriate today, as well. "There remaineth therefore a rest |that is, 'a sabbath-keeping'| to the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9). All men have a deep need to remember their Creator and His completed work of creation at least once each week, as well as His completed work of salvation—especially in these days when both of these finished works are so widely denied or ignored. HMM

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July 29, 2013

Good Courage

"Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them." (Joshua 1:6)

This admonition to be strong and of "good courage" (Hebrew amass) is given some ten times in the Old Testament, plus another nine times using a different word (chasaq). The first occurrence of amass is in Deuteronomy 3:28, where it is translated "strengthen": "But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him: for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which thou shalt see."

Christians today surely need good courage to face a dangerous world with all its temptations and intimidations, but nothing today could compare to the challenge facing Joshua. Trying to lead a nondescript multitude of "stiffnecked" desert nomads into a land of giants and walled cities would surely require courage beyond anything we could imagine today.

But Joshua had access to invincible resources, and so do we. "Be strong and of a good courage," God told him. "Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest" (Joshua 1:9).

Giants and walled cities are no match for the children of God when He goes with them, for "if God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31).

God did go with Joshua, and the Israelites defeated the giants, destroyed the walled cities, and took the land. And we have the same promise today, for "he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Hebrews 13:5-6). Courage is really another name for faith, and "what he had promised, he was able also to perform" (Romans 4:21). HMM

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July 30, 2013

What We Have Now in Christ

"That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:15)

The one who is trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has many wonderful possessions which cannot be seen with our physical eyes but which are as real and permanent as if we were already in heaven. Many of these (only a few of which can be listed here) are noted by the present tense of the verb "have" (Greek echo).

First of all, as our text indicates (and these are the words of Christ!), we who believe in Him have—right now—eternal life. Our sins have been taken care of by the sacrificial death of Christ, "in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7; see also Colossians 1:14). Our sins will be remembered against us no more, because we have already been eternally redeemed. Then, also, in spite of all our sins and failures, "being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

One of the great resources we now have, but use so seldom, is the capacity to "think God's thoughts after Him." "For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Having the mind of Christ should keep us from sin. Nevertheless, "if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). Not only do we have an advocate defending us, but we have a priest as our mediator. "We have a great high priest, . . . Jesus the Son of God" (Hebrews 4:14).

Finally, we already "have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1). And all this is only the beginning! "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard . . . the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). HMM

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July 31, 2013

Rightly Divide the Word

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)

This command is for us to "give diligence" (Greek spoudazo) for God's approval by "rightly dividing" the word of truth. That which is to be rightly divided is not in doubt: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). The end goal is to "display yourself" as one who is, therefore, approved by God.

The key is to "rightly divide" the Scriptures. The Greek word orthotomeo, only used this one time, has several shades of meaning: to cut straight, to cut straight ways; to proceed on straight paths, hold a straight course; to make straight and smooth; to handle aright; to teach the truth directly and correctly.

Two passages emphasize the way to "divide" the Scriptures. When Isaiah asked rhetorical questions about how to learn and understand biblical knowledge, the answer was "precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:9-10). Thus:

Find the major pieces first.

Find the supporting elements next.

Find the pieces throughout the text.

Solomon, as the "wise preacher," noted that one who would teach the people knowledge must have given "good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs" (Ecclesiastes 12:9).

Pay attention to the words (meanings, context).

Penetrate (research) the teaching (text first, then books).

Organize the information for teaching purposes.

This kind of study preparation requires a "workman"—one who is willing to give the "diligence" necessary to produce the powerful sayings built on the "word of truth." If properly prepared, the workman will never be "ashamed." HMM III

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August 1, 2013

How to Pray

"Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:24)

Jesus promised that "whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you" (John 16:23). This condition for answered prayer and its resulting fullness of joy is not just a formula with which to end a prayer. "In my name" implies representing Him and what He stands for, so that our prayer could truly be His prayer as well.

For example, our prayer must be in His will. "If we ask any thing according to his will . . . we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him" (1 John 5:14-15).

We need also to recognize that God's great purpose in creation is of higher priority than our own personal desires, so this should be of first order in our prayers. Jesus said: "When ye pray, say, Our Father. . . . Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth" (Luke 11:2). We can also pray for our own needs, of course, especially for God to "deliver us from evil" (Luke 11:4), the closing request in His model prayer.

It is good to seek God's wisdom in all our decisions and undertakings, so that we can be confident we are indeed in His will, but our request for such guidance must be sincere and in willingness to act on His answer. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God. . . . But let him ask in faith" (James 1:5-6). And it should be obvious that the request be made with a clear conscience before God. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18).

But when we are indeed confident that we are praying "in His name" with all that this implies, then we should pray earnestly, for "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16), and when the answer comes—as it will, in God's time—then our joy indeed will be full! HMM

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August 2, 2013

Shun Babblings

"But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus." (2 Timothy 2:16-17)

Paul's earlier warning about "word fights" (2 Timothy 2:14) is strengthened in the text above with a different emphasis. Word fights are "picky" debates started by quarrelsome people. They are useless and divisive. They create conflicts and schisms.

Profane and vain babblings, however, are worldly and valueless "noise." Less obvious and more subtle than fighting, they have the effect of destroying godliness. "But refuse profane |ungodly| and old wives' fables |myths, baseless stories|, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness" (1 Timothy 4:7).

Because "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8), Paul strongly urged Timothy to "keep |guard| that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith" (1 Timothy 6:20-21).

The "oppositions" spoken of are the "antithesis"—the conflict, the stand against knowledge. Paul calls this anti-knowledge a pseudonumos—a false name. It sounds like knowledge but is not true.

The results of these "babblings" are not good. Ungodliness will increase. Error will eat away at spiritual health and truth like gangrene. The two church leaders that Paul mentions, Hymenaeus and Philetus, are listed as examples of such a cancer. They taught that the resurrection had already occurred for the saints.

Peter's warning is very similar: "Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness" (2 Peter 3:17). HMM III

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August 3, 2013

"I Am" in the Pentateuch

"And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it." (Genesis 15:7)

There are seven "I am's" in the book of Genesis. The first is a beautiful figure of speech ("I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" |Genesis 15:1|), but the others are all names and titles of God. The first of these is in our text above, identifying Jehovah Himself (the LORD) with the "I am."

The next is Genesis 17:1: "I am the Almighty God." The Hebrew here is El Shaddai ("God the nourishing sustainer"), also found in 35:11. Next is in 26:24: "I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee." Then, "I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac" (28:13). "I am the God of Bethel" (31:13). Beth-el means "the house of God." Finally, God says: "I am God, the God of thy father" (46:3).

In Exodus, there are 21 places where God says "I am." Most of these are merely variations of the different names of God as noted above in the "I am's" of Genesis, but six do give new insight. The first, of course, is the great assertion of Exodus 3:14 where God identifies Himself as "I AM THAT I AM." The others: "I am the LORD in the midst of the earth" (8:22); "I am the LORD that healeth thee" (15:26); "I the LORD thy God am a jealous God" (20:5); "For I am gracious" (22:27); "I am the LORD that doth sanctify you" (31:13).

In the remaining books of the Pentateuch, the phrase "I am the LORD your God" occurs very frequently, but there are two important new "I am's." "I am holy" occurs six times (e.g., Leviticus 11:45), and "I am thy part and thine inheritance" is recorded in Numbers 18:20. The great theme of all these claims and names of God is that the mighty God of time and space is also a caring, personal God. We can trust Him, and He cares for us. HMM

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August 4, 2013

The Name of the Lord

"And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." (Exodus 3:14)

This unique name of God was given to stress the truth that He is timeless. The name "LORD" (Hebrew YHWH = Yahweh, or Jehovah) is essentially the same, conveying the truth that He is the eternal, self-existing One.

The Lord Jesus Christ appropriated this divine name to Himself when He told the Jews: "Before Abraham was |i.e., 'was born'|, I am" (John 8:58). Correctly assuming that this statement was nothing less than a direct claim to identity with God, the Jews immediately (but unsuccessfully) attempted to stone Him to death as a blasphemer.

As the I Am, the Lord Jesus Christ is, indeed, everything, and He has revealed Himself to us under many beautiful symbols. It is well known that there are seven great "I am's" in the gospel of John, each of which is rich with spiritual depth of meaning. They can be listed as follows:

"I am the bread of life . . . the living bread" (John 6:35, 51).

"I am the light of the world . . . the light of life" (John 8:12).

"I am the door of the sheep" (John 10:7).

"I am the good shepherd . . . |who| giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

"I am the resurrection, and the life" (John 11:25).

"I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

"I am the true vine" (John 15:1).

It is well known that this magnificent self-assertion of the Lord permeates the whole Bible, from its first use in Genesis 15:1, "I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward," to its final occurrence in Revelation 22:16, "I am . . . the bright and morning star." And all these beautiful figures help us to pray more fervently "that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). HMM

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August 5, 2013

The Will of the Lord

"Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is." (Ephesians 5:17)

There is no more exalted theme in the world than the will of God, nor is there a more important practical question than how to know the will of God. Of greatest significance is the recognition that it is His will—not man's will—which is important.

God desires for us to know His will—both His will in general, as revealed in Scripture, and His specific will in each particular decision. The latter must in every instance, of course, be fully compatible with the former, as the Holy Spirit, who leads us, will never contradict the Scriptures which He inspired. Thus, an indispensable prerequisite to finding the personal will of God is knowing His general will.

The general will of God is expressed, first of all, in the fact of special creation (Revelation 4:11). Then Christ became man in order to accomplish God's will (Hebrews 10:7) as our sin-bearing substitute; "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). It is His will that this should provide salvation to all who believe. "This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life" (John 6:40). This in turn entails individual regeneration of all who receive Him, "which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13).

Furthermore, His will includes absolute security in Him (John 6:39), our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), and ultimate glorification (John 17:24). Thankfulness in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and a virtuous ("well doing"—1 Peter 2:15) life are also God's will. A believer who understands, believes, and obeys God's general will is then prepared to know and follow His specific will. HMM

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August 6, 2013

An Ear to the Master's Voice

"And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever." (Exodus 21:5-6)

This unique ordinance of the Mosaic law is significant as being the first one given after the Ten Commandments. It (and the following ordinances) centers first on the most humble members of society (that is, the slave—recognizing the universal existence of slavery at the time and ameliorating its practice), then on other people, then on property—thus establishing God's priorities.

Here also, right at the beginning of the dispensation of law, we are given a picture in miniature of the coming Servant of the Lord, who would come someday to bear the penalty of the law for us, saving us by His grace.

The servant pictured here, with full right to be set free in the sabbatical year, chooses rather to do the will of his master forever, listening to his voice only—this commitment symbolized and sealed by the opening in his ear. Just so, the coming Savior would say: "Mine ears hast thou opened. . . . Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:6-8). The fulfillment of this prophecy is described in Hebrews 10:5-10. There, the opening of the ear of the servant is interpreted as the preparation of His human body "to do thy will, O God. . . . By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:7, 10). Out of love for the Father and for those who would share the Father's house with Him, He offered His body to accomplish the saving will of God. HMM

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August 7, 2013

The Sure Foundation

"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure." (2 Timothy 2:19)

The preceding verses of this section of 2 Timothy are replete with warnings about the damage that could be done through "babblings" and cancerous words. But God is unshaken by whatever man might do. "He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he" (Deuteronomy 32:4).

"I am the LORD, and there is none else," Isaiah joyfully quotes (Isaiah 45:6). "I am the LORD, I change not," the prophet Malachi is told (Malachi 3:6), and there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17) in the God of creation. God's sovereign will is absolute: "The word of our God shall stand for ever" (Isaiah 40:8). "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isaiah 46:10).

We who are the twice-born, and thus the children of God, can stand firm and steadfast in the knowledge that He who is "sure" is the One who is working in us "to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). He has adopted us as His children "by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will" (Ephesians 1:5).

It is no random act of capricious fate that has secured us. It is the sure foundation of the great Creator God. It is His divine power that has "given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue." That calling rests on "exceeding great and precious promises" that enable us to participate in the "divine nature" and escape the awful "corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:3-4). HMM III

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August 8, 2013

Vessels of the House

"But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour." (2 Timothy 2:20)

The "house" referenced here by Paul to young Timothy is the "house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). In the Old Testament, the tabernacle and temple were the dwelling place of God and the center of worship led by a high priest from the tribe of Levi.

Now, we are members of the Lord's "house" (Hebrews 3:6) and are like "lively stones" that are being "built up a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5), led by Jesus, who is the "high priest over the house of God" (Hebrews 10:21).

This "great house" has many "vessels" in it of different values. Some are "honorable" instruments (vessels of high value) that serve in the New Testament economy in some parallel function to that of the vessels of the inner court of the tabernacle and temple. Those instruments of gold, silver, and brass (Exodus 25; 2 Chronicles 4) each played a part in the liturgical worship, designed as part of the "schoolmaster" to teach us about the law of God (Galatians 3:24). The more public and formal the use, the more valuable the vessel. The most valuable were set closest to the Holy of Holies.

There are also vessels of "dishonor" in the great house. The tabernacle and temple had "earthen" vessels for certain functions (Leviticus 14). These were expendable—necessary, perhaps, for some short-term need, but not valuable. Since the church now functions as the "pillar and ground" of the truth, the "honorable" vessels are expected to purge themselves from that which is "dishonorable." HMM III

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August 9, 2013

Walking in Truth

"I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father." (2 John 4)

This beautiful metaphor, "walking in truth," is found only in the two one-chapter epistles of John—here in our text, and in 3 John 3 and 4. This principle should indeed characterize our daily lives, since our Lord and Savior is Himself "the truth" (John 14:6), the Word of God which we believe is "truth" (John 17:17), and the Holy Spirit who indwells our bodies is the very "Spirit of truth" (John 15:26).

The New Testament also uses other characteristics of the Christian life under this figure of walking. When a person is born again through faith in Christ and testifies of this by following the Lord in baptism, he or she is said to be raised to "walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).

Then, since the Holy Spirit has come to indwell our bodies, to comfort, guide, and constrain us as needed, we are exhorted to "walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16). Furthermore, we are commanded to "walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us" (Ephesians 5:2). This is not erotic love, of course, or even brotherly love, but unselfish "agape" love that sacrifices its own interests for the needs of others.

There are still more such exhortations. "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time" (Colossians 4:5). Furthermore, we are to "walk in the light, as he is in the light" (1 John 1:7).

All of these and other similar admonitions can be summarized as simply following the example of Christ. "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1 John 2:6). "He that followeth me," said Jesus our Lord, "shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). HMM

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