Matthew 12

Read Matthew 12.

Does it really matter what you say?

How often do we say things that are mean, unkind, and hurtful and then follow those words with, “I didn’t really mean it”?

How often do people use words that are crass, crude, rude, condescending, demeaning, and/or untruthful? But we give them (or ourselves) a pass by saying, “I/He was just letting off steam” or “S/he’s really a nice person but just has a temper.”

I think that many Christians today think sins of speech are less of a problem than other kinds of sin.

Jesus said otherwise. Words were very important to him because they reveal what is in a person’s heart.

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (vv. 34c-35).

In context, Jesus is addressing the sin of the Pharisees in saying that Jesus “drives out demons… by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (v. 24). In our culture, someone who heard that might say, “They’re just jealous” or give some other excuse for what the Pharisees said.

To Jesus, however, the way the Pharisees tried to explain away Jesus’s miracles was a statement of faith, an expression of their beliefs about Jesus. Or, rather, their unbelief about who Jesus is.

Words are not empty in God’s sight at all. They are the basis on which either you will be acquitted or condemned when you stand before God in judgment (vv. 36-37). Evil words, untruthful words, harsh words, unkind or unbelieving words all reveal what you really think, the ideas that you mull over in your heart. Your words and mine let us see inside the mind; they reveal what conclusions you’ve come to in your heart. They show what is important and valuable to you. They demonstrate how little (or much) you value God and other people.

Each human being with will be judged by his or her words. Yet Jesus’s prescription for an evil mouth was not to watch what you say.

Instead, Jesus said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good” (v. 33a). Since what you say comes from your heart, the only way to clean up your speech is to cleanse your heart.

Jesus came not only to atone for and forgive our sins of speech; he also came to change our hearts so that the words we speak are true, kind, loving, gentle, and good. As you grow in your faith in Christ, your words should reflect it.

How are your speech patterns? Do your words fit with your profession of faith as a Christian or do they reveal a heart that is filled with–or still struggling with sin?

Ask God for the grace to speak words that are pleasing to him. Ask him to help you grow and to cleanse your heart so that whether a believer or an unbeliever speaks with you, he will see the life-transforming work that God’s Holy Spirit is doing in your life.

And, fill your heart with good things, with godly truth and the word of God itself. As your heart is purified, your words will be better for, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (v. 34).

One more thing: Some of the most powerful words in the English language are, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me for what I said to you and/or about you?” Is there someone you need to say those words to today?

2 Chronicles 30 and Revelation 18

Read 2 Chronicles 30 and Revelation 18 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 30.

Merry Christmas!

The revival and reformation in Judah that we read about yesterday continued in this chapter. The new aspect of this revival was a desire to celebrate the Passover which we read about today. God commanded Israel to  observe the Passover every year so that the nation and each succeeding generation would remember God’s miraculous extraction of his people from slavery in Egypt. 

But, beginning with Solomon, God’s people wandered away from obedience to God’s laws. That disobedience included not observing the feast days, like the Passover, which God commanded in his law. We saw this in verse 26 which said, “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” The span of time between Solomon and Hezekiah was something like 200 years so God’s people had no personal history to guide them. They didn’t have memories of celebrating the Passover with their families yearly so they were unprepared to celebrate this festival to the Lord properly. We saw their unpreparedness in verse 2-3 as well as 17-19, 

In their excitement to celebrate the Passover, these unprepared people actually broke God’s laws concerning the Passover. It was Hezekiah’s prayers for them that saved them from God’s wrath (v. 20). God was merciful to them because Hezekiah prayed for them and because their hearts were right even though their actions were not. Good motives are not an excuse for habitual disobedience to God’s word but God is often merciful when his people are acting in love for him.

What strikes me in this passage is how much better it is to build godly habits and maintain them. Regular church attendance is very important, in my view, for maintaining your walk with God. It is one of several habits of godliness that a Christian needs to grow; however, there are many Christians who attend church sporadically and haphazardly. They attend now and then, maybe once a month. Then they may come for a few weeks in a row before dropping back to old, inconsistent patterns. It is much harder to start a godly habit–like Passover observance or church attendance–than it is to keep doing a habit that your parents and their parents established a long time ago.

BUT, if you’ve fallen out of practicing a godly habit, the best time to change that is now. It might not have been the correct time to observe the Passover (see verse 3) but it was better to re-start the observance as soon as possible than to continue to live in disobedience to the Lord. 

So what’s the status of your habits as a Christian? By all means, continue to maintain the godly habits you have but, if you need to start a good, godly habit, DO IT NOW.

So what will you begin cultivating ASAP?

2 Chronicles 17 and Psalms 140-143

Read 2 Chronicles 17 and Psalms 140-143 today. This devotional is about Psalm 141.

In this song, David calls for God’s help again (v. 1), looking to Him to deliver him from his enemies (vv. 8-10). Although there were immediate threats that occupied his attention, they did not keep David from being concerned about his own moral development. In verses 3-5 he asked God to help him in a few specific ways:

  • First, he asked God to guard his mouth in verse 3. That was a request for God to help him learn to choose his words wisely and righteously.
  • In verse 4 he asked for help guarding his heart. This was a request for God to purify his mind and his desires so that he wanted to do what was right rather than longing for pleasures offered by sin.
  • Finally, in verse 5 David resolved to receive correction from other people well. He regarded a rebuke from another righteous man to be “a kindness,” a blessing like “oil on my head.”

When you pray, do you pray for yourself to grow spiritually? Do you think about the areas where you struggle with temptation and ask for God’s help in those areas?

Growing in grace requires obedience to God’s commands but we need God’s power to desire and to do those commands. It is our job to say no to sin and quit practicing it but only God’s grace will make us want to quit sinning and desire to do what is right.

We have the power of God through the new nature he gave us and the Holy Spirit within us but we also have God’s help available to us through prayer to assist us in developing a godly life. This is what the author of Hebrews meant when he said, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

Even when we need God to work in our lives outside, it is important to remember to ask him to help us with our struggles within. Take time to pray now asking God to help you grow in obedience. Think about where your struggles are as a Christian and pray for God to help you.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, Mark 1

Read 1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, and Mark 1 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 33.

“My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

Ezekiel 33:31-32

It is difficult for us servants of the Lord to speak to people who come faithfully to hear but who leave unchanged Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year.

On one hand, I am grateful for the audience. It is much easier to speak to a room full of people than it is to speak to an empty room. I’m always grateful for the people who are there and I try to give my best effort no matter how many or how few come, but it is discouraging to see a lot of empty chairs and only a few people. 

On the other hand, it is tough to teach God’s word week after week and see little if any change in many people who come to hear it. Again, I’m glad they come to listen; after all, if nobody is listening, nobody will change or grow.

But after a while, you start to feel more like an entertainer than a servant of the Lord. That’s what God said to Ezekiel in verse 32: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

This chapter lists several ways the people in Ezekiel’s day did not practice what Ezekiel preached:

  • Verse 25c says, “…you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood….”’
  • Verse 26 says, “You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife.”
  • Verse 31e says, “Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.”

So what were God’s people involved in? Idolatry, adultery, violence, greed, and dishonesty. Ezekiel faithfully pronounced God’s verdict on these things as sin; he predicted God’s judgment for such sins. People came routinely and listened, but only for entertainment. After they were done, they returned to living wicked lives again.

But how has your life changed as a Christian in the past month? How about this year, as you’ve read these devotionals. Are you more generous with what you have–to the poor and to God’s work? Are your thoughts and actions toward other people purer, sexually speaking, then before? Are you serving the Lord somewhere in his work or, if you’ve been serving right along, are you more conscious of how your service is an act of worship to God? 

One more thing here: Verse 32, as I noted, describes how Ezekiel was treated like a singer instead of a prophet. He was a form of entertainment for people more than a source of spiritual conviction and growth.

As I visit other churches when I’m on vacation or watch videos of worship services and messages, I feel like churches are embracing entertainment more and more.

The preaching in particular is therapeutic.

Pastors give “talks” about “believing in yourself” or “leading great.” They may be interesting, thoughtful, and might contain some good advice. But where’s the need for repentance? Where’s the blood of Christ?

Pastors need to read the first 20 verses of our chapter today, Ezekiel 33 and remember that we are watchmen who are called to warn people that God’s judgment is coming not entertain them until his judgment falls.

Numbers 14, Isaiah 38, Galatians 5

Read Numbers 14, Isaiah 38, and Galatians 5 today. This devotional is about Galatians 5.

The thing about the Old Testament law, and any code of rules, really, is that they promise moral protection. If you never watch TV or go to the movies, you’ll never see something that causes you to lust or to covet. At least, that’s the theory behind some forms of legalism.

But Jesus told us that the desire to curse comes from the heart, not from speaking God’s name. Lust comes from the heart, too, not from seeing an attractive person. Those are opportunities to express the sinful desires within us, not the cause of the sins we commit.

Here in Galatians 5, Paul tells that Galatians that God freed them from the law. They should enjoy the freedom they have in Christ. But the freedom believers have in Christ is not the freedom to sin (v. 13); it is the freedom to live out the new spiritual nature we have through regeneration.

The law can’t really restrain the sin nature anyway. All it does it make us aware of our sinful desires and tell us what the penalties for sin are.

Instead of living by a religious code of rules or even a moral list of rules, spiritual freedom calls us to love others (vv. 13b-14). If we love others–that is, we choose to do what is best for them instead of what is best for us, or easiest for us–then we won’t steal from them, lie to them, deceive them into a harmful business deal, or do any of the major sins that people commit.

Furthermore, since we have the Holy Spirit within us now (as we saw in Friday’s reading), we have the power to say no to the sinful nature within (v. 16).

“Walk in the Spirit” has been defined as something experiential, something emotional where you just feel the spirit and do what he says. Of course there are times when we sense God’s presence with us and in us, but that’s not what Paul is talking about here.

“Walk in the Spirit” means cultivate your spiritual life. It is a command to read the word, pray, be instructed in the word, discuss truth and temptation with your brothers and sisters, and so on. As you put effort into cultivating your spiritual life, your spiritual life will blossom and bear fruit, just like your garden grows and makes vegetables when you water it, weed it, etc.

Verses 22-23 describe for us what spiritual growth looks like. These are categories of growth, things that we will see emerge more and more in the ways we act and react to life and people and circumstances and choices we make. You have the Holy Spirit within you and he desires to make you holy in your life, too. So invest in things that are spiritual and the Spirit will produce the fruit of the Spirit in you.

It takes time, however, to become like Christ so don’t be discouraged if growth takes time