Matthew 5

Read Matthew 5.

Who is responsible:

  • to obey God’s word? (vv. 17-20)?
  • to release anger toward others (vv. 21-22)?
  • to go try to fix a relationship with someone who is angry with you (vv. 23-24)?
  • to settle out of court (vv. 25-26)?
  • to have a pure heart toward people of the opposite (and same) sex (vv. 27-30)?
  • to keep a troubled marriage together as long as your spouse hasn’t crossed the line with another person (vv. 31-32)?
  • to be honest–so honest that you keep your word and don’t even need to “swear to God” (vv. 33-37)?
  • to be taken advantage of by others and even love others who treat you poorly (vv. 38-47)?

The answer to this quiz is the same for every question–you are.

Why? Because God created you. He’s perfect so you should be perfect like he is (v. 48).

That’s an impossible standard, I know. Jesus knew it, too. That’s why he began by telling us that happiness and prosperity come from being “poor in spirit” (v. 30), hungry and thirsty for righteousness (v. 6) and so on. We need the grace of God to save us from our many failures to obey the commands in that list above.

And, in Christ, we have that grace. He died to atone for every failure we’ve ever had in living up to God’s perfection.

But, having been saved by Christ’s death for us, we have a new power and a new resolve to do all the hard things on that list. We want to shift the blame to people who sin against us to justify our anger but Jesus commands us to deal with our anger in a Christ like way. The same is true for fixing broken relationships, settling with those who want to sue us, being sexually pure in our thoughts and actions, being committed to our marriages, being honest, and loving our enemies.

Nobody else can walk with God for you and you can’t make anyone else do the right thing. You are responsible before God to do what is right and, because of righteousness and power of Christ, you can do it if you trust him and obey what his word commands.

Is there anything on that list that you need to change your mind (repent) about? What is one action you need to do today based on what Christ taught and commanded in this chapter?

Exodus 16, Job 34, James 5

Read Exodus 16, Job 34, and James 5. This devotional is about James 5.

Are you a man or woman of your word? If you tell someone you will do something or be somewhere or arrive at a certain time, can that person count on you?

Or, do you have to preface or follow something you’ve said with the statement, “I swear!” or “I promise!” Those phrases are necessary when we know we can’t be trusted. When we’ve just failed to keep a commitment or have a habit of being undependable, we have to resort to saying, “I swear” or “I promise” to manufacture a little bit of credibility for ourselves.

Jesus commanded us, his followers, not to say these things. James repeats those words of Jesus here in James 5:12: “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.” The point of saying “a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” is that you will do what you agree to do or you will be honest if you can’t, won’t, or don’t want to do it. Because we want people to like us, we all have a tendency to say “yes” to things that we really don’t want to do. James reminds us that following Jesus means being upfront and honest with others.

A person who is consistently honest and keeps his or her word is someone who can be trusted in the future. That kind of person, so rare in our world, never needs to say, “I swear” or “I promise.”

Look, life happens sometimes and prevents us from keeping our word when we had every intention of doing so. When that happens, the best thing to do is go to the person who was counting on you and apologize, taking responsibility and explaining–truthfully–what happened.

These days, of course, everyone has a cellphone on them, so missed commitments can be renegotiated. A renegotiated commitment is not a broken commitment. A person who keeps his commitments will keep his commitments or he’ll contact you to explain or apologize as soon as possible.

Today you will be asked for things–to show up at a meeting, to take on a responsibility, to come for an appointment, to bake cookies for your kids’ bake sale–whatever. Christians are people of truth; if you can’t do what is being asked of you, there is absolutely no shame in saying, “No.”

Remember that is one of the options James said we could say in verse 12. As followers of Christ, let’s make our commitments slowly, carefully, and with every intention of fulfilling them. Do this day after day, week after week, and people will learn that you can be trusted. That is a character quality that pleases the Lord.

1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5

Today, read 1 Samuel 20, Lamentations 5.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 20.

Jonathan believed his father when Saul told him that David would not be put to death, as we read yesterday in 19:6. We do not know how much time passed between Saul’s assurance in 19:6 and the rest of the events of chapter 19, but we do know that Saul did not keep his commitment to Jonathan to stop hunting David. According to today’s reading in chapter 20:2, Jonathan was unaware of Saul’s attempts on David’s life in chapter 19 that followed his conversation with Saul in 19:1-6. Here in chapter 20, David concocted a plan to prove to Jonathan whether Saul was intent on killing him still or if he was faithful to his word to Jonathan. Although David was supposed to join Saul for a New Moon feast (v. 5a), David hid instead (v. 5b). When Saul asked Jonathan where David was, Jonathan was instructed to lie and tell Saul that David was attending a family ritual instead (vv. 6-7). Both David and Jonathan expected Saul’s response to this ruse to reveal definitively whether Saul was intent on killing David or not (vv. 8-18). Note that the text is clear: Jonathan’s answer to Saul was a lie; there was no sacrifice for Jesse’s family. Instead, David was hiding in a field (v. 5b, 24a). As good as their motives were, Jonathan and David created a plan that required Jonathan to lie
So what do we make of a passage like this?

First of all, the Bible commands us to speak truthfully (Eph 4:25). God is truth and, as his people, we should be committed to truth as well. Most of our lies are designed to benefit us in some other unrighteous way. We tell lies to manipulate someone else into doing what we want them to do, or we lie to cover up something else that we’ve done that is evil or we lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. That last one is especially insidious because we think we’re doing it for them—to avoid hurting their feelings, but the truth is that we tell “little white lies” so that someone else will like us.

Jonathan and David lied here to protect David’s life. And this is also why Rahab lied when she was protecting the spies. These are the only instances in scripture were someone lied and was not condemned or punished for it. The lie was told to prevent an even greater sin namely, the unrighteous taking of human life. These lies were told to PREVENT a greater evil not to cover up an evil or to manipulate someone for personal advantage or to get approval from someone unrighteously. That’s what makes them different than most of the lies we tell.

It would have been better and wiser if Jonathan and David could have devised a test of Saul’s intent without lying. It would have been better because there could have been severe consequences for both of them if their lies were discovered. You don’t lie to the king and just get away with it easily. So lying was not the best course of action in this instance. But since their lie was designed to protect David’s life, God was merciful to them and, I believe, did not count this as a sin against them. Would it ever be appropriate for us to lie? Based on this passage, the only instance where I believe it would be justifiable is if you or I lied to save someone’s life—our own or someone else. If a man with murderous intent tries to get you to expose a victim and lie to save that person’s life, passages like this one lead me to believe that God will not condemn you. Any other reason for lying, as far as I can tell, is sin.

Leviticus 5, Proverbs 20, Psalm 92

Today we’re reading Leviticus 5, Proverbs 20, and Psalm 92.

This devotional is about Leviticus 5:1: “‘If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.’”

“Minding my own business” is a phrase that people use to disclaim responsibility. Sometimes that is a good thing; the Bible commands us not to get involved in gossip or someone else’s argument. In those situations, we would do well to mind our own business.

But there are times in life when we see something that we really should speak up about. If someone else sins and you see it but say nothing, are you complicit in their sin?

My instinct has always been to answer that question with “No.” This verse, Leviticus 5:1, argues otherwise. As Christians we are not under Moses’s law, so Moses won’t do anything to you if you don’t speak up. But these laws are God’s Word and, as such, they reflect God’s standards of right and wrong. They give us a set of ethical principles that should guide our behavior. This verse, then, tells us that God is not impressed when we are silent after witnessing a crime or some other kind of non-criminal sin. If you saw a man scratch someone else’s car, then drive off, what would you do? Would you try to stop him or say, “I saw that” if he drove by you as you walked through the parking lot? Would you copy down his license plate number and call the police or at least leave it on the car that was scratched?

Or would you just mind your own business?

Again, my instinct is usually very strong in the direction of do-nothing. Although I cannot remember any specific instances, I feel convicted reading these verses that there have been times in my life when I remained silent when I should have stepped in or spoken up.

Note that this is not the same as being a “tattle-tale.” Tattle-tales are, in my thinking at least, people who report others who broke procedural laws without damaging anyone else. So the isn’t a command to write down the license plate number of everyone who speeds but it is a call to do something if you witness a hit and run accident. It isn’t your job to turn in a child who runs in the hallway at school but you and I shouldn’t stay silent if we hear someone slandering the good reputation of someone else.

Each of us will answer to God for how we’ve lived our lives on this earth and that means giving an account for the things we’ve personally done. But we also have some obligation to others. Part of living in a community means not being idol or quiet when one person in the community takes advantage of someone else in the community.

Is it possible that someone reading this devotional today is sitting on some information that really should be brought to light? If you’re struggling with whether or not you should come forward with information you have, let the moral principle behind this verse give you some guidance. If you remain silent, could someone be blamed falsely for something they didn’t do? Will it hurt a business or negatively impact someone’s life if you are silent about the information you have?

I recently met a man in another state who moved across the country to take a new job in a community’s government. Once he was in that job, he discovered evidence of corruption and spoke up about it. Instead of being praised for his honesty, he lost his job and was blamed for the situation. Eventually an independent investigation cleared him of the false charges against him but he is unemployed and his reputation has been sullied. I prayed with this man and asked for God’s justice and I continue to pray for him periodically as I think of his situation. But I told you this story to warn you that there may be negative consequences for you if you speak up they way Leviticus 5:1 says you should. Nevertheless, trusting the Lord and obeying his will in these areas is the right thing to do. Let’s determine in advance not to be silent when we should speak up.

Proverbs 16:1-15

Congratulations! You’ve made it half way thorough our daily Bible reading journey through the New Testament, Proverbs, and Psalms. Keep going by reading Proverbs 16:1-15.

Wealth is one of the deepest desires of many people. For some it is the experiences wealth can buy. Others value the possessions wealth can help you collect. Still others are fearful of financial ruin so accumulating wealth gives them a greater feeling of security. Regardless of why someone wants financial gain, the temptation to be dishonest or to take advantage of someone is too strong for many to overcome. Proverbs 16:8 calls us to consider a different path. Instead of pursing and acquiring money at all costs, verse 8a invites us to consider the value of personal integrity. Would you rather do the right thing even if it meant less money for you or would you rather compromise your principles just a little bit to put some more money into your pocket? You are wiser, the Holy Spirit wrote through Solomon, if you get by on less to do the right thing than if you turn a bigger profit in an unjust way.

But why is it better? Doing the right thing keeps your conscience from bothering you; in fact, you may feel a sense of holy satisfaction if you do what is honest and right. Additionally, the Lord is watching when you choose righteousness over unjust gain. By choosing to do what God commands, you are banking on his promise to provide for you and your needs.

Will you face a situation like this in the next week? Maybe a cashier will give you too much change? Maybe you’ll see an opportunity to buy something for yourself with the company credit card? Maybe you’ll be tempted to embezzle funds or join a dishonest get rich quick scheme. Remember that God is watching what we do and, if you belong to him, pleasing him with your choices will be better than stocking away more cash for yourself. If your trust is in the Lord, then count on him to provide for you by doing what is right, even if it leaves you with less money in the bank.