September 20: Christians, Covenants, and Court

Read 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Disputes between God’s people?  Does that sound farfetched?  It wasn’t in the first century in Corinth, and it isn’t in the twenty-first century in your city!  Believers sell things to and buy things from one another.  Believers enter into business contracts with other believers.  Believers establish “covenants” with each other.  And, sometimes, those agreements don’t go as one or both parties imagined.  In countless different ways, a believer may feel as if he has been slighted or that she has experienced injustice.

So what do you do if you find yourself in a situation like that?  Depending upon the perceived severity of the injustice (often measured in emotional pain and/or financial implications), one or both parties may take legal action and pursue justice through the use of unbelieving lawyers and judges.  Paul’s point is that such disputes between believers should not land in the secular legal system.  Actually, the word of God presents several different courses of action a believer might consider.  Here are a few of them:

  1. Accept the fact that you were wronged…and move on (v. 7). Forgive in your heart, release any bitterness, and acknowledge that injustice is part of life.  Ultimately, God will bring about justice.  Let Him do so (Rom. 12:19, 20).
  2. Seek peaceful reconciliation on your own (Rom. 12:18). Sometimes the pain is so deep that the last thing you want to do is to talk to the other person and seek clarification.  The misunderstanding may be resolved if you only talk to the person.  You will never know unless you take the step.
  3. Invite godly people from within the church to be part of the process of sorting out the details and helping you to find resolution (vv. 1-6). It shouldn’t be necessary for believers to take fellow brothers or sisters in Christ to court.

At some point in life, you will likely experience conflict with another believer.  When you do, you will need to work hard at avoiding bitterness, pursuing peace, and honoring God!  Unity in the body of Christ is so important that Jesus prayed for it in some of the last hours prior to His crucifixion.  He prayed that we would be one (Jn. 17:20-23).  This unity is one of the strongest evangelistic tools at our disposal.  When it is missing, we must take right steps to restore it!

sbk

Posted in 1 Corinthians, Covenants

September 19: Covenantal Caution

Read Joshua 9:1-27

Not every covenant recorded in the Scriptures is one made by God or one sanctioned by God.  This one you just read in Joshua 9 between the Israelites and the Gibeonites is a good example.  The Israelites had been instructed by God to take possession of the land God had promised them.  In order to guard against the influence of pagan worship of the current inhabitants, God told descendants of Jacob to conquer, destroy, and drive out the pagan people.

And the Israelite victory over Jericho intimidated the residents.  Many of the people groups came together to join forces in hopes of defeating the people of God (vv. 1, 2).  But not the Gibeonites.  No, they had a different plan.  Pretending to be God-fearing people who had come from a great distance, they promised to serve the Israelites in exchange for being permitted to live.  They asked God’s people to make a covenant with them.

Their arm twisting worked.  Joshua and the people of God made a covenant with them.  The men of Israel took some of their possessions and let them live.  They had given their word and had obligated themselves with a covenantal agreement.

But it only took three days.  After three days, they learned that these men and women were their neighbors.  Joshua and the leaders had been deceived by their costumes, their script, and their acting.  Still, regretfully, they had made a covenant.  It was an agreement that would impact their dealings with them immediately and for generations to come.

All of that disappointment could have been avoided.  Verse 14 gives us the key:  “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.”  They did not go to God asking, “What do You think?”  They failed to seek His will but followed their own inclinations.  They did not follow the instruction that James would later make clear in James 1:5, 6:  “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

Seek God before you make a commitment!

sbk

Posted in Covenants, Joshua

September 18: Promises and Personal Integrity

Read Matthew 5:33-37; 23:16-22

Growing up, my brothers and I would confirm the validity of seemingly unbelievable statements we made by saying, “I swear!” or, “I swear on the Bible!” or even, “I swear on a stack of Bibles!”  With time, it seemed that we grew to measure the veracity of each other’s statements by how high this imaginary stack of Bibles was.  In that regard, I suppose we were not unlike the Pharisees in Christ’s day, who measured the reliability of statements based on the object of swearing.  Somehow statements given while swearing on the temple or the altar were not as trustworthy as those sworn on the gold of the temple or the gift at the altar.

Hold that thought for a moment.

Meanwhile, if you go far enough back in the history of the Brethren movement, you will discover that our roots include a commitment to “non-swearing.”  This was more than saying that our forefathers refrained from using profane words.  It was also an expression of their commitment to not use statements like my brothers and I or like the Pharisees of old.  In fact, even in a court of law, they would not “swear on the Bible” to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  Instead, they would simply affirm their words as truth.

At first glance, it may seem illogical that a Christian would refuse to use the Bible.  But, when we must understand Christ’s warnings in Matthew 5, we realize that this commitment to “non-swearing” is right in light with Christ’s instruction, “do not swear an oath at all” (v. 34).  Instead, whether in a court of law or in a conversation with siblings or in statements made to teachers or co-workers, we need to be people of our word.  Our “yes” can be trusted.  Our “no” is reliable.

How does this fit into our discussion of covenants?  We may view covenants as those agreements that are much more formal, legal, and binding.  We may feel as if the expectations of truthfulness in and execution of such agreements are at a higher level than the simple interactions of life.  We may think that it’s ok to be less accurate or less accountable for the things we say and the commitments we make in the less legal areas of our lives.  But Christ calls us to integrity and trustworthiness.

sbk

Posted in Covenants, Matthew

September 17: Personal Contentment and Financial Covenants

Read 1 Timothy 6:1-10

“The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is slave to the lender.”  (Prov. 22:7)

The “covenants” we establish with lending institutions enable us to have today what we can pay for tomorrow…and the next day…and next month…and next year.  Some of the financial decisions we make, you see, lead to servitude.  The writer of this simple proverb reminds and warns us of this reality.

Of course, we can avoid that kind of slavery through debt-free living.  We can decide to never enter into such an agreement with a bank, mortgage company, or lender.  That commitment would certainly enable us to avoid the slave/master relationship described above.

But beyond the external actions and decisions to borrow or not to borrow is something even more basic.  It is the principle of contentment.  On our refrigerator, we have a magnet that reads:

“Contentment is a state of the heart that says you would be at peace if God gave you nothing more than He already has.”

  • Choosing contentment helps you to avoid the griefs of regret and misdirection (v. 10b).
  • Choosing contentment prevents you from wandering from the faith to chase other idols (v. 10).
  • Choosing contentment steers you clear of the traps and temptations that have caused the ruin and destruction of countless others throughout history (v. 9).
  • Choosing contentment will cause you to be satisfied with the essentials (food and clothing) rather than yearning for the luxuries (v. 8).
  • Choosing contentment will force you to view life through the lens of eternity where nothing material you currently have will still be yours (v. 7).

The potential of the contented life is amazing.  Just imagine the expenses you can avoid!  Just imagine the savings you can experience!  Just imagine the freedom that can be yours by paying for things with money you have!  Just imagine the resources you can leverage for the purpose of generously doing good for others!  Ultimately, just imagine the satisfaction that comes from finding your satisfaction in God rather than things!

sbk

Posted in 1 Timothy, Covenants

September 16: The Marriage Covenant

Read Matthew 19:1-12

“Do you take her to be your wedded wife, to live together in marriage?  Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?”

Over the years, I have listened as dozens of husbands responded with “I do” answers to questions very similar to those above.  Of course I have also heard similar words (with the change of a few pronouns) expressed from brides to grooms.  In fact, in just a few weeks, the love of my life and I will celebrate the fact that thirty years ago we expressed promises like those to each other.  Those are vows of commitment.  They are words of covenant.

As a covenant, it is no surprise that Jesus describes it as binding.  Somehow, through marriage, a man and a woman become one.  This is an inseparable union.  This is a “super-glued relationship.”  But it is important to note that it is not the couple that provides the cement.  And, even though a minister of the gospel or justice of the peace pronounces the union, neither of them can ultimately bring the two together.  Instead, this is a relationship that “God has joined together.”  As such, it is one that man should not separate.

If you are married or are considering marriage, don’t lose sight of the covenant aspect of the relationship.  Don’t forget that God forges two into one.  And, as with two pieces of wood that are glued together, there aren’t any clean, smooth edges when you attempt to separate them.  Instead, the separation results in rough, jagged, splintered, and potentially painful edges.

Now, is that to say that there are no potential reasons for dissolving a marriage?  It is certainly worth careful study of God’s word in passages like Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:8-16.  But, even if one concludes that there are exceptions to the rule, don’t lose sight of the clear principle: marriage is a covenant made in His presence in which He joins people in a union that He intended to last a lifetime.

sbk

Posted in Covenants, Matthew

September 15: Agreements with Whom about What?

Read 2 Corinthians 6:1-18

Over the last several days, we have considered the covenants recorded in the Scriptures that God has established with others.  For the next few days, we will turn our attention to the covenants/agreements we make with other people.  The Bible gives both general principles and specific instructions that should help to guide us in significant decisions and relationships with others, whether we are talking about a potential marriage relationship, a business endeavor, or even less formal agreements.

The first of those biblical guidelines will help us to determine the type of people with whom we should covenant.  Let me describe a scenario introduced by Paul’s statement in verse 14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.”  Years ago friends of ours had two cute, miniature ponies named “Nickle” and “Dime.”  They would hitch these ponies to a cart and ride along behind.  More recently, I was saddened to learn that one of the ponies died.  Now just imagine if they had replaced the miniature pony with a draft horse and hitched the two together!  It just wouldn’t work, would it?

In like manner, believers should be cautious about entering into covenant agreements with unbelievers.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  We will have and should have relationships with those outside of Christ.  We should seek to win them to the Savior.  Meanwhile, Paul is specifically warning about entering into a common spiritual enterprise with someone who doesn’t share our fundamental, core convictions about Christ.

That same warning is also true of marriage.  While you shouldn’t seek to end a marriage that is unequally yoked, do not now knowingly enter into one.

What about business endeavors?  Good question.  The possible scenarios are innumerable, but Paul’s counsel must be carefully calculated into the nature of the agreement and the control that the unbeliever might have in the decisions and direction.

But Paul’s warning is also valid in an agreement between believers.  Not all “believers” are “equal” in that they share the same passion and convictions.  Not all have the same track record of and commitment to integrity.

Pay close attention to the yoke!

sbk

Posted in 2 Corinthians, Covenants

September 14: The New Covenant

Read Hebrews 8:1-13

The Eternal Covenant was one between the Father and the Son before creation.  It required the shedding of Christ’s blood for the redemption of man.

The Edenic Covenant was an agreement between God and man made in His image.  It outlined man’s responsibilities to multiply and fill the earth, subdue creation, and eat only what God permitted.

The Noahic Covenant was an agreement between God, Noah, and Noah’s descendants.  With it, man was once again obligated to multiply and fill the earth.  God also gave new dietary freedoms while promising no more flooding.

The Abrahamic Covenant promised Abraham land, descendants, and blessing.  It would be through him (ultimately through his future descendant Jesus) that blessing would be available to all.

The Mosaic Covenant obligated the people of God to keep the commandments of God.  Ultimately, the Law pointed out man’s need for a Savior.

The Palestinian Covenant pointed the twelve tribes towards devotion to God, prophesied of exile from the land for their future disobedience, and promised their ultimate return.

The Davidic Covenant guaranteed that a future descendant of David would reign on his throne eternally.

All of those covenants were pointing to a future day and a final covenant.  They were fixing the light on the coming of the Savior and His eternal kingdom.  They were directing the attention of men and women toward a New Covenant.  This new covenant was one established by the blood of Christ (Lk. 22:20).  In fact, every time you take the cup at communion you are mindful of that covenant, for Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:25)  The New Covenant has an “already” element to it.

But there is also a “not yet” aspect to this covenant.  It anticipates a future day when the knowledge of God will be apparent and not taught.  It points to a time when obedience to God will be unbridled and not partial.  This covenant will find its fullest expression in a millennial kingdom that is yet to come and in eternity where Christ is our focal point.

Already…thank you, Jesus!

Not yet…I can’t wait for more!

sbk

Posted in Covenants, Hebrews