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 Equipped: Acquiring the Tools for Spiritual Success

When we’re about to step into a new phase of life, we stop and reflect about where we’ve been so far, how we got to this place and time, and what we need to do for the future. We even do this at the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another.

So it’s not surprising that Moses and the children of Israel stopped to review their history and look ahead just before they entered Canaan, their promised land.

This was not just a moment of nostalgia, though. Israel had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years because the previous generation balked right at this point. And Moses knew he could not go in with them: God had told him he would die beforehand. So Moses wanted both to encourage the people that God would keep all His promises to their forefathers to lead and care for them plus instruct them as to what God required of them.

The book of Deuteronomy covers these reminders and instruction. Warren Wiersbe’s Be Equipped (Deuteronomy): Acquiring the Tools for Spiritual Success shares some helpful insights on each chapter.

It’s when we forget our high calling that we descend into low living (p. 29).

The verb “to hear” is used nearly one hundred times in the book of Deuteronomy. . . . hearing the Word of God involves much more than sound waves impacting the human ear. Hearing God’s Word is a matter of focusing our whole being—mind, heart, and will—on the Lord, receiving what He says to us and obeying it. The Word of God must penetrate our hearts and become a part of our inner beings if it is to change our lives (p. 34).

“His commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:3, NKJV). Obeying the Lord becomes a joyful privilege when you realize that His commandments are expressions of His love, assurances of His strength, invitations to His blessing, opportunities to grow and bring Him glory, and occasions to enjoy His love and fellowship as we seek to please Him. God’s Word is the open door into the treasury of His grace (p. 35).

Most people find it easier to handle adversity than prosperity (see Phil. 4: 10–20), because adversity usually drives us closer to God as we seek His wisdom and help. When things are going well, we’re prone to relax our spiritual disciplines, take our blessings for granted, and forget to “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” The material things that we wait for and sacrifice for seem to mean much more to us than the gifts that fall in our laps without our help (p. 58).

In this part of his farewell address, Moses painted the people of Israel as they really were, “warts and all.” It was important for their spiritual lives that Moses do this, for one of the first steps toward maturity is accepting reality and doing something about it (p. 73).

I enjoyed and learned from our time In Deuteronomy and was helped by Wiersbe’s comments.

Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God

The book of Numbers in the Bible covers the time that Israel headed to the promised land to the time just before they finally got there after a 40-year detour. As Warren Wiersbe said in his introduction to Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God:

The book of Numbers opens with a count of all the fighting men in the camp. They were counted, but they couldn’t be counted on, because all but two of them died during Israel’s march through the wilderness. Then the new generation was counted, and they were people whom the Lord could “count on.” They trusted His Word, entered the Promised Land, and claimed it for their inheritance (pages 13-14, Kindle).

The book begins with getting ready to march to Canaan. Soldiers are numbered, the tribes are arranged in their places around the tabernacle, duties and procedures are assigned, the tabernacle is dedicated, and Passover is kept.

But the people complain about the manna God sent them. Aaron and Miriam, Moses’s own siblings, challenge his leadership. When the people send out spies to look over the land, the spies come back telling how many and how large the enemies are. Instead of trusting that God would give them the land as He promised, the people rebelled.

They looked at the people of the land and saw giants; they looked at the Canaanite cities and saw high walls and locked gates; and they looked at themselves and saw grasshoppers. If only they had looked by faith to God, they would have seen the One who was able to conquer every enemy and who sees the nations of the world as grasshoppers (Isa. 40: 22). “We are not able” is the cry of unbelief (Num. 13: 31 NKJV), but, “Our God is able” is the affirmation of faith (Dan. 3: 17; see Phil. 4: 13) (p. 74).

God pronounced that all those who refused to enter the land would die in the wilderness over the next forty years. Their children would inherit the land in their place along with Joshua and Caleb, the only two spies who urged to people to go forth and trust God.

And then: more rebellion, this time from Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership, and God dealt with the rebels severely.

Then as the people complain once again about the need for water, Moses responds angrily. He calls them rebels. Instead of speaking to the rock as God instructed, Moses struck the rock twice.  “It was a sad demonstration of hostility by the meekest man on the earth (Numbers 12:3), showing that we can fail in our strengths as well as our weaknesses” (p. 105). God told Moses, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12). I’ve always felt bad for Moses, but one man in our church commented that he did eventually get to see the promised Savior in the promised land when he appeared with Elijah during Jesus’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).

After a battle, more complaining, an encounter with Balaam and his talking donkey, falling into sin with the false gods of Moab, judgment, revenge against Midian, and another census, the people finally come to their second opportunity to go into the promised land. Eleazar has been appointed to take Aaron’s place and Joshua Moses’s place. Boundaries for the tribes are set. Interspersed in the narrative are some of God’s instructions for promised-land dwelling. These were encouraging reminders that they would eventually get there, that they were still God’s people, and that He would keep His promises. In fact, His faithfulness to His promise is probably the only reason the people did make it. The end of Numbers leaves Israel poised on the brink of Canaan, awaiting Moses’s last instructions to the tribes in Deuteronomy. “Though he wasn’t allowed to go in himself, Moses invested the closing weeks of his life in preparing the new generation to enter Canaan and claim the land God promised to give them” (p. 153).

What are some things we can learn from Numbers? According to Wiersbe:

We don’t have to fail as did that first generation; we can be “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8: 37) (p. 14).

The more comfortable we become, the less we welcome change, and yet there’s no growth without challenge and there’s no challenge without change. Comfort usually leads to complacency, and complacency is the enemy of character and spiritual growth. In each new experience of life, one of two things happens: Either we trust God and He brings out the best in us, or we disobey God and Satan brings out the worst in us (p. 58).

So sinful is the human heart that it’s prone to forget God’s blessings, ignore God’s promises, and find fault with God’s providence. “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps. 107: 8, 15, 21, 31) (p. 61).

Over these many years of ministry, I’ve learned that it isn’t enemies outside the local church who do the damage, but counterfeiters who get inside the church fellowship (Acts 20: 28–30; 3 John 9–11). These intruders might march with the church crowd and act like they are God’s people, but they don’t have an appetite for spiritual things, and eventually their true allegiance is revealed (1 John 2: 18–19) (p. 62).

The will of God is the expression of the love of God for His people, for His plans come from His heart (Ps. 33: 11). God’s will isn’t punishment, it’s nourishment (John 4: 31–34), not painful chains that shackle us (Ps. 2: 3), but loving cords that tie us to God’s heart so He can lead us in the right way (Hos. 11: 4) (p. 77).

God in His grace and mercy forgives sin, but in His divine government He allows that sin to have its sad effects in the lives of sinners (p. 78).

Be careful what you say to God when you complain, because He may take you up on it! After all, God’s greatest judgment is to let people have their own way (p. 79).

There is no substitute for faith in God’s promises and obedience to His commandments. Faith is simply obeying God in spite of how we feel, what we see, or what we think might happen. When God’s people trust and obey, the Lord delights in doing wonders for them, because they glorify His name (p. 81).

We have to be careful about judging Israel’s penchant for complaining and failure to trust God. Instead, we need to recognize those tendencies in ourselves and seek His grace to trust, obey, and follow.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

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)

Be Holy: Becoming “Set Apart” for God

Leviticus probably is no one’s favorite book of the Bible. In fact, as one man in our church put it, Leviticus is where Bible reading plans go to die.

But Leviticus is part of God’s inspired word, and “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). It is “quoted or referred to over 100 times in the New Testament.” So it’s highly worthy of our study.

As our church came to Leviticus in our Bible reading schedule, the ESV Study Bible notes and Warren Wiersbe’s Be Holy (Leviticus): Becoming “Set Apart” for God were invaluable companions.

It doesn’t take long to see that God’s holiness is the main theme of Leviticus. “The word holy is used 93 times in Leviticus, and words connected with cleansing are used 71 times. References to uncleanness number 128. There’s no question what this book is all about.” As I mentioned before, a seminary professor teaching Leviticus had his students try to live by its regulations for a period of time. One result was that holiness was a primary focus throughout the day, in regard to everything the students did.

Also, as Ken Baugh points out in his introduction to this book, “Almost everything in Leviticus anticipates the life and death of Jesus. The sacrifices, festivals, rituals, and laws foreshadow God’s redemptive plan. Jesus becomes the means to remove the guilt and penalty for sin through His substitutionary death on the cross. His death provides the final atonement for all sin.”

Though I saw some of those glimpses of Christ in past reading of Leviticus, this time they seemed to be on every page.

A couple of quotes from the book that stood out to me:

God’s church is supposed to be “a holy nation” in this present evil world, to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2: 9 NIV). The Greek word translated “declare” means “to tell out, to advertise.”

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isa. 5: 20 NIV). The first step toward disobedience is often “reclassifying” sin and making it look acceptable instead of abominable.

Have you ever heard a preacher or teacher say that seven is the number of perfection in the Bible? I had, but I didn’t remember ever hearing why that was so. Wiersbe explains here:

The Hebrew word for seven comes from a root word that means “to be full, to be satisfied.” It’s also related to the word meaning “to swear, to make an oath.” Whenever the Lord “sevens” something, He’s reminding His people that what He says and does is complete and dependable. Nothing can be added to it.

This book helped me get more out of Leviticus than ever before.

What we have studied should make us realize the awfulness of sin, the seriousness of confession and restitution, the graciousness of God in forgiving those who trust Jesus Christ, and the marvelous love of our Savior in His willingness to die for undeserving people like us.

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