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“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
The Bible places great emphasis on the importance of our membership in a sound church, our faithful attendance with that assembly, and our contribution to that body of believers. All of these responsibilities are referred to in this Scripture. Anyone who is observant and attentive to current religious trends knows that the doctrine of the local assembly is much maligned. Para-church organizations flourish and compete for loyalty to the local New Testament church. And yet, the Word of God is clear. We are instructed to assemble with the church, and to be diligent in “exhorting one another.” To exhort one another requires closeness of fellowship and involvement in the lives of fellow church members.
The previous verse says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Casual or negligent attendance will not permit the personal interaction and the fulfillment of these commands that the Bible expects. Simple attendance with the church body, and the failure to become closely associated with the church family, does not provide the relationship that God designed for His church. We are to relate to one another as members of the same body.
In giving us this very helpful and practical instruction, the Scripture commands us to observe these responsibilities, “so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Interestingly enough, the Lord tells us that we will not need less assembling and fellowship, but we will need more. The closer we come to the return of the Lord, the more we need the church and all that is involved in belonging and serving. The closer we come to the return of Christ, the more evident the growing apostasy will become Jesus told us the love of many will wax cold. False prophets and deceivers will flourish. It is no wonder that we are admonished to be faithful in church attendance and to encourage one another, “so much the more.”
The exact opposite is occurring in many congregations. They are meeting less often and are having less involvement in one another’s lives. Believing that the end is near, we should be more faithful to the church where the Lord has added us.
“And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found.”
Due to the extreme famine in Canaan, the sons of Jacob came to Egypt to buy corn. Joseph was the governor of Egypt and recognized his brothers, but they did not know him. As the brothers dealt with Joseph, facing problems each time they sought to obtain food, they spoke privately of their guilt in the mistreatment of their brother. Though many years had passed and they did not expect to ever see Joseph again, they knew in their hearts they had done wrong and this matter had never been made right.
In the text, Judah is the spokesperson as they stand yet again before Joseph. They were defending themselves because Joseph’s silver cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Judah asked Joseph, whom he still did not recognize as his brother, “how shall we clear ourselves?” They did not know how to clear their names in the accusation of stealing the silver cup, but they had other things they needed to get cleared up. They had the unresolved guilt over selling their brother into slavery. They carried the guilt of lying to their father, of telling him they found Joseph’s bloody coat, and of allowing Jacob to believe that his favorite son had been killed by wild animals.
The question is a valid one for all: “how shall we clear ourselves?” How can we get peace in our hearts that our sins have been forgiven and our wrongs have been made right? How can we have a clear conscience? Thank God there is forgiveness through the mercy and grace of God and the gift of eternal salvation. We can know that our sins are forgiven and that we are justified before God. We can have peace with God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
But, what about the guilt we feel about wronging another person? The sons of Jacob had wronged their brother and their father, and their conscience would not excuse them. We must be willing to go to those we have sinned against and ask their forgiveness. It is not impossible to clear ourselves, but it may not be easy. We must humble ourselves, admit where we have been wrong, and seek to make things right. Praise God, through His grace and the proper steps of restitution, we can clear ourselves.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Each person who is a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ is a work of God in progress. “We are his workmanship.” Our spiritual existence is the result of His work in us. This is the difference between a religion of works and true Christianity. Many are counting on what they do for God to earn them a place in Heaven; when according to the Scripture, there is nothing we can do in and of ourselves that can merit any of God’s favor. Salvation is not what we do, but it is the result of His work in us.
The Bible confirms this in many places. Philippians 1:6 says, “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The new birth is the result of God’s work in us when we receive Christ by faith as our Savior. At that moment, we are born again by the Spirit of God. We can truthfully say that every Christian is a work of God, which began at the moment of salvation and will continue until God calls us home. The Scripture makes it clear that we have been “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” We are not saved by our works. After we are saved, we are to do good works. God has good works for us to perform. Our works matter to God and to those who cross our paths.
Jesus told us to let our lights shine in this dark world, “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We are to live in such a way as to glorify the Lord. It is important that others see the difference that God has made in us in our daily lives. In our homes, neighborhood, and work environment, we are to be examples of what Christ does in a life.
Referring to our good works, the Scripture says, “which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Long before we were saved, God had a plan for our lives. There are works He wants us to do that were determined in the mind of God before we existed. As His children, it is our responsibility to seek the Lord about what He would have us to do, and to walk in that path. It is also our privilege to be always yielding to the Lord and allowing Him to work in us. We are not a finished work, but a continuing work, becoming what God has planned for us to be.
“Of Zebulun, such as went forth to battle, expert in war, with all instruments of war, fifty thousand, which could keep rank: they were not of double heart.”
I Chronicles 12:33
The Word of God chronicles the trained warriors who came to David in Hebron, as there was a transferring of the kingdom from Saul to David. Their loyalty and service would now be to David. From the tribe of Zebulun, there were fifty thousand, “expert in war, with all instruments of war.” These were prepared and capable men, equipped to use the weapons of warfare. In addition, these men of war were able to “keep rank.” They were apparently more disciplined than those from the other families. The commentary given about these soldiers spoke highly of their training and courage, and the contribution they could make to David’s army.
The Scripture gives us another detail concerning these men: “they were not of double heart.” These military men were not divided in their loyalty. They could be counted on to be sincere. They would not pretend to be with David, but in their hearts maintain allegiance to Saul’s family. What might a military leader desire in his troops? He would want men who were disciplined and could keep rank. He would prefer soldiers who were proficient with their weapons and willing to learn to prepare for all aspects of war. But, any field commander would also insist that his men be loyal. Field training and combat preparation are extremely valuable, but loyalty is a necessity. Certain aspects of basic training have to do with physical equipment, discipline, and obedience to commands. But, loyalty has to do with character.
As good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we are to prepare and train to serve our Savior that we might war a good warfare. It is important that we wear the armor of God, recognize who the real enemy is, be familiar with the enemy’s tactics, and be courageous on the field of battle. It is also required that we be men and women of single heart, loyal to our Lord and His cause. It is for this reason that we are instructed to avoid entanglements with the affairs of this life. Our allegiance is to the Lord – our King and Captain – and to His Word. Faithful soldiers strictly obey their superior’s commands. We are also to be loyal to our fellow soldiers and commanders. Those who serve with us should never have to question our loyalty.
“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
In this prayer, the request is made for God to assist in the matter of appreciating and utilizing the great gift of time. What an important lesson for each of us to consider. Of all the resources we are entrusted with, this is one that cannot be regained when wasted. Once time is spent, it cannot be reclaimed. The Psalmist recognized the need for divine assistance in the management of his schedule, asking for God to “teach us to number our days.”
We need God’s help to become good stewards of our time, and we can be certain that God is interested and available to train us. There is much in the Scripture in this regard. The Bible warns us about the danger of slothfulness, instructs us about the importance of redeeming our time, admonishes us to live by priorities, and cautions us about the brevity of our lives. God promises to grant wisdom to those who request it. With great confidence, we can trust the Lord to help us learn to use our time more wisely.
Perhaps there has never been a busier generation than the one we live in. Most of us have full schedules and never experience the satisfaction of knowing that all our tasks have been completed. We complete every day and every week disappointed that we did not accomplish more. This can become frustrating if we are expending great amounts of time on things of lesser importance, and leaving critical responsibilities undone. Every new year is begun with the sincere desire to somehow squeeze more productive time into our days. As a rule, many activities, responsibilities, and opportunities cry out for our attention. We need God’s help in arranging our schedules so that time is allotted for things that are most important.
The Psalmist tells us that learning to number our days will help us “apply our hearts unto wisdom.” As we consciously seek to prioritize our activities, and recognize the importance of faithful stewardship in our scheduling, we will gain wisdom for our decisions. When a person is careless about the choices he makes and the way his time is used, he will waste much time in his daily schedule. We must learn to put first things first, beginning with time spent each day in Bible reading and prayer. As we look to the Lord and trust Him to guide us, we can schedule our days to accomplish His will.
“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.”
One can only imagine how much of men’s religion is vain, empty, or without profit. Of course, they would not consider it vain; but the Word of God calls it such. The majority of people claim to be religious in some form or another, though many are not active. A large percentage of those who are at least somewhat active are committed to observances that have little meaning, or produce no genuine change in character or conduct. James tells us that they may “seem to be religious,” but their “religion is vain.”
If our religious activity and expression does not affect our attitude and activity, how meaningful is that worship? The Scripture tells us that if a man appears to be a religious person and “bridleth not his tongue,” his religion is worthless. Being able to control our words is only one of our many God-given responsibilities. But, the lesson of James is clear; if our spiritual habits and religious activities do not influence our words, our religion is unprofitable.
God intends for our entire lives to be influenced by our relationship with Him. It seems that many want a form of religion that is socially respectable and soothing to the conscience, but has little affect on our daily lives. The Word of God says that the man with this mentality “deceiveth his own heart.” He makes himself believe that he is a religious person; when in reality, his form of religion is not God-ordained, but man-centered. Much of modern religion could be characterized in this way: It has a form of godliness, but it does not in any genuine way change the way one thinks or lives. It is not pure religion, but vain; and those who practice it are deceiving themselves.
Genuine Christianity includes a transformation of values, attitudes, and actions that proceed from a converted heart. When a person is born again, the process of sanctification begins, which should result in new behaviors, including our words. Anything less is vain religion. Thank God for the power of the Gospel and the indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost. Praise His holy name that we become new creatures in Christ! The words of James should be heeded by all, including those who are in Christ. If our relationship with the Lord is not having an affect on our language and general conduct, there is something missing in our walk.
“Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts.”
Haggai the prophet proclaimed the Word of the Lord to those who were returned to Jerusalem after their seventy years of captivity. Their assignment was to build the temple, yet they were being negligent about the project. For a number of reasons, the remnant had been discouraged; and the preaching of Haggai was to stir the people to the importance and completion of their task. God uses the preaching of His Word to motivate and cause His people to focus. That is one of the many reasons we all need preaching and need to be faithful to attend the preaching services of our church. The people in Haggai’s day, including their leaders, Zerubbabel and Josedech, needed to be encouraged.
The preaching of God’s truth challenges us to think biblically. Each of us has been entrusted with responsibilities in the Lord’s work. We are to be witnesses, to love and teach our families, to serve in the ministries of the church, to support the work of missions with our prayers, labor, and finances, to live godly lives that are worthy of our Lord, etc. Sometimes we may also become slack in some of our duties, or find ourselves discouraged in the journey. God uses the preaching of the Scriptures to get us back on task and to help us to stay focused on our responsibilities.
Haggai challenged his listeners to “be strong.” They needed to hear that they could overcome their obstacles and opposition. God’s people have been promised the strength to accomplish and complete His will for our lives. The enemy wants us to doubt our ability, but God encourages us to be strong in the Lord.
He reminded them of their need to “work.” The job could not be completed without their effort. The same is true in our world. Building families, churches, and ministries requires work. It seems that many want the fruit of hard labor without the labor itself. Haggai delivered the message from God for the workers, “for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts.” They were not alone in their work, for God was with them. We have the same assurance in our work. God is with us. Let’s not be weary or distracted in our work. Be strong; and remember, we are not alone.
“Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.”
After spending an extended time of teaching and communion with His closest disciples, Jesus left the upper room and traveled to the Mt. of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane on His way to Calvary and His crucifixion. While in Gethsemane, He urged the disciples to earnestly pray, and He removed Himself a short distance from them, where He agonized in prayer. Falling on His face, our Savior surrendered in every way to the Father’s will and the torturous path of sacrifice that was necessary for our salvation. What love is manifested in the offering of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who willingly accepted the cruel agony of the cross, that we might be redeemed!
Periodically, Jesus would check on the disciples, only to find them sleeping instead of seeking God. After this time of prayer, Jesus returned to the slumbering disciples, saying “Rise, let us be going.” It was time to face the angry religious crowd, time to greet Judas, time to experience the humiliation, interrogations, and beatings that preceded Calvary. It was time to experience the denial of Peter and the dispersion of His closest allies. It was time to hear the blasphemy of the Roman soldiers and feel the lashes of the scourge upon His holy frame. He would now hear the angry mobs cry out for His crucifixion, feel the tearing of the flesh as the nails pierced His limbs, listen to the jeering of the spectators, and experience the darkness of bearing our sins upon His own body on the tree.
“Rise, let us be going.” The time of prayer was over, now was the time for action. This was the moment Jesus had anticipated for all eternity. We all would have done anything to avoid or postpone the appointment at Golgotha, but not Jesus. In His words, “Rise, let us be going,” there is encouragement for us as well. Though we will never endure anything remotely compared to what He experienced, we all must face dreaded and difficult situations. How do we approach those times that are so difficult they make most other trials pale in comparison? Like our Savior, we should spend time alone with the Father, seeking His face and surrendering to His will. There will be times in our lives when we must choose the Father’s will over our own. When our soul is sorrowful, and we have accepted the Father’s will and sought Him earnestly, then we can rise from prayer and follow the will of God.
“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”
Psalm 103:13, 14
It is completely natural for us to care for and love our children. We may have concern and sympathy for many people, but no one has a place in our hearts like our children do. When they are injured or ill, when they are sorrowing or discouraged, we feel deeply for them in their needs. This empathy does not cease when they become older. As our adult children have struggles or difficulties, we continue to enter into their pain as though it were our own. This ability to feel the hurt of our children is not a learned behavior, but the natural sentiment of parents.
The Scripture teaches us that “as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” God loves and cares for His children. He has compassion for us when we suffer. Anyone who believes that God is somehow far removed from us and is untouched by our burdens does not know his Bible, nor does he know the Lord. The Bible tells us that He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15). Just as we empathize with our children, God is affected by our needs.
Our Father knows us even better than we know ourselves. We are never out of His sight, and He understands our grief. God is very familiar with our weakness; “he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” God knows our limitations, fears, frustrations, heartaches, and disappointments. Not only does He comprehend our circumstances, but He also has pity on us in our hardships. Satan, the great accuser, works feverishly to convince people that God is not just or does not care. The Word of God, and our personal experiences, tell us differently. We can know when we cry out to God in our times of trouble that He is aware of and interested in our problems.
In this life, we are going to have times of difficulty. We are familiar with periods of discouragement or loss. The pain of rejection or betrayal is often felt by God’s people. In a sin-cursed world, we all will face the emotions of sorrow and anguish. How does God view our hurts? He cares for us the way we care for our children when they are enduring adverse circumstances. When going through the valley of trials, we can be confident that our Father pities His children, as we do ours.
“And the Spirit of the LORD will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.”
I Samuel 10:6
Samuel had taken a vial of oil and poured it upon Saul’s head, indicating that the Lord had anointed Saul to serve as the first king of Israel. Samuel then disclosed to Saul several signs that would occur soon after, including telling him that “the Spirit of the LORD will come upon thee.” Numerous times in the Old Testament, we read of how the Holy Spirit would come upon individual servants of God and equip them for a particular task or assignment. Such is the case of Saul. In preparing Saul for his being endued with the Holy Spirit’s power, Samuel told Saul that he would “be turned into another man.”
The Holy Spirit’s presence and power in Saul’s life would dramatically alter him. Saul would be a different man when he was under the influence of the Spirit of God. The same could be said about every genuine child of God. When a person sees himself as a guilty sinner, repents to God and trusts Christ to save him, he is born again by the Spirit of God. At the moment of conversion, the Holy Ghost indwells the new believer, and he becomes a new creation in Christ. We, too, are “turned into another man.” Salvation changes us from the inside out. Salvation gives us a new heart. It is the influence of the Spirit of God in our lives that transforms us.
The degree and progress of transformation in the lives of Christians is not all the same, but every one that is born of the Spirit of God will be transformed into a different person. The more the Holy Spirit controls or influences our lives, the more we will see evidence of the inner change we have experienced. Sometimes these changes are external and easily detected. Perhaps our language or vocabulary is changed, or maybe there is a change in friendships or associations, or our activities are different. Other changes may not be as evident. Such things may include a level of inner peace that was not possible before salvation, an attitude of humility, the ability to be longsuffering, or the grace to forgive our offenders.
As we walk in the Spirit and allow the Holy Spirit to fill our lives, He will continually change us and turn us into the children of God He wants us to be. We cannot become what we are to be in our own ability, but the Holy Spirit gives us the power to be “turned into another man.”