Daily Archives: December 14, 2017

December 14 Christ’s Superior Nature

“Of the angels He says, ‘Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.’ But of the Son He says, ‘Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever’” (Heb. 1:7–8).

✧✧✧

Jesus Christ is God, and He created the angels.

People today who claim that Jesus was just a man, an angel, a prophet, or some inferior god are in error and bring upon themselves the curse of God. The Bible, and especially the writer of Hebrews, are clear about who Christ is.

First, the writer deals with the nature of angels when he says, “Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.” “Makes” simply means “to create.” The antecedent of “who” is Christ. Therefore, it is obvious that Christ created the angels.

They are also His possession—“His angels.” They are His created servants who do not operate on their own initiative but at the direction of Christ.

But the greatest difference between the nature of angels and of Christ is that He is the eternal God. The Father says to the Son, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever” (v. 8). That is one of the most powerful, clear, emphatic, and irrefutable proofs of the deity of Christ in Scripture.

Jesus throughout His ministry claimed equality with God. He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The Apostle John closed his first epistle by saying, “We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).

God the Son came to help us understand that God is truth and that Christ Himself is the true God. Our faith is based on the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer:  Ask God to give you a greater understanding of the reality that Jesus is, in fact, God.

For Further Study: Read John 1:1–18, and mark the verses that define Christ’s relationship to God. If an unbeliever were to ask you what that passage means, how would you answer him or her?[1]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 361). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

DECEMBER 14 SPIRITUAL PRIORITY: THE MISSIONARY OBLIGATION

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me…unto the uttermost part of the earth.

ACTS 1:8

The popular notion that the first obligation of the Christian Church is to spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is false!

Her first obligation is to be spiritually worthy to spread the gospel.

Our Lord said “Go ye” but He also said “Tarry ye,” and the tarrying had to come before the going. Had the disciples gone forth as missionaries before the day of Pentecost it would have been an overwhelming spiritual disaster, for they could have done no more than make converts after their own likeness, and this would have altered for the worse the whole history of the Western world and had consequences throughout the ages to come.

Theoretically the seed, being the Word of God, should produce the same kind of fruit regardless of the spiritual condition of those who scatter it; but it does not work that way! The identical message preached to the heathen by men of differing degrees of godliness will produce different kinds of converts and result in a quality of Christianity varying according to the purity and power of those who preach it.

Christianity will always reproduce after its kind. A worldly minded, unspiritual church, when she crosses the ocean to give her witness to peoples of other tongues and cultures, is sure to bring forth on other shores a Christianity much like her own![1]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

December 14, 2017: Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Participation of Comfort

you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (1:11)

As noted in the previous point, the apostle was confident that God would continue to comfort him in the future. But he urged the Corinthians to participate in that gracious work of God by joining in helping him through their prayers. Paul understood, as did James, that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). Therefore he viewed the prayers of the saints as crucial to his ministry. He implored the believers at Rome, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me” (Rom. 15:30). To the Ephesians he wrote, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:18–19; cf. Col. 4:3; 2 Thess. 3:1). He wrote confidently to the Philippians, “I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19; cf. Philem. 22). In 1 Thessalonians 5:25 he said simply, “Brethren, pray for us.” Paul understood the balance between God’s sovereign purpose and believers’ responsibility.

In prayer, human impotence casts itself at the feet of divine omnipotence. When God’s people intercede for each other, His power and sovereign purposes are realized. Thus, the purpose of prayer is not to manipulate God but to exalt His power and submit to His will. When God answered the Corinthians’ prayers for Paul, thanks would be given by many persons on the apostle’s behalf for the favor bestowed on him through the prayers of many. Prayer, like everything else in a Christian’s life, is to glorify God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).

Katharina von Schlegel’s magnificent hymn “Be Still, My Soul” expresses the confident hope of every believer in God’s comfort:

Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side;

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In ev’ry change He faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend

Thro’ thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

 

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

 

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on

When we shall be forever with the Lord,

When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,

All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.[1]


11 The genitive absolute συνυπουργούντων καὶ ὑμῶν (synypourgountōn [GK 5348] kai hymōn) may be conditional in sense: “provided you, too, work together with us.” The bestowal of divine favor is intimately related to the offering of human prayer (Php 1:19; Phm 22). And the verb implies that prayer is cooperative work (Ro 15:30), expressive of the interdependence of the members of Christ’s body (1 Co 12:25–26).[2]


1:11 / Paul has set his hope on God for continued deliverance from death (v. 10b). In verse 11a, Paul indirectly requests the Corinthians to pray for him in his ongoing apostolic ministry. The Corinthians’ prayers function not only as entreaty on behalf of the apostle for deliverance from death but also as a sign of solidarity with him in the face of opposition (see also Rom. 15:30–31; Phil. 1:19). Prayer is just one way to achieve unity (cf. also 1 Thess. 5:25; Phlm. 22).

In verse 11b the ultimate purpose (hina, lit., “in order that”) of the Corinthians’ prayers on behalf of the apostle is doxological, that is, praise to God for Paul’s ministry. By intervening and saving Paul from death, God enabled him to continue ministering. Therefore, when they meet together for worship, many believers should give thanks to God for Paul’s deliverance, which is here called a gracious favor (charisma; cf. 12:9). Even Paul’s most severe crisis must contribute to the praise of God. Certainly Paul’s approach to his own apostolic experience of suffering and dying differs sharply from that of his opponents in Corinth, who believe that these things demonstrate that Paul is an apostolic pretender, a fraud (cf. 5:16).

Second Corinthians 1:3–11 ends as it began on a note of praise and thanksgiving to God, thus giving closure to the whole section. For Paul, the universal praise of God is not just a religious duty or an incidental nicety; it is the goal of history (cf. Rom. 15:9–11). He hopes that “the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:15). Paul’s divine deliverance from death through the prayers of the Corinthians is accomplishing just that.[3]


11. As also you help us through your prayers for us. Then from many people thanks may be expressed on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many people.

This text presents a number of difficulties that are apparent from the intricate word order. First, should the first clause of verse 11 serve as the conclusion to verse 10? The context seems to favor such a linkage. Next, the verse repeats the phrase from/of many people. Some translators change the second occurrence to “in answer to many prayers” (RSV), “because of their many prayers” (NCV), or “through many” (NKJV). Third, is Paul accommodating himself to the Jewish custom of avoiding the use of the divine name? His wording implies that God has granted a blessing to those who are praying (NCV, NJB, REB, SEB).

  1. “As also you help us through your prayers for us.” Paul commends the readers for being prayer warriors on his behalf (compare Rom. 15:30; Phil. 1:19). He alludes to the bond of fellowship they have by praying for one another. The act of helping is a continuous one and points to two parties cooperating in a certain cause, which in this case is praying. The Corinthians are asking God to rescue Paul from mortal danger and to do so continually. The Greek gives the word prayer in the singular, but English usage demands the plural.
  2. “Then from many people thanks may be expressed on our behalf.” Those people who prayed for Paul’s deliverance could now with Paul thank God (4:15; 9:11–12) The Greek has a word that literally means “faces” but is translated “persons.” We are not amiss, however, to see that the Greek term portrays faces lifted upward to God in prayer.
  3. “For the blessing granted us through the prayers of many people.” The blessing that God granted refers to Paul’s rescue from lethal danger. The Greek gives the term charisma, which in the Corinthian correspondence usually signifies a spiritual gift. But here Paul has in mind the gift of restoring his life by rescuing him from the clutches of death. Finally, the Greek text is remarkably brief by saving “through many.” This phrase can mean either “many people” or “many prayers.” Of the two translations, the first one is favored because Paul wants to emphasize the involvement of his readers.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 27–28). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Harris, M. J. (2008). 2 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 445). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Scott, J. M. (2011). 2 Corinthians (p. 30). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 19, pp. 50–51). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

DECEMBER 14 BETTER FARTHER ON

Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.

Luke 24:45

Truth that is not experienced is no better than error and may be fully as dangerous.

Remember that the scribes who sat in Moses’ seat were not the victims of error; they were the victims of failure to experience the truth they taught!

We should see that one of the greatest foes of the Christian is religious complacency. The man who believes that he has “arrived” will not go any further; and the present neat habit of quoting a text to prove we have arrived may be a dangerous one if in truth we have no actual inward experience of the text.

The great saints of the past have all had yearning hearts. Their longing after God all but consumed them; it propelled them onward and upward to heights toward which less ardent Christians look with languid eye and entertain no hope of reaching.

May we offer this word of exhortation: pray on, fight on, sing on! Press on into the deep things of God. Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will!

Lord, I pray for people in our churches and for those who work in Christian organizations. Urge them not to be complacent in their comfortable situations. Stir their hearts to become more engaged in the battle for men’s souls.[1]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

December 14 The Wheat and the Tares

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?” And he said to them, “An enemy has done this!” The slaves said to him, “Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?” But he said, “No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”—Matt. 13:24–30; see vv. 36–43

Throughout redemptive history, our Lord has planted believers (“good seed”) in the world as His witnesses, to be faithful to Him, become fruitful plants of righteousness, and reflect His will before a corrupt world. The tares, by contrast, are the children of Satan—unbelievers spread throughout the world until they thoroughly outnumber the wheat by a large margin.

“The harvest” represents the Father’s judgment at the end of the age, when His angels will execute sentence on the many unbelievers, just as the human reapers separated the tares from the wheat and burned them.

The apostles likely were ready and eager to separate out the tares immediately, as seen by James’ and John’s attitudes toward the unbelieving Samaritans (Luke 9:54). But that was and is not God’s plan, lest some of the good plants (believers) get inadvertently uprooted with the tares.

During His incarnation Jesus did nothing to destroy His enemies. He even appealed to Judas right to the end that he believe (John 13:26). On the cross He asked forgiveness for those who orchestrated His execution (Luke 23:34). Therefore we also should be instruments of truth and grace toward unbelievers.

ASK YOURSELF

This is not the age of God’s judgment—certainly not by the church—but rather the age for evangelism. What does this mean concerning the way we are called to perform ministry in this generation?[1]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 357). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

December 14 Unashamed

According to my earnest expectation and hope [I know] that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body.

Philippians 1:20

Today’s verse calls to mind Christ’s promise in Matthew 10:32: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” The one who acknowledges Christ as Lord in life or in death, if necessary, is the one whom the Lord will acknowledge before God as His own.

The apostle Paul could rejoice in that truth. He knew he never would be ashamed before the world, the court of Caesar, or God Himself because he knew God would be glorified in his life. The Old Testament affirms that the righteous will never be put to shame, while the unrighteous will.

To be ashamed means to be disappointed, disillusioned, or disgraced. Paul knew that would never happen to him because of God’s promise to the righteous. He may have had Isaiah 49:23 in mind: “They shall not be ashamed who wait for Me.” Be one of the unashamed.[1]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 375). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

December 14, 2017: Morning Verse Of The Day

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son 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 reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (2:21–24)

As noted in the Introduction, the first phrase of verse 21 was a severe stumbling block to Martin Luther. He was so adamantly opposed to the Roman Catholic dogma of salvation through works, and so strong a defender of the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, that he completely missed James’s point here, calling the entire writing “an epistle of straw.” But, as explained in the previous commentary chapter, James was not contradicting the doctrine of salvation by faith. He was not dealing with the means of salvation at all, but rather with its outcome, the evidence that it had genuinely occurred. After establishing that the absence of good works proves that a professed faith is not real and saving but rather is deceptive and dead, he then emphasized the corollary truth that genuine salvation, which is always and only by God’s grace working through man’s faith, inevitably will be demonstrated outwardly in the form of righteous deeds.

Although James’s primary audience was Jewish (see 1:1), the context suggests that his reference to Abraham our father is not racial. He seems rather to write of Abraham in the same spiritual sense that Paul does in several places. In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle speaks of Abraham as “the father of all who believe” (Rom. 4:11), and in his letter to the churches of Galatia he declares that “those who are of faith … are sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). Abraham is the model of saving faith for both Jew and Gentile, a man whose faith was living and acceptable to God.

Because fallen man is morally and spiritually bankrupt, with no redeeming merit at all before God, nothing he can possibly do in himself and by his own power can make him right and acceptable before the Lord. It is for that reason that salvation has always been possible solely through the pure graciousness of God working through a faithful response to His grace. It is not that in the Old Testament men were saved through the law and that in the New they are saved by faith. At whatever point in the unfolding revelation and work of God men may have lived or will ever live, God requires nothing of them for salvation except true faith in Him. Hebrews 11 makes abundantly clear that both before and after the law was given at Sinai, salvation was by faith. Abraham “believed in the Lord,” Moses tells us; “and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).

Yet James says that the father of the faithful, whose very faith itself was a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), was nevertheless justified by works. That seeming contradiction, which has frustrated and confused believers throughout the history of the church, is clarified by understanding that justification by faith pertains to a person’s standing before God, whereas the justification by works that James speaks of in this verse pertains to a person’s standing before other men.

Some have further imagined a contradiction between James’s declaration that Abraham was justified by works and Paul’s unequivocal teaching that he was justified solely by grace through faith (Rom. 4:1–25; Gal. 3:6–9). Such is not the case, however. James has already emphasized that salvation is God’s gracious gift (1:17–18), and in verse 23 he quotes Genesis 15:6, which declares that God imputed righteousness to Abraham solely on the basis of his faith. Also, the specific event James said justified Abraham by works was the offering of Isaac (v. 21; cf. Gen. 22:9–12)—an event that occurred many years after he was declared righteous by God (Gen. 12:1–7; 15:6). James is teaching, then, that Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac vindicates his faith before men—a teaching with which the apostle Paul was in wholehearted agreement (Eph. 2:10). There is thus no conflict between the two inspired writers.

It is important to understand that the Greek verb dikaioō (justified) has two general meanings. The first pertains to acquittal, that is, to declaring and treating a person as righteous. That is its meaning in relationship to salvation and is the sense in which Paul almost always uses the term. He declares, for example, that we are “justified as a gift by [God’s] grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24), “justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (3:28), and that, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1; cf. v. 9). In another letter he says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal. 2:16; cf. 3:11, 24). He reminds Titus that “being justified by His grace we [are] made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

The second meaning of dikaioō pertains to vindication, or proof of righteousness. It is used in that sense a number of times in the New Testament, in relation to God as well as men. Paul says, “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged’ ” (Rom. 3:4). He writes to Timothy that Jesus Christ “was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated [from dikaioō] in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). Jesus commented that “wisdom is vindicated [justified] by all her children” (Luke 7:35).

It is the second sense in which James uses dikaioō in 2:21, asking rhetorically, Was not Abraham our father justified by works? He explains that Abraham’s supreme demonstration of that justification occurred when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar, which, as noted above, happened many years after his justification by faith recorded in Genesis 15:6. It was when he offered up Isaac that the whole world could perceive the reality of his faith, that it was genuine rather than spurious, obedient rather than deceptive, living rather than dead. Although God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac his son threatened to abrogate His promise of blessing the world specifically through Isaac and also contradicted what Abraham knew to be God’s prohibition of human sacrifice (a form of murder), the patriarch trusted God implicitly. Without question or wavering, “Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Gen. 22:3). We do not know all that went through Abraham’s mind at the time, but he told the young men who accompanied them, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you” (v. 5, emphasis added). Abraham knew that, regardless of what happened on Mount Moriah, both he and Isaac would return alive. Although no such thing had ever happened before, he knew that, if necessary, God could raise Isaac “even from the dead” (Heb. 11:19). He believed unalterably in the righteous character of God, that He would never violate either His divine covenant or His holy standards.

Abraham was not a perfect man, either in his faith or in his works. After many years had passed without Sarah’s having the promised heir, he took matters into his own hands, having a son, Ishmael, by Hagar, his wife’s maid. His wavering trust in the Lord led him to commit adultery. That, in turn, led to the creation of the Arab peoples—who, since that time, have been a continuing thorn in the side of the Jews, God’s chosen people through Isaac. In those and other instances, such as his twice lying about Sarah’s being his sister (Gen. 12:19; 20:2), his works obviously did not justify him before men.

But James’s point is that, in the overall pattern of his life, Abraham faithfully vindicated his saving faith through his many good works, above all else by offering Isaac. When a man is justified before God, he will always prove that justification before other men. A man who has been declared and made righteous will live righteously. Imputed righteousness will manifest practical righteousness. In the words of John Calvin, “Faith alone justifies; but the faith that justifies is never alone.” And in the words of an unknown poet, “Let all who hold this faith and hope in holy deeds abound; thus faith approves itself sincere by active virtue crowned.”

You see that faith was working with his works, James continues to explain, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected. It is not that salvation requires faith plus works, but that works are the consequent outgrowth and completion of genuine faith. As Jesus pointed out on several occasions, the purpose of a plant is to grow and to bear fruit—fruit representing its natural produce, whether figs, olives, nuts, flowers, or whatever. Consequently, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:19–20). Bearing fruit is not a function added to a plant but is an integral part of its design and purpose. Even before it is planted, a seed contains the genetic structure for producing its own kind of fruit. When a person is born again through saving faith and is given a new nature by God, he is given the genetic structure, as it were, for producing moral and spiritual good works. That is the sense in which faith is perfected. It produces the godly fruit for which it was designed (Eph. 2:10). Just as a fruit tree has not fulfilled its goal until it bears fruit, so also faith has not reached its end until it demonstrates itself in a righteous life.

That is the sense in which Abraham was justified by works. His unreserved willingness to sacrifice Isaac, the only son of promise, was the works by which his justification by faith was demonstrated and made manifest before men. Quoting the Genesis 15:6 passage cited earlier, James says that the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

Fulfilled does not refer to a fulfillment of prophecy but rather to fulfillment of the principle that justification by faith results in justification by works. James here cites the same text Paul uses in his potent defense of justification by faith:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom. 4:2–5)

Abraham had no written divine revelation to read and knew very little about the Lord. But he responded positively to all that he was told by God, and it was then that his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.

But how, we wonder, could God have justified and saved Abraham—who lived some two thousand years before Christ—when apart from Jesus Christ no one can be saved (Matt. 10:32; John 8:56; Rom. 10:9–10; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; etc.). It is because “to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Rom. 14:9). Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Despite his limited theological knowledge, Abraham’s trust in the Lord was sufficient, and tantamount to belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, the coming Messiah and Savior of the world. Like all true believers who lived before Christ, who “died in faith, without receiving the promises,” Abraham nevertheless was enabled by God to understand that a Savior would come to fulfill all God’s promises and he “welcomed them from a distance” (Heb. 11:13).

Due to his belief and his resulting obedience, Abraham was called the friend of God. What dignity, honor, and joy! Because his faith was genuine and was therefore manifested and proven, he entered the wonderful fellowship of those whom God calls his friends. The writer of 2 Chronicles exults, “Did You not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?” (2 Chron. 20:7). Through Isaiah the Lord Himself spoke of “Abraham My friend” (Isa. 41:8). The basis of that divine friendship was Abraham’s obedience, his justification by works. Just as he was the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:7), he might also be called the father of the obedient, because those two godly characteristics are inseparable. “You are My friends,” Jesus said, “if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).[1]


21–24 The balance of the passage takes up two illustrations from the OT. The first is Abraham (vv. 21–24), who by offering up Isaac on the altar was justified by this expression of faith. The concept of “justification” here is different from that put forth by Paul at a number of points (although see Ro 2:13). James follows a more traditional use of the concept as found, for instance, in the LXX. In the traditional use of the concept, justification was an affirmation by God based on a person’s righteous actions. In other words, God proclaimed a person just based on his or her actions. But Paul sometimes used the term “justified” to speak of a right standing conferred on the basis of Christ’s work on the cross (Ro 3:24; 5:1).

In Abraham’s action, faith and works coalesced, faith being brought to its mature end by action (v. 22). Thus Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” spoken years before the offering of Isaac, was brought to full expression. Abraham’s reverence of God found full demonstration by his action of not holding back the most precious Isaac from sacrifice. The result was that Abraham was called God’s friend. Abraham was a man of faith, and that faith was evidenced in Abraham the man of action.[2]


2:22 / James continues: You see. Surely the point of the passages cited was clear; His faith and his actions were working together. (Or, “his faith worked with his actions.”) But where did the faith come from? The answer lies in the Jewish traditions about Abraham. These asserted that Abraham, who lived in an idolatrous culture, had contemplated nature, and this had led him to the one God. He had rejected idolatry, burned the local house of gods, and committed himself to the one God (the story is narrated in the apocryphal book of Jubilees 11–12). Thus Abraham was the originator of the creed “there is one God” (James 2:19).

Given this background, it is clear that a Jewish Christian would understand how faith and actions worked together. Unlike Terah in the legends, who agrees with Abraham’s faith but through fear of the people tells Abraham to keep quiet and hold this faith in his heart, Abraham acts consistently with his faith. His faith works with or directs his actions.

Furthermore, his faith was made complete by what he did. The idea is not that faith was perfected in the sense of it having been less than faith before, but that faith is brought to maturity through action (cf. 1:4, 15). There is a mutuality: Faith informs and motivates action; action matures faith. James is not rejecting one for the other but is instead insisting that the two are totally inseparable.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 136–140). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 240). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 68–69). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

DECEMBER 14 ASTONISHED WONDER

And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.

—Acts 3:10

We find much of spiritual astonishment and wonder in the book of Acts. You will always find these elements present when the Holy Spirit directs believing men and women.

On the other hand, you will not find astonished wonder among men and women when the Holy Spirit is not present.

Engineers can do many great things in their fields, but no mere human force or direction can work the mysteries of God among men. If there is no wonder, no experience of mystery, our efforts to worship will be futile. There will be no worship without the Spirit.

If God can be understood and comprehended by any of our human means, then I cannot worship Him. One thing is sure. I will never bend my knees and say “Holy, holy, holy,” to that which I have been able to decipher and figure out in my own mind! That which I can explain will never bring me to the place of awe. It can never fill me with astonishment or wonder or admiration. WHT085

Renew in me a sense of wonder, Lord—wonder that comes only when I really see Your Holy Spirit at work in the midst of Your people, doing the unexplainable. Amen.[1]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

December 14 Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension

“God highly exalted Him.”

Philippians 2:9

✧✧✧

Christ’s resurrection and ascension were the first two steps of His exaltation.

The first step on Christ’s progress from humiliation to exaltation was His resurrection. In Acts 13 Paul preached on the resurrection of Christ, declaring: “[God] raised up Jesus…. And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore He also says … ‘Thou wilt not allow Thy holy one to undergo decay.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (vv. 33–39). Christ’s death and resurrection provided forgiveness and freedom from sin, the law, and death.

Acts 1:9–11 records the second step in the exaltation of Christ. After Christ finished His final instructions to His disciples, ”He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; and they also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’ ” Acts 2:33 says that the result of His ascension was exaltation to the right hand of God.

Just before He ascended, Christ spoke these final words to His disciples: “You shall be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Until He comes again, let’s be witnesses who maintain a positive testimony for the sake of the gospel.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer: Praise God “who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

For Further Study: According to John 16:7, why is the ascension of Christ to your advantage?[1]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 13 Daily Help

God says to you, “Fear not, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Believer grasp the divine word with a personal, appropriating faith. Think that you hear Jesus say, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” Think you see him walking on the waters of thy trouble, for he is there, and he is saying, “Fear not, it is I; be not afraid.” Oh, those sweet words of Christ! May the Holy Ghost make you feel them as spoken to you; forget others for a while—accept the voice of Jesus as addressed to you, and say, “Jesus whispers consolation; I cannot refuse it; I will sit under his shadow with great delight.”[1]


[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1892). Daily Help (p. 351). Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Company.

December 13, 2017: Evening Verse Of The Day

13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 3:13–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


Striving for the Living Christ

Philippians 3:13–14

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Several years ago an Englishman named C. Northcote Parkinson wrote a humorous book on the functioning of corporations called Parkinson’s Law. One chapter in the book set about to analyze the disease that has affected a corporation in which, according to Parkinson, “the higher officials are plodding and dull, those less senior are active only in intrigue against each other, and the junior men are frustrated or frivolous.” The disease goes through stages, he says, from the point at which a person appears in the organization’s hierarchy who combines in himself “a high concentration of incompetence and jealousy,” to the point at which the whole corporation is characterized by smugness and apathy. At this point little is attempted and nothing is achieved. Parkinson calls the disease injelititis, and he defines it as induced inferiority or paralysis. In our terms it is complacency or the absence of the urge to shoot high.

I wondered as I read the book if something of the sort is not found in the lives of many Christians. In this case, of course, it would be a spiritual smugness or spiritual apathy. It would be seen most clearly in complacency regarding spiritual things. I think spiritual injelititis is found widely. It may be found in you. Have you lost your vision for God’s future blessing on your life? Or have you ceased to work hard in his service? If so, you have caught the disease, and the words of our text would be a rousing challenge to your apathy.

Paul writes about his goals, setting himself as an example: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14). Paul was not complacent, and we shouldn’t be either. Instead of smugness Paul knew a sanctified ambition, and he threw himself eagerly into the race that God had set before him.

Paul says that he had learned to press ahead in three ways. First, he forgets those things that are behind. Second, he looks forward to those things that are ahead. Third, he presses on toward the mark of the prize of God’s calling. In Paul’s mind there was a sanctified forgetting, a sanctified looking ahead, and a sanctified striving for that to which God had called him.

Forgetting the Past

In the first place, Paul says that he forgets those things that are behind. What are they? Well, he certainly did not forget his knowledge of the Bible and Christian doctrine; the letter he had just written proves that. Some of the greatest truths of the Christian faith are given in this very chapter. Moreover, he certainly did not forget God’s grace and God’s great mercies, because he has been talking about them throughout the letter. He knew that all he had to value in his life came through the grace of God manifested in Jesus Christ.

What is the nature of this forgetting then? It is the kind of forgetting that occurs when we cease to let things that are in the past overshadow the present, that lets the past be past, both the good and the bad, and that constantly looks forward to the work that God still has for us.

There is an illustration of the opposite of this attitude in the Old Testament. When God led the people of Israel out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, he provided everything that they needed for their journey. They had shade by day and light by night. They had water to drink and manna to eat. The time came, however, when the people ceased to look forward to the land that God was giving them and instead looked back to their life in Egypt. They said, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num. 11:5–6). The people of Israel began to hunger for these things, and God taught them a great lesson by giving them the things they asked for. He gave them quail until they grew sick of it. The point of the illustration, however, is that they began to look back and failed to trust God for their present and future blessings.

This does not mean, of course, that we are not to be thankful for past blessings. If we had been among the people of Israel when they were in Egypt and we had been able to buy the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic, it would have been quite proper to thank God for them, especially if we had been slaves. It would have been proper to remember years later how gracious God had been. But it would have been entirely wrong to long for these things after God had begun to lead us into new paths and had set new and greater blessings before us.

Unfortunately there are many leeks-and-garlic Christians among us. You are one if you are constantly looking to the past. If your Christian testimony is entirely taken up with what God did for you thirty or forty years ago, or if you are constantly talking about the good old days when God’s blessing on your life seemed great, then you are looking to the past. You can never do that and move forward. One of my good friends describes old age as the point in life when a person ceases to look forward and always looks backward. If that is accurate, then there are certainly a lot of old Christians—and I do not mean in terms of their years. They are living a leeks-and-garlic type of Christianity, and Paul warns against it. He would say, “Look! Past blessings are fine. We have received them from God’s hands, and we should be thankful for them. We rejoice in everything that he has done in our lives. But now we must let those things lie in the past and move forward.” There can be no progress without this proper forgetting.

Reaching Forward

The second thing that Paul claims to have done is to have fixed his gaze on the many things that God would yet be doing. He speaks of himself as “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Phil. 3:13). Someone once asked David Livingstone when he was back in England briefly after having worked for many years in Africa, “Well, Dr. Livingstone, where are you ready to go now?” Livingstone answered, “I am ready to go anywhere, provided it be forward.” That is what Paul would have said. Paul’s sense of the Lord’s leading was always linked to his awareness of open doors. Paul expected the Lord to open doors, and when he did, Paul went through them instantly. Through those doors Paul was constantly striving toward those things that were ahead.

It is precisely at this point that these verses are often misunderstood. When verse 14 speaks of the “goal” and the “prize” of God’s high calling, most readers think of a prize received in heaven, and then interpret verse 13 as a description of Paul’s striving for a heavenly reward. This is not the true meaning of the verses. It is true that the prize is probably a prize received in heaven. But the prize is achieved, as in a long race, not by pressing toward the prize itself but by pressing on to one mark after another along the racecourse of the Christian life. Actually, Paul says that he is striving to achieve this aspect of his calling.

This is evident in the text in two ways. First, verse 14 speaks of the “heavenward” calling of God in Christ Jesus. This throws the emphasis of the verse upon the ascent. Second, Paul mentions God’s “call.” In the New Testament when this word is used of a Christian it almost always refers to God’s calling to be conformed day by day to the image of Jesus Christ. That, too, is a reference to the present.

Do we run our race like that as Christians? We can err in two ways in the running of the Christian life. We can err by looking only at the past; this is sin, for it is a lack of faith in God’s future blessing. But we can also err by looking only at so distant a future that we miss the more immediate blessings that God has in store for this life.

Instead of either of these, we should run our race striving toward each new task before us. We should awake in the morning to say, “Lord, here is a new day that you have given me. I know that there are new things to be done and new lessons to be learned. Help me to use this day as well as I possibly can—to raise my children properly, to do well at my job, to help my neighbor.” And when we go to bed that night we can pray, “Lord, I have not done anything today as well as I should have, and I missed many of your blessings. But thank you for being with me. Help me now to place today’s experiences behind and rest well so that I may serve you better tomorrow.” God will do it, for he is anxious to lead us onward in our experience and our service for him.

Spiritual Battles

There is a third point to Paul’s statement in these verses. The life Paul wishes to live involves not only a forgetting of the past and looking forward to the things that lie ahead. It also involves a striving for these things. This involves perseverance, discipline, and concentration. Do you concentrate on the Christian life, or is your mind filled with the things of this world? Do you fix your mind on the things God has for you, or do the temporary, passing, and insignificant things of this world crowd out the lasting, eternal things?

If we are really to engage in that great struggle for God’s best that Paul is speaking about, we must also be prepared for vigorous spiritual conflict. For our striving is not only against ourselves or our circumstances but against the spiritual forces of this world that seek to hinder us. Paul calls them principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world.

Satan’s attacks are directed against Jesus Christ, and he does not care much about a believer who is far away from his Lord. If you want an easy time as a Christian, all you have to do is to get far away from Jesus Christ—move away to the periphery of the battle. Satan is not going to bother you much out there because that is where he wants you. However, if you draw close to the Lord, as Paul wished to do, and join with him in the battle, then Satan’s arrows will start coming at you too. The battle will be hard and you will find it necessary to use God’s weapons for the conflict.

All too often Christians arm themselves with the weapons of the world instead of with God’s armor. In Ephesians 6 Paul speaks of God’s weapons as truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. But how often do believers prefer the world’s armor: wisdom, self-confidence, financial security, success, and popularity! This is not the armor that God has prepared for his warriors.

The first part is truth, for Paul writes, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Eph. 6:14). Pilate asked Jesus about the truth, but he did not wait for an answer. If he had, he would have learned that Christ is the truth and that God’s Word is truth (John 14:6; 17:17). If we are to stand fast as Christians, we must first be armed with the truth about Christ and with the great, energizing principles of God’s Word.

We are also to have on the breastplate of righteousness. This is not the righteousness with which we are clothed by God when we believe in Jesus Christ. It is not the divine righteousness that Paul is talking about here. If we are believers in Christ, we already have that righteousness and there is no need to admonish the Christian to put it on. The righteousness mentioned here is a practical righteousness that is meant to characterize the life of the individual. Christians are to live holy lives and must not allow their conduct to damage their testimony.

Then too we are to have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. This means that we are to have mastered the heart of the gospel of God’s grace to humans in Jesus Christ and to be ready to explain it to others. In the same way, Peter admonished his readers to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

We are also to take the shield of faith. This is not the faith we exercised in believing in Jesus Christ originally, but a present faith that does not doubt in the midst of God’s current dealing with us. Does it seem to you that events have turned against you? Do you see what appear to be uncontrollable setbacks in your work or in your relationships to other people? That is where the shield of faith must be raised against all attacks of Satan. You must learn to say of God as Job did, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).

There is also the helmet of salvation. How wonderful to know that the center of our being is protected by the great and eternal salvation that God has worked out for us!

Finally, we are to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. A special Greek word is used for the term “word” in verse 17. It gives the verse a slightly different meaning from the previous admonition in verse 14 to be armed with the truth. This word is not the normal Greek noun logos, which refers to the Word of God in its entirety. It is the more restrictive word hrema, which really means “a saying.” Paul is saying that we are to be armed with specific sayings of Scripture, specific verses, and that we are to be able to draw on them in every circumstance and in every spiritual engagement.

As we engage in the battles of the Christian life that result from our striving for the victories that God sets before us, we can take confidence in the fact that the victory of Jesus Christ has already guaranteed the outcome. By his death and resurrection Jesus Christ decisively defeated Satan and the forces of darkness, and we now advance under his banner to enforce his conquest. We are to wear his weapons. As we go we are to echo Paul’s challenge: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14).[1]


Striving for the Living Christ

Philippians 3:13–14

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Several years ago an Englishman named C. Northcote Parkinson wrote a humorous book on the functioning of corporations called Parkinson’s Law. One chapter in the book set about to analyze the disease that has affected a corporation in which, according to Parkinson, “the higher officials are plodding and dull, those less senior are active only in intrigue against each other, and the junior men are frustrated or frivolous.” The disease goes through stages, he says, from the point at which a person appears in the organization’s hierarchy who combines in himself “a high concentration of incompetence and jealousy,” to the point at which the whole corporation is characterized by smugness and apathy. At this point little is attempted and nothing is achieved. Parkinson calls the disease injelititis, and he defines it as induced inferiority or paralysis. In our terms it is complacency or the absence of the urge to shoot high.

I wondered as I read the book if something of the sort is not found in the lives of many Christians. In this case, of course, it would be a spiritual smugness or spiritual apathy. It would be seen most clearly in complacency regarding spiritual things. I think spiritual injelititis is found widely. It may be found in you. Have you lost your vision for God’s future blessing on your life? Or have you ceased to work hard in his service? If so, you have caught the disease, and the words of our text would be a rousing challenge to your apathy.

Paul writes about his goals, setting himself as an example: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14). Paul was not complacent, and we shouldn’t be either. Instead of smugness Paul knew a sanctified ambition, and he threw himself eagerly into the race that God had set before him.

Paul says that he had learned to press ahead in three ways. First, he forgets those things that are behind. Second, he looks forward to those things that are ahead. Third, he presses on toward the mark of the prize of God’s calling. In Paul’s mind there was a sanctified forgetting, a sanctified looking ahead, and a sanctified striving for that to which God had called him.

Forgetting the Past

In the first place, Paul says that he forgets those things that are behind. What are they? Well, he certainly did not forget his knowledge of the Bible and Christian doctrine; the letter he had just written proves that. Some of the greatest truths of the Christian faith are given in this very chapter. Moreover, he certainly did not forget God’s grace and God’s great mercies, because he has been talking about them throughout the letter. He knew that all he had to value in his life came through the grace of God manifested in Jesus Christ.

What is the nature of this forgetting then? It is the kind of forgetting that occurs when we cease to let things that are in the past overshadow the present, that lets the past be past, both the good and the bad, and that constantly looks forward to the work that God still has for us.

There is an illustration of the opposite of this attitude in the Old Testament. When God led the people of Israel out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, he provided everything that they needed for their journey. They had shade by day and light by night. They had water to drink and manna to eat. The time came, however, when the people ceased to look forward to the land that God was giving them and instead looked back to their life in Egypt. They said, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num. 11:5–6). The people of Israel began to hunger for these things, and God taught them a great lesson by giving them the things they asked for. He gave them quail until they grew sick of it. The point of the illustration, however, is that they began to look back and failed to trust God for their present and future blessings.

This does not mean, of course, that we are not to be thankful for past blessings. If we had been among the people of Israel when they were in Egypt and we had been able to buy the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic, it would have been quite proper to thank God for them, especially if we had been slaves. It would have been proper to remember years later how gracious God had been. But it would have been entirely wrong to long for these things after God had begun to lead us into new paths and had set new and greater blessings before us.

Unfortunately there are many leeks-and-garlic Christians among us. You are one if you are constantly looking to the past. If your Christian testimony is entirely taken up with what God did for you thirty or forty years ago, or if you are constantly talking about the good old days when God’s blessing on your life seemed great, then you are looking to the past. You can never do that and move forward. One of my good friends describes old age as the point in life when a person ceases to look forward and always looks backward. If that is accurate, then there are certainly a lot of old Christians—and I do not mean in terms of their years. They are living a leeks-and-garlic type of Christianity, and Paul warns against it. He would say, “Look! Past blessings are fine. We have received them from God’s hands, and we should be thankful for them. We rejoice in everything that he has done in our lives. But now we must let those things lie in the past and move forward.” There can be no progress without this proper forgetting.

Reaching Forward

The second thing that Paul claims to have done is to have fixed his gaze on the many things that God would yet be doing. He speaks of himself as “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Phil. 3:13). Someone once asked David Livingstone when he was back in England briefly after having worked for many years in Africa, “Well, Dr. Livingstone, where are you ready to go now?” Livingstone answered, “I am ready to go anywhere, provided it be forward.” That is what Paul would have said. Paul’s sense of the Lord’s leading was always linked to his awareness of open doors. Paul expected the Lord to open doors, and when he did, Paul went through them instantly. Through those doors Paul was constantly striving toward those things that were ahead.

It is precisely at this point that these verses are often misunderstood. When verse 14 speaks of the “goal” and the “prize” of God’s high calling, most readers think of a prize received in heaven, and then interpret verse 13 as a description of Paul’s striving for a heavenly reward. This is not the true meaning of the verses. It is true that the prize is probably a prize received in heaven. But the prize is achieved, as in a long race, not by pressing toward the prize itself but by pressing on to one mark after another along the racecourse of the Christian life. Actually, Paul says that he is striving to achieve this aspect of his calling.

This is evident in the text in two ways. First, verse 14 speaks of the “heavenward” calling of God in Christ Jesus. This throws the emphasis of the verse upon the ascent. Second, Paul mentions God’s “call.” In the New Testament when this word is used of a Christian it almost always refers to God’s calling to be conformed day by day to the image of Jesus Christ. That, too, is a reference to the present.

Do we run our race like that as Christians? We can err in two ways in the running of the Christian life. We can err by looking only at the past; this is sin, for it is a lack of faith in God’s future blessing. But we can also err by looking only at so distant a future that we miss the more immediate blessings that God has in store for this life.

Instead of either of these, we should run our race striving toward each new task before us. We should awake in the morning to say, “Lord, here is a new day that you have given me. I know that there are new things to be done and new lessons to be learned. Help me to use this day as well as I possibly can—to raise my children properly, to do well at my job, to help my neighbor.” And when we go to bed that night we can pray, “Lord, I have not done anything today as well as I should have, and I missed many of your blessings. But thank you for being with me. Help me now to place today’s experiences behind and rest well so that I may serve you better tomorrow.” God will do it, for he is anxious to lead us onward in our experience and our service for him.

Spiritual Battles

There is a third point to Paul’s statement in these verses. The life Paul wishes to live involves not only a forgetting of the past and looking forward to the things that lie ahead. It also involves a striving for these things. This involves perseverance, discipline, and concentration. Do you concentrate on the Christian life, or is your mind filled with the things of this world? Do you fix your mind on the things God has for you, or do the temporary, passing, and insignificant things of this world crowd out the lasting, eternal things?

If we are really to engage in that great struggle for God’s best that Paul is speaking about, we must also be prepared for vigorous spiritual conflict. For our striving is not only against ourselves or our circumstances but against the spiritual forces of this world that seek to hinder us. Paul calls them principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world.

Satan’s attacks are directed against Jesus Christ, and he does not care much about a believer who is far away from his Lord. If you want an easy time as a Christian, all you have to do is to get far away from Jesus Christ—move away to the periphery of the battle. Satan is not going to bother you much out there because that is where he wants you. However, if you draw close to the Lord, as Paul wished to do, and join with him in the battle, then Satan’s arrows will start coming at you too. The battle will be hard and you will find it necessary to use God’s weapons for the conflict.

All too often Christians arm themselves with the weapons of the world instead of with God’s armor. In Ephesians 6 Paul speaks of God’s weapons as truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. But how often do believers prefer the world’s armor: wisdom, self-confidence, financial security, success, and popularity! This is not the armor that God has prepared for his warriors.

The first part is truth, for Paul writes, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Eph. 6:14). Pilate asked Jesus about the truth, but he did not wait for an answer. If he had, he would have learned that Christ is the truth and that God’s Word is truth (John 14:6; 17:17). If we are to stand fast as Christians, we must first be armed with the truth about Christ and with the great, energizing principles of God’s Word.

We are also to have on the breastplate of righteousness. This is not the righteousness with which we are clothed by God when we believe in Jesus Christ. It is not the divine righteousness that Paul is talking about here. If we are believers in Christ, we already have that righteousness and there is no need to admonish the Christian to put it on. The righteousness mentioned here is a practical righteousness that is meant to characterize the life of the individual. Christians are to live holy lives and must not allow their conduct to damage their testimony.

Then too we are to have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. This means that we are to have mastered the heart of the gospel of God’s grace to humans in Jesus Christ and to be ready to explain it to others. In the same way, Peter admonished his readers to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

We are also to take the shield of faith. This is not the faith we exercised in believing in Jesus Christ originally, but a present faith that does not doubt in the midst of God’s current dealing with us. Does it seem to you that events have turned against you? Do you see what appear to be uncontrollable setbacks in your work or in your relationships to other people? That is where the shield of faith must be raised against all attacks of Satan. You must learn to say of God as Job did, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).

There is also the helmet of salvation. How wonderful to know that the center of our being is protected by the great and eternal salvation that God has worked out for us!

Finally, we are to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. A special Greek word is used for the term “word” in verse 17. It gives the verse a slightly different meaning from the previous admonition in verse 14 to be armed with the truth. This word is not the normal Greek noun logos, which refers to the Word of God in its entirety. It is the more restrictive word hrema, which really means “a saying.” Paul is saying that we are to be armed with specific sayings of Scripture, specific verses, and that we are to be able to draw on them in every circumstance and in every spiritual engagement.

As we engage in the battles of the Christian life that result from our striving for the victories that God sets before us, we can take confidence in the fact that the victory of Jesus Christ has already guaranteed the outcome. By his death and resurrection Jesus Christ decisively defeated Satan and the forces of darkness, and we now advance under his banner to enforce his conquest. We are to wear his weapons. As we go we are to echo Paul’s challenge: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14).[2]


[1] Boice, J. M. (2000). Philippians: an expositional commentary (pp. 196–201). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2000). Philippians: an expositional commentary (pp. 196–201). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

December 13: Sage Advice

Jeremiah 25:1–26:24; Romans 4:1–24; Proverbs 19:1–29

Proverbs is full of sage advice, and some examples deserve special attention. No words could better describe the concept expressed here: “Better a poor person walking in integrity than one who is perverse in his speech and is a fool” (Prov 19:1).

When times get tough—especially when money runs out—integrity is often the first thing we sacrifice. Yet only those who have truly lived in poverty understand the trials it brings. We can’t begin to know how we would act if we had nothing. For this reason, we should mentally prepare for times of want. In doing so, we might better gauge whether we’re conducting ourselves appropriately in times of plenty.

I heard of a man who chose to live as a homeless person so that he could understand their plight. It’s easy for the rich person to call such an act foolish, but how much did that man learn as he was challenged to maintain his integrity during hard times? Does the rich person own that wisdom?

Proverbs 19:2 seems to hint at this idea: “A life without knowledge is not good, and he who moves quickly with his feet misses the mark.” Some people move so quickly in and out of circumstances that they don’t learn from their experiences. It’s better to move a little slower than normal and pay attention to our actions and their ramifications than to make a mistake and not learn from it. Likewise, we must have knowledge about our work and what we’re doing, or we inevitably fail.

Let’s learn from people with integrity. And let’s learn from our mistakes, both in hypothetical situations and real ones. Let’s take the time to notice what went wrong and what went right.

What situation is God using to teach you? Where should you slow down?

John D. Barry[1]


[1] Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.