Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: July, 2018

PRAISE THE LORD

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Psalm 33

 

Theology was never meant to be a dry academic discipline.  We are called to have a relationship with the living God.  That requires that we can understand and appreciate certain things about Him; and those truths should have a profound effect on us personally.  Psalm 33 is a classic example of how the Bible approaches theology.

Significantly the psalm begins with a call to worship:

“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!

For praise from the upright is beautiful.”

(Psalm 33:1; NKJV)

What is called for here is not an emotionally detached assent to a set of theological propositions.  Rather, we are called to “rejoice,” and the Hebrew word used here suggests a shout for joy, an emotional expression of something that we genuinely feel in our hearts.   And in verses 2 and 3 the psalm goes on to emphasize the role that music plays in worship.  It specifically mentions the use of musical instruments: the harp and “instrument of ten strings” (a specific kind of harp).  Verse 3 says that we are to “Play skillfully with a shout of joy.”  The picture here is not of a dull, somber, lifeless formality, but rather of an outburst of exuberant joy.  And this, we are told, is “beautiful” (v. 1).  The goodness and greatness of God calls for an expression of real joy.

The psalm then goes on to explain why this is so.  It begins with a general statement about the attributes of God:

“For the word of the Lord is right,

And all His work is done in truth.

He loves righteousness and justice;

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”

(vv. 4,5)

The word of the Lord, what He says and commands, is “right” – it is honest and true, and completely dependable.  And God’s works are done “in truth” or “faithfulness” as it might be translated (cf. NASV, ESV).  God’s character is steadfast and reliable, and His actions are consistent.  Unlike human beings, who can be inconsistent and even dishonest, and therefore unreliable, God is completely trustworthy.

Moreover the psalm says that God “loves righteousness and justice” (v. 5).  That suggests both that God is righteous and just himself, and that He wants to see righteousness and justice in us.  This is important, because it establishes a basis for morality without which human society cannot function.  As human beings we are accountable to a Supreme Being and are obligated to conform to a higher law.  Otherwise might makes right and the law of the jungle prevails.

And then the psalm goes on to say that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (v. 5).  The word “goodness” could be translated “lovingkindness” (NASV).  It is the willingness of God to show kindness towards the weak and lowly, and especially to those in need.  And the earth, the psalm says, is full of His lovingkindness, as the psalmist will go on to demonstrate.

The psalmist then turns his attention to God’s works, beginning with God’s work of creation.  “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made . . .” (v. 6); and “He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap . . .” (v. 7).  What strikes the psalmist here is the vast expanse of the heavens and the mighty rolling ocean.  As impressive as there things are in themselves, how much greater must be the One who created them!  And the heavens in particular were made by God’s mere spoken word.  What amazing power God must have if He can create something out of nothing, and accomplish that merely by speaking the word!  “Let all the earth fear the Lord; / Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him” (vv. 8,9).

If, therefore, God is the creator of all things it follows that He can control what He created, and this would include the actions of men.  Because God is ultimately in control, His will is the final factor.  People, rules and entire nations may think and plan, but “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; / He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect” (v. 10).  The Lord’s counsel, by way of contrast, “stands forever” (v. 11).  As a result His will is determinative.

The psalmist then goes on to point out that God can see everything that goes on here on earth.  “The Lord looks from heaven; / He sees all the sons of men” (v. 13).  “He fashions their hearts individually; / He considers all their works” (v. 15).  The ultimate reality is not an impersonal natural force or an abstract idea; it is a living conscious Supreme Being.  And while He is infinitely greater than we can imagine, that does not mean that He is so far removed from us that He is not aware of what we are doing.  On the contrary, he knows everything that we do, and that should make us think twice before we act.

This, then, leads the psalmist to the practical implications of what he has said so far.  The first is the realization that ultimately it is not our physical or social circumstances that control our destiny: “No king is saved by the multitude of an army . . . A horse is a vain hope for safety” (vv. 16,17).  Instead the promise is this:

“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,

On those who hope in His mercy,

To deliver their soul from death,

And to keep them alive in famine.”

(vv. 18,19)

The promise is to those “who fear Him” and to those “who hope in His mercy.”  Here we have the basic elements of true religion.  To “fear” Him is not to live in constant terror of Him.  Rather it is to have a deep reverence and respect for Him, and a desire to please Him in all our ways.  To “hope in His mercy” (or “goodness” or “lovingkindness” as it might better be translated – it is the same word that was used in verse 5) means to wait patiently for God to act in His kindness to deliver us.

And so the psalm concludes with a ringing affirmation of trust in God.

“Our soul waits for the Lord

He is our help and our shield.

For our heart shall rejoice in Him,

Because we have trusted in His holy name.”

(vv.20,21)

We patiently wait for the Lord; we look to Him for protection (“He is our help and our shield”).  We trust in Him, and as a result our hearts are filled with joy.  And then there is the concluding prayer:

“Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,

Just as we hope in You.”

(v. 22)

Christianity, then, is not an abstract idea or a mere religious formality.  It is a deep appreciation for who God is and what He has done for us.  And this, in turn, should elicit from us a heartfelt gratitude.  Praise the Lord!

 

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THE BELIEVER’S RULE OF CONDUCT – III

 

 

As we have seen then what God requires of us is that we love Him with whole heart, soul and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves.  How, then, does a Christian determine whether a given action is right or wrong?  First of all through the imitation of Christ.  We should imitate Him and His example of self-sacrificing love.  “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . .” (Phil. 2:5; NKJV, cf. Eph. 4:32-5:1; Col. 3:13).  What would Jesus do in a given situation?  How would He react to the other person?

Secondly, we should follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).  There will not be a written instruction to cover every possible situation.  But a genuine concern for the other person, arising from a proper attitude of heart produced by the Holy Spirit, will lead us to do the right thing.  Our lives should manifest the fruit of the Spirit.

Everything, of course, should be consistent with the teachings of the New Testament.  “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6,7).  “Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God: for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (I Thess. 4:1,2)/  Jesus and the apostles have given us general instructions on how to live a life that is pleasing to God.  These instructions are contained in the New Testament and ought always to be observed.

What all of this requires is that we “test” or “prove” what the will of God is.  The apostle Paul tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2), or as it might more literally be translated, “that you might test and prove what the will of God is, the good and the well-pleasing, and the complete or perfect.”  The implication is that in each situation that we encounter we should ask, “Is it good? – does it have a beneficial effect?”  “Is it well-pleasing to God – in accordance with His moral attributes?”  “Is it complete or perfect? – Does it fully meet the need?”  We should apply the general principles of God’s Word to a given situation to see what course of action would be acceptable to Him (cf. Eph. 5:10; Phil. 1:9-11; I Thess. 5:21,22).

An example will illustrate the difference between being under the law and being under grace.  Consider the biblical teaching on marriage.  The 7th Commandment states “You shall not commit adultery,” and the Old Testament then goes on to condemn various sexual practices: incest, homosexual behavior (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), bestiality and prostitution.  It gives various regulations on how to handle cases of sex outside of marriage, female captives taken in war, polygamy and spouses who die without offspring.  And there is a provision on how to handle divorce (Dt. 24:1-4).  Marriage is looked at as a civil institution enforceable by law.  But the Torah (Pentateuch) is largely silent on how spouses are to treat each other.  (There are passages in Psalms, Proverbs and the Song of Solomon that talk about the pleasures and pains of marriage.)

But when we turn to the New Testament a somewhat different picture emerges.  Jesus begins by quoting the 7th Commandment, but then goes on to say, “But I say to you that whoever looks on a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).  Here the focus shifts from the outward act to the inward thought, and it is the thought that makes one guilty in the sight of God.

But just as revealing is Jesus’ teaching concerning divorce.  He began by going to the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 (“and the two shall become one flesh” – Matt. 19:5) and then said, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (v. 6).  He then went on to say that “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (v. 8).  The implication is that Moses had made certain concessions to human weakness, and the Mosaic legislation did not perfectly reflect what God actually requires of us as human beings.

And when we turn to the epistles we get an even fuller picture of what God actually requires of us.  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25).  And “just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (v. 24).  It is not enough merely to avoid an act of open adultery.  Husbands are to love their wives.  And how?  “. . . just as Christ love the church.”  What is required is more than just bare compliance with the letter of the law.  What is required is genuine and active concern for others, a self-sacrificing love; and Christ is our supreme example of that. (Interestingly the Westminster Larger Catechism, in its treatment of the 7th Commandment, does not mention husbands loving their wives, other than “conjugal love” and “cohabitation” ).

The New Testament, then, gives us a fuller revelation of the will of God than does the Old, and the Old Testament should be interpreted in the light of the New.  And sanctification is not so much a matter of following a detailed list of rules and regulations as it is manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

The goal, then, is not just an external conformity to the letter of the law.  What God requires of us as human beings is love; but love cannot be reduced to a set of written rules and regulations.  Love avoids harming others, and thus fulfills the law.  But it goes beyond the law to seek the positive good of others.  And true Christian love springs from an active principle produced within the heart by the Holy Spirit.  Let us make it our aim. Then, in life, to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; II Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10).  May Jesus Christ be praised!

THE BELIEVER’S RULE OF CONDUCT – II

 

As we saw in our last blog post when the Apostle Paul said that we are not under law but under grace he was not saying that there is no moral law, but that the only way to fulfill that law is not by keeping the letter of the old covenant but by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Basically there are two major issues here.  The first has to do with the content of the moral law – how do we know what God really requires of us?  The Torah (The Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch) generally does not make a distinction between the “moral,” the “civil,” and the “ceremonial” law.  It was initially given to meet an immediate need for a set of laws to govern the Israelite community, and Israel was bound to obey all of it.  The majority of the laws are phrased negatively and have penalties attached.  Instructions are given on how judges are to decide cases.

And underlying moral code is implied, however.  Part of it is rooted in the character of God himself – His own moral attributes.  “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, / Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Ps. 86:15, echoing the words of Ex. 34:6).  This, in turn, means that there are certain things God hates: “There are six things the Lord hates, / Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: / A proud look; / A lying tongue, / Hands that shed innocent blood . . .” etc. (Prov. 6:16-19.  God judged the entire world at the time of the Flood because He “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).  He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah “because their sin was very grave” (Gen. 18:20).  Likewise the Canaanites were to be destroyed “for they commit all these things and therefore I abhor them” (Lev. 20:23).  Therefore David could say, “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? / Who may dwell in Your holy hill? / He who walks uprightly, / And works righteousness, / And speaks the truth in his heart . . .” (Ps. 15).

Jesus himself made it clear that the moral law is not done away.  “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17,18).

On the other hand it is probably not true that “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.”  Strictly speaking, the Ten Commandments (literally, the “Ten Words” or “Sayings”) were “the words of the covenant” (Ex. 34:27,28; Dt. 4:13), a summary of the terms and conditions of God’s covenant with Israel.  While they obviously reflect basic moral principles, it would be a mistake to say that they “continue to be a perfect rule of righteousness.”

But how, then, do we know what the true moral law requires?  To know that we must turn to the teachings of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament.  We must interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New.

And according to the New Testament what is really required from us as human beings and as Christians is that we love the Lord with all of our heart and soul and mind, and lover our neighbors as ourselves, as Jesus said (Matt. 22:34-40, quoting Dt. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18).  Or to put it another way, the essence of the moral law can be summed up in the Golden Rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).  Significantly Jesus said that “this is the Law and the Prophets.”  The mandate to love was always there – it was just buried under a mass of civil and ceremonial regulations.

Love does not do away with the law; it goes beyond it.  If you love someone, if you genuinely care about him, you will not harm him.  In this sense love fulfills the law (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-15).  But at the same time what love requires cannot be reduced to a set of rules and regulations – “thou shalt not do this” or “thou shalt not do that.”  Strictly speaking the purpose of the written law is to show us what we have done wrong (I Tim. 1:8-10).  But genuine love actively seeks the wellbeing of the other person and is not content merely to meet the minimum requirement of the law.  And meeting the needs of others cannot be prescribed in detail by a written law code.  Love actively looks for opportunities to help and to serve.  It does not have to be told to do so.

Which brings us to the second consideration, which is the motive of obedience.  Why do we do what we do?  Is it a matter of pride?  Or fear of punishment?  Do we simply go the life doing the bare minimum that is required of us in order to please someone else?

A genuinely righteous person does what is right because he wants to do what is right.  He genuinely cares about others and actively seeks their good.  The question is not, what do I have to do?  Rather the question is, what can I do to further God’s glory and help others?  The Holy Spirit produces His fruit in the heart of the believer, giving him the proper desires and motives.  As a result the believer does not have to be told what to do under threat of punishment; he does it instinctively and spontaneously.

C.I. Scofield, who was originally trained as a lawyer, used an interesting example to illustrate the point.  “The law of the commonwealth requires parents to care for their offspring, and pronounces penalties for the willful neglect of them; but the land is full of happy mothers who tenderly care for their children in perfect ignorance of the existence of such a statute.   The law is in their hearts. (“Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth,” p. 41).