Our Joyful Duty

November 29th, 2019

When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, along with every hidden thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Doubtless it is difficult to imagine a more fitting final thought to end the book of Ecclesiastes than is contained in these simple words. The inspired author has taken the subject of human life and shaken it to see what unshakeable truths will remain.  The issues such as the purpose of life, its understanding, its inequities, its thrills, its defeats, and man’s place in the universe — these and more have remained elusive. Why is life given to us? No man can say other than that it is given to us to live.

In the optimism and confidence of youth we begin our lives, and in the end we feel as Elijah did, “I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). Oh, it is good to see your children living responsibly, dealing with their challenges effectively, blessings others, etc. But the understanding of life, let alone its mastery — as if we could ever come close to this — remains as elusive as ever.

The whole duty of man

The inspired author says that it is not our duty to understand life, but to trust God and to obey God — to fear Him and keep His commandments. The Pharisees would later make much of this, that we were not to understand the meaning of the law, just do it. They would put their emphasis almost entirely on keeping the commandments and not on fearing God or on faith in Him. But the scripture emphasized both: fear Him and obey Him.

The fear of God is simple faith in Him. It is not to fear Him as an unreliable divinity who is undependable. Rather it is to recognize Him as the One to whom we must give an account. It also means that when He says He loves us that we are afraid not to believe Him! God is unpredictable in His actions, but never in His motives. His heart is pure because His love and His holiness are pure.

The limits of our understandings

There are many things we can understand about God and about life, but we still are short-lived beings whose earthly existence passes quickly along a certain historical timeline. We are fleeting things on earth, and our eternal life that is promised is in the future. Though we may pass away in a time of peace and prosperity, the day after we die pestilence can sweep the land, a financial disaster may overcome the earth, wars may breakout, and the comfortable life we leave our loved ones with may be stripped away from them in minutes.

The certainty of judgment

But we can be certain that after this life we must stand before God and give an account of how we used our opportunities. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This calls us to be serious and to be obedient. We are only accountable to obey what we understand the will of God to be. We must sort through the misunderstandings and well-intentioned legalism that misguides us. We must also be careful not to go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6), as well as not to ignore what is commanded.

The beauty of the Lord

And along this path, we should enjoy God. To know Him is eternal life. To spend time with Him on earth is to prepare for eternity. That He cares that we fulfill our duty, that we know Him, means that He values us, and has a purpose for us, a reason for our existence. Oh, look up at Him and enjoy Him. For this is as much of our duty as anything else. He calls us to see His beauty, the wonder of a new day, the thrill of seeing Him at work around us, the goodness that is in the comfort of His love in our hearts. These realizations of Him revealing Himself to us are the life-altering moments He has lovingly entrusted to us.

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Give thanks!

November 28th, 2019

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 107:1)

In the pagan world of the First Century, the gods did not care about human beings and only helped spasmodically, and for their own selfish reasons. The gods were unreliable at their best. Praise and thanksgiving toward these gods were attempts at some celestial flattery, seeking to win them over to the human side. The gods, however, were as evil and selfish and as capricious as people.

The Christian message was radically different, for it announced that God is good and that God cares for us. God, who is all-knowing, who sees all, is not someone we can flatter into helping us, nor do we even need to. God sees, God cares and is predisposed to favor us, and God can help. In this reality, being genuinely thankful, truly inwardly grateful, made an entirely different kind of sense. Thanksgiving was not an effort to convince a flawed and selfish god with a fragile ego to lend us a hand. Rather it was the grateful recognition and affirmation of God’s goodness.

The Christian must remember at all times that the Lord is good. His kindnesses to us are not some temporary mood changes, not some flippant fleeting feeling in the heart of God. His kindness and goodness to us His children reveals His nature. The Lord is good in His nature!

Thank God for His goodness

In His goodness is fairness and justice. We must remember this, that we should expect for God to measure back to us what we have measured out to others. This is what Christ said:

Do not judge, or you will be judged. For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2 BSB)

This is also something to thank God for, that He is just and fair. Any place we work in our life we would desire to be like this, that they are fair and that they reward hard work. This is who God is! The ultimate fair judge of all situations.

Thank God for His grace

But God’s kindness to us goes even beyond this, for He is also gracious and forgiving. We are blessed by Him giving us what we deserve AND by Him not giving us what we deserve always, in terms of our sin and our need of His grace.

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:2-3,8-13)

The self-inflicted wounds of sin in our lives, our pride, our lusts, are forgiven by God in those who believe. “Those who fear him” refer to those whose consciences have been convicted by His Spirit, and fear the justice of God to be repaid to them for the evils they have done. They fear God in the sense of realizing this spiritual reality, of turning from sin and turning to Him in repentance and faith. Those who fear also trust in His Word and in His promise of grace and forgiveness.

Thank God for His discipline

And we must also realize that even when our sin is found out, even when we receive discipline as His child, it is still positive. He is teaching us and maturing us in such moments. The Bible says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6). If we receive punishment in this life for our sins, we should thank God for the forgiveness that is eternal in the next life, AND for His kindness in using this earthly discipline to teach us eternal truths. We receive a kingdom that “cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28), so His work in us is also for eternity.

All His benefits

And on top of this we also thank God for all the good things He has brought into our lives: opportunities, talents, education, mentors, food, clothing, family, loved ones, friends, purpose, meaning, joy, comfort, peace, and the list seems endless.

The heart of gratitude

But at its heart, true Christian gratitude is just being grateful for Him, just stopping to say from the heart, “Thank You, Jesus, for Yourself!” The Christian’s chief blessing, and thereby the chief thing we ought to be grateful for at all times, is not merely a “thing” at all, but a Person. The Bible says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6-7).

Eternal life is described in knowing God through Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Knowing Christ was the goal of the life of Paul (Phil. 1:21 and 3:8), and it is to be the goal of our life as well (Phil. 3:15). Knowledge and intimacy with Christ is what will never be taken away from our hearts (Luke 10:42). Christ is that Friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is the vine that nourishes our souls. He is the light that illuminates our spirits. He is the One who said to the Father, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).

Give thanks!

Thanksgiving