Don’t Provoke

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, ESV) 

As parents we recognize (I hope) that we must discipline our children. In Ephesians however, Paul reminds us to be careful about  pushing them to the point of anger. How can we avoid such a pitfall? Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives us some ideas.

1. “We are incapable of exercising true discipline unless we are first able to exercise self-control, and discipline our own tempers” (Life in the Spirit, 278).

2. “If a parent is to exercise this discipline in the right way he must never be capricious. There is nothing more irritating to the one who is undergoing discipline than a feeling that the person who is administering it is capricious and uncertain. There is nothing more annoying to a child than the kind of parent whose moods and actions you can never predict, who is changeable, whose condition is always uncertain. There is no worse type of parent than he who one day, in a kindly mood, is indulgent and allows the child to do almost anything it likes, but who the next day flares up in a rage if the child does scarcely anything at all” (279).

3. “Another most important principle is that the parent must never be unreasonable or unwilling to hear the child’s case. There is nothing that so annoys the one who is being disciplined as the feeling that the whole procedure is utterly unreasonable. In other words, it is a thoroughly bad parent who will not take any circumstances into consideration at all, or who will not listen to any conceivable explanation. . . .Of course one realizes that advantage can be taken of this by the child. All I am saying is that we must never be unreasonable. Let the explanation be given by the child, and if it is not a true reason, then you can chastise for that also as well as for the particular act which constitutes the offence. But to refuse to listen, to prohibit any kind of reply, is inexcusable” (280).

4. “But there is another principle to be considered – the parent must never be selfish. . . .My charge applies to persons who do not recognize that the child has his own life and personality, and who seem to think that children are entirely for their pleasure, or for their use. They have an essentially wrong notion of parenthood and what it means. They do not realize that we are but guardians and custodians of these lives that are given to us, that we do not possess them, that they do not ‘belong’ to us, that they are not ‘goods’ or chattels, that we have no absolute right over them” (281).

5. “Punishment, discipline, must never be administered in a mechanical manner. There are people who believe in discipline for its own sake. That is not biblical teaching, but the philosophy of the Sergeant Major. . . .It must never be thought of in terms of pressing a button and expecting an inevitable result to follow. That is not true discipline; it is not even human. That belongs to the realm of mechanics. But true discipline is always based on understanding; it has something to say for itself; it has an explanation to give” (282).

6. Discipline must never be too severe. Here is perhaps the danger that confronts many good parents at the present time as they see the utter lawlessness about them, and as they rightly bemoan it and condemn it. Their danger is to be so deeply influenced by their revulsions as to go right over to this other extreme and to become much too severe. The opposite of no discipline at all is not cruelty, it is balanced discipline, it is controlled discipline” (283).

7. “We must never fail to recognize growth and development in the child. This is another alarming parental defect which, thank God, one does not see now so often as formerly. But there are still some parents who continue to regard their children all their lives as if they had never outgrown their childhood. The children may be twenty-five but they still treat them as if they were five. They do not recognize that this person, this individual, this child who God has given them in His grace, is one that is growing and developing and maturing” (284).


Only the Shadow

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55–57, ESV) 

On Saturday, I had the privilege of performing my uncle Rob’s funeral. He went home to be with His Savior last week after a long battle with cancer. Even with the knowledge that he now resides in his heavenly home, death still brings sorrow for loved ones left behind. Yet, as the apostle Paul said, we don’t grieve like “those  who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Why? Because Jesus has conquered death. When? On the cross and through the empty tomb. What seemed like Satan’s finest hour became his demise.

At the funeral, I shared a story by Donald Grey Barnhouse, which has likely been shared at a thousand others:

I was driving with my children to my wife’s funeral where I was to preach the sermon. As we came into one small town there strode down in front of us a truck that came to stop before a red light. It was the biggest truck I ever saw in my life, and the sun was shining on it at just the right angle that took its shadow and spread it across the snow on the field beside it. As the shadow covered that field, I said, “Look children at that truck, and look at its shadow. If you had to be run over, which would you rather be run over by? Would you rather be run over by the truck or by the shadow?” My youngest child said, “The shadow couldn’t hurt anybody.” “That’s right,” I continued, “and death is a truck, but the shadow is all that ever touches the Christian. The truck ran over the Lord Jesus. Only the shadow is gone over mother.”

Thanks be to God that we are only touched by the shadow!

Sleeping with the Enemy (James 4:4-6)

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:4–6, ESV)

Have you ever noticed that the Bible sometimes uses strong language? I realize that’s quite an understatement, but consider these passages:

  • John the Baptist called the pretentious religious leaders of his day a “brood of vipers.”
  • Jesus called them: “hypocrites,” “whitewashed tombs,” and “blind guides.”
  • We are told that our good works amount to “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) when it comes to earning God’s favor. This Hebrew word is likely a reference to women’s menstrual rags!
  • People who distort the gospel message are called dogs (Philippians 3:2) and their message is as destructive as spreading      gangrene is to one’s body (2 Timothy 2:17)

Clearly God has no problem calling things like he sees them. A spade is a spade. That’s why in today’s passage, when he calls people who are too cozy with the world “adulterous,” it should cause us to raise our eyebrows. When we become to close and comfortable with the way our non-Christian, unbelieving world views life, we have a major problem. God says that we are spiritually sleeping around. We have walked away from our true love (God) and hopped in bed with another (the world).  Adultery is always a bad thing and spiritual adultery is no different.

How do I know if I’m guilty of this? One simple and easy way is to ask two questions:

  1. Do I spend my time the same way non-Christians do?
  2. Do I spend my money the same way non-Christians do?

Those two questions will help you assess where you are. And if you find you’re in the wrong bed, guess what? There’s good news. God gives more and more grace to help us in our frailty (v. 6). If we choose to humble ourselves and admit our wrong, God’s loving favor abounds to us to get us back on track and into the right relationship . . . with Him.

Backsliding in 9 Easy Steps

Tim Challies, quoting from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, shows us that it takes only nine simple steps to fall away from the Lord.

1. Stop meditating on the gospel. “They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.”

2. Neglect your devotions and stop battling sin. “Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like.”

3. Isolate yourself from Christian fellowship. “Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.”

4. Stop going to church. “After that, they grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like.”

5. Determine that Christians are hypocrites because they continue to sin. “They then begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly, and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmities they have espied in them) behind their backs.”

6. Trade Christian community for distinctly unChristian company. “Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with, carnal, loose, and wanton men.”

7. Pursue rebellious conversation and fellowship. “Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.”

8. Allow yourself to enjoy some small, sinful pleasures. “After this they begin to play with little sins openly.”

9. Admit what you are and prepare yourself for everlasting torment. “And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus, being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings.”

Truth AND Love

…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:15, ESV)

This verse holds within it an essential key to our relationships with other Christians. We are told to “speak the truth in love” to our believing neighbors. Doing so requires wisdom from God and careful attention to balance. By balance, I mean that we can easily fall into one of two ditches.

The “Truth” People

This guy knows his beliefs backward and forward. He understands doctrine inside and out and watches like and eagle for deviants so that he might swoop in on his prey and set them straight. But not only is he the Truth police, but takes on the role of morality enforcer as well. When people step into a pile of sin (or what some could possibly perceive as sin) he’s immediately in their face to let them know very matter-of-factly that they have screwed up and better get back on track.

The “Love” People

This person wants to just to be tender and compassions — so much so that they begin to mistake genuine love for a mamsy-pamsy, loosey-goosey, unquestioning acceptance of behavior or beliefs. They don’t want to offend or in anyway pass judgment so willingly accommodate everyone’s believes and behaviors, thinking all along, “Well, who am I to say anything, after all, I’m not perfect either!”.

The Truth in Love People

Frankly, neither of those are the kind of people that Jesus Christ wants us to be. We’re told to speak the truth in love. That means that we do care about doctrine and right teaching. We do care about right living and moral behavior. When we see a believer who has wandered morally or doctrinally, we gently and lovingly correct. The Truth in Love Person is by your side, not in your face. He doesn’t “talk at you” but walks beside you. He cares, not about being right, but about the other person and their relationship with God. He doesn’t mistake love for out and out acceptance of behavior or beliefs but he approaches the person with prayer, understanding and humility.

My God, by his Holy Spirit, make us Truth in Love People.

Have a Little Patience

Patience! patience! you are always in a hurry, but God is not. —C.H. Spurgeon

  1. Patience with each other

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” (Ephesians 4:1–2, ESV)

  1. Patient to receive God’s promises

“so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:12, ESV)

  1. Love is patient

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant” (1 Corinthians 13:4, ESV)


  1. Patience in suffering

“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:19–23, ESV)

  1. Patient as we wait for the Lord’s return

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7–8, ESV)

Satisfied? (James 4:1-3)

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:1–3, ESV)

Oh that we could be satisfied in God. So much of what I pray for is simply greed cloaked in spiritual garments. My requests reveal that I am not content with the blessings God has lavished upon me, but that I require more so that I may reach the pinnacle of potential happiness.

Today’s passage reminds me that my attitudes of covetousness and greed go beyond personal sin, but actually influence the body of Christ and my relationships with others. How? First of all, when I covet, I’m looking out for myself and my own interests. According to Philippians 2:3-8, God is not down with that. My desires should be to serve and lift up those around me, not bowl them over to get what I want. Our sinful yearnings may not be after possessions, but  positions, recognition or the need to have my ideas implemented in the church.

The second reason this sin can be so detrimental to God’s people is that I begin to use people for gain. I look them over for what I might be able to get from them, rather than seeing them as a brother or sister in Christ. They are an asset rather than a friend.

James uses strong words in these verses because he’s dealing with a big problem. All Christians must find contentment in God, not in greed. May God work in our hearts so that we pray with the right motives and that we might serve others rather than exploit them for our own purposes.

A Monday Morning Prayer

O Lord our God, you know who we are;

People with good consciences and with bad,

Persons who are content and those who are discontent,

The certain and the uncertain,

Christians by conviction and Christians by convention,

Those who believe and those who half-believe, those who disbelieve.

And you know where we have come from:

From the circle of relatives, acquaintances and friends,

Or from the greatest loneliness; from a life of quiet prosperity,

From family relationships that are well-ordered or from those disordered . . .

From the inner circle of the Christian community or from its outer edge.

But now we all stand before you,

In all our differences,

Yet alike in that we are all in the wrong with you and with one another,

That we must all one day die,

That we would be lost without your grace,

But also in that your grace is promised and made available to us all in your dear Son, Jesus Christ

Karl Barth, German theologian (1886-1968) (from Kurt Bjorkland, Prayers for Today, p. 176)

Whose Wisdom? (James 3:13-18)

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13–18, ESV)

These verses pit a matchup of two types of wisdom: Earthly and Heavenly.

The first one comes from us — it has to do with our own reasoning and way of figuring things out. In fact it not simply neutral or “not the best way of doing things.” The passage says that earthly wisdom is unspiritual and demonic. It doesn’t get much worse than that! But why does earthly wisdom get such a bad rap? Because it involves my way of doing things, not God’s. And when I’m doing things my way all the time, James tells me it will produce jealousy and selfish ambition. That’s because if I’m doing things my way and people don’t like it, then I will naturally be at odds with them.

The second type of wisdom is from God and seems to fair much better on the scale of desirability. Why? Because it is:

  • Pure
  • Gentle
  • Open to reason
  • Full of mercy and good fruits
  • Impartial
  • Sincere

It leads to a “harvest of righteousness”

Even if I don’t understand the full implications of each of those words or phrases, they certainly sound much better than “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.” How do I get this wisdom? Go back to chapter 1:5-8 and be reminded this wisdom comes from God and he loves to dish it out generously.

So go ahead. Ask him. It’s far better than the alternative!

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