33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one (Matthew 5:33–37, NKJV).”
Citizens of the kingdom of heaven are people of integrity. They keep their word. The Jews had invented ingenious ways to circumvent honesty while still claiming to be honest. They thought they could swear by the temple and free themselves from their pledge. But, they said an oath made by the temple’s gold obliged one to keep it (Matt. 23:16). Jesus said they were blind fools for making such false oaths (Matt. 26:17, 18-22). It is intriguing and pertinent that today’s passage (that emphasizes the integrity of keeping one’s word) immediately follows Christ’s declaration of the sanctity of marriage (Matt. 5:31-32). The marriage vow is for life (“until death we do part”), and yet too many break their vow and think they are freed from their obligation made to and before God (Matt. 19:6; Rom. 7:2-3). The Christian’s word is trustworthy and dependable in all matters. Playing word games to evade the truth and our moral responsibility makes us no different from the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). Let your word be your bond. People notice, and so does the Lord (Matt. 5:13-16; 1 Pet. 2:12; Ps. 15:4).
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37, NKJV).
Nebuchadnezzar was driven from his throne over Babylon to live as a wild animal because of his pride that praised his accomplishments while ignoring God (Dan. 4:22-33). Instead of praising the Most High God, who “rules in the kingdoms of men,” the king praised himself and his majesty (Dan. 4:25, 28-31). God has not abdicated His rule over the nations (Ps. 22:28; Acts 17:26). Those in power who honor the true and living God are blessed; those who pridefully dishonor Him face inevitable defeat (Ps. 33:10-22). “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect” (Ps. 33:10). And, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12). Nebuchadnezzar learned God’s “works are truth, and His ways justice” (Dan. 4:37). God calls national leaders and all the earth’s inhabitants to humble themselves before Him. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” is true of individuals and nations (Prov. 16:18). Daniel’s counsel to the Babylonian king remains relevant: “Break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Dan. 4:27).
9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:9–10, NKJV).
God calls sinners into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:13). As Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45). We must understand and accept that fellowship with the Lord Jesus is not based on our desire, definitions, and declarations. Nothing less than the writings of Christ’s apostles form the basis of fellowship with God. John declared this in 1 John 1:3-4, “that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3-4). Fellowship with God must first exist before God approves fellowship with others (2 John 9-11). Simply put, we do not validate our fellowship with God; God does with His truth. When we practice the truth, we walk in the light in fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-7). God-approved unity exists among Christians when we are in fellowship with God (1 Cor. 1:9-10).
22 “And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. 26 However, we must run aground on a certain island (Acts 27:22–26, NKJV).”
A terrible storm had wreaked havoc on the grain ship and its 276 souls for almost two weeks. They were lost at sea. All seemed hopeless, but God’s revelation to Paul and his faith in the Lord formed the basis of his confidence amid chaos. Paul, the prisoner, became Paul the encourager. Twice he urged those on board to take heart, to “be of good cheer, of good courage” (Thayer, 258). We can take several points from this event to help us be encouraged and also encourage others. (1) Paul trusted God’s word (v. 25). We must trust God’s revelation as we face life’s storms. God’s word prevails. (2) Paul was confident in the purposes of God (v. 24). The Lord’s angel told him he “must be brought before Caesar.” When we rely on God’s purposes, we can take courage to face every trial (1 Pet. 1:5-7). (3) Paul was also a realist (v. 22, 26). He was honest about the trouble ahead. Encouragement does not sugar-coat the situation. It is compassionate yet straightforward with its analysis and recommendations. Whatever storm you face, take heart in the Lord, His purposes, and His truth. He will not fail or forsake you (Heb. 13:5). Then, encourage others.
7 “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:7–8, NKJV).
The Lord of the Sabbath did not violate the Sabbath, nor did He sanction its violation when His disciples plucked the heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-2). The Pharisees accused His disciples of being Sabbath-breakers. But Jesus pronounced them “guiltless” because His disciples acted consistently with the law and its provision of mercy (Matt. 12:7; Hosea 6:6; Deut. 23:25). The Pharisees had developed a tradition that such conduct was work, and so to do it on the Sabbath was a sin. They added their tradition to God’s word and bound it on others. Thus, they “condemned the guiltless.” Jesus was not approving situation ethics and justifying violating God’s law. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, not destroy them (Matt. 5:17). Neither does this occasion endorse breaking God’s word for a so-called greater purpose (mercy, for example). The law of God allowed for mercy, which the apostles received as they plucked and ate the grain. The tradition of the Pharisees denied compassion and condemned the innocent. Both mercy and truth are present in God’s law (Ps. 85:10). Beware of human traditions. They nullify both (Col. 2:8, 20-23).
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (Romans 8:5–6, NKJV).
We live according to where we set our minds. The person who fixes his mind on fleshly things lives for the flesh and produces the “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21). The apostle of Christ firmly declared, “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). Conversely, to live “according to the Spirit,” we must set our minds on “the things of the Spirit.” What are those things? Nothing less than the things the Spirit revealed to the apostles, which they preached to the world (1 Cor. 2:10-13). The things of the Spirit are the words of truth He revealed, confirmed, and inspired. The “fruit of the Spirit” is borne in our lives when we follow the Spirit’s guidance that is in God’s word (Gal. 6:16-18, 22-23). Today’s passage explains we either live “according to the flesh,” or we live “according to the Spirit,” but not both. Spiritual death (separation from God) is the outcome of being carnally minded. Spiritual life and peace with God result from being spiritually minded. Have you set your mind on the things of the Spirit or the flesh? “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).
These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you (1 John 2:26, NKJV).
The possibility of being deceived about spiritual matters is just as real today as when the apostle John wrote to the children of God. As then, many are still against Christ yet pose as if they are for Christ; Hence, the warning against being deceived (1 John 2:18-19). John emphatically directs us, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). How? By using the truth with which Christ has endowed (anointed) us: “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:20-21). The truth Jesus Christ gave us through His apostles (1) Identifies the deceptions of false teachings (1 John 4:6), and (2) Assures our fellowship with the Father and the Son (John 14:21-24), and (3) Leads us to His promise of eternal life (1 Pet. 1:3-9). John says these are among the reasons we let His word abide in us (1 John 2:24-27; John 8:31-32). Use God’s word to verify your faith. Rejoice in your fellowship with God and be comforted in Christ’s promise of eternal life. Rest assured, God’s word of truth will not deceive you.
3 Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your tabernacle. 4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; And on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God. 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God (Psalm 43:3–5, NKJV).
The psalmist longed for God’s vindication against an ungodly nation, unjust men, and his enemy’s oppression (Ps. 43:1-2). He regarded God’s truth as a beam of light that would lead him to God’s presence, where he would joyfully worship (Ps. 43:3-4). His hope in God removed the distress of his soul, confident in the Lord’s help (Ps. 43:5). Notably, the light of God’s truth is still the way God leads souls to Himself and His Son, Jesus the Christ. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:44-45). God the Father draws sinners to Christ by hearing and learning “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68; Col. 1:4-5). Open your heart to the word of God. Let His light lead you to His presence where you will find salvation from sin, fellowship with Him, hope that calms every distress, and praise for God’s constant help (Matt. 11:28-30; Acts 16:13-15).
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.
Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything (2 Timothy 2:7, NASB95).
Many are content to put confidence in their experiences and emotions. But faith does not come from our feelings, but from hearing God’s word. Feelings will mislead us when they are misinformed (Gen. 37:31-35). “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Paul counseled Timothy to exercise his mind, contemplate his teachings, and receive understanding from the Lord. We are thankful that treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ and not ourselves (Col. 2:3). Wisdom and knowledge from Christ enriches our lives and leads us to heaven. Paul’s instruction to Timothy confirms the following: (1) We can understand God’s word (Eph. 3:3-4). Jesus taught this, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). (2) We must use our minds to understand God’s word. “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation” (Ps. 119:99). Faith comes from hearing God’s word, so Paul said to consider what he said (Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 14:37). Meditate on God’s word to increase in understanding God’s will (1 Tim. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:15). (3) Understanding God’s word leads people of faith to do God’s will. “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Ps. 119:34). (4) Understanding God’s truth leads people of faith to hate every false way. “Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:104). Take time to read, learn, and meditate on God’s word, and “the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Pet. 1:2-4).