In my last post, I talked about ways not to study the Bible. This post has suggestions on how to establish a devoted time to properly study the Bible.
Once you establish good practices of studying the Bible, these are things to help you understand God’s Word as you study.
These are good ideas for how to approach the study of scripture. But where do you start? Thankfully, we are blessed in this nation to have access to so many tools to help you study God's Word.
Study Bibles are a great start. They give explanations, introductions, outlines of the text, cross-references, and notes. The marginal notes will help you with dates, places, and expanded definitions of words. They’ll also have maps and a topical index.
Concordances can also help look up any word found in the Bible. You could even get a topical Bible that organizes Scripture based on a special area of interest, like prayer, marriage, or salvation.
Bible dictionaries, timelines, maps, and atlases can help too.
There are also commentaries for every book in the Bible. Those are entire books dedicated to expounding on the text found within one book in the Bible. It’s a good idea to have more than one commentary – not all theologians agree on certain passages. The commentary can put the book in context and give a deeper appreciation for God’s Word.
From my personal experience, for many years I tried the 5-minute devotional for my quiet time. It always left me with this shallow feeling, like I wasn’t really learning anything new. It seemed just fluff and “feel good-isms” to help you just start the day in a good mood.
And I think I felt that way for good reason. Those five-minute devotionals are shallow. It was a fluffy feel-good story that you could apply to anything you wanted, with no depth and no context.
No wonder I left my quiet times feeling so unfulfilled! We can’t be fulfilled with God’s word in only 5 minutes with just some fluff application of a random few verses. How can you really even effectively apply those random few verses if you have no greater context? When you have no appreciation for the author or the setting?
The quote “et tu, Brute?” only has impact because we understand the characters, the context, and what was at stake. The impact of Scripture comes when we understand the characters, the context, and what is at stake.
We can’t live out the Scriptures and stand firm on God's Word in the face of persecution, scoffing, and criticism if we don’t understand the characters, the context, and what is at stake.
How can we defend God’s word to the world if we don’t truly know what it says? How can we answer criticisms about God’s character from certain passages if we don’t understand it in context; if we’ve only read a random selection of verses scattered across the Bible?
So think seriously about how you approach reading God’s word. The more you are in it, the more you will want to be. If you only dabble in enough Bible reading to fill a few minutes each week, then you’ll never feed your soul or move from the milk of babies to the steak of the mature walk.
We all stand in awe of the strength of faith of men like Paul, and David, and Abraham. But they had that strong faith because they were daily committed to knowing God. We can’t just sit back and wish we had that walk yet do nothing differently in our daily life to have that. If you never spend time with God, then how could you ever live a life like Daniel?
Why do we study the Bible? To know God; to enjoy and love God; to understand His commands; to learn direction in life; to find comfort and hope; to let God expose our innermost thoughts and desires; to become pure and holy; to obey the Great Commandment: to love God with all of our being.
John wrote in his gospel in chapter 17 verses 1-3, “Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Jesus said that eternal life is knowing God. Therefore, our purpose, our number one effort in life, should be in pursuit of knowing God. But how do we do know God?
We must first start by studying God’s Word, by reading the very words He breathed out for us. After all, this was how God chose to communicate to us. Imagine if someone whom you loved very dearly wrote you a whole series of letters that describe the things they have done for you, the ways that they love you, their desires for your life, and describe the essence of who they are – but you never bothered to read them.
That is what God has done for us through His Word, so if we claim to love God, we should love reading those letters He left for us.
I think most believers would agree that we should be studying the Bible, but how well are we doing it?
The Five-Minute Devotional?
One common way people “study” the Bible is using daily devotional books. Those are intended to be read in 5-10 minutes, typically have one or two verses, a short personal story of how those verses were used in someone’s situation, and a two sentence prayer.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this approach in itself, but if this is the only thing you are doing, how well are you really learning the word of God?
I understand we all like the idea of only taking 5-10 minutes to do our devotion, however, consider what that says about our priorities. We’ll spend hours each day scrolling through social media, playing video games, watching TV, or surfing the internet, but we want to only give at most 5 minutes to the God and Creator of the universe who died for you?
Spending only five minutes a day in the Bible (especially when most of that time is reading some else’s interpretation of it) does not really implant the Scriptures in our hearts.
We see this concept for anything else in our lives. If you only spent 5 minutes a day exercising, can it really change your body type? If you spent 5 minutes a day practicing your instrument, could you ever advance in your skill? So to really have God’s Words stored in our hearts and transforming our minds, we must spend more than 5 minutes a day studying the Bible.
Furthermore, those one or two verses given are not being read in context. Each day’s verses are pulled from an entirely different part of the Bible and have no relationship to each other.
This is how false doctrine begins. We read a verse without any understanding of who said, when they said it, to whom they said it, and why they said it and from that we create a completely false understanding of what the scripture means. The five-minute devotional can not give us a depth of really understanding God and what God is doing through His people.
So the five-minute devotional needs to be used as a supplement to your actual scripture study. But this should not – and cannot – be the only way you are reading scripture. God’s words are to be written on our heart. We must understand them – and understand them in context - for it to really start changing our daily lives.
Read the Bible in a Year?
Another common method is the “read through the Bible in a year” study. The idea behind this comes from a great place. If you were to pick up any book, you wouldn’t start with chapter 14 and then read chapter 8 and then read chapter 1. You would start at the beginning and read straight through to the end.
So it is good to want to read the Bible in its entirety from the Genesis to Revelation. However, the Bible is a very unique book that makes this approach a little more cumbersome. Although it’s bound in one cover, the Bible is 66 individual books – and they are not all assembled in order chronologically.
Starting from the beginning and reading straight through can be confusing. It makes it difficult to understand what is happening without the proper context in time and history as well.
Typically these plans are designed to read a few chapters in one book then a few random verses from Psalms or Proverbs. How much context and digestion do you really get that way? Do you know why that Psalm was written? Do you understand the historical context of that passage from 1 Kings?
In addition, it too is still geared for just a 5-10 minute study each day so again think about how much you’re studying the Bible with this. The Bible is a huge book. Tackling it in one year is a large task, especially if you’re going to truly understand it. Reading through the Bible is a wonderful idea, but to do it thoroughly, it will take longer than one year.
Read only the New Testament?
Some people disregard the “read through the Bible” plans because you must start with the Old Testament. The Old Testament can seem dry and dull, and many think not applicable since we are living in the “New Testament” days. But this is a flawed approach to biblical study.
When Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16 “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” the New Testament did not even exist yet in its collected and codified form. When he said “scriptures” he was referring to the Old Testament – all of it.
So we could read that as the “laws in Leviticus, the history in Genesis, the poetry of the Psalms, the cycles of the judges, the prophecies of the prophets” are God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
Jesus also thought highly of teaching from the Old Testament. In Luke 24, the resurrected Jesus was walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus as they were pondering aloud the recent events in Jerusalem. In verses 25-27, it says, “Jesus said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
When Jesus wanted these men to understand who He was and what all had just transpired about Him, Jesus started with the Old Testament. He started with Moses – not the story of Moses but the writings of Moses. Since Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible, that means Jesus went back to Genesis, to the very beginning.
The One who brought the New Testament valued teaching from the Old Testament. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law...” (Matthew 5:17-18).
Jesus is reinforcing the accuracy of the Scriptures down to the smallest detail and the slightest punctuation all the way back to the Old Testament.
In addition, we understand the New Testament a whole lot better if we understand the Old Testament. Want to understand Hebrews? Go back and study Leviticus. Hebrews was written to Jews following Levitical law. Understanding the Law will help you understand the One who fulfilled the Law. So we cannot neglect the study of the Old Testament.
So what is the best way to do this? Stay tuned for Part 2...
At this time of year, we are continually reminded the Christmas season is about peace on earth. You see the word "peace" on Christmas cards, on Christmas decor, and even on Christmas wrapping paper. As we look at the beautiful lights, decorations, snow-covered yards (in places other than the South), we like to think that we have embraced the concept of peace. We envision curling up in fuzzy socks under cozy blankets with a warm mug of our favorite drink seated in front of a crackling fireplace while snow gently falls outside. And we think to ourselves, "This is what peace feels like."
But then we snap back to the real world to find our children whining again about what they did or didn't get for Christmas and fighting with each other simply because they are bored. We know there are family members who refuse to speak to one another over some grievance from years past. We turn on the news to see ruthless and hateful political arguments, protests, wars, global poverty, and abortion still taking the lives of innocent babies. Where is that peace now?
After all, the notion of peace isn't just some nicety we write on Christmas cards. It was the very message from the angels on that first Christmas described in Luke 2:13-14: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'” How is the world still in so much turmoil? Were the angels mistaken? How does this make sense?
1. We must understand what "peace" the angels were talking about
When the angels announced there would be "peace on earth" they were not talking about peace between men on earth, they were announcing that with the birth of Jesus there could be peace between man and God. Sin entered into this world through Adam, and now we are all born as sinners -- and therefore are enemies of God. As Paul says in Romans 8:7, our natural state of sin is "enmity against God," which means we are "being actively opposed or hostile to" God.
Now if you're not sure if you are a sinner, ask yourself if you have always been kind to those around you; if you have ever been jealous; if you have ever lied; if you have ever desired someone other than your spouse; if you have ever hated someone.
As children we show our sin nature as we are disobedient to our parents and even turn the concept of sharing into something selfish. From birth we must be taught how to be kind, considerate, and selfless, which means those things are contrary to our natural selves.
With those sins within us, we are unable to be in the presence of God on our own. There is not peace between us and God - there is open hostility and opposition to God. Many people may not think they are openly hostile to God, for many people are just apathetic to God. They think if they aren't worshiping Satan then they're not opposing God. Or maybe they acknowledge there is some Higher Power and think that is not being in opposition to God.
But Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, "He who is not with Me is against Me." That means if you are not standing with Jesus declaring Him as Lord and Messiah, then you are against God. You are an enemy of God - hostile towards God - and unable to be in the presence of God. God's perfect holiness cannot tolerate the presence of sin, and sin cannot tolerate the presence of God's perfect holiness. It would be utterly destroyed.
Notice how even when God spoke with people in the Old Testament there was a separation because of their sin. Moses had to remove his sandals to stand before the burning bush because it was holy ground. When Moses asked to see God's glory, God said to him, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:18-23) Moses had to be tucked away in the rock and only see the back of God's glory.
When Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on the throne, he said, "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips!" (Isaiah 6:5) An angel had to touch his lips with a coal from the altar to purge his sin. If men like Moses and Isaiah were unable to withstand God's glory and presence because of their sin, do you think you will be able to?
This was the terrible predicament mankind was in; sin separates us from God and we can't fix that in our own strength. There was not peace between man and God -- until God came down in the flesh to live among us, to walk beside us, and to die for us. Only then could there be peace between man and God.
Although the angels announced peace on earth at the birth of Jesus, they were looking forward to when that peace would be realized at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The peace they announced was a peace between sinful man and holy God that can only be gained through the work done by Jesus on the cross.
This is why we celebrate His coming to earth. It is not just the miraculous birth, or the incredible fact that God took on flesh, it is because we now can be at peace with God.
2. There will not be peace on earth among men until Christ returns
Peace on earth among men is certainly something good to strive for, but we must be honest with ourselves. It is not attainable until Jesus returns -- and He promised us that. In Luke 12:51-53 Jesus says, "Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Most people ignore this portion of Scripture. Jesus is warning that He did NOT bring peace on earth among men; rather, there will be division among people over who He is. Yet a few verses later He tells the people to strive for peace among each other. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers!"
He said the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. He said that His disciples would be known by their love. Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. How can He command that yet it not bring peace?
Jesus loves all people and desires for us to love all people. But He also knew His name would divide people. Believers from all walks of life - different nations, languages, ethnicity, socio-economic background - will be united under the name of Jesus as one in the body of Christ. However, the name of Jesus will divide those who believe from those who do not believe.
Like Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, "He who is not with Me is against Me," and thus against those who are also with Jesus. Jesus warned His disciples as such, the servants will not be treated better than the Master. And Jesus said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you." (John 15:18) Why? Because His followers are not of this world. So there will not be peace between those who claim the truth about Jesus for their own salvation and those who reject Jesus.
The name of Jesus is divisive among people and it always will be until the day spoken of by Paul in Philippians 2:9-11, "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Until then, let us sing, "Glory, hallelujah! Jesus has been born to bring peace on earth between man and God, an everlasting peace that will never fail."
Will you take part in the true, lasting peace between man and God brought by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?
This weekend is a special time of remembrance for the Christian faith. It is the time where we reflect on the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In light of that it’s a good idea to remember what makes this particular trial and execution so significant – significant enough to alter the history of mankind. Although scoffers try to claim Jesus never existed and that this never happened, we know from other ancient documents outside of the Bible that Jesus did exist and was crucified. In the writings of Tacitus, a Roman historian writing from AD 56 to 117, he relates this about Jesus: “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” The historical accounts from Tacitus and other ancient texts confirm that this Jesus was a real person who was crucified by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.
But if this Jesus who is called the Christ were just a man, what significance would there be in his execution? Why would this be noteworthy to Tacitus, or to history in general? It wasn’t just because he was an innocent man. If Jesus were just an innocent man, convicted and executed for a crime he did not commit, then his execution would be shameful and sad. But that would not really matter to the rest of the world. So one may say it was significant because of the reason behind his execution. Jesus was not convicted for something He did but for who He claimed to be. He claimed to be God which the High-Priest determined to be blasphemy punishable by death. (Although under Jewish law it would have been death by stoning. But since the Jews were under Roman authority at the time, the punishment was crucifixion).
However, in studying Acts 5, we see that even that was nothing of importance. Gamaliel, the well-respected Pharisee, said that many had claimed to be the Messiah and thus sealed their fate to be executed as a blasphemer. A man named Theudas made that claim and even had 400 followers. When he was executed, his disciples scattered; and it came to nothing. Then Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census with many followers. When he was executed, his many followers dispersed; and it came to nothing.
So why is it that we remember the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth? Because of what happened after His execution. See, when Theudas and Judas of Galilee were executed for claiming to be the Messiah, their followers scattered. Why? Because their leader, a mere mortal man, was now dead. But when Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for claiming to be the Messiah, He died and was buried. But He did not stay that way. He resurrected. And his followers did not scatter and disperse; they became bolder. They traveled far and wide preaching in the name of this Jesus of Nazareth – and they did so in the face of intense persecution. As Gamaliel had predicted, this was the evidence that this incident with Jesus was not like the others. When the Jewish council was debating what to do with Peter and John who were still preaching the name of Jesus, Gamaliel advised, “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
For Gamaliel, it was the after effects of the crucifixion that would prove whether this thing was from God or man. So it is the response to this claim of the resurrection that gives us the evidence of its truth. Consider the responses of those who loved and followed Jesus. The disciples’ response to the news of the empty tomb at first was skepticism – until they saw it for themselves. They were in hiding, mourning the loss of their beloved Messiah and fearing their own fate at the hands of the Pharisees. But once they witnessed the resurrection, their focus changed from their own security to the urgency of sharing the Gospel of salvation. The truth of what they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own hands made a drastic impact on their lives. And they devoted the remainder of their lives sharing that good news of the resurrection to others around the world.
But the news of the resurrection also impacted those who were not followers of Jesus. His ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection were all done publicly, out in the open for friend and foe to see. Peter reminds the Jewish people of that in his first sermon delivered at Pentecost. He said, ““Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Peter spoke on these things again after healing the lame man on the temple steps: “whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” As Paul would say later, those things were “not done in a corner.” All of those people had seen the work Jesus had done, His miracles, His power over sickness, nature, and demons. They had all witnessed, no, not just witnessed, but participated in his crucifixion. They had all cried out, “Give us Barabbas!” They had jeered and mocked Him at His death. And they had witnessed His resurrection.
The response to note here though is that of the Pharisees to Peter’s statements. Did they say to the crowds that Peter and John were just as crazy as Jesus? Did they go to the tomb and produce the body of Jesus to shut them up? No. It says they were astonished at Peter and John’s boldness and wisdom – until they recognized they had been with Jesus. The Pharisees were unable to refute that the lame man had been healed in the name of Jesus. And they were afraid of the spread of Jesus’ name. The response of the Pharisees shows us the veracity of the claims made by Peter and John. They could not refute the power done in the name of Jesus. And they could not refute the claims of the resurrection. They could only make futile attempts to stop the spread of these things.
The reaction of Paul to the resurrection gives evidence of its occurrence as well. Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus drastically changed his life. It changed him from persecuting those who claimed the name of Jesus to being persecuted for proclaiming the name of Jesus. He changed from speaking against Jesus to speaking for Jesus. He went from being feared by the other apostles to being accepted into their fellowship. He transformed from a Jewish Pharisee despising Gentiles to the apostle preaching salvation to the Gentiles. Paul himself credited such a complete transformation to the one event of meeting the resurrected Jesus. To change that much from one event tells us that event did occur.
There is also the reaction of James, the brother of Jesus, who was not a disciple or follower of Jesus. In fact, none of His brothers believed (John 7:5). They even tried to pull Jesus out of ministering to the crowds when the crowds became too great (Mark 3). Their unbelief is quite astonishing when you consider the testimony of their mother as to the conception of Jesus! Not much else is said about the family of Jesus throughout the Gospel accounts. However, the next time we see James he is presiding over the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. James led the other apostles in determining the guidelines for new believing Gentiles. He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21). Paul referred to James as an apostle in his letter to Galatia. And James was eventually martyred for his faith by the Jewish leaders there in Jerusalem.
What would have caused such a difference? How did James grow up in the same house as Jesus, witnessing His ministry from the very beginning, and not believe, yet after Jesus’ crucifixion he became the leader of the church in Jerusalem, even dying for his belief? For that answer we go to 1 Corinthians 15:7. Paul reminded the Corinthians of the core doctrinal truths of Christianity that he had already taught them: that Christ died for our sins; that he was buried and raised again; and that many witnessed His resurrection. But look at the list of names that Paul provided who saw the resurrection. Jesus appeared to Peter, the twelve disciples, more than 500 at once, James, the apostles, and Paul himself. Jesus specifically appeared to His unbelieving brother James. So the drastic change in the life of James is directly attributed to his witness of the resurrected Jesus.
The reactions of friend and foe is what gives us, far removed in time and place, the confidence that it did indeed occur. It is the reaction to any historical even that confirms its veracity. For example, even if we didn’t have a single document remaining from the Revolutionary War, we know what truly happened because we have evidence of the reaction to it – the United States is functioning as a separate nation from England. Likewise, the ongoing reactions of both friend and foe to the resurrection of Jesus give us the confirmation that it really occurred. And the importance of that fact cannot be stated enough. It is the resurrection of Jesus that affirms His deity. It is that resurrection that conquers sin and death for those who believe.
Without the resurrection, our faith is meaningless. But with the resurrection comes eternal hope and salvation for all mankind. This is how those living alongside Jesus reacted to the resurrection. What will your reaction be?
 Tacitus, Annals 15.44
All scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV)
Since the very beginning of time itself, the battle has not been between good and evil but between humility and pride. When we read in Isaiah 14 about the fall of Lucifer (aka Satan, the deceiver, the father of lies, and the ruler of darkness) we know that it all started with his pride. He said in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.” It all started because he wanted to be more powerful and more exalted than God. It was pride. And that pride was therefore, his destruction. Lucifer was cast out and destroyed because, though he was full of wisdom and beauty, he was corrupted by his pride (Ezekiel 28).
Lucifer knew that the easiest way to draw people away from God was to tempt them in their pride. It was his method to attack the crowning jewel of God’s creation – mankind. He used the temptation of pride to draw Eve away from her direct fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden. He started with making her question God’s commands. “Did God really say?” Satan made Eve consider whether God’s commands allowed for wiggle room. Did He really say that was forbidden? Maybe you misunderstood Him. Or maybe He said that but really meant something else (do we ever do that with God’s commands?). And Satan, as the father of lies, led the discussion with a lie about what God had actually commanded. Satan asked if God had forbidden them to eat of every tree, knowing it was just one particular tree. Then the lies continued. He wanted Eve to doubt God’s goodness. It was out of God’s goodness to protect Eve that He commanded them to not eat of that tree – so that she would not die. But Satan said that wasn't true. He called God the liar in order to make Eve question God’s purpose in His command. Then Satan added to his lie this little enticement for her pride. Satan said that instead of dying by eating the fruit, she would be like God. He wanted Eve to desire herself over God. He tempted her in her pride. Would she be willing to humbly submit to God's command or would she want to elevate herself? It’s exactly the concept that led to Lucifer’s fall and destruction; he wanted to be like God. It was that pride to be like God that, as Proverbs 16:18 says, led her to destruction. It was that pride that led to the destruction of all mankind.
Pride. It’s at the root of everything we do. We label movements and marches as taking "pride" in something; take pride in who you are; take pride in whatever it is that you are doing, whether it's good or bad. But pride is really the starting point of every sin we commit. Sometimes it's obvious but sometimes we don't even recognize it as pride. It is so subtle yet it is there even in the "good" things we do. We let it seep into our hearts without even knowing it. We tell ourselves that we are not overly prideful people; we don’t mind helping others and serving others. But as C.S. Lewis said, "If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." So think about the subtlety of pride in how we even read scripture. Consider how you read Romans 14. Paul is talking about not judging a “weaker” brother who is convicted about not eating certain things or the one who is convicted about honoring certain days over others. He starts by saying, “Receive one who is weak in the faith.” Do you ever consider yourself to be the one who is weak in faith? Of course not. We always think of someone else in that case. We tend to identify with the “strong” in faith, even if we’re not. We never associate ourselves as being the weaker brother but only as the stronger one. In our minds we always think of someone else to serve as the example of the “weaker” brother, never considering that maybe it is yourself who is weak. It’s the same concept in Ephesians 4:14-16. Paul says that we should grow in our faith, no longer being “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” But we always think of ourselves as mature and others as children. Because of pride. Someone might in that very moment be swayed and tossed about by false doctrine because of their immature faith, yet they will stand there and read that scripture pointing to others as “weak” or “children” of the faith and not themselves. Because of pride.
Look closely at 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Paul gives some commands to the believers there in Thessalonica. He says to warn the unruly, comfort the fainthearted, and uphold the weak. I’m sure you thought of several people you know that would classify as each of those. But where did you put yourself? We never consider that we might be the unruly, we may be the ones in fear and doubt, or that we may be the one of weak faith. Nope, our pride tells us that those adjectives all belong to someone else. In doing that, we get to point fingers at other people; how they need to mature; how they need to grow in faith; how they need to stop being unruly, or fearful, or weak. We never consider that as a description of our own faith calling us to grow and mature. Because of pride.
Pride is not only what prevents us from growing in the faith by blinding us to the reality of our own faith condition, but it is what prevents us from finding faith in the first place. It is out of pride that we think we are good enough to merit our salvation. It is from pride that we falsely believe we could ever be “good enough” to earn God’s favor. We have to come to an understanding that we are hopelessly, horribly lost in our sin – every single one of us. But our pride tells us “you’re not that bad” or “you’re a pretty good person.” But God’s standard is not being “pretty good” or “not that bad.” His standard is perfection. His standard is to have no sin at all. I heard it put so perfectly by Pastor James Roberson from the Bridge Church in Brooklyn, NY. How can we possibly think we adhere to God’s standard when we don’t even adhere to our own? None of us even act the way we think we should act, much less how God thinks we should act. We can’t even follow the advice we give others or heed the admonitions from our own earthly parents. What makes us think we can possibly pass the standard of perfect holiness as required from a perfect, holy, and just God? We constantly talk about our “rights” and what we “deserve.” Consider what we really deserve from the almighty God creator who will one day judge all of earth. For every lie you’ve told, every seed of anger, every fleeting moment of jealousy in your heart we deserve judgment. We deserve nothing. Actually we deserve worse than nothing. We deserve to be cast out from the presence of God forever. But He gives us mercy, withdrawing a judgment that we deserve. And He gives us grace, rewarding us with a blessing that we didn’t earn.
Yet we dare to stand in our pride and demand God accept us without any contrition of heart and, for some, without any acknowledgement of His existence at all. And again, the battle is between pride and humility. Will you humble yourself before God and acknowledge that you don’t deserve His mercy? Will you put aside your pride to see that you can’t merit salvation on your own good works to accept the undeserving gift of grace He has given? Jesus paints this very picture of the battle between pride and humility as He is facing the cross. And here in a different garden than Eve’s, we find a different outcome of this same struggle and temptation. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, He is praying for there to be another way, but He humbly submits to the will of God to go forward to His death on the cross. Even knowing death could not hold Him, He was still praying for there to be another way. But He prayed in humility to yield Himself up for God – and for you. Throughout that night there were moments that if given over to pride Jesus could have made a very different end to the story. After Peter had cut off the ear of the solider coming for Jesus’ arrest, Jesus said to him, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” Out of pride for Himself, Jesus could have done that, but He humbly allowed the soldiers to arrest Him. At any moment during His trial while the soldiers struck Him and mocked Him, Jesus out of pride could have called down those angels and demonstrated His full power and deity. He could have prophesied not just who struck Him but everything about those who struck Him. But He humbly stood silent, submitting to the will of God. As He hung on the cross, the soldiers and Pharisees mocked Him and dared Him to save Himself. Out of pride He could have saved Himself from the cross and destroyed those who mocked Him. But in His humility, He gave up His spirit into the Father’s hand.
Pride vs. humility. Jesus, the only one who has a right to be proud because He is the perfect Son of God, humbly submitted Himself to God’s authority. Yet man, who has no right to make demands because he is covered over in sin, stands in pride shaking his fist at God as though he deserves something more. But man has the opportunity in humility to acknowledge his sin and seek forgiveness to gain mercy that he doesn’t deserve and receive grace which he did not earn. Pride vs. humility. Which choice will you make?