Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2, NKJV).
How healthy is your soul? Would you be in good physical health if it matched your spiritual health? In this age of Covid, we are inundated with information and misinformation about being healthy, safe, and protected. Prudent measures for good physical health are important (1 Tim. 5:23; Luke 10:34). Exercise helps slow the rate of decay of our death-destined bodies (1 Tim. 4:8). But the gospel compels us to look at the health of our souls as more essential (1 Tim. 4:7-8). It is the remedy to our sin and death; salvation in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; John 5:24-25; Rom. 1:16; 6:23). A cure for Covid would be a worldwide bestseller. Yet, the cure for sin is cast aside by countless souls rushing headlong toward eternal death. Why is that? Why are people more afraid of their physical death than their eternal death (Matt. 10:28)? Because they do not believe God and the words of His Son, Jesus. Why is the death of God’s saints precious in His sight (Ps. 116:15)? Because they are the ones who “take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord,” serving God faithfully all their days (Ps. 116:13-14, 16-19). With Ananias, we ask, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). The remedy for your sins is available through the sacrifice of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:17-19; 2:24; Rom. 6:3-4; Eph. 2:1-10). Believe and obey Jesus and be saved from sin and death (Rom. 6:17-18; Heb. 5:8-9).
24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall”” (Matthew 7:24–27, NKJV).
Wisdom is achieved by hearing and doing the words of Jesus (v. 24). Why? Because He words of the truth of God (John 8:31-32). Like the wise man who built his house on the rock, building your life on hearing and obeying the truth of Jesus Christ is a solid foundation that weathers life’s storm (1 Pet. 1:6-9). “Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord” (Ps. 107:43). Conversely, foolishness follows those who hear His words but do not do them. Life’s uncertainties, sins, and sorrow batter and destroy souls that do not have the solid foundation of hearing and obeying Jesus. God pleads with humanity not to ignore Him. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). And yet, in unbelief, “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). The choice to be wise or foolish comes down to whether we will hear and obey Jesus. From this day forward, may we all “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it” (Prov. 8:33).
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21–23, NKJV)!
Self-identifying as a Christian does not make it so. The identifying mark of one who enters the kingdom of heaven is doing the will of God the Father who is in heaven. Self-identifying as a prophet of Christ does not make it so. Jesus has just warned of false prophets whose fruit is against the word of God (Matt. 7:15-20). Self-identifying as a miracle worker does not make it so. The incident of the sons of Sceva reminds us that only Christ’s apostles and prophets worked miracles (Mark 16:17-20; Acts 19:11-16; Heb. 2:3-4). Self-identifying as a wonderworker does not make it so. Simon amazed many Samaritans with his sorcery until Philip worked miracles by the power of God (Acts 8:5-13). Jesus does not receive those who “practice lawlessness” (iniquity). We do the will of the Father by looking into and living by His law, the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:23-25). Let us carefully do God’s word and not be among those who identify with Jesus but do not obey God’s word (James 1:23-24). Only sadness and sorrow await those who practice lawlessness and hear Christ say, “Depart from Me!”
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV).
We are all devoted to something or someone, and submit ourselves to our master’s power over us. Even “masters” have a master (Matt. 8:9; Col. 4:1). Here, Jesus calls our attention to the master we choose to serve. And make no mistake; We choose one master over the other. Divided loyalties are not realistic; We cannot serve two masters. Jesus poses a contrast between serving God or mammon (from Aramaic, “riches, wealth”). Jesus just taught us to lay up treasures in heaven. Now, He identifies our master by whom or what we serve. Does gaining wealth drive your passions, enthusiasm, and values? Your master is mammon when material prosperity is the primary mover of your decisions. Conversely, does pleasing God (doing His will) have top priority in how you work, play, and live? We ought to honestly assess which master we choose. Jesus will go on to say we must “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” instead of being consumed with the cares of this age that distract and destroy faith (Matt. 6:33-34; Mark 4:19). We cannot bow before the altar of material riches without despising God (who blesses us with life itself and the provisions that sustain our lives). To “live by faith in the Son of God,” we must crucify ourselves and be utterly loyal to Him (Gal. 2:20). God must be our master. Choose to serve God today and every day.
34 “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. 35 For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; 36 But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; All those who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:34–36, NKJV).
Wisdom cries out, offering her blessings of prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, understanding, and strength to those who will listen to her (Prov. 8:1, 12-14). Consider some necessary traits that help us listen to wisdom’s instructions. (1) We must fear God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10). Only when we fear God are we willing to listen to wisdom’s guidance. (2) We must receive the word of God. “For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). God’s word is the wellspring of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Yet too often, we turn from it to human teachings and counsel (Col. 2:8). By doing so, we sin against our souls, hate wisdom, and love death (Prov. 8:36). (3) We must live as God instructs us. “He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly” (Prov. 2:7). Divine instruction and its wisdom do us no good if we do not apply them. Wisdom calls on us to follow the truth of God. Wisdom says, “My mouth will speak truth,” and “all the worlds of my mouth are with righteousness” (Prov. 8:7). The blessings of wisdom come to those who fear God, receive His word, and obey what He says (James 3:13-18).
Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him (John 6:27, NKJV).
Some people followed Jesus because they expected Him to work a miracle and feed them. Jesus rebuked this shallow, selfish, faithless view of Him (John 6:26). Jesus contrasted their misguided motive for seeking Him with working for the food that produces everlasting life. He was by no means saying do not work for your daily food (“If anyone will not work, neither let him eat,” 2 Thess. 3:10). Jesus said to be concerned primarily with working for the food that leads to everlasting life. The work God gives us to achieve that result is to “believe in Him who He sent” (John 6:29). Jesus is the “bread of life” in whom we must believe to eat “the living bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:35, 51, 58). By faith, we do so when we receive and obey His words (John 6:63-68). Unbelievers do not trust and follow Jesus; believers do. When we accept and obey His word, we have not earned everlasting life; we have only done a servant’s duty (Luke 17:10). The gospel call is, “You who have no money, come, buy and eat” (Isa. 55:1-3). The question to ponder is, “Why are you seeking Jesus?” To gain some temporary, physical advantage, or to labor “for the food which endures to everlasting life?”
And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5, NKJV).
Like the apostles, Christians want our faith to grow. Instead of working a miracle to put greater faith into their hearts, Jesus taught them how their faith could grow. His disciples have a responsibility to live in such a way that gives increase to their faith. (1) Faith is increased by trusting the power of faith (Luke 17:6). Faith is a force that activates us to live in harmony with God’s will. It is the fuel that feeds the engine of our lives (2 Cor. 5:7; see Hebrews 11 where people acted “by faith”). We can accomplish whatever God says to do when we trust faith’s power. (2) Faith is increased by offering the service of faith (Luke 17:7-8). Faith in the Lord requires us to serve Him, not ourselves. Our faith will not grow until we humble ourselves before the Lord and trust and serve Him first. (3) Faith is increased by obeying the duty of faith (Luke 17:9-10). Just as a servant has duties to perform, disciples of Christ are to do all we are commanded (v. 10). We have nothing in which to boast when we obey Christ in faith. We have earned nothing. We have only done our duty. Obeying Christ fulfills our duties to Him. Faith is dead without obedience (James 2:20). To increase your faith, diligently “add to your faith virtue…knowledge…self-control…perseverance…godliness…brotherly kindness…love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). Trust faith’s power, offer faith’s service, obey faith’s duty, and the Lord will increase your faith (Phil. 2:12-13).
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8, NKJV).
Many people move. They plan where they intend to move (sometimes years in advance). Perhaps to retire, maybe it’s a job reassignment or an educational opportunity. Perhaps it’s to start a marriage and life together. Belongings are packed and shipped (or hauled in a U-Haul) to the new residence. Moving is a lot of work! Imagine moving to a new location without any idea where you are going – except that it would be your inheritance. Because the Lord told you to go, you go. That is what Abram did. (Oh, and by the way, you are seventy-five years old and have no children at the time, Gen. 12:1-7.) He obeyed God “by faith.” Abram trusted God even though he did not see the outcome when his journey began. That is what obedient faith does. It follows the word of the Lord even when the end is not seen yet (1 Pet. 1:6-9). Obedience trusts God more than we trust ourselves and others. Faith without obedience is incomplete (James 2:17). Obedience without faith is an empty pretense (Matt. 15:7-9). The thing is, we know where we are going when we follow Jesus. We are going to the Father and our eternal inheritance (John 14:1-6; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). Christians are homeward bound. By faith, obey God’s word, and you are on your way to your eternal inheritance (Heb. 11:13-16).
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:6–8, NKJV).
God gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34). The proud heart is not accepted or rewarded by the Lord. James says, “therefore,” and continues by giving practical guidance about what God expects us to do to receive His grace. (1) Submit to God (v. 7). Humility yields to the word and will of God, but the pride of life refuses to subject itself to God (Rom. 8:7). We must be humble servants of Christ and others for God’s grace to rest on us. (2) Resist the devil (v. 7). Our Adversary is crafty and powerful, but our strength to resist him comes from the Lord (1 Pet. 5:8; 1 John 4:4). We overcome the wicked one by the power of God’s word living in us (1 John 2:14). (3) Draw near to God (v. 8). God’s prophet told king Asa, “The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chron. 15:2). Seek the Lord. You will find Him by following the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matt. 7:7-8; 11:28-30; John 8:31-32). (4) Cleanse your hands (v. 8). We must purify our conduct to conform our actions to the “implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21, 25). (5) Purify your hearts (v. 8). The stability of singular faith in Christ (not divided loyalties) is required to receive God’s grace (James 1:6-8). Obeying the truth purifies hearts, so He receives our pleas for grace (1 Pet. 1:22; 2 Tim. 2:22). Accepting God’s abundant grace requires our obedient faith.
30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household (Acts 16:30–34, NKJV).
What does it mean to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” for salvation? Before one can do so, he or she must hear the word of the Lord since faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). So, Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord” to the jailer and his house (v. 32). Believing on Jesus Christ for salvation mean more than agreeing and confessing He is “the Christ, the Son of God,” since demons did as much (Luke 4:41; James 2:19). The jailer’s conversion shows us when sinners believe and are saved in Christ. This sinner was convicted of the truth when he heard God’s word. He repented of his transgressions (indicated by washing their wounds) and was immediately baptized (v. 33). Then there was great rejoicing because he (and his family) had “believed in God.” Some try using this passage to deny water baptism is essential for salvation. If that is true, why were they baptized immediately? Why was the rejoicing after baptism and not before it (v. 34)? Saving faith is not like the faith of demons. It trusts Christ and obeys from the heart His commands to repent and be baptized (Rom. 6:17-18; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). That kind of faith saves the soul (Matt. 7:21).