Being Resolute Without Resolutions

It’s the time of year again when we begin making resolutions for the coming year. Even if we aren’t in the habit of making resolutions ourselves, the topic is on our minds. Resolutions, however, can be hard to keep because changing the year on a calendar changes little else about our lives, our issues, our challenges, and our weaknesses. New Years Day is a new day, but it is a new day like any other.

To be resolved is to be unwaveringly set in a purpose, and perhaps it would be better to develop ourselves into resolute individuals without worrying about the tradition of drafting resolutions. In the Bible, we see individuals who demonstrate resolute characters despite their issues and challenges. Three such figures are Daniel, Joshua, and Paul – people who were unwavering in their dedication to following God.

Examples of Resolute Living

In Daniel 1, we meet a young man living under Babylonian captivity, and verse 8 tells of his purposing in his heart that he would not defile himself while living at Babylonian court. He behaves resolutely in his youth and captivity, even under pressure from those watching over him. In the face of his surroundings, from the beginning of his book to the end, he shows a fierce determination we sometimes lack.

Joshua 24 serves as a commentary on Joshua’s entire life. In verse 14, he challenges God’s people to put away the idols and commit to God. He warns them time and again of the dedication such a commitment will take, and the book records that the people living during his lifetime follow after God’s word, as do those of his generation who outlive him. His resolute determination leaves a mark on all those around him.

In I Corinthians 9:18-22, Paul speaks of his efforts in evangelizing the gospel, and he says he works that by all means he could reach anyone he can. He goes on to an illustration of those who dedicate themselves to win awards in Olympic games, but Paul says his determination comes from the incorruptible prize before him. He calls on us to know what we are working toward, to have a purpose and a goal in our lives. Philippians 3:12 returns to this idea, expressing the continual effort this race takes – leaving our former lives behind to press forward with purpose.

Conclusion

Our prayer lives, our attention to God’s word, our priorities – we should be resolute in our following of God. Rather than concern ourselves with numerous resolutions, we should be determining to be resolute Christians. In Ecclesiastes, the author resolves to find purpose or joy in the things of this life, but his conclusion is that true purpose comes from resolutely fearing God and keeping His commandments. We may make resolutions, but they are nothing if we are not resolute in our service to God.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Connecting Judges to Ruth

God connects the details in His word to one another. Sometimes we wonder why God includes certain chapters, passages, or details in His Bible. Such chapters may be 17-21 in which terrible wickedness is recorded with little divine comment. Serving almost as bookends to these events are chapter 17:6 and 21:25, which both say basically the same thing:

“In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

More than a historical note, this passage reflects on the people’s rejection of God as king in their hearts. They seek to make Gideon king after God helps him deliver Israel from the Midianites. His son Abimelech then accepts that mantle as king for a time. The people try to have a physical king, but they are uninterested in a spiritual king.

The Contrast Between Judges & Ruth

The ungodliness in the story of Micah, a man of Bethlehem, in Judges 17-18 is overwhelming as he steals silver from his mother, returns the silver to praise only to have it forged into an idol. He finds a corrupt Levite and leads a region into adultery. In chapter 19, another Levite’s wife is unfaithful and run’s back to her father’s home in Bethlehem. Once reconciled, they are assaulted by a mob in Gibeah, which results in the rape and death of the Levite’s estranged wife. Justice remains unserved, and, in chapter 20, much of Israel turns and nearly destroys all of Benjamin. Then the Israelite forces go and slaughter cities who did not participate in battle, and they arrange deception to capture some virgins to give survivors of Benjamin.

We read these passages, and we think, “These are God’s people?” These stories demonstrate what happens when we reject God as king of our lives and set ourselves up as kings.

Then, as we begin Ruth, we meet Elimelech and Naomi from Bethlehem– where Micah and the Levite whose concubine was killed are from. Unlike Abimelech, whose name means “my father is king,” Elimelech means “God is king.” This family in Ruth serve as a stark contrast to these immediately preceding stories. Elimelech and Naomi live under the period of the judges, and, in some old manuscripts, the book we know as Ruth is part of Judges.

Conclusion

Ruth is a book full of tragedy and difficulty, but we see joy and happiness in those who acknowledge God as king compared to those who are ruled by their desires. Despite the rampant immorality surrounding Elimelech and Naomi, they remain unmoved. They do not let a wicked society dictate their godliness. Instead, they serve as a godly example to their children and their step-children. We don’t have to be like those around us. Godliness can exist in godless conditions. It does not matter what is going on in the world around us. We can face tragedy and challenges in this life and look forward to an eternal life of joy with our Father.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The One Verse Judge

As we progress through the successes and shortcoming of God’s people found in the book of Joshua, we see a five-year journey of Israel spreading themselves across the Promised Land. In chapter 13, God comes to Joshua and says much work is left to be done, and it seems that the people were growing content with the progress they had made while failing to look farther. We also can grow as content as the children of Israel in our spiritual work. We think we can rest upon the progress we have made, but, as we see in the book of Judges, past accomplishments do not predict the future.

Judges 1 lists time and again that one tribe or another fails to drive out the inhabitants of their given territories, and, in verse 34, the Amorites drive back the tribe of Dan from inhabiting their lands. Chapter 2, then, comes with a warning that Israel should not be making covenants with the inhabitants of the land, nor should they worship their gods. Israel’s contentment with partial success would eventually set then up for falling into idolatry and apostasy. By Judges 2:10, we see a generation that does not know God, and the cycle of disobedience and redemption that characterizes the kingdom of the Old Testament begins. Once they arrived in the land, work was still to be done, but they do not do it.

Shamgar’s Deliverance of Israel

In these dark times, we are introduced to a number of individuals who stand as shining examples. One of these is Shamgar in Judges 3:31. Judges 5:6 describes the days of Shamgar as an uncivilized time. Roads are unprotected. War is pervasive. No one is safe. In all of this, we have Shamgar – who slays 600 Philistines with an oxgoad. There are some principles we can learn from this single verse:

  • Shamgar uses the tools available. Weapons have been confiscated, so Shamgar takes what amounts to a pointed stick to battle his enemies.
  • God accomplishes His work through imperfect tools. In Exodus 4:1-2, God asks Moses to take notice of the rod already in his hand as evidence of God’s presence. Likewise, Shamgar turns to the weapon at hand – imperfect though it may be – to accomplish his task.
  • Shamgar does not look for someone else. He does not wait for someone else to rise to the challenge.
  • Great good can be accomplished through a single act. This Judge gets one verse, but scripture attests that his actions delivered Israel.

Our Meeting the Challenge

Often, we wring our hands over what we don’t have while neglecting to use what we do have. We all have different personalities, talents, abilities, and opportunities. We have the power of prayer, but we don;t take advantage of these when we wait for someone else to step up or give us what we think we need. We sometimes use our own imperfections as reasons to avoid work, but God uses prostitutes, shepherds, carpenters, and tax collectors to do His work. While imperfect, we can engage in God’s perfect work.

We can’t rely on others or on programs to do what we should be doing ourselves, and we have to see the significance on small acts. In Ephesians 4:16, Paul speaks of the importance of every part of the church body contributing what they can. Philippians 4:13 reminds us all things are possible through God, and Matthew 19:26 records Jesus saying that nothing is impossible with God. Shamgar may have only one verse chronicling his entire life, but his impact is large. Can we take the opportunities we have and do God’s work in our own lives.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Servants in the House of the Lord

Servitude is a theme replete throughout scripture. In Matthew 20:20, when a mother asks that her sons sit on His right and left sides, the apostles grow contentious over their rank in the kingdom. Jesus, however, says they should not seek to be masters but servants, for it shall be the servants that will be honored in His kingdom. Jesus’ mission is one of service, and our mission should be likewise focused. Also, Romans 12:7 and I Peter 4:9-10 encourage us to devote ourselves to our lives of service, and II Corinthians 11:8 records Paul his acceptance of donations from other congregations was for the purpose of service.

In Ephesians 6:5-8, Paul is specifically speaking to the servant-master relationship, and he tells those servants to be obedient. He explains, though, that giving goodwill service to another is giving service to God. Finally, in Galatians 5:13, Paul tells us to use our spiritual freedom to become servants one to another.

Examples of Service

  • John 13 records the events of the last supper. Starting in verse 4, Jesus kneels to wash His disciples’ feet, taking on the role of servant to His followers. Knowing He was about to die, Jesus takes these last few hours to teach humble servitude to those who had been following him these last three years.
  • In Acts 9:36, we meet a woman named Tabitha through her death. She is described as reputed for her charity. She served others, and, when she dies, those upon whom she had shown charity were gathered around her, displaying gifts she had given them.
  • During the events of John 11, Martha works to serve the many people coming in and out of her home. In the presence of Jesus and His followers, she busies herself
  • Philippians 2:22 records Paul describing Timothy as a fellow servant in the gospel. He describes his relationship with Timothy like father and son. That’s how attentive Timothy is to Paul in their service to the Lord.

Korah and Servitude

Psalms 42-49 and Psalms 84-89 (with the exception of one Psalm in each of those groupings) are attributed to the sons of Korah. In Numbers 16, Korah and many of his family rise up against Aaron and Moses – wanting to be as important in their role before God. This small revolt ends poorly for Korah and his supporters, but some of his family survived to write some of the Psalms.

In one of these Psalms, number 84:9, these sons of Korah express they would rather be doorkeepers in the house of Jehovah that dwell in the homes of the wicked. These sons demonstrate a contentment their forefather lacked. They are content to be servants rather than masters. Psalm 42 focuses on longing after serving God, and, throughout these Psalms written by the sons of Korah, this attitude of service and gratitude repeats. It no longer matters to these sons their level of importance in God’s work, so long as they can serve and glorify God.

Personal Applications

It’s not easy to focus on others before self. It’s not easy to deny self, but that is what our Savior did. We have to develop a servant mindset, and we have to be able to put God and others first. There are many things we can do, whether we are like Tabitha with charity, like Martha with hospitality,or like Timothy in service to the gospel. We should be serving one another in love. We should be more like the sons of Korah in Psalms, happy to be doorkeepers in the house of the Lord, submitting to God and to one another in humility.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Seeing Ourselves in Job’s Friends

In the book of Job, three friends approach him in whom we might find ourselves. It is a book about an individual who is referenced by God, along with Noah and Daniel, in Ezekiel 14:13-14 as righteous. James 5:10-11 refers to the patience of Job alongside that of God’s prophets. We know him to be an exemplary individual who undergoes tremendous trials, never once defiling God with his lips. His friends, though, do not see him as such. When they come to him, he has lost everything – his children, his possessions, even his health.

In Job 2:11, his friends come – Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They come to comfort him, but they do not even recognize him when they arrive. They mourn him as if dead, and words fail them. They sit with Job for seven days without speaking. They see his grief and comfort him with no more than their presence. Unfortunately, their predispositions eventually lead them into error.

Seeking Truth Versus Proving Assumptions

Can we see ourselves in these individuals? These friends are believers in God. They know God’s attitude toward and judgement of sin. We would call them religious, and, when they speak, they touch on some truths. Zophar, in Job 11:7-9, demonstrates a good perception of God. However, he and his friends ultimately draw the wrong conclusions regarding Job. In contrast, Job’s attitude and perception changes as the book progresses. He seeks truth where his friends seek to prove their theological positions, unchanging to a fault.

These friends believe that faithfulness results in wealth. They are preaching an ancient gospel of prosperity, and they are unwilling to challenge their own assumptions in the face of the evidence before them. They also believe that illness results from sin. In Luke 13 and John 9, Jesus rebukes those who believe tragedy necessitates sin. In Job 42:7-9, God rebukes the friends for their steadfast misconceptions and tells them to ask His servant Job to sacrifice on behalf of their sins. Again, the distinction is that Job has been seeking truth where Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have been trying to prove a point.

In Job 4:7, Eliphaz is basically saying Job is getting what he deserves, and Job 5:8 records this friend saying Job needs to seek God and accept His chastening. In verses 17-19, he calls on Job to repent, assuming sin in Job’s life, defending his position based on a dream. Bildad, in Job 8:1, offers the same theory: Job must repent and be pure to remove his troubles, appealing to their forefathers for justification. Zophar, in Job 11:1-6, goes as far as saying that God hasn’t made Job suffer enough. Again, these comforters have begun heatedly attacking Job. Because they feel the need to prove their points, they attack the one they came to comfort.

Miserable Comforters

In Job 6:14 records Job saying one that withholds kindness forsakes the Almighty, and, in Job 12:4-5, he expresses how easy it is to look down on those less fortunate. We fail to appreciate the difficulties of others. In Job 16:1-6, Job calls his friends miserable comforters, and he draws a contrast between them and himself. When we see others suffering, do we catch ourselves saying things like, “It’s their own fault?” “They got what they deserved?” “They have no one to blame but themselves?”

In Matthew 9:36, Jesus is moved with compassion when he is faces with the multitudes. Matthew 20:24 sees sickness and disease, healing those who come to Him. We should be more like Jesus’ and less like Job’s friends. We should be sympathetic to those around us. We should look on misfortune in kindness as Job encourages in chapter 6:14 of his book. Like Job’s friends, we can get the facts right while failing to bring others closer to God. We can be better friends, better comforters, and better representatives of God if we can remember to show kindness to those around us.

lesson by Jim Smelser

Bondage to Sin

In John 8, Jesus proclaims His deity multiple times, and in the midst of His declaring that He is the I AM, he calls on his audience to accept the truth that will make them free. In response, those around respond that they have never been in bondage as sons of Abraham. This is a confounding answer, for their forefathers had indeed been in captivity under the Egyptians, under Assyrians, and under the Babylonians. In this lesson, we’re going to look at these times of bondage for Israel and what we can learn from these periods of history.

God’s People in Bondage

In Exodus 6, God tells Moses to go to Egypt and redeem the Israelites. God says they will become His people, and He will be their God. Deuteronomy 7:17, some forty years after the Exodus commences, Moses calls upon the people to remember their deliverance from Egypt by God’s outstretched arm. In Deuteronomy 2:29 and 11:2, Moses again calls upon them to remember God’s power in His deliverance.

Generations pass. The period of the judges comes and goes. The monarchy is established, and the kingdom divides between northern and southern kingdoms. Hosea 8:13 records God saying the people of the north would return to Egypt. He does not mean literal Egypt, but they would return to the dangers of captivity. In Hosea 11:5, the prophet reveals Assyria to be the new captors. Contemporary to Hosea, to Amos 4:1 begins describing the terrors of this captivity, God giving them over to a people cruel and merciless because they have forsaken Him.

Amos 2 foreshadows another captivity. Verse 4 speaks of the transgressions of the southern kingdom of Judah, and Amos anticipates the bondage under Babylon. During the life of Jeremiah, the temple would be destroyed, the city burned, and the majority of the population carried away. The kingdom of Judah would never completely recover from the damages caused by Babylon.

Captivity Under Sin

What can these stories of bondage and captivity mean for us as New Testament Christians? After converting the sorcerer Simon, Paul in Acts 8:22-23 accuses him of being in bondage to sin. Discussing his inner conflict in Romans 7:14, Paul describes himself sold as a slave to sin, and Romans 6:6 and 16-17 speaks of sin in terms of slavery as does Galatians 5:1. Sin is spiritual captivity. Living in such a state puts us in the same situation as those Israelites being carried off to Assyria by fishhooks.

Longing for Slavery

In Numbers 11:4, the people of Israel remember their days in Egypt fondly. They long for the relative luxuries they had when they were in bondage to Pharaoh. They view their captivity as a form of good old days. Also, in Numbers 14, as the spies return from Canaan, the congregation of Israel weep against Moses, wishing they had died in Egypt or in the wilderness. They even plan to return to Egypt. As terrible as their bondage was, when times were difficult, they sought to return.

Likewise, at the end of the Babylonian captivity, some were content to stay in the land of their conquerors. We shake our heads in disbelief at their resistance to God’s redemption while we do the very same thing. The bondage of sin can look very attractive at times, and we can turn back to sin as the Israelites wished to return to Egypt. We must understand the wretchedness of bondage to sin. I John 1:8 warns us against taking sin lightly, and Romans 6:23 spells out the consequences of sin. Like Israel should have come out of captivity, never looking back, we should come out of sin to never return.

God stretches out His arm to redeem us and pull us from slavery. We can accept that saving grace to live free from the chains of sin.

lesson by Tim Smelser