God’s Curse or Blessing – Part 2

 

Galatians 3:10 reads: , “For as many as are of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’” Notice that it is necessary to continue in all things in order to avoid the curse. The problem is that many Christians are viewing life as a law-based scheme. They are attempting to please God, be acceptable to God and grow in their Christian life by keeping the law. This approach is doomed to failure as we shall see.

Paul begins his thought in Galatians 3:1. The first thing we read is that Paul appears somewhat frustrated by the fact that the Galatian Christians have been turned away from the truth. He appeals to the fact that the crucifixion of Christ had been clearly portrayed for them so that they would know what his death had accomplished. So he begins his detailed instruction with this question, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?” The answer to the question should be obvious – by the hearing of faith. Salvation comes by faith alone. Trusting only in the promises God has made that those who receive and trust Christ will be eternally saved.

In verse 3 he asks another question. “Having begun in the Spirit are you now made perfect by the flesh?” The answer should obviously be “no”. So the teaching here is that we begin the Christian life by faith. It cannot be earned. It must simply be believed. Similarly, maturing in the faith is achieved the same way — by faith. It is not accomplished by the keeping of rules. Growth in the Christian life and growing in Christ-likeness is accomplished by faith and not by submitting to the law. In order to illustrate this point, Paul brings up Abraham in verse 6. He explains that Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness for him. God had just showed up at Abraham’s door one day and promised him some things and Abraham took God at his word. God counted this faith, this believing as righteousness for Abraham. These promises were made by God unconditionally. That means nothing was required of Abraham except to believe and receive those promises as a gracious gift from God.

In verse 7 he tells us then that those who are of faith (like Abraham was) are the sons of Abraham. God had promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him and verse 9 tells us the conclusion to this section: “Those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” That means that if you have placed your faith in the promises of God given through his Son, Jesus Christ, you are one of those blessed along with Abraham. There you have one of the key words of this study: “blessed”. You see, we began this study with the concept of the blessings and the curses of God. This then sets up the basis for the argument Paul is going to use in the rest of the chapter and it is an extremely crucial argument if you want to understand your relationship to the blessings and curses of God.

According to verse 10, what is the standard for avoiding the curse? If we’re under the law, the standard given there is that we must continue in all of the things written in the book of the Law. We’re not allowed to deviate from it to either side. We must hit the nail on the head every time. This is exactly the point in Deuteronomy 26:

‘Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law.’ “And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ” “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God:” (Deuteronomy 27:26–28:2, NKJV)

 

That leaves us in a precarious situation, doesn’t it? Not fulfilling every command leaves us under a curse. The blessing is for those who “observe carefully all His commands.” But carefully obeying every single command both in deed and attitude is not possible!

Bible Study – Genesis 1:2

Genesis 1:2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Here in the second verse of the Bible we read some interesting things. The first thing we notice is that the earth was without form and void and it was dark. Why is this the case? Is this just the first stage of creation or did something happen between verse 1 and 2? The truth is that we don’t know the answer to those questions. We do know what we read in Isaiah 45:18. “For thus says the Lord, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other.'”

This passage tells us very clearly that God did not make create the earth in vain. He made it to be inhabited. As of verse 2 of Genesis, it is not inhabited and therefore there is work to be done.

Some people quote Jeremiah 4:23 which says, “I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void; And the heavens, they had no light.” Jeremiah goes on to describe the reason for giving this description of the earth. There has apparently been some form of judgment which has caused massive destruction.

In my opinion there is no reason to attribute this description of events to the period between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. It could be, but I don’t think there is any reason that it must be. Jeremiah’s description in its entirety sounds like a future judgment on God’s people Israel. He sees the destruction as so devastating that he uses the same description as the condition of the world was during its creation.

Most of the time when people attempt to explain Genesis 1:2 as a judgment, the reason is often in order to provide more time for fossils to form and other events that presumably have taken place over extremely long periods of time. The problem is that even if we were to grant the long ages needed for geologic and evolutionary events to take place, it is evident from the rest of the description of creation that the order of events does not remotely match the order posited by those who believe in evolution.

So let’s just take this description for what it is, a statement of the condition of the earth right after God created it.

Bible Study – Genesis 1:1-3

When and how did God create the universe? The Bible tells us that he created the heavens and the earth “in the beginning.” We discussed that truth last time. But how did he create? Remember there was nothing to create with. There was no material in existence to make something out of. And “God said, ‘Let there be light'” (Genesis 1:3). “Then God said, ‘Let there be a firmament'” (Genesis 1:6). God’s method of creation was to speak. Psalm 33:6 “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.”

God spoke and the universe and all it contained came into existence. He continued to speak and various parts were separated from other parts. For example water on the earth was separated from water above the earth and an expanse was created between them. Light and darkness were separated from one another. Water was gathered together into one place to allow the dry land to appear. All of these things occurred because God spoke. God created through the spoken word.

When we look at John 1, we find that the Word was in the beginning with God and the Word was God. But the Word became flesh and lived among us. This Word is the second person of the trinity. He is the Word of God and he is God. And that Word took on a human body and his name is Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Messiah. All through the description of Jesus’ ministry here on earth he says things like, “I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” (John 8:28). And, “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak” (John 12:49).

Jesus is God’s Word to man and it is through him that all things were created.

Hebrews 1:1,2 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

The answer then to how God created the universe is that God spoke the word and everything came into existence and that Word ultimately took on bodily form and came here to dwell with us – Jesus Christ.

Reading and the Christian – Part 7

We have seen how reading is important in the Christian life. God used words to create. He gave us His written word for the purpose of instruction in how to live. He required it of the Old Testament people and the New Testament Christians also saw the importance of reading. God expects us to spend time meditating on His word and in order to do that we need to know how to read and how to focus long enough to think about what we’ve read.

God lifts up His Word above all other forms of communication. Peter, who was present at the transfiguration of Christ, describes this event in 2 Peter 1:19-21. Even though this was a grand event, he explains that there is a more sure word. More sure than an emotionally charged experience of the glory of God? And what is that more sure word? He goes on to tell us that it is Scripture. Scripture is a more sure word than any experience we may have whether it is a real physical experience as it was in Peter’s case or an emotional or spiritually charged vision of some sort. The Word is more sure than all of that and should be given the priority when we are trying to determine what God would have us know or do.

The Psalmist in Psalm 138:2 tells us that God has magnified His Word above His name. We know that the Name of God is great and sacred. We are not to take His name in vain and yet God Himself has elevated His Word above His name.

If these things are so, then we must be sure that we understand and practice the importance of reading ourselves, in our families and in our churches. Children must be taught the skill of reading and it must be actively encouraged. There must be undistracted time allocated for this practice. As parents we must set the example.

In the next few posts we will go over some of the challenges to the word and reading that we face in our modern world. We will also look at some steps we can take to mitigate those hindrances and challenges.

Reading and the Christian – Part 6

Meditation is an essential aspect of the Christian life and is based on reading. Meditation is the chewing over of Scripture in our minds, focusing on it, thinking about what it means in context and to ourselves. It involves looking at it from multiple angles and reflecting on it repeatedly so that it’s truth can impact our souls.

Success and prosperity (in the spiritual sense) is promised for consistent meditation. See Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2 as examples of this. In the Psalms passage the person who meditates on Scripture is described as a living, fruitful tree growing next to a stream of water, whereas the rest are described as dry chaff which the wind blows away.

The Psalmist tells us that meditation improves understanding. (Ps 49:3)

David meditated continually on the commands and statutes of God. (Psalm 119:15, 23, 27, 38, 78, 97, 99, 148)

Timothy was urged to meditate on certain truths and give himself completely to them. (I Timothy 4:15)

Paul told the Philippians to meditate on things that are true, lovely, noble, etc. in Philippians 4:8.

Finally, God is writing a book of remembrance of those who meditate on His Name. (Mal 3:16). That’s kind of amazing to think about the fact that God is actually creating a memory book filled with the names of people who meditate on Him. Wow!

Why is reading important? Because meditating is important and it is hard to conceive of meditating on the Word of God if we can’t read it. How are you doing in the area of biblical meditation?

Reading and the Christian – Part 5

The Bible teaches us that the word of God is spiritually discerned. I Corinthians 2:13-14 tell us that the natural man (that is the man who is not born again) does not receive the things of the Spirit. They are foolish to him because they are spiritually discerned. The Bible is one of those things that is spiritually discerned.

In 2 Corinthians 3:15 we are told that every time Moses was read to the people, they were not able to understand it because Satan had put a veil over their heart to keep them from understanding the truth. Only when a person comes to Christ is that veil taken away and the Word can be understood.

2 Corinthians 3:15 tells us that it take the illumination of God to bring understanding just as it took the word of God to create light in the first place.

So here is an interesting question. Can someone who cannot read and understand the natural meaning of the text of Scripture still have the illumination of the Spirit to understand the word. Let’s take an extreme. If you had a Bible in front of you in a language that you did not speak or read, would the Holy Spirit still open up the spiritual meaning to you as you sounded out the words? Let’s say I gave you a German Bible and you don’t understand German. As you pronounce the words to the best of your ability will the Holy Spirit give you the understanding you need?

I maintain that the answer to that question is “no”. It’s my opinion that it takes a natural understanding of the text first in order to be illuminated by the Spirit for the spiritual understanding to occur. This is why Christians over the years have worked very hard and spent millions of dollars to make the Scriptures available to people in their native languages.

My point in bringing this up is that we need to do all we can for ourselves and our children to make sure that we learn to read to the best of our ability. There are many practical ways in which reading is being diminished in our video culture and we must make sure that our children and our families are able to read well so that they can understand what God is saying through His Word.

Reading and the Christian – Part 4

The passages I have alluded to in the last couple of posts come from the Old Testament. What about the New Testament?

In the book of Matthew, Jesus says at least 6 times, “Have you not read…” He expects that his listeners would have read the Bible and know what it said. How else would they know what God was saying to them?

In the early church, Phillip went out to the desert and came upon an Ethiopian who was reading the Old Testament. Phillip’s first words to him were, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30) If you go back and look kat the situation in Nehemiah 8 you will find that there is great emphasis on the fact that people were to gain an understanding of what was being read. There is no point in reading if one does not understand the meaning of the text. This point seems obvious, but is up for debate these days among the post-modernists. More on that in a future post.

In Ephesians 3:4 Paul tells the church that when they read, they will understand the mystery of what God was doing through the Gospel. When Paul sent letters to Colossae and Thessalonica he asked that those letters be read in all the churches. (Colossians 4:17; I Thess 5:27)

When Paul wrote to Timothy he admonished him to give attention to reading. (I Timothy 4:13)

In Revelation 1:3 John says that there is a blessing on those who read that book.

Finally, Paul, when writing to Timothy asks him to bring his scrolls and parchments. (@ Timothy 4:13)

As we can see from these New Testament passages, reading played a central role in the understanding of the early Christians. God had given His word and great was the company of those that published it.

How are you doing on your reading of Scripture? Is it a consistent practice in your life? How about in your church? Is the Scripture read in the hearing of the people so that they will know what God has said?

Reading and the Christian – Part 3

Last time we looked at the expectation that the Israelites would gather together for the reading of the law in their hearing. Today we look at an example of that recorded in Nehemiah 8.

It would probably be best if you read the narrative yourself, but here are the highlights.

The people gathered together in the open square and Ezra the priest brought the Law to be read to them. The assembly consisted of men, women and all who could hear with understanding. The people stood for this reading. We are told that all of the people were attentive to the Book of the Law as it was read to them.

Ezra stood on a platform along with several of the leaders of Israel. The book was read distinctly and the sense of it was explained to the people in order to help them understand the reading. This reading took place from morning until midday. We don’t know what time that would be in our terms, but I would think at least 9 until noon. Perhaps 8 until 2 or something like that.

On another day a similar session was held which lasted for one fourth of the day. On another fourth of the day they confessed and worshiped the Lord.

We can see from these examples that reading was extremely important in the life of the Old Testament Jewish people. God expected that His Word would be read and since they did not all have a copy of their own, it was read publicly to them and they were expected to stand and listen to it.

My first thought is, “How did they have the attention span to do this?” Most of us here in our culture would have a difficult time listening for that length of time with no musical or video going on in the background. Later on in this series I’m going to discuss the issue of attention and the distractions that prevent us from attending to anything for a length of time

It might be a worthwhile exercise for us as men who desire to be faithful to God to think through how attentive we are to God’s Word and what kind of place it has in our lives and minds. Are we losing the ability to read and concentrate on the Word for any appreciable length of time?