Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Maintain Pure Faith For God

When King Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:7-9), God also gave Solomon great wealth and honor as well (1 King 3:13; 1 Kings 4:29-34). Wisdom means to walk with honesty, to love and obey God, and shun evil and wickedness (see Deuteronomy 4:5-8; 1 Kings 3:14; Job 28:28; Proverbs 1:7; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). King Solomon’s immediate behavior revealed evidence of his wisdom. He resolved an argument over a child between two women (1 Kings 3:16-27) with such insight that the people were “in awe of the king” (1 Kings 3:28). 1 Kings chapters 4 through 10 also reveal King Solomon’s wisdom, wealth, and world honor. The queen of Sheba came to test King Solomon with difficult questions and found his wisdom exceeding all others (1 Kings 10:1-9). Even more, King Solomon’s administration (1 Kings 4:1-28), his international relations (1 Kings 3:12; 5:1-9), his building projects (1 Kings 5:10–7:51), and his business dealings (1 Kings 9:18, 26-28; 1 Kings 10:15-29) all confirmed his godly wisdom. God prospered the nation of Israel under King Solomon’s wisdom and leadership. During King Solomon’s reign, Israel was at the zenith of world power. 

Early in King Solomon’s reign, he faithfully imitated King David’s love and faithfulness to God (1 Kings 3:3). In his address dedicating the Temple, King Solomon acknowledged the living God as the true King and Lord of the universe (1 Kings 8:23). Nonetheless, God also repeatedly warned King Solomon to remain wholeheartedly faithful to Him as the true and living God, to worship Him only, and to walk in obedience to God’s ways (e.g., see 1 Kings 2:2-4; 1 Kings 3:14; 1 Kings 6:12-13; 1 Kings 8:25; 1 Kings 9:4-9). God wanted the hearts of King Solomon and the people to be fully committed to Him as their Lord and true King and to live in complete obedience to His Holy Word (1 Kings 8:60; see also Psalm 46:10; Luke 12:31). God’s lordship and commands are good and for our protection. King David, Solomon’s father, had been completely faithful to God with a righteous and upright heart (1 Kings 3:6). Although David committed grievous sins, he was repentant and NEVER involved in an idolatrous worship of another god (see Psalm 51). David always honored the true and living God as the Lord and King of his life (see also Matthew 6:33).

Unfortunately, King Solomon’s wisdom did not last throughout his career. As King Solomon aged and his honor around the world grew, he began accumulating chariots and horses, a huge harem of women, and extravagant displays of wealth (see 1 Kings 10:1 - 11:3, particularly 10:26 — 11:3; see also Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 1 Samuel 8:11-18). Sadly, the more lavish King Solomon became, the more the people were taxed. He even gave away part of God’s promised land to a foreigner to support his luxury lifestyle (1 Kings 9:13). This extravagance violated God’s law (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Even more, King Solomon had over 700 wives and 300 concubines who worshipped other gods and had different standards of right and wrong (1 Kings 11:3). Because of these women, King Solomon turned his back on God and worshipped other pagan gods!  King Solomon allowed idol and pagan worship to enter his life. These women turned King Solomon’s heart away from passionate faithfulness to the true and living God (1 Kings 11:4-13). King Solomon built shrines and encouraged pagan worship of other gods in Jerusalem. God repeatedly warned the people against worshipping other gods (see Exodus 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 5:6-15). Eventually, this idolatrous worship brought spiritual corruption into the nation of Israel and lead King Solomon and the people away for the absolute Kingship of the Lord God. 

King Solomon was one of the wisest people who ever lived. But once he turned away from wholeheartedly loving and obeying the true and living God, King Solomon lost his wealth, honor, and his kingdom – he lost everything (1 Kings 11:9-13, 33). Eventually, God called up enemies like Hadad from Edom, Rezon from Zobah (modern-day Syria), and Jeroboam from Zeredah. These men would eventually divide King Solomon’s mighty kingdom because of his disobedience and unfaithfulness to God (1 Kings 11:14-40). As Solomon soon learned, we are nothing without God’s divine help, strength and guidance!  God wants everyone – Jew and non-Jew (Gentiles) to love Him wholeheartedly, trust Him as the true and living God, obey His commands, to live a life pleasing to Him, and stay away from evil (1 Kings 11:38; see also Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Deuteronomy 10:12-11:1; Matthew 22:34-40). 

We must all remain wholeheartedly faithful to God from beginning to the end – start to finish (Mark 13:13). God must be in control of our lives each and every day as our Lord and King (see also Matthew 6:33-34; Luke 12:31). God’s requirements of faithfulness and obedience given to King David and King Solomon are still required for Jesus Christ’s followers today (e.g., see Matthew 25:14-21; Luke 16:10-12; John 14:21; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 1 Timothy 4:7-8; Revelation 2:10). We are to love the Lord God with all our heart and obey His commandments (John 14:21) and be faithful to Him in all things. Those who follow King David’s good example of faithfulness and devotion to God (see Acts 13:22) will similarly be received as God’s people (Acts 13:32-39; Romans 8:12-21).

Jesus also noted King Solomon’s great wisdom. Yet, Jesus reminded the people that He was even greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42). Jesus is the true wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30) in whom one can find ultimate wisdom (Colossians 2:3, 7). Following and intimating Jesus Christ makes one wise as He changes our hearts and makes us new from the inside out (John 15:1-10; see also 2 Corinthians 5:17, 21). Fundamentally, all the beautiful qualities of wisdom are revealed in Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ’s life is a pattern for everyone to follow who wants and seeks God’s wisdom (1 John 2:6; James 3:13-18).

There is but one God that must be loved, obeyed, and worshipped (1 Kings 8:23; see also Deuteronomy 4:39; Deuteronomy 5:7, 9; Deuteronomy 6:4-6, 13-14; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). God loves and cares for us without measure (Deuteronomy 4:37; John 3:16), but He also wants everyone to love and obey Him (Deuteronomy 5:9-10). We must all worship God from our whole hearts as we obey and remain completely faithful to Him (Deuteronomy 10:12, 20; Psalm 24:1-4; Matthew 4:10; John 4:24). We must not let any idol take God’s first place in our hearts (1 John 5:21), because all other "gods" or “idols” are only creations of sinful imaginations and are not gods at all (Romans 1:18). To worship other gods is to worship nothing and become nothing (Psalm 115:8).

Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is NO OTHER!  Keep His (God) decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time. Deuteronomy 4:39-40 (NIV)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. New York: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fear The Lord

God:  “Oh, that they would always have such a heart for Me, wanting to obey My commandments (Ten Commandments). Then all would go well with them in the future, and with their children throughout all generations!” Deuteronomy 5:29 (TLB), see also Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Exodus 20:1-17).  

The Ten Commandments are the central requirements of God’s Law. These commandments summarize what the true and living God expects of His people in terms of faith, worship and conduct. Jesus Christ summarized the Ten Commandments at Matthew 22:34-40 with His Great Commandment of love (see also Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25-27). God wants everyone to respect and obey Him. Respect and obedience to God and His commandments ultimately bring true and lasting happiness and joy in this life and the eternal.

Throughout the Old Testament, readers will see the phrase “fear God” or “fear the Lord.” To fear God is a conventional phrase equivalent to “genuine worship” or “true religion” - righteous living. This fear does not mean fright or terror. Instead, fear of God means to reverential trust in God and obedience to serve Him wholeheartedly (see e.g., Psalm 15:4; Psalm 34:8-14; Proverbs 1:7).

God is kind, great, and forgiving (Psalm 130:4).  Those who faithfully obey and trust in Him will ultimately find heart peace and lasting joy (Psalm 34:10). But in order to experience these good days of peace and joy, we must continually shun evil, do good to others, and faithfully love God. To trust and obey is the essence of “fear of the Lord.” 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Powerful Love

Many people are shock to find an explicit love song in the Holy Bible – complete with erotic and sensual lyrics. But the Song of Songs is exactly that. The Song of Songs shows no embarrassment with lovers enjoying each other’s bodies intimately and emotionally. These lovers love to look at each other and express their erotic feelings of passion. Both the woman and the man take the initiative in praising each other. For this reason, many people have argued for centuries that the Song of Songs should be removed from the Bible or be made “Adults Only.” 

When newcomers first read the Song of Songs, they are confronted with a jumble of images that run together and then shift with no rhyme or reason. In fact, the book is sometimes confusing and puzzling. The Song of Songs is not a story with a plot, but a collection of love songs that tells of the wholesome and romantic story of a young man and young woman. These inspired words of God disclose the beautiful charm and splendor of romantic love as one of God’s choicest gifts. This wisdom literature celebrates the sexual union and pleasure between a man and a woman as a joyful part of God’s creation. This kind of love is worth waiting. Also, these eight chapters of the Song of Songs reveals God’s love and passion for His people and of Jesus Christ’s self-sacrificing love for His church.

The title “The Song of Songs,” means the greatest song. Verse 1 appears to ascribe the book’s authorship to Solomon. The Old Testament states that King Solomon composed 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32), so one might expect him to be the author. Traditionally by the church, King Solomon has been recognized as the author. Solomon is referred to seven times (Song of Songs 1:1, 5; 3:7, 9, 11; 8:11-12) and several verses speak of the “king” (Song of Songs 1:4, 14; 7:5). However, some biblical scholars questions King Solomon’s authorship. But whether King Solomon was the author remains an open question. 

Many interpretations of the Song of Songs have been advanced throughout the years. Many biblical scholars view this book as an allegory. King Solomon is identified as God and the Shulammite maiden represents Israel. Thus, in this view the Song is an allegory of the love relationship between God and Israel. Other scholars view the book as an anthology of love songs. This view claims that no unified argument or flow of thought can be traced through the book; it is therefore nothing more than a collection of love songs that are not necessarily related to each other. Other scholars simply view the book as a love story and God’s teaching on marriage and sexual relationships. This view sees the book as a highly poetic description of an actual love relationship between a man and woman. In favor of this view is that it takes the book at face value and places it with parallel Egyptian love songs of the era.

Biblical scholars argue that the Song of Songs is an allegory showing Christ's love for His church. The Apostle Paul shows how marriage represents Christ's love and relationship to His church (Ephesians 5:22-33), and the Apostle John pictures the second coming as a great marriage feast for Christ and His bride – His faithful followers (Revelation 19:7-8; Revelation 21:1-2).

Psalm 45 is also a love song and has many similarities with the Song of Songs. The King of Psalm 45 is explicitly identified with Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1:8. Ultimately, the Song of Songs points to the love of Christ for His church (Psalm 45; Hebrews 1:8-9). The God-Love that death cannot extinguish stands behind all love and for this Love all Christians hope and married people foretaste.  For this reason, human loves are not ultimately satisfying, and always leave a residue of longing for eternal love. Thus, the Song of Songs puts on display a God-Love found in Jesus Christ that truly satisfies.

God’s Love is beyond human love and stronger than death and fully satisfying. Human love does not outlast death except in Jesus Christ. In Christ, love transcends death because of His resurrection from complete death.  Death did not and cannot stop Jesus’ love and He will not fail.  So, Song of Songs points to the ultimate and satisfying love of Jesus Christ for His people.

This wisdom book reveals that love is the most gluttonous, dangerous, and powerful force in human life (Song of Songs 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). The Song of Songs portrays love like death, the grave, and no ransom can free a person of it (Song of Songs 8:7). The Song of Songs reveals that love is not entirely positive and could be comparable to death. Love, in the Song of Songs, includes a dark side and is associated with negative qualities. The longing of unfulfilled desire highlights the lack of satisfaction that characterizes the Song of Songs. The aching for true God-Love is always present. Anyone who seeks to derive ultimate satisfaction from love will be driven to extravagant lengths to one’s own hurt. A wise person respects love and recognizes love’s capacity to consume lovers. A recurring theme refrain of the Song, “Do not stir up love,” is found throughout the book. Thus, the Song of Songs appeals to its readers not to stir up love and passion.

Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. Song of Songs 2:7 (NIV)
I want you to swear (promise), daughters of Jerusalem by the Gazelle or the Doe of the Countryside do not cause love to be awakened or aroused until it pleases. Song of Songs 2:7 (Professor George Schwab, Ph.D.)

Song of Songs 2:7 is the first of four verses that urges the reader to respect the power of love. Arguable, this verse is the moral of the Song of Songs. This verse cries out, “Do not miss the point! It is dangerous to awaken or arouse love!” This plea is obviously important to the Song as this plea is repeated at Song of Songs 2:7; 3:5 and 8:4; see also Song of Songs 5:8. While the lovers are at the peak of passion, they repeatedly warn others not to stir up love prematurely and hastily.

There is a “waiting” motif that runs throughout the Song of Songs. The very last statement of the Song depicts the lovers still waiting. This curious anticlimactic ending to the Song may in fact be part of wisdom’s evaluative final word. Timing is important in wisdom literature. The key to love, according to the Song of Songs, is that it is a matter of timing. Wait—and find peace and enjoyment with ripe love.

The Song of Songs demands its readers not to prematurely stir up love and erotic passions until the covenant commitment of marriage. Love has a mixed blessing and one should be cautious when approaching love. In fact, virginity and sexual abstinence until marriage is praised by the Song. The Song urges girls to be a strong wall and stand against sexual impurity and temptation (see Song of Songs 8:8-10). This girl warns the other girls of Jerusalem to be cautious and not to hurry love (Song of Songs 8:6-7). To behave like a door open to sexual temptations leads to destruction, depression, and death.

The “the Gazelle” and “Doe” of Song of Songs 2:7 serve as periphrases for God Almighty, Lord of Hosts. But they also are used as symbols throughout the Song for sexual endowment, appeal, comeliness, and fervor. The words “Gazelle” and “Doe” thus exist with three referents: animals in a symbolic forest, the Divine Warrior God Almighty with his Hosts, and passionate affection. The literal animals, perhaps, are themselves symbols for “sexual potency.” Thus the terms combine the concept of God with the concept of love and its power. The girl desires the daughters of Jerusalem to swear by sexuality and God Almighty — and these two concepts are fused into a single image. Thus, the Song should then be read as if love were conceived as a Divine attribute of God or as a deity in its own right. Thus, love is not simply a matter of feelings, social contracts, or rendezvous in the wood.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm. For strong as death is love, jealousy as stubborn as the grave. Its blazes are flashes of fire, the Great Flame. Many waters cannot quench love, and rivers cannot overflow it. If a man were to give all the wealth of his house for love, would he be entirely despised? Song of Songs 8:6-7 (Professor George Schwab, Ph.D.)
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a Mighty Flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned. Song of Songs 8:6-7 (NIV)

Song of Songs 8:6-7 reveals the power of love (see also 1 Corinthians 13). Feelings of love can create intimacy that overpowers all logic and reason. The power of love is comparable to death, for love is dangerous and has the potential to debilitate and make a person weak, crazed, and senseless (e.g., see Song of Songs 5:2-8, the darkest section of the Song). Love is as strong as death, and love cannot be killed by time or disaster. Even more, love cannot be bought for any price as love is priceless. Not even the richest king can buy love. Love is a gift from God. In fact, human love can drive a person to their own hurt.

People, especially young people are too often in a hurry to develop a sexual relationship based on their strong feelings for another. However, these feelings and emotions can be every dangerous and destructive. Song of Songs 2:7 encourages everyone not to force a sexual relationship too fast. Instead, one should patiently wait for feelings of love to develop until the covenant relationship of marriage.

The “waiting” motif that runs throughout the Song is the concluding note. The Song ends in a minor key. The anticlimax to the Song is illustrative of its wisdom message. The key to love, according to the Song of Songs, is that it is a matter of gauging the moment. To curb oneself until the appropriate season is to find peace and enjoyment. The reader is left in the end with a feeling of ambivalence and uncertainty concerning the Song and love.

Thus, the message of the Song of Songs is found to be twofold. On the one hand, love is commended, celebrated, and enjoyed. The Song does not shy from physical descriptions of the male and female body. The Song of Songs celebrates human love. This is abundantly clear. Yet, within its frolic and carousal, its delightful exploration of love and lovers, is a serious warning to beware of the thing being celebrated. Love is also dangerous. Love and sexuality are unashamedly tendered. On the other hand, love is also shown to be a dangerous and risky endeavor that may drive lovers into frantic and self- destructive behaviors. Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, and 8:4 warns against the premature rousing of passion. The girl warns her friends to avoid love “until it please,” rather than “until you so desire.” The Song conceives of Love as a power, which can take control of those under its influence. The Song’s recurrences of these appeals cue the reader to a component of its message—respect the power of love. Love is framed in language that echoes Divine titles, again highlighting the Song’s view of Love as a Power.

Love is described as a fire that cannot be doused with many waters and rivers (Song of Songs 8:6–7). Love’s inferno will not surrender to any jurisdiction. To restrain love is beyond the capability of humans. As the eternal flame cannot be stifled, so jealous passion is unyielding. Thus, there is no question of refusing to stir up love absolutely—that is impossible. Nothing can satisfy love, and when under love’s power, a man is liable to willingly forego any loss and shame. Song of Songs 8:6–7 then echoes the thought of Song of Songs 2:7, where love is drafted as a God-like power that is best avoided until the covenant commitment! 

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
New Student Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986, 1992.
The Amplified Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987.
Schwab, George. The Song of Songs’ Cautionary Message Concerning Human Love. (NY: Lang, 2002).
Schwab, George. Expositor's Bible Commentary:  Song of Songs Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

GOD’S IDEAL WOMAN: The Proverbs 31 Woman

Friday, August 9, 2013

Biblical Marriage

15 Drink water from your own well— share your love only with your wife. 16 Why spill the water of your springs in the streets, having sex with just anyone? 17 You should reserve it for yourselves. Never share it with strangers. 18 Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 She is a loving deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love. 20 Why be captivated, my son, by an immoral woman, or fondle the breasts of a promiscuous woman? 21 For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes. Proverbs 5:15-21 (NLT)

From the beginning of Scripture, marriage is sacred (see Genesis 2:18, 24). God enjoys a strong and healthy marriage. He created marriage for our good and enjoyment (see also Genesis 2:21-25; Proverbs 5:15-19; John 2:1-11). In addition, the institution of marriage was approved and sanctioned by Jesus (Matthew 19:4-6). At the first wedding, God the Father gave the bride Eve away to her groom Adam and witnessed the couple’s interaction in His sanctuary-garden (Genesis 2:18-25).

Married love is a special and binding covenant commitment before God. Appropriate sexual expression is an important part of marriage (Genesis 2:23-25). Breaching that holy covenant (e.g., through adultery) is a crime against oneself and God (see Leviticus 20:10-12; Deuteronomy 22:22; Malachi 2:10-16; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Hebrews 13:4) and leads to extreme hurt, including poverty (Proverbs 6:26-29, 33-34). God created marriage and made marriage holy to be enjoyed for physical pleasure, procreation, and companionship (see Hebrews 13:4). The book of Proverbs urges young men and women to keep the beauty of marital love and guard its holiness as God intended. Sex is not to be shared with strangers.

26 For a prostitute will bring you to poverty, but sleeping with another man’s wife will cost you your life. 27 Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire? 28 Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet? 29 So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife. He who embraces her will not go unpunished. Proverbs 6:26-29 (NLT)

In the book of Proverbs, the wise teacher frequently warns naive young men and women to avoid the temptations of sexual expression outside of marriage (see Proverbs 2:16-22; Proverbs 5:1-23; Proverbs 6:20–7:27). While a young person might find another person physically attractive and seductive, the consequences of acting on these temptations are deadly and destructive. Sexual sins are like walking a path that leads to death (Proverbs 2:16–22), destruction (Proverbs 6:20–35); and hell (Proverbs 5:5; see also Proverbs 6:20–35; Proverbs 7:6–27; Proverbs 22:14; Proverbs 23:26–28). Having sexual relations outside of God’s intended purposes endangers one’s life, health and security of family.

Proverbs teaches everyone people to cultivate a strong relationship with their own spouses. They are advised to have healthy marital sex with their spouses rather than physical intimacy with other people outside the bonds of marriage (Proverbs 5:15-20). Sadly, many evil temptations entice husbands and wives to abandon one another to seek excitement, physical pleasures, and companionship outside of marriage. Although the book of Proverbs was originally written to instruct young men, young women readers can think in the same categories and consider the same important issues.

Proverbs 5:15-21 discusses the importance of faithfulness in marriage. This faithfulness means to enjoy the spouse God has given you for sexual satisfaction and companionship. Sex is a gift God gives to married people for their mutual enjoyment and pleasure (see also Song of Songs 4, especially Song of Songs 4:12, 15). This honors marriage (Genesis 2:22-25) and keeps God’s seventh commandment (see Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18). Rather than expend sexual energy on immoral man or women, a spouse should develop a healthy sexual relationship with one’s own spouse. Only within God’s covenant relationship can we find holy love and fulfillment of our physical pleasure (Song of Songs 4:10). 

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Suffering and Your Relationship with God

1 This letter is from James, a slave (bondservant) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.... 2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles (trials) come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance (strength, patience) has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous (giving) God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver (doubt), for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty (allegiance) is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. James 1:1-8 (NLT)

Difficulty and suffering test our faith. This testing produces perseverance and strength leading to maturity or perfection. But in order to mature properly through hardship, you need wisdom. God generously gives us wisdom to help us work through our difficulty and grow towards maturity. James says that when we ask God for wisdom, we must ask God "without doubting." Remember that the God of wisdom "does not find fault" with you!  Also remember that suffering and hardship does not produce wisdom! Rather, God gives us wisdom to help us grow and mature in the bad times and trials. 

The book of James teaches us to turn our hardships into times of learning and growth. Tough times teaches us perseverance, patience, and persistence (see also Romans 2:7; Romans 5:3-5; Romans 8:24-25; 2 Corinthians 6:3-7; 2 Peter 1:2-9). God promises to be with us in rough times. We must ask God to help us solve our problems and give us the strength to endure.  God promises to never leave you alone with our problems; He will stay close and help you grow (Hebrews 13:5-6). 

God’s wisdom gives us the ability to make wise decisions during difficult circumstances (James 1:17; James 3:17). Whenever we need wisdom, we can pray to God. God will generously supply His wisdom to guide our choices (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Wisdom means good judgment. It begins with respect and trust in God that leads to right living (see the book of Proverbs).  

When you trust God, testing works for you and not against you. James’s call for joy in the face of trials may seem shocking or even insensitive. However, a close reading of James reveal that James finds joy in the RESULTS of trials, not in the trials themselves. Even difficult times producing good qualities of strength, patience, maturity, perfection, and perseverance. But, be sure your heart is WHOLLY committed to God. If your heart and mind are divided, trials can tear you apart.

The book of James is practical rather than theoretical. This book is the Proverbs of the New Testament, and the most Jewish of all New Testament books, containing little that is distinctively Christian. Even basic doctrines as redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are absent. Yet, the book of James seems like an interpretation on the teachings of Jesus Christ.  The book of James unites many ideas and phrases from Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7) (e.g., James 1:2—Matthew 5:10-12; James 1:4—Matthew 5:48; James 1:5—Matthew 7:7-12; James 1:22—Matthew 7:21-27; James 4:11-12—Matthew 7:1-5; James 5:1-3—Matthew 6:19-21). Even James’s frequent teaching examples from nature parallel Jesus Christ’s parabolic teaching (parables). Though quite similar to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament, James is not simply a gathering of loose and unrelated moral teachings. Instead, the book of James reads very much like a number of sermon summaries. 

James was the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3). Joseph was not Jesus’ father since He was conceived by the Holy Spirit of God (Matthew 1:18). Like his other brothers and sisters, James did not believe in Jesus during His earthly ministry (Mark 3:31-35; John 7:1-5). But after the resurrection, James received a special, post-resurrection appearance of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7), experienced Pentecost (Acts 1:14), and was a leader of the early Jerusalem church (see Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18). We see James in the Upper Room praying with Jesus’ disciples (Acts 1:14). These special revelations revealed to James that Jesus was indeed Lord. 

While James could have called himself as Jesus’ brother or even as a leader of the prestigious Jerusalem church, he humbly called himself a “bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). Bondservants were slaves. Likewise, James gladly offered his life in slavery and pledged allegiance to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (see also 1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 10:9). Again, be sure your heart is WHOLLY committed to God and the Jesus Christ as Lord. If your heart and mind are divided, trials and other testing can tear you apart.

5 . . . . For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my Helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Be Satisfied and Enjoy Life

So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from Him? Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 (NLT)

Significantly, the Teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes emphasized the importance of accepting each day as God's gift and enjoying life (see also Matthew 6:34). The conclusion of the Teacher’s many reflections is that we are responsible for enjoying life because life is God’s gift. In six different Scriptural passages, the Teacher encouraged the reader to enjoy life now, be satisfied, and be thankful for God’s gifts (see Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-15, 22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-10; Ecclesiastes 11:9-10). 

One tradition in Christianity states that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1). The New Testament similarly encourages us to be joyful in all things, including our trials and struggles (Philippians 4:4; James 1:2). “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NKJV). “My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy” (James 1:2, NCV).

Life is meant to be enjoyed and satisfied with laughing, dancing, love, and peace, not complaining, grumbling, and ungratefulness. We are to enjoy our food, drink, health, proper clothes, spouses, family, work, and entertainment each day (see also Matthew 6;11). Only when we treat these things of life and their enjoyment as idols are they limits to our happiness.  

Apart from God, all meaning, significance, or happiness is cursed with meaningless. Anything that serves as a substitute for God and as a source of happiness, security, or importance is an idol (see Isaiah 57:13; Jeremiah 10:3, 15, Jeremiah 51:18). God curses all idols as meaningless – empty, absurd, and frustrating.  God does not want anything in this creation to satisfy a person’s thirst for eternity, or to replace Himself as its Source of lasting and eternal peace, joy, and happiness. God wants to be love, reverenced, and worshipped first and foremost in all areas of life before anything else in life can have meaning (see Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Matthew 6:33; Mark 12:29-30). 

Do not love this world or the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of (God) the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from (God) the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17 (NLT).
Remember, King Solomon knew God and was greatly blessed by Him, yet he turned from the Lord God and went his own way (1Kings 11; see also James 1:27).

Relationship, wisdom, and work should be viewed as “gifts” from God to be enjoyed, but not relied upon as the source of life’s payoff or meaning. God give us relationships, wisdom, and work as His gifts, not to be confused with God Himself (the source of life, the resting place of one’s identity). The “whole of human life” is found in our intimate relationship with God while enjoying God’s gifts each day, knowing that God will bring “every deed into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

Those who really know how to enjoy life are the ones who take life each day as a gift from God, wholeheartedly thanking God for life, and faithfully serving God. Only in the true and living God does life have meaning and true pleasure. Without a personal relationship with God, life is sad, frustrating, and meaningless. Anything without God will have NO lasting joy from life and no divine direction to guide them through life's frustrations. The book of Ecclesiastes’ encouragement gives the reader relief from the otherwise pessimistic viewpoint of life. 

God wants us to enjoy life and be satisfied (or thankful) with His blessings (Psalm 107:1-8). In Ecclesiastes, the Teacher repeatedly warns the reader to enjoy life and be satisfied with what God has assigned to us. The Teacher is not advocating "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" That is the philosophy of pessimism not faith. True enjoyment does not mean pleasure-seeking. Rather, the Teacher is saying, “Thank God for what you do have, and enjoy it to the glory of God.” The Apostle Paul gave his approval to this attitude when he also encouraged us to trust “in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17, NKJV). This is a joyful outlook that accepts life as God’s gift to enjoy and to seek God’s glory.

In essence, true enjoyment comes with (1) reverently fearing God, 2) obeying His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; see also Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Matthew 22:34-40; John 13:34-35; Philippians 4:4) and (3) enjoying life with thanksgiving. This is the will of God. The Teacher made it clear that not only where the blessings from God, but even the enjoyment of the blessings was God's gift to us. The Teacher considered it "evil" if a person had all the blessings of life from God but could not enjoy them (Ecclesiastes 6:1-5). The important thing is that we seek to please God and trust Him to meet every need.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17 (NIV)

Humans have little or no control over times and changes. Life and death, wisdom and wealth, are all in God’s hands. The eternal God sovereignly determines all of life’s activities (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22). In fact, life is filled with difficulties and mysterious, the book of Ecclesiastes concluded. There are many aspects of life we cannot understand, let alone control. 

From the human point of view, life is meaningless, vanity, and sadness. But from God’s viewpoint, life is God’s gift to us. Again, God wants us to enjoy life and live for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT). So, instead of complaining about what we do not have, let us start giving thanks for what God has graciously given us to enjoy! Nonetheless, if we rejoice in God’s gifts, but forget the Giver, then we are ungrateful idolaters.

Our Jewish friends read the book of Ecclesiastes at the annual Feast of Tabernacles, a joyful autumn festival of harvest. "There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God" (Ecclesiastes 2:24). 

Life without Jesus Christ (God) is indeed "meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). But when you know God personally and live for Him faithfully, you experience "fullness of joy [and] pleasures forever more" (Psalms 16:11).
So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time. Matthew 6:34 (The Living Bible)
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. Matthew 6:34 (The Message)