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get the big picture

Yesterday, I said that believers tend to be shortsighted. As a result, we don’t always get the big picture. In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells the Philippians about the big picture.

Many of us enjoy reading our favorite authors and bloggers. We enjoy our listening to our favorite podcasts. We enjoy our favorite Bible teachers. The people, Bible teachers, podcasts, etc. that we align ourselves with could be called our “tribe”. Everyone is a part of a tribe.

We tend to think our tribe is the best. As a result, we don’t often associate with other tribes. We don’t read other authors. We don’t listen to other podcasts. We don’t expose ourselves to other Bible teachers.

I think one of the biggest downsides to all of this is, since we think our tribe is the best, we think the other tribes are less desirable and even to be avoided in some cases. Such was the case with some who were preaching the gospel in Philippi. Paul says,

To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. Philippians 1:15–17 (CSB)

Paul says, “Yes, some Bible teachers have wrong motives. Some are selfish. Some are vindictive and downright mean.” But look at his next statement.

What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice Philippians 1:18 (CSB)

Paul tells the church at Philippi to step back a bit and take a look at the big picture. He would say, “Not every one of these Bible teachers is correct in all they say and they way they say it. Not every one of these Bible teachers is even sincere and some even want to desparrage my name while I’m locked up in prison. But as you take a few steps back, you’ll see that Jesus is being lifted up, even by the meanspirited and envious ones. And that’s what matters.”

Paul knew that it wasn’t about him; it’s about Jesus. And so long as Jesus is being exalted, it doesn’t matter what people think of him.

The Christian group, Casting Crowns has a song that I believe Paul would sing if given a microphone. In “Only Jesus”, singer Mark Hall sings, “I don’t want to build a legacy. I don’t care if they remember me. Only Jesus.”

Application

I know it’s hard to give grace to other people, especially people who don’t always want the best for me. But Paul would say, “Don’t worry about that. Just keep your eyes on Jesus and aim to make His name famous.”

That’s a good reminder for all of us.

Enjoy the song I referred to earlier, “Only Jesus”

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Be kind

In today’s Bible reading, Paul highlights the fact that his ministry isn’t about him. He constantly points out that he is reaching out to others. His focus is never about him.

He emphasizes here (and elsewhere) that one of his purposes — and one of our purposes — is to build up other people. Look at Social Media. Look at TV shows. Look at movies. Look at the headlines. Putting people down is everywhere. It seems that every month (every week?) another teen has made a really bad choice because he/she was bullied on Social Media. “Be Kind” seems to be the motto of the day.

Application

We shouldn’t have to be reminded to be kind. (Ephesians 4:32) We shouldn’t have to be reminded that it’s not about us. but Paul reminds us anyway.

Who can you build up today? Maybe it’s a family member. Maybe it’s a friend. Maybe it’s a coworker. Maybe it’s a complete stranger. Building up someone is never a bad thing to do.

And be kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving one another,
just as God also forgave you in Christ.

Ephesians 4:32 (CSB)

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chosen by God

Before we begin with today’s devotional on our Bible reading, we need to start with a basic understanding. It’s crucial that all discussion of justification begins with this basic thought: God is God and I’m not (and neither are you).

So much discussion in churches and Bible studies — and just basic conversation — is very man-centered, and not God-centered. Look at a lot of evangelism training. A lot of it is merely sales training. “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to pray this prayer so you can go to heaven?”

Seriously? Where is the thought of counting the cost of following Jesus? Where is repentance? Is God even in the equation?

It is of utmost importance that when we’re talking about any theological issue, we approach it from a God-centered, Bible-based position. It’s all about God! And it’s all about His initiating a relationship with His fallen creation. If you’ve been around church for a long time, you’ve probably sung, “O, how I love Jesus … Because He first loved me.” Note the order.

In some people’s minds, Romans 9 shouldn’t even be in the Bible because it sounds like God is too harsh and it seems to contradict a lot of what we think the Bible teaches. But God inspired Paul to write this chapter. And we must take it as seriously as God does.

God says some pretty blunt things through Paul’s pen:

Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Romans 9:6b (CSB)

As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau. Romans 9:13 (CSB)

What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For he tells Moses, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display my power in you and that my name may be proclaimed in the whole earth. So then, he has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden. Romans 9:14–18 (CSB)

A few days ago, I mentioned the doctrine of depravity. That anyone would believe and be saved is a miraculous work of God. For anyone to be saved from eternal punishment demonstrates that God is completely gracious and merciful. That anyone would even be interested in the things of God is a miraculous, sovereign work of God. (John 6:44)

If we are truly depraved to the core of who we are — even to the point of having a depraved will (Romans 9:16) — then it requires a miraculous, sovereign work of God for anyone to be saved.

These are all hard words because we have heard so many times that “God is a God of love”, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, and “God wouldn’t want anyone to go to hell.”

God spells it out clearly and in so many words that He will be merciful to whomever He chooses to be merciful. (Romans 9:14, 18; Exodus 33:19)

Look, I don’t understand why God would choose to be merciful to some people and to choose to not be merciful to some other people. But I have to let Him handle that one. Remember, I’m not God! And neither are you. There are some things that we just don’t — and won’t — understand. And God never says that He owes us an explanation! But I know that God always works according to His infinite wisdom and will always use everything to bring honor and glory to His name. (Romans 9:17) God is in heaven and does what pleases Him. (Psalm 115:3)

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33–36 (CSB)

I don’t know to whom He will choose to be merciful, so I have be ready to tell everybody about my hope in Christ. (1Peter 3:15) Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19-20). He promised Holy-Spirit-equipping-power for believers to take the gospel around the world. (Acts 1:8)

Application

If you are a believer, you have been chosen by God to be one of His adopted children. That’s fantastic news!

God didn’t choose you because you did something that other people didn’t do or because you didn’t do something that other people did. God didn’t choose you because of any good that He saw in you. No, He chose you despite the lack of good in you. (Romans 7:18)

God didn’t choose you because you chose Him. In fact, Jesus saidYou did not choose me, but I chose you.” John 15:16a (CSB)

Praise God for His goodness and mercy that He has shown in choosing you.
And pray that He will use you to tell other people about His goodness and mercy.

For further reading, see Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:4,7; Deuteronomy 2:30; Joshua 11:20; John 12:40; Romans 11:7,25

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It never ceases to amaze me. Despite Jesus’ clear words in today’s Bible reading, people still think they’ve figured out when Jesus will return.

Pre-millennial. A-millennial. Post-millennial. Pre-Trib. Post-Trib. Mid-Trib. The theological term is eschatology, the study of the End Times. I admit it, I’m not convinced of the details of the End Times. But I do know that Jesus will return for His bride.

Jesus gives us things to look for, but He never tells us when but He says you can tell the seasons by looking at a fig tree. (Matthew 24:32)

Why would Jesus not tell his disciples when He will return? Well, for one thing, He didn’t know! (Matthew 24:36) Other than that, I think the most convincing reason He didn’t tell them/us when He will return is that He knows our hearts. He knows that if He said He wouldn’t return until the Twenty-First Century, the missions movement of the past one hundred-fifty years probably wouldn’t have taken place. We think we can wait until the last minute to get right with God and get busy with Kingdom affairs.

Look around. Do you see a sense of urgency in the lives of churches around your town? Do you see a sense of urgency in the lives of the leaders in those churches?

Application

There’s no reason to fear the end-times … if you are a believer. Your eternal destiny is secure. But if you aren’t a believer, you have a lot to fear! Don’t hesitate! No one knows when Jesus will return! And no one knows when their own time is up! Don’t wait! Get right with God now!

Now, if you are a believer, your work isn’t done yet! Sure, your eternity is secure, but don’t you want to bring as many into the Kingdom of God as possible (here and now, as well as then!)? If you have breath in your lungs and if your heart is still beating, your work isn’t done yet! You can still tell people about Jesus. And you can still pray! Pray for God to create a spiritual awakening, that people will be drawn to Christ and that believers will pursue Gospel-centered conversations with lost friends and loved ones.

No, the work of God’s people is not yet done yet. And Jesus won’t return until it is. So, let’s engage in His business until He returns! (Luke 19:13)

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Up front, I want to apologize for this long post. It is by far the longest I have ever written. But like with all of my devotionals, I hope you will find this one helpful, encouraging, and applicable.

Admittedly, I can be quite political in my Social Media posts. But I don’t like to get political in my preaching or Bible teaching. I really don’t. But the Bible continues speaks to today, even on cultural and political issues, and especially on moral issues.

As we begin today’s Bible reading in Matthew 19, we are faced with Jesus’ statements on very hot contemporary topics in the Christian Life: divorce/remarriage and sex/gender.

Under the Old Covenant, Moses permitted divorce under just a few situations. (Deuteronomy 24:1–4) Requiring that a divorce certificate to be given had a couple of purposes: it restricted the reasons why a husband could put away his wife; he couldn’t just divorce her because she burned the toast. If you remember the story of Jesus’ birth, Joseph considered putting away Mary. He would have justification to do so if she had been unfaithful during their betrothal/marriage. Given that she was pregnant, it would be obvious — apart from an immaculate conception — that she had been with another man. Also, given the cultural situation of the day, giving a divorce certificate gave rights to a divorced wife that she didn’t otherwise have. Just like the command of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was a way God limited His people, divorce did the same.

Note: Jesus’ statements on divorce spoke specifically to the Old Testament teachings on divorce. He was not addressing modern, American “no-fault” divorce.

Jesus’ comments on divorce were right in line with the Old Covenant. Nothing Jesus ever did, broke the Old Covenant; instead, He fulfilled it.

“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17–18 CSB)

The second cultural hot topic that Jesus addressed in today’s Bible reading is sex/gender.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that he who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and he also said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (Matthew 19:4–5 CSB)

Going back to Genesis 1:27, Jesus points out that God created mankind with two sexes/genders. A person is born either a male or a female. Period.

One of the reasons God created two sexes/genders is for procreation. Sexuality, as God created it, was to be a part of us, but it wasn’t all of us. That’s one key area where modern culture has gone off the rails. If you remove God from the equation, you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.

If you remove God from the equation,
you’re going to come up with the wrong answer.

When Moses penned the Pentateuch (the First Five Books of the Old Testament), and when Jesus and Paul addressed sexuality in the New Testament, there were no categories of “sexual identity” (the sex you “identify with”) and “sexual preference” (the sex of the person/people to whom you are attracted). Neither was there a category of “gender fluidity” (the idea that someone’s sexual identity or sexual preference can change).

The Bible doesn’t address these categories, because they were unknown at the time. Similarly, the Bible doesn’t address the topic of nuclear energy. These categories of understanding and discussion didn’t exist at the time.

So what do you do with those who claim to not “identify” with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth? And what do you do with those who claim they are attracted to someone of their own sex/gender?

If one is to believe that the Bible is true because it is God-breathed it (literally “expired” in 2Timothy 3:16), that the Bible is completely authoritative, and that the Bible is relevant for all time, these questions must be answered with a Biblical answer.

And while the Bible doesn’t address the issues of “identity” and “preference”, the Bible is very clear about behavior. The Bible consistently condemns homosexual sexual behavior. Some have twisted the Biblical treatment of the subject to say that God only condemns homosexuality when it is disrespectful and otherwise “not loving”. Or they dismiss the authority of the Bible outright. Either that or try to insist that those statements are “culturally conditioned” to the Biblical times and do not apply today.

Although this has been the longest post I’ve ever written, I don’t want to write a dissertation on the topic of the Bible and homosexuality. Kevin DeYoung very clearly and quite exhaustively addressed the issue in his What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality. (affiliate link) Note: I highly recommend this book to anyone, from straight to LGBTQ+ because this is an issue that every Bible-believer should be well-versed in. This is too important of a cultural issue to withdraw from the conversation.

The issues of “identity” and “preference” are not addressed by the Bible, but there are applications we can — and should — make of clear Bible verses on closely-related issues.

Take a look at Matthew 19:12.

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (CSB)

Eunuchs are mentioned several times in the Bible. In Acts 8, Dr. Luke tells us about a eunuch from Ethiopia, a man who is quite influential and is actually in charge of the nation’s treasury. We know that the king’s eunuch helped to prepare Esther and other young women to prepare for meeting the king. (Esther 2:3)

Jesus comments here that some were eunuchs from birth, some were made eunuchs by men, and some made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven. Eunuchs were men who had been castrated. I don’t think it would not be out of line include in this label those males who had been born with disfigured and otherwise dysfunctional genitals. It would be safe to define a eunuch as a male who could not perform sexually like most other men. As such, they lived their lives accordingly — in celibacy.

Given that the Bible consistently condemns homosexual behavior, would it be out of the question to apply Jesus’ comments about eunuchs to those who are “same-sex attracted”? Could we not apply Jesus’ words to encourage same-sex attracted individuals to pursue a life of celibacy, just like unmarried heterosexuals should?

Regardless of whether they feel that they were “born that way”, everyone makes choices based on their preferences: whether it’s drinking coffee with cream and sugar vs. straight black, or whether it’s to have sexual relations outside of marriage with someone of the opposite sex … or of the same sex.

Sex outside marriage — heterosexual or homosexual — and drunkenness are condemned by the Bible, without regard to “desire” or “preference”. And even if someone were to be born an alcoholic, every alcoholic decides to take that first drink, and every drink since.

Application

I hope you have seen how the Bible applies to issues that it does not directly address. The Bible is relevant to your life and mine.

When you come to Bible passages you don’t like, you need to ask questions of the Bible text. Ask other believers what they see in the passage. Look at the passage. Ask what it says.

Only after you see what it says should you can ask how it applies. Don’t make the mistake of asking “What does it mean to you?” before you answer, “What does it say?” and “What did it mean back then?”

These are basic principles of reading, studying and understanding the Bible. It is crucial to understand these principles and to apply them every time you read and study your Bible.

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