May 20, 2017
May 20, 2017
The prospect of the righteous is joy. Proverbs 10:28
After my wife and I had the privilege of visiting the Louvre in Paris, I called our eleven-year-old granddaughter Addie on the phone. When I mentioned seeing da Vinci’s famous painting Mona Lisa, Addie asked, “Is she smiling?”
Isn’t that the big question surrounding this painting? More than 600 years after Leonardo captured this subject in oil, we still don’t know if the lady was smiling or not. Though enraptured by the painting’s beauty, we are unsure about Mona Lisa’s demeanor.
The “smile” is part of the intrigue of the painting. But how important is this anyway? Is smiling something the Bible mentions? In reality, the word appears less than five times in Scripture, and never as something we are told to do. However, the Bible does suggest for us an attitude that leads to smiles—and that is the word joy. Nearly 250 times we read about joy: “My heart leaps for joy,” David says as he thinks about the Lord (Ps. 28:7). We are to “sing joyfully to the Lord” (Ps. 33:1); God’s statutes are “the joy of [our] heart” (119:111); and we are “filled with joy” because “the Lord has done great things for us” (126:3).
Clearly, the joy God provides through everything He has done for us can bring a smile to our face.
You are a good Father, dear God, and You do make us smile. You provide joy that is beyond what anything the world can offer. Help us show that joy to others by our countenance.
Hope in the heart puts a smile on the face.
In addition to the Psalms, the New Testament uses joy many times. In Paul’s letters, he spoke often of both his joy and the joy we can experience. In the book of Philippians the apostle mentioned joy to his friends at the church of Philippi six times in only four chapters. As he instructed them, Paul prayed for them with joy (1:4), spoke of the joy of spiritual development (1:25), called on them to give him joy through their unity (2:2), described his hardships in the gospel as a joy to share with them (2:17), and asked that their joy would likewise be shared with him (2:18). In sending helpers to them for their growth in Christ, Paul asked that those mutual friends be received with joy (2:29) and referred to the Philippians themselves as his “joy and crown” (4:1).
It’s interesting to note the repeated emphasis on a joy that is relational. How often are relationships a source of joy for you?
As believers, we readily attribute our salvation to God’s grace, but what does “this grace in which we stand” mean to us now (Rom. 5:2)? How does it work out in everyday life, especially when we’re going through periods of trial or suffering?
1. The Lord’s grace releases His supernatural power within us so we can endure life’s hardships with a godly attitude. In fact, we’ll even be able to rejoice over what He is doing in us through the adversity.
2. Grace builds our confidence in the sovereign Lord. Nothing looks hopeless when we focus on Him instead of on our problems.
3. We discover the assurance of God’s sustaining presence as He walks with us every step of the way.
4. Because we’ve experienced His care for us, we are able to show empathy and love to others facing hard times.
5. During fiery trials, grace works to transform our character so that others can see Jesus reflected in us.
Difficulties in life are unavoidable. So we need a daily dose of God’s grace in order to walk through trials with confidence that there is great reward on the other side. If we rely on our own strength, however, obstacles will appear insurmountable, leaving us discouraged and ready to give up.
Too often believers rely on Christ for their salvation but then try to go solo. If God’s grace was needed to save us, then logic says we also need it for the rest of our days. Only through a continuous infusion of His sustaining power can we live a victorious Christian life.
“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” (Hebrews 12:15)
Bitterness and a bitter spirit should never characterize a person who has experienced the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. No matter how seriously one may have been wronged, if he has known God’s forgiving grace for his own wrongdoings, he should manifest that same grace in his life toward others, even though they do not merit it (for neither did he merit God’s forgiving grace himself).
Bitterness is a characteristic of the ungodly “whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Romans 3:14). A Christian must never try to rationalize it as “righteous indignation” or to think that certain injustices give him the “right” to be bitter and resentful. “If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:14-15). Rooted bitterness will soon “spring up,” not only robbing the bitter believer of joy and true fruitfulness, but bearing bitter fruit whereby many others will “be defiled.”
The antidote, of course, is never to “fail of the grace of God.” That is, we need to be “looking diligently,” moment by moment, at the wonderful grace of God by which we were saved through faith and in which we continue to live each day.
Therefore, “let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). Otherwise, we not only hurt both ourselves and others, but we also grieve “the holy Spirit of God” (v. 30). HMM
No matter though the vase be alabaster, and the perfume the most delicate, dead flies would destroy the precious nard, and even so minor faults will spoil a fine character. Rudeness, irritability, levity, parsimony, egotism, and a thousand other injurious flies have often turned the exquisite perfume of a Christians life into a pestilent odour to those who were around him. Let us pray for grace to avoid the smaller errors, lest they do us and the gospel serious harm. When a thing is really good it is a pity to spoil it by a small neglect. By little things men are made or ruined as to their influence. Be it ours to watch against the little flies.
The wise man is practical, and finds a right hand with which to carry out the desires of his soul: the foolish man is left-handed for all that is good, and while he may purpose and plan a right thing, he fails to carry it out, or does it in a left-handed manner.
Kings are not always wise in the distribution of honours, and thus it happens that the best men often have the pain of seeing inferior persons thrust over their heads. Moreover, by the events of providence, the least worthy men are often thrown up into position and influence, while persons of character and grace are left to pine in the cold shade of poverty and neglect. So has the Lord ordained it, and the Lord has wise ends to answer by it, therefore let us cheerfully submit. Let us neither envy nor flatter the great, nor be discontented at our own condition. Wrongs will be righted by-and-bye: and God’s people can afford to wait. Meanwhile it is better to be in the lowest condition, and enjoy the love of God, than to sit among princes, and live without our Father’s presence.
Never set traps for others, or violate salutary laws, for evil will come of it.
In all labour there is some risk; and hence it is well to commend ourselves to the Lord’s keeping every day, however free from peril our work may be.
Knowledge is power: a little common sense will save much toil. It is well to have our wits about us. Christian people should never be stupid: let us sharpen our axes.
Still waters run deep, but the babbling brook is shallow. Great talkers are usually little doers. Men of many words are seldom men of great deeds. It is little that we know, and therefore if we talk which we shall most probably enter upon subjects which we do not understand, and so reveal our folly. An ignorant man, if he be quiet, may pass for wise; but a talkative person advertises his own want of wit. A still tongue shows a wise head. We seldom get into trouble by silence; but noisy tongues often bring grief to their owners. Our speech should be seasoned with the salt of grace, and be good for the use of edifying; but this is frequently forgotten, and men talk as if their tongues were their own, forgetting that God will bring them into judgment for every idle word they speak. O Lord, keep thou our lips, that we sin not against thee.
1 Timothy 4:7
When the time came for our family to move to Moscow to start our next church, my wife and I knew that God wanted us to turn over the care of our large church in Riga, Latvia, to our associate pastor. After serving as a son in the Gospel for many years, he was as well-trained and prepared as anyone could be to step into the position of senior pastor of that church.
My associate was so excited. Just as we were certain he was the man to lead the church, he was convinced that God had chosen him. This was the day he had dreamed of for so long! After serving me for so many years as my associate, he would finally step into the senior pastor position and lead this great church. The vision of God was exploding in his heart as he dreamed of what would be accomplished in the ensuing years.
So with great reverence, my associate and his wife knelt on the platform of the large auditorium before the Riga congregation; then Denise and I laid our hands on him and installed him as the leading pastor of that congregation. After turning over the church to his care, my family and I turned our attention to the new work God had called us to establish in Moscow.
After the first year of leading that church by himself, my former associate told me, “Rick, I had no idea how much responsibility is placed on the senior pastor of a church. I thought I understood so much, but now I see that there was so much I never comprehended. It was only after you left and the whole weight of the church became my responsibility that I really began to realize the enormous responsibilities of a senior pastor.”
I listened with great interest as he continued to give me his views about leading a large church. Then he said to me, “You know, it finally dawned on me that this was my responsibility and that I couldn’t depend on anyone else to lead this church. As pastor, it’s up to me to guide and to see that things are being done correctly. It’s a huge responsibility to lead a church—much bigger than I ever realized!”
That conversation made me think of what Timothy went through after he became the pastor of the church of Ephesus—the largest church in the world at that time. Imagine how extremely stretched Timothy must have felt as he led the world’s largest and most famous church! Yes, he had served at Paul’s side for many years and was as prepared as anyone could possibly be for such a task. But now Paul was gone, and all eyes were on him!
The demands placed on the pastor of a large church are immense. His care for the church is nonstop. Twenty-four hours a day he must be available to the members of the congregation. Leaders must be trained; rebels must be corrected; and finances are needed to pay for the church as it grows. And in addition to church responsibilities, the pastor is most often a husband and a father as well. He has a massive church family to oversee and manage, and he also has his own personal family for which God will hold him responsible.
Timothy was just settling into the job of senior pastor when Paul wrote him the letter that became the book of First Timothy. At the time, Timothy’s responsibilities were increasing daily. His massive church was becoming even more massive as it continued to grow. He was constantly training new leaders and replacing old, rebellious leaders who thought Timothy was too young to be pastor of such a prominent church. And in the midst of it all, Timothy was learning how to cope with being the most visible Christian leader in a large metropolitan city. It was in the midst of these developments that Paul wrote to him and said, “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.”
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what these old wives’ fables were. However, it seems that Timothy may have been so exhausted that he was starting to daydream about finding an easier and more trouble-free way to do his job (like all of us are tempted to do from time to time). I have personally wondered, Was Timothy tempted to daydream about life in the ministry becoming simpler? Was he hoping that things would eventually become a lot less hectic, undemanding, and uncomplicated? If Timothy was thinking along this line, his musings would definitely fall into the category of a fable!
When God trusts you enough to give you more and more responsibility, it always demands more of you, not less. I gave up the idea many years ago of thinking that life would eventually become less demanding. Ministry is work, and none of us should ever forget that fact!
If you are mightily anointed by God, it is just a fact that your schedule will get busier, your demands will increase, and your challenges will grow. But as long as you allow God to develop your character along the way, you will find that you’re able to successfully manage anything He puts on your plate!
Paul ordered Timothy to quit fantasizing about things getting easier, telling the younger man to “… refuse profane and old wives’ fables….” The word “refuse” tells us how strongly Paul felt about Timothy’s frame of thinking. It comes from the Greek word paraiteomai, and it means to reject, to refuse, to rebuff, to decline, to snub, or to decisively turn away from something. It denotes the attitude of a person who is so disgusted with something that he has resolved he will have nothing to do with it. His feelings about this issue are so pungent that he sharply rejects what is being offered to him and vigorously declines any form of participation in it.
Whatever these “old wives’ fables” were, Paul viewed them as extremely detrimental—so much so that he strictly ordered Timothy to reject these notions. To better understand what these “old wives’ fables” might have been, let’s see what the words “old wives” and “fables” mean in the original Greek.
The Greek word translated “old wives” is grauodes, which comes from the word graus, the word for an old woman. But when the word graus becomes grauodes, it denotes anything that is old-womanish. The word “fables” is the word muthos, which typically describes fictitious stories and is where we get the terms myths and mythology.
The word muthos describes legends, folklore, or fairy tales— the kind of stories an old woman would tell to entertain her grandchildren. One New Testament Greek scholar speculates that Paul was saying in effect, “Timothy, it’s time for you to quit fantasizing that you’re going to escape hard work and find an easier way to do what God has called you to do. Why, this unrealistic kind of thinking is the stuff of fairy tales! You’re thinking like an old woman who tells fairy tales to children….”
Instead, Paul challenges Timothy to adjust his thinking and to take a different approach to the challenges he faces. Rather than pray for these challenges to go away, Timothy should embrace those challenges and use this time to develop himself. This is Paul’s message when he tells Timothy to “… exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” As noted earlier (see November 3), the word “exercise” is the Greek word gumnadzo, which describes the strenuous physical exercise required to produce the finest athletes.
When you are physically or mentally exhausted, your mind may be tempted to daydream or to wander to other places. It is amazing how the mind tries to escape from reality. But rather than let yourself float away on a cloud of fantasy that doesn’t help you fulfill your God-given assignment, ask the Holy Spirit to help you see things realistically. That’s the only way you’ll be able to put your whole heart and soul into completing your task exactly as Jesus wants it done! You can do great things for God’s Kingdom, but it will require both concentration and commitment!
Lord, help me to stay focused on what You have called me to do and to embrace everything that comes with Your call on my life. Forgive me for the times I’ve tried to find a shortcut to avoid responsibility. I want to put my whole heart into the race You have set before me—to fulfill my assigned task fervently, passionately, and with the highest level of excellence.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
I confess that I am both faith-filled and realistic about what God has called me to do. I realize that it’s going to take hard work and commitment to take this assignment to the high level that God expects of me. I refuse to shrink from my responsibilities, and I choose to put my whole heart and soul into the task Jesus has given to me.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
If you are mightily anointed by God, it is simply a fact that your schedule will get busier, your demands will increase, and your challenges will grow. But as long as you allow God to develop your character along the way, you will find that you’re able to successfully manage anything He puts on your plate!
Recently I asked a group of businessmen their greatest concern in life. Their answer? Fear:
Of the future, failure, the past, peers, financial ruin, superiors, bad health, the competition, death, personal inadequacies, parents, the rejection of their children, and the unknown.
Aristotle observed the paralyzing effect of fear upon our lives:
“Elderly men… have often been taken in, and often made mistakes. The result is they are sure about nothing and under-do everything. They ‘think’, but they never ‘know’; and because of their hesitation they always add a ‘possibility’ or a ‘perhaps’, putting everything this way and nothing positively… They are cynical; that is, they tend to put the worst construction on everything.”
“They are small-minded, because they have been humbled by life: their desires are set upon nothing more exalted or unusual than what will help them to keep alive… THEY GUIDE THEIR LIVES TOO MUCH BY CONSIDERATIONS OF WHAT IS USEFUL AND TOO LITTLE BY WHAT IS NOBLE… [They] lack confidence in the future… partly because of their cowardice. They live by memory rather than by hope… ”
Obviously, “fear has to do with torment… ” (1 John 4:18b). But the good news is that God offers us deliverance from its bondage,
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)
If you are struggling with fear, refuse to allow Satan to gain the upper hand. Claim God’s promises. Memorize, meditate, and appropriate His promises for your life. By so doing, you will put yourself in a position where God can, and will, set you free from the bondage of fear:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) (See John 8:36; Psalm 119:45; Romans 6:14-18,22; 8:2)
“‘… Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.… For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid… for I myself will help you,‘ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:10, 11, 14) (See Psalm 27:1, 2; 46:2; 56:3; Isaiah 12:2; 2 Timothy 1:7; Romans 8:15; 1 John 4:18)
QUESTION: How do you and I plan to live the rest of our lives? Paralyzed and diminished by fear? Or liberated by the promises in God’s Word? As always, the choice is ours.