Be Restored

The second book of Samuel covers King David’s reign in Israel. Warren Wiersbe offers insights and helps for our reading 2 Samuel in his commentary Be Restored (2 Samuel & 1 Chronicles): Trusting God to See Us Through.

David first shows up in 1 Samuel, where Samuel finds him as a young shepherd and anoints him king after Saul fails. Then David has his encounter with Goliath, becomes a seasoned warrior, and flees from Saul’s murderous jealousy for many years.

David appears in the beginning of 1 Kings, where he sets up Solomon to take over after he dies.

1 Chronicles documents David’s reign as well, including his preparations for the temple that he was not allowed to build, but that Solomon would.

But 2 Samuel begins with David’s finally coming into his full kingship and ends with his final battles, a list of his “mighty men,” and his “last words.”

Within the overarching progression of God’s Word and purposes, most notable in this book is the covenant God made with David that He would establish David’s line as an everlasting kingdom and that David’s son would build a house for His name: the temple which would be the centerpiece of Israel’s worship system for years to come. Ultimately David’s descendants would culminate in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the everlasting King. Jesus is sometimes called “the Son of David.”

David is a favorite character of many, with his rags-to-riches story of the shepherd boy who became a king, his unabashed faith that God would use him to take care of Goliath, his earnestness in following the Lord, his outpouring of his heart in so many psalms that we can identify with.

David was never perfect, but he was teachable and usually readily admitted when he was mistaken.

Then came his fall with Bathsheba. Instead of turning away, as Joseph did when tempted, David continued to entertain the thought of the beautiful woman he had seen, until he called for her and lay with her. Then when she became pregnant, David tried to manipulate her husband, Uriah, one of his mighty men, to go home so the baby would be thought to be his. But Uriah was honorable and would not partake of the pleasures of home while his brothers were on the battlefield. So David arranged to have Uriah put in the hottest part of the battle, where he was killed.

When David laid aside his armor, he took the first step toward moral defeat, and the same principle applies to believers today (Eph. 6: 10–18). Without the helmet of salvation, we don’t think like saved people, and without the breastplate of righteousness, we have nothing to protect the heart. Lacking the girdle of truth, we easily believe lies (“We can get away with this!”), and without the sword of the Word and the shield of faith, we are helpless before the enemy. Without prayer we have no power. As for the shoes of peace, David walked in the midst of battles for the rest of his life. He was safer on the battlefield than on the battlement of his house (p. 83).

David’s house was in turmoil for many years after that. God forgave him when he repented (Psalm 51), but there are consequences even for forgiven sin.

All during David’s months of silence, he had suffered intensely, as you can detect when you read his two prayers of confession (Ps. 32 and 51). Psalm 32 pictures a sick old man instead of a virile warrior, and Psalm 51 describes a believer who had lost almost everything—his purity, joy, witness, wisdom, and peace—a man who was afraid God would take the Holy Spirit from him as He had done to Saul. David went through intense emotional and physical pain, but he left behind two prayers that are precious to all believers who have sinned (p. 91).

Chastening is not punishment meted out by an angry judge who wants to uphold the law; rather, it’s difficulty permitted by a loving Father who wants His children to submit to His will and develop godly character. Chastening is an expression of God’s love (Prov. 3: 11–12), and the Greek word used in Hebrews 12: 5–13 means “child training, instruction, discipline” (p. 92).

The next-to-last chapter of 2 Samuel contains David’s “last words”—not the last words of his that we see in Scripture, but probably a psalm written near the end of his life. Wiersbe suggests that since the psalm’s subject is godly leadership, it may have been written for Solomon, who would succeed David as king. In verses 3-4, David writes: “The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.” Wiersbe comments that godly leadership “is an awesome responsibility. It demands character and integrity (‘just’ = righteous) and a submissive attitude toward the Lord (‘the fear of God’). Without righteousness and the fear of God, a leader becomes a dictator and abuses God’s people, driving them like cattle instead of leading them like sheep” (p. 183). Wiersbe expands:

David used a beautiful metaphor to picture the work of the leader: rain and sunshine that together produce useful fruit instead of painful thorns (23: 4–7) (p. 183).

With God’s help, leaders must create such a creative atmosphere that their colaborers will be able to grow and produce fruit. Ministry involves both sunshine and rain, bright days and cloudy days; but a godly leader’s ministry will produce gentle rain that brings life and not storms that destroy. What a delight it is to follow a spiritual leader who brings out the best in us and helps us produce fruit for the glory of God! Unspiritual leaders produce thorns that irritate people and make progress very difficult (2 Sam. 23: 6–7) (pp 183-184).

With all his faults and failures, David was, for the most part, such a leader. How we need such leaders today.

Be Successful: 1 Samuel

The book of 1 Samuel in the Bible is something of a bridge between eras in Israel’s history. Samuel himself is something of a bridge. He’s the last of the judges. He’s a prophet. He anoints two different kings. He oversaw the transition between Israel as a group of tribes in which everyone “did that which was right in his own eyes” (the theme of Judges) to Israel as a unified nation under a king.

But the transition was not a smooth one. In desiring a king, Israel had rejected the Lord’s leadership. The first king, Saul, had much to recommend him, but he failed spectacularly. David was anointed king, but didn’t come to the throne for several years, and he was on the run from Saul much of that time.

Perhaps the contrast between David and Saul is why Warren W. Wiersbe titled his commentary on 1 Samuel Be Successful: Attaining the Wealth that Money Can’t Buy. But other characters in 1 Samuel have varying degrees of success in following and serving the Lord as well.

The book begins with a childless woman with a longing. Hannah had no children, and she pleaded with the Lord to grant her a son. She promised that she would give the child back to the Lord.

There’s so much treachery, bloodshed, and confusion recorded in 1 Samuel that it’s refreshing to meet at the very beginning of the book a woman who represents the very best that God has to give. The leaders of Israel had failed, so God sought out a woman He could use to help bring truth, peace, and order to His people. She served God simply by being a woman and doing what only a woman could do—give birth to a baby and dedicate that child to the Lord (p. 194).

It’s an awesome fact that, humanly speaking, the future of the nation rested with this godly woman’s prayers, and yet, how much in history has depended on the prayers of suffering and sacrificing people, especially mothers (p. 20).

Eli was a priest whose sons committed awful atrocities in their offices as priests. Eli knew what they were doing and rebuked them, but didn’t restrain them. When Hannah weaned Samuel, the child the Lord had given her, she brought him to Eli’s care in the tabernacle.Somehow Eli protected Samuel from the corruption of Eli’s sons.

The Bible says that during this time, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1). Wiersbe comments, “It was a tragic day in the nation of Israel when the living God no longer sent His people signs and prophetic messages (Ps. 74: 9; Ezek. 7: 26; Amos 8: 11–12; Mic. 3: 6). The silence of God was the judgment of God” (p. 32).

Yet at this time, God spoke to Samuel, and Eli taught Samuel to listen and respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:4-18). And “the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21).

Blessed are those older saints who help the new generation know God and live for Him! However Eli may have failed with his own sons, he helped to point Samuel in the right direction, and the whole nation benefited from it. . . . Eli hadn’t been a great spiritual leader, but he was one small link in the chain that led to the anointing of David and eventually the birth of the Redeemer (pp. 195-196).

Samuel became a godly man who followed the Lord all his life and led the people faithfully. The one spot on his record is that his sons also abused their ministry. We don’t know the circumstances, but Samuel isn’t blamed for his sons’ behavior as Eli had been. Wiersbe offers some possibilities as to what could have gone wrong with Samuel’s sons, but ultimately we just don’t know. Samuel repeatedly pointed the people to the Lord.

Samuel is an example to all older believers who are prone to glorify the past, resist change in the present, and lose hope in the future. Without abandoning the past, Samuel accepted change, did all he could to make things work, and when they didn’t work, trusted God for a brighter future. God didn’t abandon the kingdom; He just chose a better man to be in charge, and Samuel helped to mentor that man. Every leader needs a Samuel, a person in touch with God, appreciative of the past (p. 197).

Saul started out well. He seemed humble in the beginning. But there doesn’t seem to have been much of a personal relationship between him and the Lord. Wiesrbe says, “His was the shallow heart of our Lord’s parable of the sower. There was no depth, the tears were temporary, and no lasting fruit ever appeared” (p. 195). Saul began taking matters into his own hands instead of waiting on God and following His directions. “Serving God acceptably involves doing the will of God in the right way, at the right time, and for the right motive” (p. 92). “To know God’s will and deliberately disobey it is to put ourselves above God and therefore become our own god. This is the vilest form of idolatry” (p. 95). Then Saul began to be jealous of David’s fame, then became murderous and unstable. His decline is one of the saddest parts of Scripture.

When Saul was chosen king, he was given authority from God and from the nation, but when he won this great victory, he gained stature before the people. It takes both to be an effective leader. The difficulties began later when Saul’s pride inflated his authority and began to destroy his character and his stature. David was humbled by his success, but Saul became more and more proud and abusive (p. 65).

Jonathan was Saul’s son and heir to the throne, yet Jonathan recognized his own father’s instability and David’s call. He was a true friend to David.

Jonathan leaves behind a beautiful example of what true friendship should be: honest, loving, sacrificing, seeking the welfare of others, and always bringing hope and encouragement when the situation is difficult. Jonathan never achieved a crown on earth, but he certainly received one in heaven. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Rev. 2: 10) (p. 200).

David was a “man after God’s own heart.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, pastor Stephen Davey says this doesn’t mean David was perfect, but his priority was God and His will and his relationship with God. Much could be said about David. He’s one of my favorite Bible characters, though I’ve grieved over the fall to come in the next book.

David was a unique blending of soldier and shepherd, musician and military tactician, commander and commoner. In spite of his sins and failures—and we all have them—he was Israel’s greatest king, and always will be until King Jesus reigns on David’s throne as Prince of Peace. The next time we’re tempted to emphasize the negative things in David’s life, let’s remember that Jesus wasn’t ashamed to be called “the son of David” (p. 200).

Finally, 1 Samuel isn’t just a book of exciting stories, downfalls and successes, battles and failures. “The Lord is mentioned over sixty times in 1 Samuel 1—3, for He is the chief actor in this drama” (p. 17). Throughout the book, God orchestrated His will to be done and His coming Messiah’s preparation.

Be Wise (1 Corinthians)

If there was ever a church full of problems, it was the one in Corinthians in the NT era. The church was divided over their favorite preachers. Blatant immorally was tolerated. They turned the Lord’s Supper into a feast which showed up who had plenty and who did not. They were proud of their gifts.

But Paul didn’t wash his hands of them, at least not without trying to help them first. He wrote them in one letter that we don’t have. They responded with questions, and 1 Corinthians is his answer to them

In Be Wise (1 Corinthians): Discern the Difference Between Man’s Knowledge and God’s Wisdom, Warren W. Wiersbe gives us some insights into Paul’s letter.

Wiersbe points out that “when you have proud people depending on human wisdom, adopting the lifestyle of the world, you are going to have problems. In order to help them solve their problems, Paul opened his letter by reminding them of their calling in Christ” (p. 20, Kindle version). Everything Paul would say to the Corinthians would be couched in and would spring from that truth.

Then Paul thanked God for them and commended them. This was not just a softening in preparation for the hard things he would have to say to them, but a recognition that God was at work in them. That’s a good reminder for us when we tend to have “all or nothing” views about people’s standing with the Lord. The Corinthians had some severe problems and some stern truths which needed to be pointed out, yet there was evidence God was at work in them.

Then Paul addresses the Corinthians issues while also answering questions they had sent him. He discusses their divisions, sexual immorality in the church, their ungodly way of handling disputes with each other, marriage, how to handle differences of opinion concerning food offered to idols, the Lord’s Supper (communion), spiritual gifts, and the resurrection.

All of these issues are vital for us today. Most of the world doesn’t have to deal with food offered to idols, but the principles Paul discusses are helpful with differences of opinions believers face over other issues today.

1 Corinthians also contains classic passages like chapter 13 on godly love (placed, interesting, in the middle of discussion about spiritual gifts) and chapter 15 about the resurrection (which we tend to hear a lot from during funerals, but we need its truths daily.

Paul wraps up his letter, as he often does, with personal greetings, news, travel plans. It’s easy just to breeze past this section, but Wiersbe points out good food for thought here as well. For instance, Paul mentions Apollos, one of the preachers that a “fan club” had developed around. The fact that Paul urged Apollos to go to the Corinthians showed that there was no animosity or competition between the men themselves.

Then Wiersbe gives a brief history of Timothy and Priscilla and Aquilla, who are also mentioned in this section, and how their ministries intertwined with Paul’s.

Here are a few of the quotes in the book that stood out to me:

Paul depended on the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not his experience or ability that gave his ministry its power; it was the work of the Spirit of God. His preaching was a “demonstration,” not a “performance” (p. 35).

To “have the mind of Christ” does not mean we are infallible and start playing God in the lives of other people. Nobody instructs God! (Paul quoted Isa. 40: 13. Also see Rom. 11: 33–36.) To “have the mind of Christ” means to look at life from the Savior’s point of view, having His values and desires in mind. It means to think God’s thoughts and not think as the world thinks (p. 43).

A mature Christian uses his gifts as tools to build with, while an immature believer uses gifts as toys to play with or trophies to boast about. Many of the members of the Corinthian church enjoyed “showing off” their gifts, but they were not interested in serving one another and edifying the church (p. 50).

Perhaps we cannot help but have our personal preferences when it comes to the way different men minister the Word. But we must not permit our personal preferences to become divisive prejudices. In fact, the preacher I may enjoy the least may be the one I need the most! (p. 57).

There can be a fine line between a clear conscience and a self-righteous attitude, so we must beware (p. 63).

Church discipline is not a group of “pious policemen” out to catch a criminal. Rather, it is a group of brokenhearted brothers and sisters seeking to restore an erring member of the family (p. 73).

Knowledge can be a weapon to fight with or a tool to build with, depending on how it is used. If it “puffs up” then it cannot “build up [edify]” (p. 99).

“A know-it-all attitude is only an evidence of ignorance. The person who really knows truth is only too conscious of how much he does not know. Furthermore, it is one thing to know doctrine and quite something else to know God. It is possible to grow in Bible knowledge and yet not grow in grace or in one’s personal relationship with God. The test is love, which is the second factor Paul discussed (p. 99).

It is interesting that Paul mentioned the offering just after his discussion about the resurrection. There were no “chapter breaks” in the original manuscripts, so the readers would go right from Paul’s hymn of victory into his discussion about money. Doctrine and duty go together; so do worship and works. Our giving is “not in vain” because our Lord is alive. It is His resurrection power that motivates us to give and to serve (p. 178).

As always, Wiersbe’s knowledge and insights were very helpful in navigating the important truths in this book of the Bible.

Book Review: Be Available

The book of Judges is one of the oddest in Scripture. The phrases “There was no king in Israel” and “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” are repeated. In the preceding book, Joshua was the nation’s leader who had followed Moses. Now there was no national leader and Israel had by and large fallen away from following God as they had promised. The behavior in the book dramatically shows the need for godly leadership and personal righteousness.

Warren Wiersbe helps readers navigate through the book of Judges in Be Available: Accepting the Challenge to Confront the Enemy.

Wiersbe points out that, ““Deuteronomy 6 outlined the nation’s basic responsibilities: Love and obey Jehovah as the only true God (vv. 1–5); teach your children God’s laws (vv. 6–9); be thankful for God’s blessings (vv. 10–15); and separate yourself from the worship of the pagan gods in the land of Canaan (vv. 16–25). “Unfortunately, the new generation failed in each of those responsibilities” (p. 18, Kindle version). “The sin in our lives we refuse to conquer will eventually conquer us” (p. 26).

“The first step the new generation took toward defeat and slavery was neglecting the Word of God, and generations ever since have made that same mistake” (p. 23). Wiersbe applies this across the ages: “I fear that too many believers today are trying to live on religious fast food dispensed for easy consumption (no chewing necessary) by entertaining teachers who give people what they want, not what they need” (p. 23).

Wiersbe makes this interesting observation: “Whether in a nation or a local church, the absence of qualified leaders is often a judgment of God and evidence of the low spiritual level of the people” (p. 112).

By the time of the Judges, ““Unfortunately, God’s people aren’t working together to defeat the enemy, but here and there, God is raising up men and women of faith who are experiencing His blessing and power and are leading His people to victory” (p. 20, Kindle version).

Sometimes those leaders were a surprise: ““When God goes to war, He usually chooses the most unlikely soldiers, hands them the most unusual weapons, and accomplishes through them the most unpredictable results” (p. 31). “Never underestimate the good that one person can do who is filled with the Spirit of God and obedient to the will of God” (p. 36). Others were a disappointment: though they yielded to God and were used by Him, at other times they yielded to the flesh.

The last few chapters show the low level Israel sank to and set us up for the monarchy to come. But even though some of the future kings were godly and inspiring, all of them failed in various points. One of my former pastors used to say that throughout the OT, we see the best of the judges and kings, but we also see the worst. These point us to the only completely righteous and perfect King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Be Right (Romans): How to Be Right with God, Yourself, and Others

Warren W. Wiersbe sheds some light on the book of Romans in Be Right (Romans): How to Be Right with God, Yourself, and Others. The title comes from the fact that some form of the word “righteousness” is used over sixty times in Romans. Also, the most important pursuits in the world are being right with God and our fellow humans.

Romans has some of the most familiar verses in the Bible, but also many difficult passages.

We typically use verses from Romans when sharing the gospel with others.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10).

But these are not isolated verses. They come from a context of Paul’s detailed explanation of man’s sin, Christ’s sacrifice, and more.

Chapters 6-8 detail the struggle between the flesh and Spirit.

Romans also discusses God’s plan for Jews and Gentiles. He has not forsaken the Jews, but he has “grafted in” the Gentiles (chapters 9-11). Paul shows that this was God’s plan all along. The section about election and free will from Romans 9 was very helpful to me.

Then chapters 12-14 are full of practical instructions. Paul often deals with the doctrinal first, then shows how doctrine manifests itself in everyday lives. Romans 14:1-15:7 particularly deal with disagreements among Christians over what we call “debatable” matters.

Romans ends with Paul’s warm greetings to several individuals.

As always, I have several passages marked. Here are a couple that stood out to me:

In the Christian life, doctrine and duty always go together. What we believe helps to determine how we behave. It is not enough for us to understand Paul’s doctrinal explanations. We must translate our learning into living and show by our daily lives that we trust God’s Word.

Christian living depends on Christian learning; duty is always founded on doctrine. If Satan can keep a Christian ignorant, he can keep him impotent.

The law was a signpost, pointing the way. But it could never take them to their destination. The law cannot give righteousness; it only leads the sinner to the Savior who can give righteousness.

Does a strong Christian think he is making a great sacrifice by giving up some food or drink [for the sake of a weaker believer]? Then let him measure his sacrifice by the sacrifice of Christ. No sacrifice we could ever make could match Calvary.

A person’s spiritual maturity is revealed by his discernment. He is willing to give up his rights that others might be helped. He does this, not as a burden, but as a blessing. Just as loving parents make sacrifices for their children, so the mature believer sacrifices to help younger Christians grow in the faith.

Spiritual gifts are tools to build with, not toys to play with or weapons to fight with. In the church at Corinth, the believers were tearing down the ministry because they were abusing spiritual gifts. They were using their gifts as ends in themselves and not as a means toward the end of building up the church. They so emphasized their spiritual gifts that they lost their spiritual graces! They had the gifts of the Spirit but were lacking in the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, etc. (Gal. 5: 22–23)

This is a fairly short commentary, so Wiersbe didn’t go into as much detail as he could have in some sections. But I think this is a good book for those who want more insight from Romans without slogging through a massive volume.

Be Strong: Study of Joshua

Our church has been reading through the book of Joshua the last few weeks. I read Be Strong (Joshua): Putting God’s Power to Work in Your Life by Warren W. Wiersbe along with our daily Bible reading.

Joshua marks two major transitions in Israel’s history. First, Moses, their leader of over forty years, had just passed away. Then the Israelites had just finished forty years of wandering and were about to enter the land God had promised their ancestors long ago.

Either situation would be daunting to a new leader. So God encourages Joshua right off the bat:

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them (Joshua 1:5-6).

God also gives Joshua vital instruction:

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:7-9).

Joshua seems to have followed God’s instruction faithfully throughout the rest of his life. He made a couple of costly mistakes: going up to Ai and making a pact with the Gibeonites without seeking counsel of the Lord. But Wiersbe spends a lot of time pointing out that when we err, we don’t give up: we confess our sins, pick up again, and get back on the right path.

Wiersbe discusses the difficulty of God having His people slaughter the nations in Canaan. He points out that the Canaanites weren’t innocent: they were known for cruel acts like sacrificing their children to their gods and vile sexual acts in the name of worship. And he reminds that God gave them plenty of space to repent. Rahab was one who heard of the God of Israel and turned to Him in faith (eventually becoming an ancestor of the Messiah).

Some hymns have portrayed the promised land as symbolic of heaven. But Wiersbe repeatably points out that the symbolism doesn’t fit: we don’t battle our way either into heaven or after we get there. He says that entering the promised land symbolizes our maturity in Christ. God often said that He was the one driving out the nations before Israel, yet they had to pick up their swords and fight (most of the time. Jericho and some of the other cities had different battle plans). So with us: we’re saved by grace through faith plus nothing. And we’re sanctified by grace as well. Yet we only become mature Christians as we pick up our “sword of the Spirit,” God’s Word, and believe it and apply it. We can and should pray for God’s grace and help in taking temptation away and helping us overcome, but He expects us to read and apply the Word He gave us. “What Paul’s letter to the Ephesians explains doctrinally, the book of Joshua illustrates practically. It shows us how to claim our riches in Christ. But it also shows us how to claim our rest in Christ (p. 22, Kindle version). Wiersbe discusses briefly the different kinds of rest Hebrews 4 and 5 tell about, then says, “This ‘Canaan rest’ is a picture of the rest that Christian believers experience when they yield their all to Christ and claim their inheritance by faith” (p. 22).

The victorious Christian life isn’t a once-for-all triumph that ends all our problems. As pictured by Israel in the book of Joshua, the victorious Christian life is a series of conflicts and victories as we defeat one enemy after another and claim more of our inheritance to the glory of God (p. 23).

The main point of Joshua is that God kept His promises to His people. Not only did He give them the land He originally promised Abraham, but He provided for each of the tribes. At the end of the book, Joshua tells the people, “You know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14). He encourages them to “cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day” (23:8) and warns that just as God kept His promises to give them the land, He’ll keep His promise to punish them if they go after other gods.

Wiersbe has a closing chapter of the example of Joshua himself in his following the Lord and leading the people.

As always, I appreciate Dr. Wiersbe’s insights into this book of the Bible.

 

Book Review: Be Daring

Warren Wiersbe divided his commentary on Acts into two volumes. I reviewed the first, Be Dynamic (Acts 1-12): Experience the Power of God’s People, a few weeks ago. I just finished the second commentary, Be Daring (Acts 13-28): Put Your Faith Where the Action Is.

As I said in the last review, Wiersbe has commented on books longer than 28 chapters in one volume before. But Acts is a pivotal book between the OT, gospels, and the rest of the NT. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ changed a lot of things, and the early disciples were still figuring out the implications. But this was also probably the biggest expanse of the church in history.

Serious persecution also dogged followers of the Way, as Paul referred to it. Thus Wiersbe’s title to Be Daring fits.

The apostle Paul is the focus of these latter chapters of Acts: his standing as a loyal Pharisee and his persecution of the church, his miraculous conversion, his three missionary journeys, his arrest and imprisonment.

As usual, I have several quotes marked from the book. Here are a few:

The first one was from the context of the big council meeting in Acts 15 about whether the newly-saved Gentiles needed to keep the Jewish laws and customs:

It is beautiful to see that this letter expressed the loving unity of people who had once been debating with each other and defending opposing views. . . . We today can learn a great deal from this difficult experience of the early church. To begin with, problems and differences are opportunities for growth just as much as temptations for dissension and division. Churches need to work together and take time to listen, love, and learn. How many hurtful fights and splits could have been avoided if only some of God’s people had given the Spirit time to speak and to work. . . . Most church problems are not caused by doctrinal differences but by different viewpoints on practical matters (pp. 35-36, Kindle version).

This is still applicable in our times, isn’t it?

[Paul] used one approach with the synagogue congregations and another with the Gentiles. He referred the Jews and Jewish proselytes to the Old Testament Scriptures, but when preaching to the Gentiles, he emphasized the God of creation and His goodness to the nations. His starting point was different, but his finishing point was the same: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (p. 23).

If God had to depend on perfect people to accomplish His work, He would never ever get anything done. Our limitations and imperfections are good reasons for us to depend on the grace of God, for our sufficiency is from Him alone (2 Cor. 3: 5) (p. 43).

To walk by faith means to see opportunities even in the midst of opposition. A pessimist sees only the problems; an optimist sees only the potential; but a realist sees the potential in the problems (p. 71).

The church ministers by persuasion, not propaganda. We share God’s truth, not man’s religious lies. Our motive is love, not anger; and the glory of God, not the praise of men (p. 91).

Luke did not write his book simply to record ancient history. He wrote to encourage the church in every age to be faithful to the Lord and carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. “What was begun with so much heroism ought to be continued with ardent zeal,” said Charles Spurgeon, “since we are assured that the same Lord is mighty still to carry on His heavenly designs” (p. 174).

Acts doesn’t mention any of the apostles writing epistles, except the joint one in Acts 15. But we have clues from the epistles that many of them were written during this time period.

The book of Acts ends somewhat abruptly, with Paul in prison. Dr. Wiersbe shares from what we know of history what happened during the rest of Paul’s life: he was released from prison, ministered a few more years, was arrested again, and was eventually beheaded. Of course, at the time Luke was writing, they did not know how long Paul would be in prison. Luke probably figured it was a good a time as any to stop where he was and send this long letter to Theophilus. But Luke was also under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and perhaps the Spirit’s leading Luke to stop where he did was an indication that the transitional phase was over and the church was established and on its way to continued growth til Christ returns.

Be Dynamic: Experience the Power of God’s People

Warren Wiersbe has divided his commentary of Acts into two books, the first of which is Be Dynamic (Acts 1-12): Experience the Power of God’s People.

Wiersbe has commented on longer books than Acts in one volume. But I think he must have divided his notes on this book of the Bible because it is such a pivotal book.

Acts was written by Luke as a sequel to the gospel bearing his name. Both books are addressed to Theophilus.

At the beginning of Acts, Jesus had already died, been buried, and been resurrected. He spent 40 days teaching His disciples, then He ascended back to heaven. The last thing He told His disciples to do was to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth. He promised the power of His Holy Spirit would enable them to accomplish this task. The book of Acts tells the story of how that witness spread.

Perhaps another reason Wiersbe divided this commentary in two is that Peter is the main character in the first twelve chapters. Then the focus shifts to Paul.

Yet a third possible reason: there were so many changes over the course of Acts, some of which are confusing to people to this day. For one, Jesus’s ministry had been primarily to Jews, though He ministered to Samaritans and Gentiles as well. But when God used Peter to open the doors of the gospel to Samaritans and Gentiles (which most believe is what is meant by his being given the keys of the kingdom), many disciples were confused. But they couldn’t argue with the definite way God had led. Then came the whole question of what part the OT law had in the life of a NT disciple. They had to meet together and hammer out these issues, which some of the epistles go into further.

Another change was the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, as promised by Jesus in Acts 1:4-5 and 8. In the OT, the Spirit came upon certain people at certain times for specific tasks. After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to inhabit every believer all the time.

The filling of the Spirit has to do with power for witness and service (Acts 1: 8). We are not exhorted to be baptized by the Spirit, for this is something God does once and for all when we trust His Son. But we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5: 18), for we need His power constantly if we are to serve God effectively. At Pentecost, the Christians were filled with the Spirit and experienced the baptism of the Spirit, but after that, they experienced many fillings (Acts 4: 8, 31; 9: 17; 13: 9) but no more baptisms (p. 35-36).

Another controversy has to do with Acts 2:44-45: “ And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Some have said that this is a form of Communism. Wiersbe says it is not, because “the program was totally voluntary, temporary (Acts 11:27-30), and motivated by love” (p. 43).

One striking feature of this era is that the church took persecution for granted as part of life.

They did not pray to have their circumstances changed or their enemies put out of office. Rather, they asked God to empower them to make the best use of their circumstances and to accomplish what He had already determined (Acts 4: 28). This was not “fatalism” but faith in the Lord of history who has a perfect plan and is always victorious. They asked for divine enablement, not escape, and God gave them the power that they needed (p. 68).

In one of my favorite chapters in Acts, chapter 12, Peter is delivered from prison and goes to the home of Mary, where the disciples were praying. If you remember the story, Rhoda comes to the door and is so astonished to hear Peter that she forgets to open it. She runs back in to tell everyone, and no one believes her. Almost every sermon or lesson I’ve heard from this chapter ridicules the disciples for praying without faith. Here they were praying for Peter, yet they couldn’t believe God had set him free. Even Wiersbe takes this view.

But Dr. Layton Talbert (one of our former Sunday School teachers), in his book Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God, brings up a different viewpoint. We don’t know that they were praying for Peter’s deliverance from prison. Dr. Talbert points out that the text doesn’t say. James was killed by Herod earlier in the chapter: since he was not delivered they may not have expected Peter to be, either. “The only precedent we have for the church’s prayer under similar circumstances is in Acts 4:23-30. There, in the face of recent imprisonment, persecution, and renewed threats, the church made only one request. And it wasn’t for deliverance from prison or persecution; it was for boldness in the face of both (4:29)” (p. 203).

A few more quotes from Wiersbe:

Repentance is not the same as “doing penance,” as though we have to make a special sacrifice to God to prove that we are sincere. True repentance is admitting that what God says is true, and because it is true, to change our minds about our sins and about the Savior, (p. 52).

If Satan cannot defeat the church by attacks from the outside, he will get on the inside and go to work (20: 28–31) (p. 79).

God has no grandchildren. Each of us must be born into the family of God through personal faith in Jesus Christ (John 1: 11–13) (p. 108).

Luke summarizes the events up to this point in Acts 12:24: “But the word of God increased and multiplied.

As always, Dr. Wiersbe’s notes were very helpful in studying the Bible.

Be Confident: Live by Faith, Not by Sight

Our church’s Bible reading program alternates between Old and New Testament books. After we finished Leviticus, our next book was Hebrews.

That was fitting, because Hebrews explains how the OT sacrificial system pictured Christ.

My companions through this reading were my ESV Study Bible notes as well as Warren Wiersbe’s Be Confident (Hebrews): Living by Faith, Not by Sight.

Hebrews was written to Jewish believers in Christ in the first century. Mention is made of the temple as if it were still in operation, and it was destroyed in 70 AD. So we know Hebrews was written before that time.

Jewish believers were facing persecution for varying from what their community practiced. Some were tempted to go back. But the author of Hebrews urges them to keep persevering and reminds them that what they have in Christ is far superior to what they had before.

In fact, the word “better” occurs repeatedly in the book. Jesus is show to be better than angels, Moses, and the priesthood. His once-for-all sacrifice was better than the repeated ones the priests offered. His new covenant was better than the old.

It’s not that the old covenant and practices were wrong: God gave them to Israel. But they were always meant to be temporary, picturing and leading up to Christ’s revelation and ministry.

There are also five major warnings in Hebrews, a couple of which have created confusion. Wiersbe demonstrates that these warnings don’t indicate one can lose salvation, but they do emphasize the need to be sure we’re in the faith and growing in the Lord. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Hebrews 11 is the “Hall of Faith,” sharing examples of those who walked with God through the centuries. Just as they “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16), so readers are reminded that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). And in the meantime, the God of peace will “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 11:21).

As modern Gentiles, we might not be tempted to go back to Judaism. But we need this book as well to appreciate what we have in Christ and to heed its warnings and benefit from its encouragements.

Here are just a few of the quotes that stood out to me from this book:

More spiritual problems are caused by neglect than perhaps by any other failure on our part. We neglect God’s Word, prayer, worship with God’s people (see Heb. 10: 25), and other opportunities for spiritual growth, and as a result, we start to drift. The anchor does not move; we do (p. 35).

What does Canaan represent to us as Christians today? It represents our spiritual inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1: 3, 11, 15–23). It is unfortunate that some of our hymns and gospel songs use Canaan as a picture of heaven, and “crossing the Jordan” as a picture of death. Since Canaan was a place of battles, and even of defeats, it is not a good illustration of heaven! Israel had to cross the river by faith (a picture of the believer as he dies to self and the world, Rom. 6) and claim the inheritance by faith. They had to “step out by faith” (see Josh. 1:3) and claim the land for themselves, just as believers today must do (pp. 49-50).

The Canaan rest for Israel is a picture of the spiritual rest we find in Christ when we surrender to Him. When we come to Christ by faith, we find salvation rest (Matt. 11: 28). When we yield and learn of Him and obey Him by faith, we enjoy submission rest (Matt. 11: 29–30). The first is “peace with God” (Rom. 5: 1); the second is the “peace of God” (Phil. 4: 6–8). It is by believing that we enter into rest (Heb. 4: 3); it is by obeying God by faith and surrendering to His will that the rest enters into us (p. 54).

The second conclusion is this: There is no need to go back because we can come boldly into the presence of God and get the help we need (Heb. 4: 16). No trial is too great, no temptation is too strong, but that Jesus Christ can give us the mercy and grace that we need, when we need it (p. 61).

The believer who begins to drift from the Word (Heb. 2: 1–4) will soon start to doubt the Word (Heb. 3: 7—4: 13). Soon, he will become dull toward the Word (Heb. 5: 11—6: 20) and become “lazy” in his spiritual life. This will result in despising the Word, which is the theme of this exhortation (p. 136).

God wants our hearts to be “established with grace” (Heb. 13: 9). That word established is used, in one form or another, eight times in Hebrews. It means “to be solidly grounded, to stand firm on your feet.” It carries the idea of strength, reliability, confirmation, permanence. This, I think, is the key message of Hebrews: “You can be secure while everything around you is falling apart!” We have a “kingdom which cannot be moved” (Heb. 12: 28). God’s Word is steadfast (Heb. 2: 2) and so is the hope we have in Him (Heb. 6: 19) (p. 23).

Faith is only as good as its object, and the object of our faith is God. Faith is not some “feeling” that we manufacture. It is our total response to what God has revealed in His Word (p. 144).

I enjoyed delving into Hebrews again, especially with the faithful, helpful companions I found in these aids.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragements, Grace and Truth, Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Be Loyal

In Be Loyal (Matthew): Following the King of Kings, Warren Wiersbe notes that we don’t have any recorded words of the apostle Matthew in any of the gospels. Even in his own book, he didn’t write about himself: he wrote about “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

Matthew was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He had been a tax collector when Jesus called him to follow. Wiersbe comments, “Being accustomed to keeping systematic records, Matthew gave us a beautifully organized account of our Lord’s life and ministry” (p. 18).

I don’t think I had considered before that “Matthew’s gospel is the bridge that leads us out of the Old Testament and into the New Testament” (p. 17), but I see it now.

The Old Testament is a book of promise, while the New Testament is a book of fulfillment. . . .“God promised a Redeemer; and Jesus Christ fulfilled that promise. Fulfilled is one of the key words in the gospel of Matthew, used about fifteen times.

One purpose of this gospel is to show that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament promises concerning the Messiah.

Matthew used at least 129 quotations or allusions to the Old Testament in this gospel (p. 18).

Matthew wrote topically rather than chronologically. He gave the history and heredity of Jesus in His birth and genealogy and then laid out His credentials. “He recorded at least twenty specific miracles and six major messages” (p. 19). He related Jesus’ character, principles, and power. He shared how Jesus taught and trained His disciples and how He was betrayed, suffered, died, and rose again in victory.

A few more quotes that stood out to me:

Jesus also fulfilled the law in His teaching. It was this that brought Him into conflict with the religious leaders. When He began His ministry, Jesus found the Living Word of God encrusted with man-made traditions and interpretations. He broke away this thick crust of “religion” and brought the people back to God’s Word. Then, He opened the Word to them in a new and living way—they were accustomed to the “letter” of the law and not the inner “kernel” of life” (p. 49).

In Matthew 6: 22–23, Jesus used the illustration of the eye to teach us how to have a spiritual outlook on life. We must not pass judgment on others’ motives. We should examine their actions and attitudes, but we cannot judge their motives—for only God can see their hearts. It is possible for a person to do a good work with a bad motive. It is also possible to fail in a task and yet be very sincerely motivated. When we stand before Christ at the judgment seat, He will examine the secrets of the heart and reward us accordingly (Rom. 2: 16; Col. 3: 22–25) (p. 66).

This dramatic incident [in 8:28-34] is most revealing. It shows what Satan does for a man: robs him of sanity and self-control; fills him with fears; robs him of the joys of home and friends; and (if possible) condemns him to an eternity of judgment. It also reveals what society does for a man in need: restrains him, isolates him, threatens him, but society is unable to change him. See, then, what Jesus Christ can do for a man whose whole life—within and without—is bondage and battle. What Jesus did for these two demoniacs, He will do for anyone else who needs Him. Christ came to them, and even braved a storm to do it. This is the grace of God! He delivered them by the power of His Word. He restored them to sanity, society, and service (p. 79).

Why compare God’s Word to seed? Because the Word is “living and powerful” (Heb. 4: 12 SCO). Unlike the words of men, the Word of God has life in it, and that life can be imparted to those who will believe. The truth of God must take root in the heart, be cultivated, and be permitted to bear fruit. It is shocking to realize that three-fourths of the seed did not bear fruit (p. 108).

“Why did Jesus walk on the water? To show His disciples that the very thing they feared (the sea) was only a staircase for Him to come to them. Often we fear the difficult experiences of life (such as surgery or bereavement), only to discover that these experiences bring Jesus Christ closer to us (p. 124).

Many Christians have the mistaken idea that obedience to God’s will produces “smooth sailing.” But this is not true. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” Jesus promised (John 16: 33). When we find ourselves in the storm because we have obeyed the Lord, we must remember that He brought us here and He can care for us (p. 128).

As we look into the Word of God, we see the Son of God and are transfigured by the Spirit of God into the glory of God (p. 150).

“Come and see!” was followed by “Go and tell!” (p. 266).

As always, Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary was a great companion through Matthew.

(Sharing with Carol’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)