Yesterday, we read about how the Thessalonians turned from their idols to serve the one true God. However, this caused some problems to arise for them. Those around them still worshiped the idols and chose to persecute them. But Paul has advice for them on how to continue to stand firm in their faith in the midst of all this opposition.
At the very beginning of the chapter, in the first two verses, Paul explains that they came to witness to the Thessalonians right after they had faced persecution in Philippi. Paul says that in Philippi they faced much suffering and mistreatment. He continues to say that in Thessaloniki they continued to face lots of opposition when they worked to spread the gospel.
Many people would have stopped after facing serious persecution in one city. Many more would have stopped when they saw the opposition against them in the next city. But Paul and his companions continued to spread the gospel throughout all these hardships. By telling the Thessalonians about his problems, Paul encourages them by showing that it is possible, when you have God, to stand firm in the faith and to continue doing God’s will. We should let this also encourage us because we know that Paul, in the midst of all the troubles of this world, continued to be one of the greatest witnesses to the whole world.
Paul continues by describing their attitudes in sharing the gospel, even while they were faced with persecution. In verse 7, he describes themselves as “gentle among [them], as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” Paul, later in verse 12, explains why they acted in that manner. He says that it was “so that [the Thessalonians] would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls [them] into His own kingdom and glory.”
In the midst of suffering and persecution, many people would have acted in anger against those who were causing this. However, by doing this you are more likely to drive people away from God than you would be to bring them to Him. But, when you act as Paul and his companions did, being gentle in the midst of persecution, you become an imitator of God, showing love to those who are your enemies. Through this love, people will come to know God and walk in the way that God has called them to walk.
While this letter may have been written to the Thessalonians, it doesn’t apply only to them. We also need to make sure that we are not letting persecution stop us from doing God’s will. When we continue to do the work that God has called us to do in the midst of opposition, we need to make sure that we do it in the attitude of love and gentleness.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What encouragement do you gain from hearing Paul’s testimony?
Can you think of a time you faced opposition while spreading the gospel? Did it stop you – or did you continue, with God’s help? If you can’t think of a time you were spreading the gospel – how can you start now?
Paul says, “We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NIV). Can you say the same? Are there any areas where you slip into people pleasing mode rather than concentrating on what God wants to see from you? How does this relate to spreading the gospel?
Back when I was a child, at Church camp when you stood in line for a meal they made you say a Bible verse. Us young boys learned that John 11:35 was the “go to verse” for quick memorization: “Jesus wept.” A two word verse, easy to memorize- boom “Jesus wept!” the legal requirements are met, now can I eat?
Bonus round—what is the shortest book in the Bible? 2 John or 3 John depending on how you measure it. 2 John has the fewest verses, 3 John has the fewest words. For fun sake, Obadiah is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament). We can argue about anything, can’t we?
But there is no argument about the longest chapter in the Bible- Psalms 119 is the big winner. Psalm 119 has 176 verses. Compare that to the shortest chapter in the Bible – Psalm 117 which has only 2 verses. Not only is Psalm 119 unique because of its length, but its structure is quite unique as well. Psalm 119 is written as an acrostic poem. It is made up of 22 sections which are 8 verses each and each section begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with the first Hebrew letter “aleph” and ending with the final Hebrew letter, “taw”. This was likely a device that helped the student to memorize the Psalm, which good little Jewish boys and girls did.
Obviously with 176 verses we can’t look at the whole Psalm in one brief devotion and we won’t even try. I’ll just point out something basic for you to consider and then focus on one section in some detail.
Something basic for us to consider is that this Psalm is devoted to an appreciation of God’s Word. Different Hebrew words are used in the Psalm including “Torah”, which can mean: “teaching, direction, guidance and law”; “Debar” which means “word” and “Misva” which means commandment or ordinance. The entire Psalm is devoted to having a love for God’s word or commands or teaching. This clear expression of love for God’s word is important. In many places in the Bible, beginning in the Old Testament in places like Deuteronomy 6:5 , we are told to love the LORD/YHWH/God with all of our hearts. Here in Psalm 119 we are told to also love God’s Word or teaching. Vs. 97 says “O how I love your ‘Torah’ (law/teaching) I meditate (think about/ponder deeply) on it all day long.”
I don’t know about you but there are only a few things that I’ve ever thought about literally “all day long”. (One of them was my wife back when we first began dating, and another may or may not be Krispy Kreme hot donuts-they are beautiful and delicious and hot). You usually only think about something constantly if it’s someone/thing that you really, really love a lot, or something that you are really, really worried about. In the case of Psalm 119 it’s clear that the writer is thinking about God’s Word all day long because he/she loves that Word.
Is there a difference between loving God and loving God’s Word? In one way, yes. There are people who diligently study the Bible simply as literature or history. They tear it apart and analyze it like someone might dissect an animal or human cadaver or look at tiny things in a microscope. But in this case, the person writing the Psalm loves God’s Word and thinks constantly about God’s Word because it’s God’s Word and this person loves God wholeheartedly so he also loves God’s teaching, instructions, commandments. Jesus would later tell his disciples “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15).
Let’s go back to that thing that I said I have literally thought about all day long (not the Krispy Kreme donut, but my wife, Karen, who is also beautiful, delicious, hot and begins with a K- sorry, but I needed to include that in order to embarrass any of my adult children who might be reading this devotion today, you’re welcome). Because I love my wife I usually try to pay attention to the words she speaks to me. (I’ll admit, I’m not always perfect on this, but in my defense, sometimes she’s just talking to herself and I have to clarify who the intended listener is, me or herself, sometimes I miss the things that I’m supposed to hear). Part of love is paying attention to the words spoken by the one we love. So, for the Psalmist, he loved God so he also loved God’s word. So for Jesus, if we love him we also need to keep his commandments/teaching/words. So the overall theme of Psalm 119 is “I love God and so I also love God’s word.”
The section of Psalm 119 I want you to think about is the second section- verses 9-16 which begins with the Hebrew letter “Beth” ב. It begins with a question and answer: “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?” That’s a great question and reveals the important desire that forms the content of this person’s heart. They love God so much that they want to know how to keep on the right path, the path of purity. They want to know how to live a life that is pleasing in the sight of God. The answer is by living according to God’s word. If a person wants to walk a path that is pleasing to God then he or she needs to follow the word of God. God has revealed to us, by His word, how to live a life that is pleasing to him. We need to follow that path.
In order to stay on that path of purity we must be intentional. We need to seek God with all of our heart. Why do I want to pay attention to and follow God’s word? Because I’m seeking God with my whole heart. How do we avoid falling into sin? By putting God’s word deep into our hearts. He speaks about the Law with strong emotional words: joy (rejoice), meditate and delight. For him staying on a path that is pleasing to God brings him such joy that he is thinking deeply about God’s word all of the time and finds his delight in doing what God’s word says.
You can love someone’s words without loving the person, but you really can not love a person if you don’t also care deeply about the words they use to convey what is important and meaningful to them. The next time you look at your Bible, consider this: out of all the trillions of words that have ever been spoken or written in the history of the world, these words contained in this Bible are the words that were spoken by God to human beings in order that we might know, love and serve God. So why would we not love the words that come from the God that we love, and why would we not obey the words that come from the God that we love?
Do you want to keep your way each day pure (pleasing in God’s sight). Then pay attention to those words each day, think deeply about them, immerse yourself in them, delight in them, find joy in reading and obeying them because you love those words because they are the words of the God you love.
Which words from today’s reading (Psalm 119) will you choose to think deeply about?
Which words from today’s reading will you take special delight in thinking about?
Which words from today’s reading will bring you the most joy?
How will these words from God help you when you find yourself tempted to go in a direction that is not in keeping with loving God?
God, as we know, is all powerful. He freed the people from a land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2) God is a loving God, but he can be a jealous god. (Exodus 20:5). He can show us just how powerful he is. (Exodus 20:5-7,25-26) When I was younger, I was always confused by the saying “Fear God”. As I got older I have come to better understand this. We aren’t to fear God like we are the devil, but we are to fear him because we know His strength and power. We are supposed to fear Him so that it keeps us from sinning.
He has shown us and told us what we are to do and not to do. We are to honor our mother and father. We are not to commit murder. We are not to commit adultery. We are not to steal or give false testimony against our neighbor. These are just a few of the commandments. In order to follow these God wants us to fear His power and in a way fear disappointing him. He is our Father in heaven. It’s the same fear we should have for our earthly parents. Exodus 20 is a great chapter because it shows us all the things we should do to please God.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Look closely at the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). How would you describe each commandment in your own words? Now consider, why do you think God included each of these commandments?
What is the overall subject of the first 4 commandments? And of the last 6? Which do you generally find more challenging – having a good relationship with God or having good relationships with people? While recognizing the importance of all 10, choose one commandment from the first 4 and one commandment from the last 6 to focus on this week. How will you better align your thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions with these commandments?
Can you think of a time the fear of God kept you from sinning? Explain. Can you think of a time you should have feared God more? Explain. How can you work on developing a healthy fear of the LORD?
In this first chapter of Exodus, we see that the Israelites are viewed as a formidable threat due to their increasing numbers. There was a great fear that the Israelites would continue to multiply and if war were to break out, they would choose to join with Egypt’s enemies and eventually leave the country. In verse 16, we read of the horrific remedy that the king of Egypt concocted and delivered to the midwives: “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”
We then read with great relief in verse 17 that the midwives “feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.”
Do we always have the courage to do what is right in the eyes of God—even at great risk and cost to ourselves? We might think that we would never be put in such a dire predicament, but I believe our faith is tested in both big and small ways. Our faithfulness in the “small things” can actually speak to the overall health of our faith. As stated in Luke 16:10, “The one who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much; and the one who is unrighteous in a very little thing is also unrighteous in much.” Imagine you are eating dinner at a restaurant and you notice the server forgot to charge you for that delicious artichoke and spinach appetizer. Do you think, “Ha! It’s my lucky day!” or do you remember that the right thing to do in the eyes of our Heavenly Father is to pay for everything that you ordered?
I have a theory. I think that it might actually be easier to make the right choice in dire circumstances as opposed to authentically living out our faith on a daily basis amidst the small trials and challenges of life that constantly wash up against us. Have you ever been in the ocean or even in a tidal pool at a water park and found it hard to regain your footing after getting knocked down by a wave? Even the smallest of waves can wipe us out and deplete us of strength if we don’t feel like we can catch our breath between the waves. Psalm 42 gives us some comfort for these times:
6 “My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you in the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. 8 By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.”
May we be encouraged by this reminder that God’s song is with us and that He rewards our faithfulness. Verses 20-21 of Exodus 1 demonstrates how God rewarded the faithfulness of the Hebrew midwives: “So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.”
May our goal always be to please our Heavenly Father in the big and “small” things and to lean into Him when the waves of challenge sweep over us.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Do you find it difficult to live out your faith authentically when faced with the big and small challenges of life?
How can we better lean into God during times of challenge?
Which heroes of the faith inspire you with how they leaned into God during times of trouble?
I think we all have flirted with the “best by” dates on food products. Some of us have done it out of necessity, others maybe more out of laziness, but there is no doubt that some are more sensitive to these subjective guidelines . I personally give it a sniff and stir test. Looking for foul odors or curious textures before giving it a taste. The level of craving or hunger often determines how much flexibility I will give. At work, I still haven’t lived down a tub full of moldy hummus I ate because I didn’t want to waste it. I should have just kept my mouth shut (well open really, I was eating), but alas, here I am telling another audience. Surely, the carrots, celery, and apple I was enjoying with the hummus offset any of the negative consequences. I am willing to eat leftovers, perform sniff tests, down some soft grapes, because when I do this, I give my family an opportunity to buy healthy fresh foods, and treat them to a pleasing sit-down meal from time to time. This Outback Dinner was brought to you by the goat cheese that sat on the bottom of the meat drawer for weeks and the awful cauliflower-something dish that no one else would eat. Nevertheless, it would seem a bit more detestable if I only treated myself alone and made my family eat the stuff growing hair in the back of the fridge.
When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. – Malachi 1:8
Now to frame these choices into a different context. Is this the way we are treating our relationship with God? Are we giving him the leftovers, the surplus of our pantry, or the rejects of our storehouse? Is there an allotted time that you are giving God each day for prayer? Or do you pray when you have time. Or if you get up early. Or when you’re in the car alone. Are you only tithing what you have left after you pay your bills? And that is only if there is anything left. Or maybe not this month because things are tight. Are you filling the church with single-ply toilet paper when you have triple-ply at your house? Or bringing your recipe-gone-wrong to the potluck? Or going to church only when it’s convenient to your and your kids schedule? Or donating things because you didn’t like the style anyways? If you answered yes to any of these, what you are giving God is going to require a sniff and stir test; your offering may be lame. Your discipleship is growing mold and diseased. When we are talking about God, we give him the firstfruits. The unblemished. Simply the best we have (which still is the equivalent to nothing) but it is fragrant to God and His desires. He acknowledges the sacrifice when we bring it with a merciful heart. He sees the effort we are making to have a relationship with Him. Our offering is not animals or crops, it is our time, our effort, or energy, our money, and our stuff.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:32
God didn’t skimp on salvation. He didn’t provide someone who was expendable. He didn’t choose someone who was already terminally ill. He didn’t choose a criminal. He picked the firstfruits, or as Colossians 1 says the firstborn of all creation, meaning before it all, God had already set aside the sacrifice of His son for our sins. He picked the best. The only man unblemished by the disease of sin. This is our example of what sacrifice should look like. Even though we don’t live in the age of sacrifice, giving first, going without, but most importantly showcasing with our very best effort our desire for God is still a beautiful way to show our love for Him and our request to receive the magnificence of his mercies. He doesn’t require our sacrifice, but he desires our worship.
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
On a final note, the best of God’s plan is yet to come. The richness in store for us is beyond anything we would do without now. Again and again, as you read the blueprints of the Kingdom in Revelation 21, you will be blown away by the preparations God has made. The God outside of time has taken all of His time to make something beyond all fathom, wealth, and existence. Wow! Consequently, when your sacrifice is from the healthiest choice, you are going to miss some fun. You will have to wake up early or stay up late. You will have to do without some luxuries, or even believed necessities. There is still a greater inherent blessing from knowing, serving, and honoring God in the reheated stuff that this life is made of in a corrupt, sinful world. But God…Oh, how God! He is pouring His very best into what is to come.
Even though Revelation 14 was part of yesterday’s reading, I waited to comment on it until today so we could contrast the fate of those who submit to the antichrist from Revelation 14 with the fate of those who resist the antichrist in Revelation 15.
Rev 14: 9-12 tells us, “…If anyone worships the beast [the antichrist] and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he too will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name. This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”
In a nutshell, no matter how bad it will get for Christians, including being martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus, the punishment for the wicked will be infinitely worse. This will call for patience and endurance on the part of Christians – when given the choice between “the good life” of following the antichrist, or torture and death for remaining faithful to Jesus.
By contrast, we read in Revelation 15:2-3, “And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.””
Every one of us has a choice to make. Usually these choices are in little things – would God approve of this or that that I’m doing? As we consistently choose to live for God, it gets easier to make the right choices. Eventually, making the right choices will be really tough. If we don’t develop the discipline now, we’ll never be able to endure when times get tough.
This reminds me of Moses’ challenge to the Israelites just before his death, as recorded in Deuteronomy 30:15, “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”
Paul fits so much into the 18 verses of 1 Thessalonians 4. The chapter is probably best known for laying out the great hope Christians have of the coming of Christ when the dead in Christ shall rise from death to meet their resurrected Lord Jesus at the trumpet call of God. (Remember, “a great trumpet sounding” and a fabulous reunion on God’s holy mountain was also mentioned in yesterday’s reading of Isaiah 27). This indeed will be a moment in time like no other – a celebration like never before – ushering in a Kingdom beyond what we can imagine! Today is a great day to be reminded. Today marks the 6th year that my dad, Pastor Ray Hall, has been dead in the ground. We miss him greatly. But we do not grieve as those with no hope. We look forward to the day of Jesus’ return when the graves will be opened and the dead in Christ will rise to new life! And those believers who are still alive will join in the party. It is a great day to look forward to!
And in the meantime, there is work to be done. Paul cautions against idly waiting. He says stay busy, work with your hands, mind your own business, support yourselves, so you will be a good witness to outsiders – those who currently have no hope for the future, dead or alive.
And, there’s more…in fact, twice in the first ten verses Paul uses the phrase, “More and more”. Do it again. Over and over. An ever increasing spiral. More and more.
The first time Paul uses the phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 is in connection to how we are “to live in order to please God”. Do it more and more. This was my dad’s goal. Even up to what would be the last week of his life, from his hospital bed, when the nurse asked him what his goal was for the day, his goal was to please God. Good answer, dad! I’m guessing it’s not an answer she heard much. People want to be comfortable and pain-free, they want good health, they want good food, they want companionship, they want freedom to pursue personal pursuits, they want to get out of the hospital. But how would our lives look different if our very first and most pressing goal was to please God? And, not just once in a lifetime, or on Sundays, or when convenient, or when you have free-time, or when you feel well, but to strive to live a life that is pleasing to God, and to do it more and more.
If pleasing God is our goal, it becomes very important to know what pleases God. We obviously don’t have time in this devotion to list everything possible, and nor did Paul in his letter. But he did take time to write about the importance of avoiding sexual sins, controlling lusts and living pure, holy lives, for there is punishment coming for those who don’t.
The second thing Paul wanted to see more and more from the Thessalonians was brotherly love. He commended them for learning how to love from the best lover and teacher of all time – God himself. (Isaiah also wrote about God instructing and teaching the right way – Isaiah 28:26. How and what are you learning from Him?) I am still working on learning how to love from God and the loving Christian earthly (but far from worldly) parents He gave me – all 4 of them. Dad did teach some great lessons in brotherly love – making time for people (even when you are tired or had other plans), showing grace and second chances (because grace has been given to us), providing for needs (whether it might be a ride to work, a meal, or a visit) and teaching God’s word (because without it, people will perish and have no hope).
More and More. Live to please God.
More and More. Love others.
It’s a great way to spend our time while we wait in eager expectation for the trumpet to announce the arrival of the King, the resurrection of the dead and the beginning of the Kingdom of God. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!
I really just wanted to talk about Colossians today. But, I couldn’t. I try to avoid embarrassing discussions of nakedness. But, today I can’t.
Isaiah 20 is an incredibly short though (at least for me) difficult chapter to read. And it is one I definitely don’t remember learning in Sunday School class growing up. We learned about Isaiah, the faithful servant of God who had a powerful calling from God. When he saw a vision of God’s majesty he crumbled in unworthiness and guilt, but then God cleansed him with a burning coal to his lips and Isaiah boldly declared, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). We knew Isaiah wrote lots of chapters with many warnings and some beautiful passages of the promised Messiah. But, we didn’t know about the humiliation of chapter 20.
Today we read, “At that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, ‘Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.’ And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.” (Isaiah 20:2 NIV). No, argument is recorded. Just obedience. “And he did so.” And, it wouldn’t just be for the day or even a week – but for three years! Commentaries kindly mention he would still have had a loin cloth (a.k.a – underwear). But that’s not too reassuring to Isaiah, his family, or his readers today.
It is natural to ask WHY, God? There has to be a reason why a loving God would ask His faithful servant to go through this embarrassing and painful object lesson for three long years. In this case I believe God was having Isaiah dramatically get the people’s attention to remind them just how degrading and dehumanizing their lives would be as prisoners of war (who were often marched around in such fashion). And, that is what they will become if they choose to forsake the Lord and put their trust instead in foreign ungodly allies like Egypt and Cush.
It makes me wonder – what am I willing to do for God? What amount of personal pain, sorrow, and humiliation am I willing to endure in order to be doing what God has asked of me? Am I more concerned about what men will think of my service to God, or what God would say? Certainly Isaiah would have never lasted for three nearly naked years if he held in greater regard the approval, understanding or encouragement of his peers over pleasing God.
Could I have done what Isaiah did? I think when faced with God’s awesome majesty I could say, “Here am I. Send me!”. After all, it sounds like pretty good resume material to be a messenger for God – I bet it’s a job that comes with some great benefits, too. I would even name my baby boy Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (meaning quick to the plunder, swift to the spoils) just as Isaiah did for God. That is an object lesson I feel I would willingly participate in, even though others might laugh and ridicule my choice. But, is there a cut off line where my loyalty and devotion to God would end? Is there a job He could ask of me that I would say ‘no’ to? I hope not.
Too often when we sign on for a position working for the Almighty, we try to choose what it will look like. “I will go here for God and do this for God.” And everyone will be amazed. But, sometimes, God has different plans. Bigger plans. Sometimes, more confusing plans. Sometimes, plans that will take you far out of your comfort zone and even into the midst of personal pain, loss, turmoil, and ridicule.
While the apostle Paul never faced the exact same jobs Isaiah endured, he also gained a lot of experience facing trials and difficulties, misunderstanding and persecution while following God, and His Son Jesus. He wrote in Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We can learn a thing or two from both Paul and Isaiah about serving the Lord.
What would you do for God?
Maybe, you are interested in writing a day of devotions? This week was going to be covered by a young pastor from Indiana, but instead…he is anticipating a slightly early arrival of his first son – so if anyone would like to write for a day -contact Marcia at email@example.com. And, remember the growing Paul family in your prayers.
Often I think that mowing the lawn is pointless. Why do we mow lawns? Who decided for all of us that it is just something we have to do? Wouldn’t the grass and weeds exist happily without being cut down every week during the warmer months? How does it really benefit me or anyone to mow the lawn? Also, it’s time consuming, and costs money for gas and to maintain the mower.
Yet, I cave to societal expectations and take reasonable care of my lawn. It isn’t so bad. Often it is enjoyable, and can be therapeutic or meditative. It’s a chance to sort out my thoughts. But still, there are so many things on the list of things I’d rather be doing.
We could all come up with lists of what we think is pointless. It would be an easy project. The harder project would be to see what is left over. What actually matters? What has true significance?
This is the question brought to the table by the book of Ecclesiastes. Our Qoheleth (Hebrew for teacher) is beginning to let us know about all the things he thinks are pointless, and there are a lot of them. All the work we do is pointless, because you can’t take the results with you when you die. Someone else gets all of it (2:18). The pursuit of wisdom is pointless because “in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow” (1:18). The pursuit of pleasures is pointless too, like chasing after the wind. He tried all of them, and gained nothing from it.
Are these things bad? The teacher doesn’t say that. Surely working is something we have to do, otherwise we can’t provide for ourselves or our families. Wisdom and knowledge are positive things. Isn’t it beneficial to understand things? Pleasure is a good thing given a few healthy boundaries. We all need opportunities to appreciate and enjoy the good things in life.
The teacher does mention a few things that might be worthwhile: eating, drinking, and enjoying your work. They are from the hand of God, he says. Also on the list of not-so-pointless things is pleasing God. This is a good start. If we think about it long enough, maybe we can figure out what the essence of something meaningful is. Could we decide what is meaningful or not based on a set of criteria? I currently don’t have a good method of deciding this, but I’d like to get better at recognizing what is meaningful and what is not.
What if we spent more time thinking about and pursuing things that are truly meaningful? Doesn’t that allow us to focus our efforts on things that will actually benefit us and others? If only it was easy to know what those things are. We constantly have to prioritize the many options for how we could spend our time, whether we consciously think about it or not. The teacher is not giving us a complete guide for what should take priority, but he is challenging us to think about it.
Looking at Galatians 1, we might be able to pick out a few things the apostle Paul thinks are pointless. Perverting the gospel, being a people-pleaser, persecuting the church, and climbing up the ladder of Judaism all could make his list. What does Paul think is worthwhile? Serving and proclaiming Christ! As we continue on through Ecclesiastes and Galatians, maybe we will get more insights into what these authors think is important, and by doing so, improve our understanding of what God thinks is important.
As Marcia mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, many of us were at Midwest Family Camp last week, where the theme was “Stand Firm”. In a nutshell, if we don’t have a relationship with the Lord, it is critical that we repent and come into a relationship with Him. If we already have a relationship with the Lord, we need to strengthen that relationship, and stand firm in the faith – no matter what.
In today’s reading in Proverbs 28, there are a few verses that jumped out at me which reinforced that message. The first is found in Proverbs 28: 9, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.” This proverb tells us that if we’re not doing everything to live the life God called us to live, if we’re not following his rules, then He won’t listen to our prayers. Since many of our prayers are about asking for God’s help with various things, if we selfishly want Him to answer our prayers, then we need to obey His rules, and live for Him. As we grow in relationship with Him, we come to long for an even deeper relationship with the Lord. Then we learn that prayer is powerful, and we don’t waste it just asking for superfluous things.
Proverbs 28:13 goes on to say, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” This is saying if we pretend to be Christians, we won’t prosper (you can’t fool God). But if we confess and renounce our sins, and turn completely to God, we will receive God’s mercy. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have His mercy than to have Him holding me back from prospering.
As we continue to read through this chapter, we get to verse 20, which says, “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.” I’ll take a detour here and comment on the health and wealth teachings we often hear from people who don’t know better. The theory goes sort of like this… “if someone follows God, God will bless every aspect of their life. They will be rich, healthy, and blessed.” Many people who call themselves Christians subscribe to this false belief. Jesus told us in John 16:33, “…In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” We have to remember this life isn’t our reward. This life is the test to see what reward we will receive when Jesus returns. If we are faithful to the Lord now, we will enjoy peace with God now, and eternal life when Jesus returns. If we are just trying to get rich, we are actually worshiping money, not God — our reward is in this life, and we will forfeit eternal life.
1 Tim 6:9-11 says, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and have pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.”
Instead of trying to get rich, we need to follow the advice given in Proverbs 28:27, “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.” Again, I think the idea is that if I’m greedy, wanting to keep all my money for myself, I’m not trying to please God, I’m just greedy for money, and God will curse me for not following Him. But if I’m generous with the things God has given me by giving them to the poor — this mimics God’s generosity to me. When I am imitating God, God loves that. In fact we’re commanded in Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.”
So the bottom line is this. We need to do everything we can to reconcile ourselves to God. We need to confess and renounce our sins, obey His laws, be faithful, and be generous. All these things are required to live in close relationship with God. And if we live in a close relationship with God, we will have peace with God in this life, and an amazing reward in the life to come. In Rev 21:4, we’re told, “He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” Rev 21:7 goes on to say, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”