Sometimes it can be hard to see what God has planned in our lives. When we choose to live a God-honoring lifestyle, it is easy to see all of the pain and suffering in the world and sit back and ask, “Why?” Why are some extremely wealthy and prosperous, yet, evil people allowed to do what they do untouched? The first thing we say is that it just isn’t fair. But really, to the people of God, good is coming and all we need to do is trust in God’s timing.
To be the smallest book in the Old Testament, the book of the prophet Obadiah is probably one of my favorites. Its message, once determined, is quite comforting and tells a message that is familiar to those of the Christian faith, albeit, from a different angle.
The whole book is composed of a powerful twenty-one verses that is to reveal the outcome of Edom, descendants of the family of Esau and long term enemy of the Israelites. And it doesn’t hold back. Condemning them for their pride, and for Esau’s violence against his brother Jacob, God says that though they build themselves up high like eagles, from that place He will bring them down.
“Then the house of Jacob will be a fire And the house of Joseph a flame; But the house of Esau will be as stubble.” (Obadiah 1:18)
The main lesson to be taken from this book is that God is a God that will vanquish our enemies. Yahweh is a living God that if we can trust, does hold the ultimate reward and in verse 21 “The deliverers will ascend Mount Zion To judge the mountain of Esau, And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.” The kingdom of those who can put their peace in the future day of the LORD.
What are your feelings when you hear the Day of the Lord is coming?
What does it mean to you that, “Your dealings will return on your own head”? Are there any exceptions?
Do you feel prepared for the Day of the Lord? Is there anything you need to take care of in your relationship to God and to others before that day comes?
You would think that King Nebuchadnezzar would have set aside his pride after he witnessed a miracle. He was astonished that God could give Daniel ability to recount his own dream and reveal the mysteries of that prophetic dream. The King even stated, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.” The king gave Daniel a promotion and honored Daniel’s request by appointing Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego over the administration of the province of Babylon.
But a surprising part of this story is that King Nebuchadnezzar does not seem to have a change of character from the experience. He had received the true interpretation from Daniel that “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not beleft for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” We would think that news would be a life changer for the king, but it isn’t. In fact, we find him setting up a ninety-foot image of gold so people can practice idol worship. If they refuse, he will quickly have them killed. What in the world is wrong with this guy? A lot, but first his pride. He refuses to take his focus off himself and his kingdom so he could acknowledge God and the everlasting Kingdom. I must admit that it is so easy in this life to get so caught up in what we are doing and what others are thinking or saying about us that we find that we have lost our focus of what God is wanting us to do for His Kingdom. It is so easy to let the temporary things of life remove the eternal.
Let’s take some time today and examine where we are spiritually. Are we wasting our time polishing up an idol or are we living in a close relationship with God? The Lord wants to guide us through every area of our lives. Thankfully Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were ready for the king’s challenge. As we see, God delivers these faithful men from the fiery furnace. They were walking closely with the One True God so He sent His angel to walk with them through that fire. Let’s toss out any idols that try to surface in our lives so there is only room for Our God.
Are you wasting your time polishing up an idol or are you living in a close relationship with God? Consider carefully. What are you focused on?
Look at how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered the King in Daniel 3:16-18. What can you learn from them? How will you put it into practice?
For many of us, the last few weeks we have been reestablishing our school time routines. The lackadaisical jazz of summer has transitioned into the tight structure of a concert march. Alarms begin to sound once more and the the score begins. Many times, my day begins with a morning run. I pride myself in the ability to time this run in such a way that I squeeze in all my other to-dos before the school day (like shower, pack, dress, eat breakfast) and be in the school building with a minute to spare. Everything was again like clockwork – run, shower, pack, breakfast – until I had an important realization as I crossed the threshold of the school door and met the flow of air streaming from the vent: I had not stopped sweating since my run. My body still thought it was summer. My shirt was now mostly covered in sweat, and it didn’t show signs of slowing. I walked down the hallway, was questioned multiple times about the appearance of showering in my shirt, but I was committed to going about my day with a sweat-filled shirt and a pride-filled attitude. Fortunately, through the insistence of an administrator, I took up the offer of a sweat-free replacement. I finally humbled myself, and let my pride go.
Humility comes easier when you are sweating through your shirt with nothing else to wear, but it is more difficult to be humble when you’re on top. You’re in charge. You’re the boss. You’re the expert. You’re the best. When you have a history of achieving or exceeding large and meaningful goals. We beam with pride because we feel we “are” or “have” something. When our ego wins, we make a case for why we are better than others. We expect God to acknowledge us more, and when he doesn’t, oftentimes, we deny Him completely, becoming our own god, roleplaying as the savior, the judge, and the ultimate source of “being” in our own life. Pride becomes our sweat-filled shirt – it’s not a good look.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit [vainglory]. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:3-5
If there was anyone to ever walk upon this earth with pride, it should have been Jesus Christ. He is the closest to God a human will ever get, yet “being in the form of God, he didn’t see equality with God as something to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:6) Here is the deepest of theologies about the nature and relationship of Jesus Christ to his Father. Jesus Christ serves God Almighty alone, and we should do the same (see: the greatest commandment, Matt 22:37,38) Jesus didn’t care he was viewed as an amatuer by many of the Pharisees. Who cares? He didn’t identify himself in the status in the company he kept. Not on his radar All he could lay his eyes upon was in his grasp. (Matt 4:8,9) He flatly refused. He had a critical role to play for our Heavenly Father. He chose humility, a life of service, knowing that His Father exalts those who humble themselves to His will, and also humbles those who choose to lift themselves higher than others (Luke 14:11; Phil 2:9-11)
Likewise, we are called and mandated to be humble. Less of me and less of you until only Jesus remains. How do we do this? In all our ways acknowledge Him (Prov 3:6), but are ready to give up time, effort, energy (life) for someone else (Matt 20:28) so they may know the Kingdom of God. We can still be ambitious, but it must be driven by God, not simply a feather in the cap or degree on the wall. We can look for glory, but it is bestowed upon our heavenly Father, not to us. We must be on our knees, known more for the top of our head than the self-satisfaction of our face. We must minister to those who can give us no status or possessions in return, only a life given over to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are to walk in humility, no longer run away with our pride.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12,13
Questions for Reflection
When does your pride and ego prevent you from being Christ-like?
Would you rather humble yourself before God or be humbled by God?
I remember back in high school I showed a horse in 4-H at the county fair. The show I was in was all about the looks of the horse and convincing the judge that my horse was the very best in the arena. The goal was to gain the approval of the judge.
So, I got my horse, who had little show experience, all cleaned up. I shined up my dusty saddle. I donned my very best western shirt. I was ready to boast my horse in front of the judge. Even if my horse wasn’t the most experienced or the most expensive, I had to get the judge to believe that he was. I had to get the judge to believe my horse was something that he wasn’t.
However, my horse decided that day that he wasn’t quite willing to cooperate. He was not having it and we very nearly cleared the fence. It is safe to say I did not convince the judge and all my “boasting” was in vain.
I feel like life is often like this. We find ourselves in circumstances where we try to prove our worth based on what we think others want. Like I was trying to convince the judge that my horse was the best show horse, we try to convince others that we are something that we are not.
In this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he tells them that what he is in the letters is also who he is in person (v.11). He is not trying to shine up the saddle to convince someone of who he is- his actions speak for who he is in his letters and in person.
He also tells the Corinthians that when we commend ourselves, we are not approved. When I tried to commend myself and the horse I was riding in front of the judge, it did not go so well.
When our goal becomes the approval of humans rather than the approval of God our focus becomes warped, and we lose sight of what truly matters. However, when our goal becomes the approval of God, we become commendable by God. And then rather than boasting in our own power, which always falls short, we can boast in the LORD and His everlasting power.
Can you think of a time when you tried to convince others you were someone you were not? Did it work? What were the consequences?
In what ways (or what areas of your life) do you seek the approval of men rather than the approval of God? What are the dangers of continuing in this pattern? How can you remember to be most concerned with how God is judging you, not what people think of you?
How will you practice boasting in the LORD and His everlasting power, today?
Jesus heals a man born blind with a spit-filled mudpie. Creative. Unexpected. A tiny bit gross.
Totally worth it though, I imagine, to the man who can now see.
What we’re going to focus on, however, is the reaction to this healing by the elite, the ultra-religious, the Pharisees. Because this man’s miraculous healing happened on the Sabbath, they’re a little put out. A lot, actually.
As they drill him for information about the person who healed him, he does pretty good holding his own:
“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
What they’re really saying is, “Who do you think you are?”
Matthew Poole’s commentary captures the attitude of their statement in this interpretation of their words:
Thou that art such a marked villain from thy mother’s womb, or that art such an ignorant idiot, dost thou think thyself fit to instruct us about true and false prophets, who are of God, and who are not? Surely we are to be thy teachers, and not thou ours.
It’s an indignant attitude, definitely an attitude of pride, wouldn’t you say? But we’ve all been there. We refuse the information because we don’t like the source. Maybe it’s because we feel superior (like the Pharisees). Or perhaps we simply don’t like them.
This passage reminds me of another time we can see the Pharisees’ pride shine a spotlight on their shame.
Luke describes a time that Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s home and a sinful woman anointed him. In chapter 7 it says that she was “at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.”
The passage goes on to describe how Jesus puts the shocked and indignant religious crowd in their place. He tells them that “her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.””
In both of these cases, we see beautiful examples of how Christ’s mercies are most valued by those who have felt the want of them. (Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 9:34)
There’s a song by Ten Shekel Shirt that captures this, I think. And it’s a good place to pause and reflect after this chapter.
I come to Your feet and weep Remembering how You changed me I kneel at Your feet humbly I pour out my love and my thanks
I am the one who’s been forgiven much I am the one who loves much
I sit at Your feet in peace Sensing a smile over me I’m here at Your feet gladly Giving my love and my thanks
I have a similar ailment to Naaman’s. No, not leprosy, but a pride that makes me want to be right, even sometimes to the point of thinking God (or the man of God) is doing it wrong if He/they aren’t following the step by step plans I designed. And, sometimes a pride like that leads to a bit of anger when our best laid plans are contradicted by an all-knowing and pretty creative God who also likes to witness our obedience.
So, here we have Naaman – the proud, leprous army commander of the country of Aram at the door of Elisha’s house. He had already humbled himself to listen to the captured Israelite servant girl who was sure Naaman could be healed of his dangerous skin disease if he got to the prophet of God in Samaria (capital city of Israel, Aram’s enemy). He had already secured from the king of Aram a very impressive payment (including 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold and 10 sets of clothing) for the one who could heal Naaman. He had already travelled by horse and chariot over 100 miles – first to the king of Israel (who was absolutely no help and was scared this was an enemy trap) – and now to the door of the prophet Elisha’s house.
Naaman has rehearsed in his mind how this is all going to go down. His life is about to be changed and the dreaded leprosy will be gone forever. So, he is completely caught off guard when Elisha instead of waving his magic wand (or hand) sends a servant out to him to tell him to go wash 7 times in the Jordan River which is another 30 miles down the road. 2 Kings 5:11 says, “But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. ‘” He went away angry because God’s plans didn’t match up with his. He had envisioned instant and easy healing – the wave of a holy man’s hand. He had faith it could be so – that was good. But he also had prideful arrogance that he should be the one to choose how God worked. And when his plans and God’s plans didn’t match up – then God must be wrong. God desired faith and simple obedience. Naaman had faith and a big helping of pride, arrogance and anger. Faith without obedience (deeds) is dead. He would rather live with his deadly leprosy than humble himself to obey and do it God’s way. And he walked away from the healing God had prepared for him.
Some stories tragically end this way. How devastating if Naaman’s story also ended with him angrily turning his back on the blessings God wanted to pour out on him in the dirty Jordan River. Luckily for Naaman, he had some bold and wise servants who calmly reasoned with him and convinced him to try it God’s way. And, when he had faith and obedience, he received the blessing and new life that he was searching for – because he humbled himself and did it God’s way.
God, please heal me of my pride. I don’t want my stubborn pride to get in the way of receiving your blessings. Help me to faithfully obey you, even if I had a different plan. I don’t have to be right – You are. Always.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Has there been a time your plans and expectations didn’t match up with God’s? How did you handle it?
Why do you think people tend to get mad at God when they don’t understand or abide by His plan? Have you seen some angrily walk away from God and the blessings He wanted to give? What wise and bold counsel would you offer?
How do you rate your own faith and obedience? How can you improve both your faith and your obedience?
Later in this chapter Gehazi gets into trouble because of his covetousness. Explain what happens to him and why? What other sins did he commit? Has wanting what others have ever gotten you into trouble? How do we avoid the great dangers of covetousness?
As we consider the second chapter of James today, the writer gives us another easily understood illustration, as he warns about an attitude of personal favoritism.
“My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the bright clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the good name by which you have been called?” (verses 1-7)
We must note that James is not saying we should ignore the rich in our Christian outreach. But he is saying rich people should not be elevated above others because of their bank accounts.
The result of the sin of favoritism is found in verse 9. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators.”
So what is the solution? Verse 8– “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
This is why I love the book of James. Simple and direct—easily understood.
A modern-day story I have heard several times fits right in here.
A Pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church where he was to be introduced as the head pastor that morning.
He walked around his soon-to-be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service– only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food — no one in the church gave him change.
He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people only to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements.
When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up to the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all that he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.
I hope this story moves you as it moved me. And James reiterates these thoughts in verses 14-17.
“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Faith without works is dead. They go hand in hand, like salt and pepper, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly. James’ impassioned words teach us that our faith should totally transform our lives and daily actions. Our faith should be reflected in the life we live. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” II Corinthians 5:17
James sums up his thoughts with two examples from the Old Testament, Abraham and Rahab. “Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God.” (verses 21-23)
We cannot imagine the agony Abraham faced on that mountain, preparing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. But he had ultimate trust, FAITH, in God and followed through with WORKS, laying Isaac on the altar before the ram was revealed for the burnt offering. “And as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”
Such an unfathomable example of faith and works, Abraham was called the friend of God, an honor bestowed on no one else in Scripture.
“In the same way, was Rahab the prostitute not justified by works also when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (verse 25) The account of Rahab is found in Joshua 2. Rahab hid the two spies Joshua sent into Jericho. This daring deed brought a rewarding outcome for Rahab and her family, as they were saved when Jericho was defeated by the Israelites. Rahab’s faith and actions blessed her descendants as she is found in the genealogy of Jesus.
James concludes his thoughts with verse 26. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
Without the breath of life, we are dead. Without a life of daily ACTIVE Christian living and service to others–our works— our faith is dead.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
The phrase “In that day” is used at least 7o times in the Old Testament – NIV version. Over half of those times (43 times) it is used by the prophet Isaiah – and four of those times is in today’s chapter 27. Clearly, “in that day” is one of Isaiah’s favorite topics and we can’t really discuss today’s reading without knowing a little more about this phrase. It is interesting to look at all the references Isaiah makes to this time period, not a 24 hour day. Simply go to BibleGateway.com (or your favorite Bible study website) and type in “In that day” in the search bar. If you add in the slightly more descriptive phrase, “The day of the Lord” you will get additional passages listed. Out of curiosity I also checked the KJV and found even more “In that day” passages in this version, including several in the New Testament, used by Jesus and Paul (including in the Thessalonians which we are also reading this week). It appears in the NIV New Testament the phrase is often changed to, “ON that day”. So, it’s talked about a lot, throughout Scripture – but, what is it talking about and why does it matter today?
As you look through the list of “In that day” passages, you find a lot of doom and gloom as a result of God’s judgment and punishment. For example, “In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword.” (Isaiah 27:1 NIV). It also appears that pride is often the culprit that leads to the judgment, “The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,” (Isaiah 2:11, and similarly in 2:17). Pride gets in the way and causes all sorts of trouble when we think we know better than God, when we forget about Him and His way and strike out in our own direction – towards destruction. Isaiah says it quite poetically in chapter 28, “You boast, ‘We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement…for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.'” (28:15 NIV) But they continue boasting and bragging, believing their lies as they get closer and closer to death. It seems they don’t even see the danger or care, they are so wrapped up in the lie that has become their false refuge.
Who do you see today who has boastfully made a lie their refuge? I have a few ideas, but what do you think?
I thought first of the movement who boastfully displays pride all over themselves as they try to hijack God’s symbol of hope and His sure promises while blatantly denying the truths of God’s creation: male and female. And, speaking of creation, what of those who make a lie their refuge as they turn from the Creator of heaven and earth and put all their trust in big bangs and chance mutations. There are also those who put great pride in the works of their hands, like the Israelites who were so proud of the capital city Samaria that they had built (and then indulged in the selfish and messy ‘pleasure’ of getting drunk in regularly). (Isaiah 28:1-4, 7-8). And, in their prideful lies they all miss Isaiah’s message that God’s judgment is coming…”in that day”.
And, while it is good to consider how these verses apply in our society, let me never forget to consider how it applies to ME personally TODAY. Where and when do I pridefully put myself and my wishes before God and His will? Do I allow pride in my Christian lifestyle or background to prevent me from loving others? How am I led astray by lies that I have put my trust in, lies about who God is or who He created me to be, what is right and what is wrong? When do I get so caught up in the busy-ness of today that I forget to remember what is coming…”in that day.
Remembering God’s righteous punishment that will be coming in that day can be good motivation to stop doing wrong. It can help me put away the pride and lies and selfish sins. The true threat of coming punishment can be powerful incentive. I know, I am a home-daycare provider. Sometimes it just takes mentioning time-out to make a child stop a moment, consider their actions and stop their misdeeds or tantrum.
But, that’s not all!
Rewards are a beautiful incentive to do what is right. As we look at the list of Isaiah’s use of “In that day” references, we see many exciting and glorious views of the future, following the punishment. Isaiah 27:13 says, “And in that day, a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” And in the next chapter, we read, “In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.” (Isaiah 28:5). It is such an encouragement to read through the passages describing the coming reward – the perfect Kingdom of God when He shall reign. In Isaiah’s “In that Day” passages of hope and a coming perfect joy and peace, he includes references to the coming Messiah and His role in his father’s Kingdom. (When you have time, it would be interesting to create a list of what other names and descriptions Isaiah uses for Jesus the Christ?) Rewards can sometimes do what threats can’t. It’s amazing to see how fast the daycare children focus on the work at hand and get all the toys picked up when there is the promise of a waiting treat.
We can be sure God’s threats are not empty, His punishments are just and the rewards He graciously gives we can’t earn but will be beyond all we can imagine! How will you prepare today for all that will come “in that day”? And, how can we help others to be prepared? Paul had some great ideas for the Thessalonians. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12,13 NIV)
Today we are going to look at two different groups of God’s people: those in Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah’s writing and those in Colosse at the time of Paul’s writing. Which will you be?
In many of the previous chapters of the book of Isaiah we read about God’s coming judgments on Israel and Judah’s neighbors and sometimes her enemies. It’s not all bad reading what disasters are coming to your wicked neighbors. Yay, God! Go get em! Show em who’s boss! But, it gets downright personal in chapter 22 as the prophecies of judgment and doom now center on Jerusalem, God’s Holy City. What did they do to deserve this? Well, much. Other scriptures tell of Jerusalem’s idol worship and shedding of innocent blood and even sacrificing their own children. But specifically in Isaiah 22 we are told of their pride and arrogance, their celebrations and their disregard for God. When they saw danger on the horizon they did everything in their own power to protect themselves, including tearing down houses to strengthen the wall and building reservoirs. “But, you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11 NIV). What would have changed if they had only called out to God for help?
God was waiting for His people to seek Him, to turn to Him, to cry out to Him, to confess and mourn and repent. But, instead, they were too busy. Busy with their preparations to save themselves. Busy with their sins. Busy with their celebrations and feasting and misplaced joy. Busy in their “town full of commotion…city of tumult and revelry.” (Isaiah 22:2 NIV).
They had abandoned God first. He was still calling out to them on that day (Isaiah 22:12). But, they were busy. They drowned out the sound of God’s voice with their sinful busy-ness and celebrations. So, His holy and righteous judgement was coming.
Contrast this tragic picture with what we read in Colossians 4 as Paul is closing out his letter to the church in Colosse with his final instructions and greetings. He urges the church, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2 NIV). And, while he’s got the people praying – he says pray for me, too. Paul requests prayers for open doors (not to physically get out of house arrests, but open doors to reach more people), for opportunities to proclaim Christ and for clear communication in his ministry. And further on, I love his description of Epaphras, “a servant of Jesus Christ…He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12 NIV). These people are busy, too – in prayer – in seeking God and in ministry . They are praying for their spiritual leaders and churches and those who will hear God’s message, and asking for prayer. Rather than ignoring God and drowning out His voice, they are seeking God regularly and whole-heartedly, coming to Him in prayer, always desiring to do more for Him and His Son.
Which group are you more like today?
Do you have see any similarities between yourself and God’s people in Jerusalem? Are you surrounded with so much commotion that you miss God’s voice calling out to you? Is he asking you to mourn when you are busy celebrating and feasting? Are you so caught up in your self-preservation preparations that you have neglected to call out to God? Do you rely on yourself instead of on God? When you see trouble coming do you invest time in creating a longer to-do list, throw a party, or fall to your knees before God? What would be different in your life and in your community if you called on Him in prayer instead of trying to do it your own way?
Do you see any similarities between yourself and God’s people in Colosse? Are you devoted to prayer, being watchful and thankful? Are you praying for open doors – not to get ahead or out of a jam – but to advance God’s gospel message? Are you busy praying for your Christian brothers and sisters and leaders and missionaries? Are you asking others to pray for your ministry? What would it look like if you spent time today wrestling in prayer?
Praying for you today – to Stand Firm in God’s Will, mature and fully assured
Paul is one of the few people who can write “Finally” and continue on writing for the same length that he had just written! He writes two chapters, puts “finally” and writes two more. Inspired as he is, obviously Paul thinks of most of what he writes from Philippians 3:1-4:7 as all one idea. To be fair, as you are reading today, he uses “finally” in chapter 4 as well. It reminds me of a “midwestern goodbye;” he keeps trying to end his conversation but doesn’t want to say goodbye just yet.
While Paul starts his writing in verse one on the happy note of “rejoice” in the Lord, he quickly moves to talk of things that we need to beware of and, I think, overcome. That means we need to live differently, have victory over, and to not be defeated by.
In two places in this chapter, Paul discusses two kinds of unfaithful people and the way they live. First, there are those whom he calls “dogs” and “evil workers”. These are both the Jews and the Judaizing Christians who believe they follow God because they are circumcised on the outside and think all must follow them. However, their pride and focus on the law is actually showing that they have a false circumcision (3:2). Paul says that we are the ones who truly follow God, who follow him with a “circumcised” (or pure) heart.
Secondly, there are those who have never come to faith of any kind. Instead of even trying to honor God through false rules and regulations, they focus on fulfilling their own desires, whether that is food, drink, or sex. They worship those desires as their god. Even, (maybe especially) in our world there are those who glorify their appetites that they indulge as “healthy”, “not-repressed”, and “liberating”. However, Paul weeps knowing that their end is not life, not joy, but destruction. (3:18-19)
We need to not be like either of those groups, but that means overcoming ourselves. True, we need to overcome the teachings of those who say following God is keeping a bunch of rules and regulations, but it is easy to feel good about ourselves because we did keep God’s word. It would be easy for Paul, for example, to glory in who he is. (3:4-6) He fulfilled all the credentials of what a successful Jew would be. But he considers it “dung” (skubala) if he might instead have Christ. He would count all these things rubbish in order to have the far greater, far surpassing righteousness of Christ. (3:7-9)
Once we know that our best attributes are only dung in comparison to Christ, we may say we might as well live terribly because we can never measure up. But Paul encourages us to strive to live rightly. Ever upward into the call of God in Christ. He says, though we will never be perfect, let us keep living by the same standard to which Christ has raised us. (3:12-16)
How to Hupernikao (Overcome)
How are we to overcome? How are we to not fall into the traps of being legalistic or being completely wild with our living? We need to live LIKE CHRIST! That should sound familiar! If we live like Christ, forgetting what lies behind and pressing on ahead (12-16) then we will be conformed to him. We will suffer the way he suffered, being mistreated on both sides. We will sound to0 gracious to the “judgmental” and too judgmental to the “gracious”. We won’t look like those who are legalistic and believe that rule following will save them. But we also won’t look like those who believe that everything is OK and permissible.
But this is the way Jesus lived. He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners and yet told them they needed to stop sinning. If we live like him, we will face the suffering he faced, we may even be conformed to him in death. (3:10) But the GLORIOUS news is that if we are connected to him, believe in him, and live like him, we will ALSO be raised with him. If we die with him, we will also live with him. (3:11, cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-13)
It is because we have a savior who will raise us up, and glorify us as he rules over all things that Paul can say, in Philippians 4:1 “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” Because we have a savior who will redeem us, we can rejoice in the Lord and we can be the joy of those who have trained us in the way we should go.
May you, my brothers and sisters, overcome those who tell you to be more strictly following all the right rules that only they seem to know.
May you overcome those who say live with abandon and do whatever it is that makes you happy and fulfills you.
May you overcome the desires in yourself that push in you in those directions.
May you instead be conformed to the life, suffering, death, and ultimately resurrection of Christ, as you seek to live like him.
May you forget what lies behind, press on ahead, and retain the standard, while only trusting in Christ’s sacrifice to save you.