Bible Reading Blog
BIBLE READING: Romans 5.1-5; Philippians 4.6-9
What does peace look like? For some it is sitting on a beach watching the waves roll in or being on a secluded mountain watching the sun rise. For others peace is a quiet moment at home when the house is clean, and the kids are asleep. For many, peace is the settling of coming home after a trip or enjoying the embrace of a loved one.
In a world fraught with stress and struggles, everyone longs to enjoy the settling of the soul. These scenes render snapshots of the effects of peace; but these are shallow glimpses of a deeper desire. You don’t find peace running away from problems because they must eventually be dealt with. Peace is only possible when reality is considered, and a solution presented that will last.
This is the foundation of our faith, through the gospel; that God has allowed for peace. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1). Jesus is our source of peace (Ephesians 2.14), and his death and resurrection are the focal point of our peace that substantiate and inform our belief (Romans 4.24-25). These choices demonstrate God’s desire for our peace; but the peace he offers is directed at our relationship with him NOT at our circumstances or with this life.
This is not peace like the world sees it. The peace many seek is often short-lived and superficial because it is thoughtless of this relationship. When many say peace what they really mean is, “I want things to be fine right now.” It is easy to become fixated on the present and not see the greater needs we have. Sickness, struggle, and death are realities of this world everyone will face. Escapism and temporary reprieve will not change that. We can enjoy the pleasure of the temporal because of God’s grace, but the fact is the things of this world are passing away.
To have peace we must be grounded in things beyond this life. As the song says, “Time is filled with swift transition, none on earth unmoved can stand, build your hopes on things eternal, hold to God’s unchanging hand.” Ultimately, peace is a choice we make to be reconciled to God through Jesus. It comes from our practice of prayer and discipline of the mind (Philippians 4.6-9). It is deliberate choices from a settled confidence in what is and what is to be because God has told us. We can be at peace, with God. This is what settles our hearts to endure hard circumstances, love difficult people, and look forward in hope of better things.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14.27)
BIBLE READING: Philippians 4.4
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
How could Paul expect us to rejoice always? This expectation seems contrary and obtuse to the challenges we often face. Joy is a positive emotion we often associate with happiness and good times. Quite frankly, we don’t typically feel joy in seasons of difficulty and sadness. How then can we have joy, always?
Paul’s situation teaches that joy is not based on circumstances—he was in prison while writing this joyful letter! So whatever joy is, it is a settled decision towards optimism. This is because the joy God expects us to have is deeply rooted in future hope:
- “Rejoice in hope” (Romans 12.12)
- “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15.13)
- …let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12.1-2)
- “I have set the LORD always before me…Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices…” (Psalm 16.8-9)
Even if things are out of place in the present, God has promised resolution and glory for his people. Therefore, joy is a confident optimism that is settled in God’s power and presence (Psalm 16.11). We can and should rejoice in the Lord always because his promises are true.
The problem is, we can easily lose sight of God as we live in the flesh. We are bombarded with present needs and wants that steal our attention and affection. Some of this is self-inflicted as we are inclined to follow our foolish heart at times. We want a relationship to work, a pursuit to bring fulfillment, a pleasure to continue. We don’t always appreciate our limitations and the need for various seasons to shape us. Other times our lack of focus is the work of the devil. He plays to our wants and emotions. He deceptively emphasizes our understanding and perception of people and situations. We easily set our attention on present struggles and prolonged seasons of suffering and become discontent.
This world is full of joy-killers that drive us to seek temporal security, resolution and peace… but these do not bring joy. These things are nothing more than deceptions and distractions. The key to having joy is looking beyond the moment to what is ahead. Difficult seasons come to us all, especially those who live by faith. If all we have is the present, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15.19). But because we believe in the resurrection and eternal life, we can be confident that the best is yet to come (1 Corinthians 15.20-28). And in this hope, we can rejoice, always.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1.6-9)
BIBLE READING: John 3.16; 1 Corinthians 13; Matthew 6.43-48
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.16)
God loved the world despite its faults and failings. It was a deliberate choice for the good of others, and it wasn’t half-hearted. He so loved that he gave his very best. That’s not our natural bend, is it? We are more prone to love those that “deserve” it and display love as an act of expectation. But Jesus would say this way of ‘loving’ has no value, and is not love at all because it doesn’t reflect God’s love towards us. Instead, “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5.8). On one extreme was wicked and thoughtless humanity and on the other, a deliberate and giving God whose actions addressed the present need and created hope for everyone.
Love is the prevailing nature of God’s character that will continue even beyond the temporal (1 Corinthians 13.8). As such, it is powerful when practiced properly. As we cultivate fruit of the Spirit, love through giving should be the defining feature of our lives. Not just with those we want to love or that ‘deserve’ our love. We are called even to love our enemies (Matthew 5.43-48).
How is love like this possible? It must be a deliberate choice of the will to emulate the Father. To practice this, Jesus taught that love is…
- …Premeditated. In Matthew 5.44 he says, “Pray for your enemies.” In other words, don’t just pray that God will help you love; invest yourself in the people you need to love better. I’ve observed we often remain selfish with our love because our prayers are all about me and not about the good of others. Love gives thought to the needs of others and prays for their good.
- …Impartial. Just as God “sends rain on just and unjust” we must not determine who is worthy of love. This means we don’t evaluate the nuances of a circumstance or judge who will receive the benefits of my actions before I love. Loving like our Father is being willing to give when you have opportunity. “If any of you has the world’s goods and see his brother in need, yet closes his heart; the love of God is not in him (1 John 3.17).
- …Selfless. This bring us back to John 3.16. When we practice love that gives, we begin to realize the Divine nature of love. It doesn’t happen just when it’s easy but in circumstances where it is difficult and gut-wrenching and inconvenient (Romans 5.8). Love is selfless.
God didn’t love us because he was swept up in his emotions for us. He determined, before we were even created, to act in our best interest, even to the point of giving his best. And so we must learn from the Father: Love is a choice; and if I will love, I must give.
BIBLE READING: James 4.1-4
Our desires are a serious problem. They are the source of our struggles against others (James 4.1). They are the source of our discontent with our circumstances (James 4.2). They are what motivate us to act and speak in ways that are godless (James 4.3-4). And yet it is our desires with which we most easily agree. They often allow us the easiest acceptance and quickest fulfillment. But we must never forget that it is our desires that put us at odds with God.
James depicts our worldly desires as an enemy to God’s rightness. In other words, they cannot coexist as forces in our lives. We will love one and hate the other (Matthew 6.24; James 4.4). The strong language and clear dichotomy reveal a profound truth. We are naturally bent away from obedience to God. In other words, “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other…” (Galatians 5.17). To be right with God requires a choice to obey something other than what is most comfortable and easy.
If we are to bear fruit of the Spirit, we must first understand the climate of our heart. There are things that must go, and that will require intentional effort. We harbor thoughts and feelings that will not simply submit to what God wants. We've all experienced this: you know the right thing to do, but in a moment of passion your natural wants get your blood pumping, quicken our heart and motivate you to do and say what you know you shouldn't (Romans 7.21-24). This is our battleground and it is not enough to only pursue the positive. To put on the new self, we must also put off the old self (Ephesians 4.22-24); and that means we must put to death the desires of the flesh (Romans 8.13).
We must take an offensive position against our natural desires by actively putting ourselves in submission to Jesus. We must take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10.5). We must set our mind on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8.5-7; Philippians 4.8). We must control and compel our body to obedience (1 Corinthians 9.25-27). The call to “let the word of Christ dwell richly within you” (Colossians 3.16) is really about informing our minds with the tools for obedient submission to Jesus.
We must have no delusions about our goodness or the role of our desires. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3.10-12; cf. Psalm 14.1-3). Our natural persuasions are deceitful and godless. The way that seems right to us must not be viewed as permissible and congruent with God’s way. It is in fact death for us (Proverbs 14.12). We must not trust our think-sos to improve our circumstances or bring us peace. Only God’s direction, through Jesus, his word, and the Holy Spirit, can do that for us. If we belong to Jesus, we must crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5.24) and set our mind to do the Father’s will above all things.
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away… [having] put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3.5-10)
BIBLE READING: Ephesians 1.3-14
Ephesians begins by stating what God offers: Every spiritual blessing (1.3), adoption to himself as sons (1.5); redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (1.7); wisdom and insight into the mystery of his will (1.8-9); reconciliation to him (1.10); an inheritance (1.11); hope (1.12); salvation (1.13); all given with a guarantee (1.13-14). These alone should stir our desires to seek what God offers. But should also prompt us to ask ‘why’? No one offers or gives up so much without expectation, and so it is with God. John 3.16 tells us that God gave because he desired people to believe in his son and not perish. In other words, God wants something from us.
This section teaches us what he wants. He wants us to be to the praise of his glory (1.6, 12, 14). His lavish gifts and overwhelming grace in Christ are not the result of our worthiness but to observe and honor his. He made the first move. He opened the doors for hope. He wanted for us what we didn’t want for ourselves and he went out of his way to both communicate and offer these things. This is true glory and worthiness that the world cannot know. He is Sovereign yet gentle; just but merciful.
We must not view God’s desire for us from a human perspective. He could have forced us to glorify him, like many leaders have. But instead, he served to make these things possible. He came to us in our weakness, like abandoned children and brought us to himself in Christ (see Ezekiel 16). What God wants from us is not only justified but right as witnessed by the throne scene in Revelation 4. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4.11). He is the Maker and Sustainer of all that we know. The universe does not revolve around me; but it quite literally does revolve around him. And yet, God so loved the world that he gave so that we could know him and what he wants.
God wants you to be his child by becoming like him in holiness and purity (Ephesians 1.4). He wants you to find comfort so you can comfort others (1 Corinthians 1.4). He wants you to enjoy the peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4.7) so others can see the God who can do more than we ask or think (Ephesians 3.20-21). He wants you to enjoy abundant life by living to the praise of his glory.
Faith must not only be about finding fulfillment in what we receive. It must be about seeking the One in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17.28). God is what we truly need. And so let us seek what God offers, knowing that he knows exactly what we need (Matthew 6.32b)
"...this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17.3)