Psalm 119:7

The more we understand God’s word, the more praise we give Him.  His word shows us how great He is, and how desperately we need Him because of our sin.  Our hearts do become more upright, as conforming to His word changes our desires.

Are you depressed, worried, discouraged?  Have you thought about spending more time in God’s word as a remedy?  Have you had trouble with relationships, particularly with managing conflict and loving others?  Consider the bible as a playbook, and think about how hard it is to take the right steps independently.

We can’t grow if we don’t spend consistent time in His word.  This is a struggle for many, so ask those closest to you in your church to help.  Ask for accountability, and know yourself well enough to recognize the need for help.

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2 Corinthians 1-5

2 Corinthians 1-5

Christian Service

Christian service is about how our redemption in Christ comes into bloom in this world. It is what puts hands and feet and lips to God’s holy-love. Once we had as our life’s goal only ourselves. Our self-interest defined our worldview. Now this has changed. Now we are living a new kind of existence (2 Cor. 5:17). It is not one that is self-focused but one that is God-centered, not one that is self-pleasing but one that is open to others. And it is God’s holy-love that motivates this new direction even as it is Christ’s death that makes it possible.

We take the gospel to others because, Paul says, “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). But that is not our sole motivation. A little earlier he had said, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). In other words, it is God’s holy-love that motivates us. It is love that feels the painful breakdown in life that sin has brought. It is holiness that understands how wrong this is. It is love that draws us to the side of another. It is holiness that yearns for the day when the world will be cleansed of all that is dark. And the gospel connects with both of these things. It is a message about deliverance from God’s coming judgment, and it is a message about His redemptive love in human life now. This love touches our sin as grace. Love and holiness thus walk hand-in-hand.

There are a thousand ways in which we can serve Christ. Some serve in places of high visibility and others in places of obscurity. It matters not. What matters is that in our service to Christ, another world is seen to be breaking into our everyday life. From this other world come shafts of light, of love in its union with what is holy, love as an expression of what is holy. In this sense, everyone who belongs to Christ is an outpost of eternity in this world. God calls His people so to live, so to serve, that they are themselves the evidence that the age to come is already dawning. That evidence is the presence of holy-love.

Romans Overview

Romans Overview

For centuries, the faithful descendants of Abraham according to the flesh—the Jews— looked forward to God’s decisive intervention to restore the nation of Israel to a right relationship with Him. This was the hope of the prophets, who eagerly anticipated the Lord’s work to fulfill His covenant promises of salvation and make His people into a holy nation (Isaiah 52:1–9). Yet this redemption was not intended merely for the Jews. In the day of Israel’s salvation, “all the ends of the earth see the salvation of God” (Isaiah 52:10), and the nations would serve the Lord (Micah 4:1–5).

During the first century AD, our Creator acted to keep His covenant promises and save His people from their sins in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Mattthew 1:21; John 3:16–17). Thus was born the Christian church, which grew steadily and rapidly among the Jews in the earliest days of its history (Acts 2:42–47). The conversion of one of these Jews—Saul of Tarsus—marked a decisive point in redemptive history, for this former Pharisee brought the gospel to the Gentiles with a zeal that few could match. Saul—better known as Paul the Apostle—was not the first person to preach the gospel to the nations; nevertheless, his work preaching the good news of salvation, discipling converts, and planting churches was the means by which the Holy Spirit realized the promise that all people would benefit from the gospel. Once Paul understood that Israel’s restoration and salvation were accomplished in Christ Jesus, he knew that it was time for the Gentiles to come en masse to worship the Lord of Israel. So, he went out on several missionary journeys to establish Christian congregations, and he instructed them by means of epistles.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans is the most influential of these letters. Its teaching has sparked reformation and revival throughout church history whenever people have grasped the Spirit’s message through the pen of the Apostle. Often called Paul’s magnum opus, Romans was written sometime in AD 57–58, probably from Corinth. This was the end of his third missionary journey, and the Apostle was on his way to deliver monies collected from the Gentile churches to the Jewish church in Jerusalem. After Jerusalem, Paul wanted to stop in Rome to meet the church there before going on to preach the gospel in Spain (Romans 15:22–29). He wrote his letter to the Romans to introduce himself to the church there and to explain the message he preached throughout the world.

Matthew 1-13

Matthew 1-13…Fulfillment of the Law in Christ

Patience is a virtue, it is said, probably because waiting is so difficult. Young children find themselves having to endure an almost unbearably long stretch of school days before the freedom of summer. Engaged couples spend what seems like ages waiting for their wedding day even though the ceremony may be only a few months away.

After the fall of man, God turned us over to the consequences of our sin. Strenuous labor, pain in childbirth, broken relationships, and finally death would be our lot. Yet our gracious Lord spoke good news as well. His curse would not last forever, one day the seed of the woman, a people holy unto the Lord, would crush the serpent and his seed. Thus began our long wait for Satan’s defeat.

Our Father did not start over from scratch to keep this promise but chose some out of fallen humanity to be His own. Abraham and his seed would be the family through which God would bless the world (12:1–3). For centuries Abraham’s offspring waited for the great blessing they would share with the world. Yet though there were times when the patriarch’s seed blessed the earth, most of the nation of Israel failed to be salt and light to the world; thus, the Lord kicked them out of the Promised Land.

But God also promised an even greater blessing would come if His exiled people repented. The covenant community would go back to their land and a holy son of David would rule the world when they turned to Yahweh. Israel did return to Palestine, but national repentance did not follow, and the Jews lived as a shadow of their former selves, under the heel of one empire after another.

However, the faithful remnant in Israel continued to trust God for His blessing. Four hundred years or so after the voice of prophecy fell silent in Israel, the Father sent Jesus His Son to fulfill His promises (Matt. 5:17). The Gospel of this Jesus, according to Matthew, will occupy our study for the next week or so.

Jeremiah 1-4

Jeremiah 1-4…The young prophet.

Despite brief revivals under kings such as Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah, division and decline marked the history of God’s old covenant people after David (1 Kings 15:9–15; 2 Kings 18:1–8; 22:1–23:25). Following Solomon’s death, the one nation of Israel was split in two—the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah (1 Kings 12:1–24). God sent prophets to both nations to warn them of the judgment they faced if they would not turn from their idolatry, and both nations refused to repent of their apostasy. Finally, the Lord executed the covenant curse of exile upon both nations. Assyria conquered Samaria, Israel’s capital, in 722 B.C., and Babylon conquered Jerusalem, Judah’s capital, in 586 B.C.(Deut. 28:58–68; 2 Kings 17:6–23; 25:1–21).

About forty years before Jerusalem fell to Babylon, God raised up the prophet Jeremiah to plead with the people for their repentance. Ministering during the waning days of Judah, Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, which encompassed the years 627–586 B.C. This was a tumultuous time for the covenant community. Internationally, Assyria was weakening rapidly, and it fell to the Babylonian Empire in 612 B.C. At home, Judah’s relationship with God initially seemed to be improving. Good king Josiah was spearheading a return to the pure worship of Yahweh by removing idols and celebrating a grand Passover (2 Kings 22:1–23:25). Yet this was short-lived, and the people returned to their sins after Josiah died in 609 B.C. Judah became a political football, with Egypt and Babylon both laying claim to the country’s treasure (2 Kings 23:28–24:1a). The Chaldeans (Babylon) and other peoples — Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites—attacked Judah, and Babylon invaded Jerusalem several times. The city finally fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.(2 Kings 24:1b–25:21). Through tears, Jeremiah warned the Judahites repeatedly to repent during this period, but they refused, and Josiah’s successors opposed the prophet bitterly (Jer. 32:1–3; 36).

Jeremiah 1 describes his call to ministry, which occurred when he was just a young man (Jer. 1:6–8). Yet the Lord determined to issue this call long before Jeremiah was born, even before he was an idea in his parents’ mind. When God formed the prophet in His mother’s womb, He had already purposed to send forth His word through Jeremiah (vv. 4–5). Jeremiah’s ministry was ordained in eternity past.

Isaiah 61-63

Isaiah 61-63…The Servant of the Lord

The Messiah must come as the ideal Israel, fulfilling Israel’s vocation to be a light to the world, dying an atoning death for His people, and rising again to rule creation in perfect righteousness (Isa. 9:6–7; 42:1–7; 49:1–7; 52:13–53:12). Isaiah 61 reinforces this point in its first-person description of the one who comes “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (61:1–3). Although some commentators have said otherwise, the speaker cannot be the prophet himself. Isaiah nowhere else describes himself in such lofty terms or in a manner that ascribes the same kind of authority to himself as the preacher here. More importantly, there are numerous conceptual similarities between the figure of Isaiah 61:1–3 and the messianic figure described elsewhere by the prophet. Consider, for example, the parallels between the preacher of Isaiah 61 and the Davidic king of Isaiah 11. The Spirit of the Lord rests upon both individuals (11:2; 61:1). Righteousness adorns the Son of Jesse in 11:5, and in 61:3, the preacher’s work effects righteousness in the people. Both figures speak words of immense power (11:4; 61:2).

We have, then, in Isaiah 61, what one commentator describes as the “climactic representation” of the Servant of the Lord. This Servant is the ideal Israel, the Davidic Messiah who frees His people not only from the captivity of human enemies but that of sin and death. In so doing, He gives eternal beauty to His own (61:3).

Isaiah 61:3 indicates that one result of the Messiah’s work is to make His people “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD.” This is an image of permanence, of life in God’s presence forever. John Calvin comments, “There is no other way in which we are restored to life than when we are planted by the Lord.” If we trust in Christ, we are planted in righteousness forever, and will be preserved by His hand for the sake of His eternal glory.

Isaiah 7-9

Isaiah 7-9…Old Testament typology.

Scripture clearly teaches that God is “unchangeable in his being” (Mal. 3:6), and one consequence of the Lord’s immutable character is that His ways are consistent throughout history. For example, God’s use of Moses to rescue His people from Egypt is not the only exodus Scripture records (Ex. 3). The prophets also describe Israel’s restoration after the exile as a new exodus (Isa. 11:16; Ezek. 20:33–38). Furthermore, the New Testament sees Jesus’ ministry as the final exodus (Matt. 2:13–15; 1 Cor. 5:7).

Knowing that God works in similar ways in every generation helps us interpret Old Testament prophecy. The historical context of Isaiah 7 tells us the sign of Immanuel had meaning for eighth-century BC Judah. This sign had a fulfillment then in the birth of Isaiah’s son because Israel’s and Syria’s threat had to end within that generation, as it was tied to Assyria’s invasion of Judah in 701 BC during King Hezekiah’s reign (Isa. 7:10–17; 8:3–4; 36–37). In fact, Israel and Syria no longer threatened Judah after 732 BC.

Thus, Matthew’s citation of Isaiah 7:14–17 does not necessarily mean the Apostle thought it was a direct vision of Jesus’ birth (Matt. 1:18–25). Instead, it seems that Matthew saw similarities between the first century AD and Ahaz’s era that told him God was acting in a manner analogous to but greater than what He did in Isaiah’s day. A foreign enemy (Rome) threatened Judah in the first century, just as foreign enemies (Syria and Israel) had threatened Judah centuries earlier. Mary conceived a son just as Isaiah’s wife did in the eighth century BC (Isa. 8:3–4), only the virginal conception of Jesus was a greater miracle (Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 1:26–38). Moreover, Ahaz’s rejection of the sign in Isaiah 7 led to Judah’s later devastation, just as Jerusalem fell to Rome in AD 70 after the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus (Matt. 24:15–31; 26:56–68).

Matthew’s discovery of these analogical connections is known as typology, which was the Apostles’ favorite way to read the Old Testament. They did not read secret meanings into the prophets (allegory); rather, they saw how God was fulfilling His covenant promises during the first century in a manner that had precedent. God’s earlier dealings with Israel hinted that there was more to come. Since Assyria devastated Judah for its sin during the eighth century BC (Isa. 8), a better Immanuel was needed— God with us to such a degree so as to destroy evil once and for all (1 John 3:8).

Song of Solomon 5-8

Song of Solomon 5-8…The love of Christ.

Yesterday, we looked at the reality that Song of Solomon is not exclusively about Christ and His church. Today, we’ll consider how this book does point us to Jesus, and that love outside of the context of our relationship with Christ will always be distorted.

First, we need to dispel the myth that emphasizing what a text says about humanity is a man-centered approach. If we rightly understand what the Bible says about mankind and the actions demanded of us, we are being Christ-centered even if Jesus is not mentioned explicitly. Our Lord and Savior said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15), and His commandments are found throughout Scripture because Jesus is divine and the Bible is God’s inspired Word (2 Tim. 3:16–17). When we base our thoughts and actions on God’s holy Word, we are obeying Jesus and are therefore centered on Him.

That being said, there are two other ways the Song of Solomon points us to Jesus. First, it helps us understand the strength of His love for us. The climax of the Song of Solomon, found in today’s section of scripture, tells us that love is like “the very flame of the Lord” in its intensity (Song of Solomon 8:6). Given the strength of the love of a bride for her groom and vice versa, it is no surprise that Scripture compares the relationship of God and His people to marriage (Isa. 62:5; Rev. 19:6–10). If the love between man and woman is as intense as the Lord’s fire, imagine how great the Almighty’s love for His people must be. Though we are undeserving, He is passionate for His own (Zeph. 3:17).

Secondly, the Song of Solomon encourages us to long for Christ. As noted, the Song depicts love and marriage in an idealized form. Yet every married couple knows that no matter how strong their relationship is, it still cannot fulfill their every need, much less always reach the heights depicted by Solomon. Even the best marriages have their bad days. This imperfection makes us long for a love that satisfies us wholly. Such love is found only in Christ (Rom. 8:38–39).

Psalms 119-120

Psalms 119-120…Contemplating the Lord.

Scripture tells us time and again that the practice of meditation involves not forgetting the Word of God (Josh. 1:8), reading it, and contemplating it so that it might penetrate our hearts and sanctify us by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16–17; Heb. 4: 12–13).

Many of the Old Testament verses on meditation are found in the Psalms, particularly in Psalm 119, which extols the virtues of the Lord’s inspired teaching that makes up the canon of Scripture. Verses 97–104 of this psalm are particularly pertinent for giving us a more thorough explanation of the kinds of things we should think upon as we meditate on God’s Word. In speaking of the blessings of the law of God, the psalmist gives us some insight into the practice of meditation.

First, we are told that the commandments of the Lord make us wiser than our enemies (v. 98). It is appropriate, then, as we are meditating on God’s Word, to consider why the passage before us is superior to the accepted ways of the world. Furthermore, the psalmist links the continual presence of the commandment with him to the wisdom it provides (v. 99); thus, mulling over a portion of Scripture should include asking how we can make its teaching a perpetual part of our lives.

Second, there is an emphasis in today’s passage on hating “every false way” and avoiding evil in order to understand and keep the Word (vv. 101, 104). Achieving the right meaning and application of a text as we meditate on it requires attention to personal holiness. A refusal to repent of known sin and a complete failure to put into practice that which we already know from Scripture will guarantee that we miss the point of what the Spirit wants to teach us in the text.

Finally, meditation should also include a consideration of the text in light of the new covenant in Christ. Since the Word of God gives us wisdom and understanding (vv. 98–99), we profit from it only if we read it with an open eye on Him who is the incarnate wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18–25). By the Spirit and in communion with the church, Jesus gives us the meaning of His Word.

Psalms 71-75

Psalms 71-75…God alone is perfect.

God alone does marvelous deeds (Psalm 72:18). He is perfect, and His perfect creation which was tainted by the Fall, will one day be restored to perfection. The human race has been dreaming of utopia from the beginning. But an ideal world requires a ruler who is perfect in wisdom, righteousness, justice, and mercy.

Only one person meets these qualifications–God’s sinless Son, Jesus, who has been made “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The second half of Psalm 72 continues the exciting description of the justice, mercy, and prosperity that will prevail on earth when Christ takes His seat on David’s throne. It will be a kingdom of universal righteousness and blessing, and it’s in our future!

You probably have noticed by now that the Old Testament writers often focused on, and celebrated, Messiah’s future reign as universal King. But the idea of a suffering and crucified Christ, rejected by Israel and hanging in shame on a Roman cross, was a concept many devout followers of Christ simply could not grasp. Even Jesus’ disciples refused to believe His predictions of His impending death in Jerusalem. And after His resurrection, Jesus had to explain to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that it was “necessary” for the Christ to suffer (Luke 24:26).

Even though we know there are no perfect people or situations in the world, sometimes we can begin to expect perfection from ourselves and others. Are you holding someone to an impossibly high standard? We often expect the most from the people we love the most. But demanding that other people be perfect can create frustration and strained relationships. Be humble, see your own sin objectively, and be ready to help or forgive others when they do stumble.