Standing your Ground

The book of Daniel has much to teach us about how to bear up under unjust circumstances, and how to conduct ourselves with faith and holiness even when we are surrounded by temptations and persecutions.

One thing that becomes very clear while reading this book is that Daniel and his friends are very intentional about remaining true to their God. Rather than dabbling in the sins of the Babylonians or making concessions here and there to water down their faith, they are decisive and stand their ground in every situation.

Consider for instance what we read about Daniel in chapter 1 verse, verse 8: “Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank.” Other translations say that he “resolved,” “determined,” or “purposed in his heart” not to defile himself. All of these phrases are intended to convey intentionality. He drew a line in the sand that he was determined not to cross, come what may. This explains why Daniel insisted on this course of action even when his superiors tried to dissuade him.

Consider also when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are standing before the king in the third chapter of this book. They have enraged the king by refusing to bow down to the golden idol that he has made, and so in verse 15, king Nebuchadnezzar decides to give them another chance to bow down and worship the idol:

“Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

It certainly would be tempting to bow down to a pagan idol today, in order to prolong my life so that I could serve the LORD again tomorrow. Do these three friends consider the king’s offer? Maybe it is best to keep peace with the king by simply bowing down just this once…

Instead, they respond: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

These godly men did not even need to answer the king because they had already taken their stand and they would not be moved. You may have heard the phrase, “we do not negotiate with terrorists.” This is essentially what these men tell the king. “We do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.” Save your breath. Our minds have been made up.

What if we took this attitude and applied it to the temptations in our life? There are times when we are tempted to sin, and we resist… but a part of us still considers the sin, turning it over in our mind to make sure we really want to give it up. It is as if the devil is telling us, “I am going to give you another opportunity to bow down to the golden idol. Think it over.”

May we all have the resolve to respond like Hananiah, Mishael and Azaria, “there is no need for further consideration. I have chosen to serve the LORD, and that is final.”

James 4:7 says “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” There is much that a powerful king can take away from you, but he cannot take away your freedom to choose how you will respond. Will you give an ultimatum to the sin in your life? Take your stand in faithfulness and holiness.

Let Justice Roll Down like Waters

In August of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In that speech, he alluded to the words of the prophet Amos when he said: “we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Indeed, it is right for us to be dissatisfied as long as there is injustice in our world. God Himself was truly unsatisfied with His people when he rebuked them in the book of Amos, in the passage to which King referred:

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)

The people of Israel enjoyed festivals, sort of like we enjoy potluck meals and get-togethers. They had solemn assemblies, just as we bow our heads to pray for those who are hurting among us. They offered sacrifices both of animals and of song, even as we take up an offering from our weekly incomes and pour our hearts out through singing.

Yet God was profoundly dissatisfied with the state of things in Israel. The words He used to describe His feeling towards their religious observances are “I hate,” “I have no delight,” “I will not accept,” “I will not even look at,” “take them away,” and “I will not even listen.”

Why? Why would God reject all of Israel’s religion? Because they were not letting justice and righteousness flow through their lives.

Let this be a warning to us. Coming to church on Sunday, giving a few dollars, and singing a few songs is not sufficient to satisfy God.   He wants a people who live their lives in honesty, purity, and respect.

God wants a people who treat others the way they would want to be treated; who truly care about the ostracized, mistreated, and needy in their world. A people who are not content with injustice and who will not accept that “that’s just the way things are.”

As the Lord said in Hosea 6 and as Jesus repeated in Matthew 9, “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Do you honor your husband, wife, parents, or children by the way you live, even when they are not around? Will you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and respond to their needs with love rather than judgment and bitterness? Do you care that others are being mistreated? Will you stand up for those who are being taken advantage of? Will you live a life that puts others first?

Will you refuse to be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream?

An Outline of the Letter to the Ephesians

Ephesians is written primarily to Gentiles.

This becomes apparent gradually through the use of the pronouns “you” and “we” to refer to Gentiles and Jews respectively:

  • “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance… to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance.” (1:11-14)
  • Consider similar instances in 2:11-12 and 3:17-19

The central message of Ephesians is the mystery of Gentile inclusion.

The word “mystery” occurs 6 times, more than any other New Testament book.

  • “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.” (1:9)
  • “By revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ… to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (3:3-4,6)
  • Consider also 3:8-9 

The goal of Paul’s writing is to help the Gentiles grasp the magnificence of God’s gift to them.

  • This is achieved through illustrations:
    • You were dead; God made you alive. (2:1-10)
    • You were strangers; God made you fellow citizens. (2:11-22)

The goal of Paul’s prayers is likewise to help the Gentiles grasp the magnificence of God’s gift to them.

  • “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (1:18-19)
  • Consider also his prayer in 3:14-21

All glory and thanks be to God for His salvation.

  • It was according to His will.
    • He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (1:4)
    • He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” (1:5)
    • “According to His kind intention.” (1:9)
    • “Having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” (1:11)
  • He acted for His glory.
    • “To the praise of the glory of His grace.” (1:6)
    • “To the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (1:12)
    • “To the praise of His glory.” (1:14)
  • It was His grace, not our goodness.
    “Grace” occurs 12 times, more than any book except Romans.

    • “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (1:7)
    • “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (2:4-5)
    • “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9)

There is a major shift that pivots on “Therefore” in 4:1.

This is a shift from the theological to the practical, and is emphasized by the word “walk,” which occurs 7 times, more than any other epistle.

  • “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” (4:1)
  • “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind.” (4:17)
  • “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” (5:8)
  • “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.” (5:15)

Walk in unity

  • Attitudes to preserve it. (4:1-3)
  • Truths that establish it. (4:4-6)
  • Leaders who seek to preserve it. (4:7-13)
  • Forces that threaten it. (4:14)
  • An illustration of it. (4:15-16)

Walk in purity (5:1-21)

  • Imitate God.
  • Not in darkness, but in light.
  • Not in: immorality, impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting, covetousness, drunkenness.
  • Rather: giving thanks, goodness, righteousness, truth, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Walk uprightly in relationships

  • Wives (5:22)
  • Husbands (5:25)
  • Children (6:1)
  • Fathers (6:4)
  • Slaves (6:5)
  • Masters (6:9)

Having given these moral prescriptions, the letter to the Ephesians now gives encouragement and proper tools for the spiritual battle.

  • Armor of God (6:14-17):
    • “Having girded your loins with truth,”
    • “Having put on the breastplate of righteousness,”
    • “Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace,”
    • “In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith,”
    • “And take the helmet of salvation,”
    • “And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
  • Prayer: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” (6:18)

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Make Me White as Snow

The gospel is a message of good news for all people, and as a result, much of God’s word is written in such a way that the common man can easily understand it.  The Bible is full of illustrations that are drawn from everyday life experiences that we can relate to.  As winter arrives and a snow blankets the ground, I am reminded of one of those illustrations.

In Isaiah 1:18, God invited His people to come back to Him:

“Come now, and let us reason together,
Says the Lord,
Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow.”

David echoed this concept in Psalm 51, when he begged the LORD for forgiveness after committing both adultery and murder.

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

There is something beautiful about looking out across a field that is covered in a blanket of clean, glistening snow.  The flawless white surface conveys simplicity, peace, and above all, purity.  Sometimes we almost hesitate to walk through the yard because we hate to mess up the surface, leaving evidence of our presence with the imperfections we leave behind.

And of course, once snow is made dirty, it is impossible to make it look perfect again.  Once dirt, grime, and sludge from city life have turned it black, or we traipse across that pristine field with muddy shoes, there is no going back.

This is an excellent example of what sin does to our lives.  When we look back at our lives we see dirt, mud, grime, and sludge being tracked all over what started out so perfect.

What God offers us through His Son in the gospel seems almost too good to be true.  He offers to restore that pure white, glistening field to its original condition.  Though our sins are as scarlet, He is willing to make them as white as snow again.  In fact, according to David, He will make us even whiter than snow could ever be.

This is what has been referred to as the scandal of Grace.  This is the outrageous and wonderful nature of our forgiveness.  This is why it is called the gospel, or literally, the good news.  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

He did what we could never have hoped to do in making us as white as snow once more.  The purity that belongs to Jesus Christ Himself is imputed to us, and day by day we are being transformed into His image.

Snow