Monday, September 16, 2019

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Evil Kings, Repentance, and a Last Opportunity

"Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses" (2 Kings 23:25).

The worst king Judah ever had was Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah. No sooner had he come to the throne than he undid all the reforms Hezekiah had initiated. He openly practiced witchcraft and, as a sorcerer-king, sponsored every form of idolatry known to the ancient world, including child sacrifice. He reigned for 55 years, and during that time the nation became thoroughly steeped in idolatry.

Manasseh was followed by his son Amon, who was so despicable that he was killed after two years by the officials of the palace. His son, Josiah, came to the throne at the age of eight. God reached into this depraved family and converted Josiah, so that when he was 18, Josiah instituted the most sweeping reform in the history of Judah.

Josiah began rebuilding the temple, and shortly thereafter the priests brought to his attention a moldy book they had found in a side room. It was the book of the Law, either Deuteronomy or perhaps all five of the books of Moses. Josiah read it and realized that his reformation had to be far more thorough than he had originally envisioned. Following the dictates of God’s holy law, and with the prophet Jeremiah as an adviser, Josiah destroyed all the idols and the high places where the Lord was falsely worshiped. He slew all the idolatrous priests. He caused the temple to be cleansed according to the rituals of Leviticus and led the nation in a covenant renewal.

This was Judah’s last chance. Sadly, the nation as a whole only cooperated outwardly with Josiah’s reforms; there was no whole-hearted repentance. The idols were broken on the hills, but not in the hearts. Thus, “the LORD did not turn away from the heat of His fierce anger, which burned against Judah” (2 Kings 23:26).

God mercifully called Josiah home to Himself. The four kings who followed him each reigned for short periods of time and each willingly cooperated with the idolatrous hearts of the people and rejected the Lord. Since the people wanted to live as pagans, God put them under the pagan rule of Babylon and sold them into captivity.

Half-hearted repentance can be a deadly thing because it “heals the people slightly.” Our Reformation forefathers sometimes called for a “root and branch” reformation. Take a look at your own life and at your local church in the light of this truth. Has your reformation been thorough? What specific change of direction might you yet put into effect?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

How Do I Know if I'm Putting Christ's Interests First?

More than a few churches lament that commitment is in short supply. It often seems to be the same people who are involved in most things. Thankfully it’s not always the norm. There may be many reasons why people are on the fringes of church life. But there are those who prefer to sit on the sidelines. They are ready with excuses about how busy they are and the number of things that take up their time. It’s true that the pace of modern life presents challenges in meeting the demands of work and family life. No church should expect burnout. But God has given us sufficient time to meet our responsibilities. Are we merely including church alongside a number of other personal interests and hobbies?

The apostle Paul lamented the same trend in his own time. Everyone, he said was seeking their own things and interests, not Christ’s (Philippians 2:21). “But”, you say, “church isn’t the same as Christ’s interests”. What does he mean by the interests and things of Christ? He is speaking about their service of faith, holding forth the word of life, serving in the gospel and caring for those in the church and serving one another as part of the work of Christ (Philippians 2:3-4, 16, 17, 20, 22 and 30). Edmund Calamy lamented the same half-committed Christians in his time too. In this updated extract, he explains further how the things of Christ are the things of the Church and how we can know if we are putting Christ’s interests first.

1. Why are the things of Christ’s Church the things of Christ?
  • Because Christ is the husband of the Church, and the things of the wife are the things of her husband.
  • Because Christ has purchased them for us by His death
  • Because of the great love that Christ has to His Church. It is so great that the Church’s interests are His interests, and her injuries His injuries (Acts 9:4). 
  • Those who neglect the things of the Church, therefore, neglect the things of Christ.

2. What are the things of Christ?

In general, they are nothing else except the preservation and propagation of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. They involve building up the Church of Christ in truth, purity, and unity. But more particularly, the things of Christ are:
  • Christ’s pure worship in Christ’s way
  • Christ’s gospel and its precious truths
  • Christ’s Church governed according to the pattern of Scripture
  • Christ’s day
  • Christ’s godly ambassadors
  • Christ’s Church reformed when corrupted in doctrine, worship, and government

3. How do I know if I’m putting my own interests first?

(a) If we seek our own interests and do not care about Christ’s

This is when a Christian seeks their own interests and does not care at all what becomes of Jesus Christ and His cause. They make themselves the principle, rule and purpose of all they do: acting from self as a principle, by self as a rule, for self as a purpose. The people of Meroz were self-seekers in this way and therefore the Israelites were commanded to curse them (Judges 5:23).

(b) If we seek our own interests before Christ’s

This is when a Christian seeks the things of Christ as well as their own, but seek their own things before the things of Christ. They seek their own things first but the things of Christ afterward. The prophet Haggai complains of the same situation (Haggai 1:2-5, 9-11).

(c) If we seek our own interests more than Christ’s

This is when we seek our own things first, not only before, but more than the things of Christ in terms of what they value and esteem in their love and affection. It is when we prize our own profit and advantage and love our own praise and glory more than the profit, praise, and honor of Christ and His gospel. The Gadarenes preferred their pigs before Christ. Those in the parable made light of the call of Christ and preferred their business before Christ and His gospel (Matthew 21:3). Demas forsook Paul and embraced the present world. The Pharisees loved the praise of men, more than the praise of God (John 12:43).

(d) If we seek our own interests when we seek Christ’s

We may seek our own things in seeking the things of Christ. Jehu pretended a great deal of zeal for the Lord of Hosts. But it was only pretended, his zeal was to secure the kingdom for himself. Balaam pretended that if he was offered a house full of gold and silver he would not go beyond the commandment of God. But he loved the wages of iniquity and desired that Balak offered him.

(e) If we seek our own interests when they conflict with Christ’s

When our own interests are in competition with or in opposition to the things of Christ which do we choose? What if we must either part with possessions, liberty, and life, or with Christ and a good conscience? If we choose to part with Christ and a good conscience, rather than liberty, possessions or life, it is sinful self-seeking. The young man in the gospels who forsook Christ rather than part with his great possessions was like this.

(f) If we seek the interests of our body rather than our soul

This is when we bestow all our time, strength, concerns and endeavors in providing for our body which is perishing while we neglect to provide for our eternal soul. It is when we lay up all our treasure on earth, but have no treasure laid up in heaven. It is when we are anxious to live comfortably in this world, but strangely neglect to be concerned about living happily in the other world.

4. How do I know if I’m putting Christ’s interests first?

(a) If you seek them first, best and most

Does seeking your own things take up your time first, best, and most? Are the things of Christ the one thing necessary to which you give your energies or are they only given a little leftover time? Does seeking your own things make you neglect the things of Christ or seek after them negligently? If so, it is a sign that you over-value and over-esteem your own things, and undervalue and love the things of Christ. If you pursue the things of Christ first and most, you are putting His interests first.

(b) If you mourn more for the afflictions of Christ’s cause

If you mourn more for personal miseries than for the distress of Zion it is a sign you mind your own things more than the things of Christ.  This frame of spirit is opposite to the true spirit of Ezra, Nehemiah, David, Daniel, and Jeremiah who were more afflicted with the miseries of the Church than with their own. If you mourn more for Church desolations than personal miseries, you are putting Christ’s interests first.

(c) If you have courage for Christ and His cause

If seeking your own things takes away your courage for Christ and His cause. If the more you have of the world, the less you stand for Christ and His gospel. If the more honor you have in the world it makes you more fearful. If preserving your own things makes you betray the things of Christ by sinful silence or cowardice, it is a sign you prefer your interests to Christ’s. But if the more wealth you have, the more courageous you are for God and are glad to have something to lose for Christ’s cause, you are putting Christ’s interests first.

(d) If you are prepared to defend Christ and His cause

If seeking your own things makes you seek out excuses to hinder you from defending Christ, it is a sign of self-seeking. The times in which we live are very sinful and dangerous: the truths and ministry of Christ are trampled underfoot, religion and reformation are neglected. God is calling you to defend His truths and His ministers and ordinances.

Conclusion

It’s easy for the cares and concerns of this world to take over (Luke 21:34). It’s possible to become so involved in things that are not sinful in nature but still get in the way of commitment to Christ and His cause. If we do allow this, it is to our own spiritual detriment as well as that of the church. As Calamy has shown, the relationship between Christ and the Church is so close (as husband and wife, head and body, king and subjects) that their interests are the same.  Christians may, and ought, to seek their own things in a secondary way to the things of Christ (1 Timothy 5:8). But they must not seek their own things in opposition to the things of Christ. Timothy (Philippians 2:20) was willing to deny himself and exert himself for the church at Philippi. We need to learn from this zeal in correctly aligning our priorities.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Politics or Faithfulness?

"Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD” (2 Kings 20:16).

As Assyria marched throughout the ancient Near East, conquering one little country after another, Ahaz king of Judah sought to spare his country by making an alliance with Assyria. He sent gold and silver from God’s temple as a gift to Assyria. His political strategy worked, and later when Assyria destroyed northern Israel, the southern kingdom was spared.

However, Ahaz’s actions violated God’s ways. He should have trusted solely in the Lord for Judah’s defense. Instead, he subjected himself and his nation to the idolatry of Assyria, and when his son Hezekiah came to the throne, Judah was a vassal of Assyria. Hezekiah’s first action as king was to restore the temple and eliminate the idolatrous worship introduced by Ahaz. He held a great Passover and invited the remnant in the northern kingdom to come to it. Many moved to Judah, and thus were spared when Assyria destroyed northern Israel in Hezekiah’s sixth year.

In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, the Philistine city of Ashdod formed an alliance to try and shake off the yoke of Assyria. Isaiah the prophet warned Hezekiah to have no part in it (Isaiah 20). He told Hezekiah that when God was ready, He would deliver Judah. Hezekiah listened to Isaiah (2 Kings 18:13–16). At this time, people in Judah were willing to hearken to the prophets because they had just seen the destruction of the north, which the prophets had predicted.

Later in his reign, however, Hezekiah came under the sway of the political aristocracy in Judah. Learning that Babylon was growing strong, Hezekiah formed an alliance with Babylon and other nations in preparation for shaking off the Assyrian yoke. Isaiah criticized him severely for this, but Hezekiah only paid slight attention (2 Kings 20). Like Saul, David, Solomon, Jeroboam, and Joash, Hezekiah fell into sin and almost lost the kingdom.

Toward the end of Hezekiah’s reign, Assyria went on the march again to put down the new revolt. The Assyrians laid waste to most of Judah, and besieged Jerusalem. Hezekiah turned to the Lord in repentance, and the city was spared (2 Kings 18:17–19:27).

Like David, Hezekiah sinned and exposed the nation to destruction, but also like David he repented and God heard his prayer. We have a King now who will never fall, even though we often do. Let us learn from the stories of the kings what we are to do when God chastises us for our sins.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Reform and Apostasy

"After the death of Jehoiada, the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king, and he listened to them" (2 Chronicles 24:17).

Although Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa, was basically a good king, he made one foolish mistake: He made peace with Ahab, king of Israel (1 Kings 22:44). Making peace involved forming some kind of covenant, and one of the aspects of this arrangement was that Ahab’s daughter Athaliah married Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram. Athaliah was the most wicked woman ever to come near the throne of Judah.

Under her influence, Jehoram readily followed in the wicked ways of the kings of Israel, forsaking the righteousness of his father Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 8:18). When Jehoram died, their son Ahaziah came to the throne, and he also followed in the ways of his mother and his grandfather Ahab (2 Kings 8:26–27). As we saw several days ago, Ahaziah was killed by Jehu when God commanded Jehu to wipe out Ahab’s house.

Jehu had strength only in the north, and it was because Ahaziah was visiting the north that he was killed. Upon learning of her son’s death, Athaliah decided to take over the southern kingdom, Judah. She put to death every royal son, intending to wipe out the Davidic line completely. Unknown to her, Ahaziah’s son, her grandson, was rescued. His name was Joash, and he was raised secretly by Jehoiada the high priest.

At the age of seven, Joash was publicly anointed king by Jehoiada. The people and the army, who had had enough of Athaliah’s corrupt rule, rallied to him, and Athaliah was put to death (2 Kings 11).

This was a triumph for the religious conservatives in Judah. Under Jehoiada’s influence, Joash repaired the temple, abolished idolatry, and broke off the evil political alliances with pagan nations. 

When Jehoiada died, however, Joash came under other influences. The moneyed aristocrats in Jerusalem and Judah came to him and persuaded him to break with Jehoiada’s “fundamentalistic” ways and to take a more “open-minded, tolerant” approach to things. Joash abandoned the purity of God’s worship and allowed idolatry back into Jerusalem. Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah the high priest, a man Joash had grown up with, publicly called on Joash to repent, and Joash had him put to death (2 Chronicles 24).

When it comes to His own church, God does not approve of a “tolerant, open-minded” approach. He demands strict conformity to His laws and a fierce love of His holiness. How soft and compromising most of our churches are today. Pray that God would raise up some Zechariahs and that our Joashes would hearken to them.