Paul was very concerned about the falling away of those who believe in Colossians 2.
Col 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
Interestingly, the two ways that Paul identified as tactics for the enemy were essentially summed up by following the tradition of man. People have always tried to pursue knowledge, and I actually think that that is part of our creation. God has created humanity to explore the world and try to explain what we find around us.
However, the problem with that is we can make things into idols. The pursuit of knowledge is not our purpose. Our purpose is to glorify God and to make Him known. Certainly, we can glorify God by using our minds and pursuing knowledge. The pursuit is not the purpose. The pursuit is a means to glorify God which is the end of humanity.
Therefore I think that is why Paul is always so cautious to speak about things like philosophy and other studies. It is not that he was anti-intellectual by any means. He was clearly a very intelligent man, but I think that his chief concern was that we might lose our focus. We might end up in a situation where we are worshiping the creation of our intellect rather than the God who gave us that intellect.
That I guess is my challenge for all of us today. We need to engage our minds, and that will certainly mean different things for different people. I am going to use my mind to sell insurance. Other people use their minds to educate children or build buildings. Whatever we do, we need to do it in the name of God and bring glory to Him rather than bring glory to ourselves as is the tradition of men.
Matthew 6 is another teaching passage, and I want to focus on the end of the chapter. This is a rather common passage that I think we comfort ourselves with when things are tough.
Mat 6:31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
Mat 6:32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
Mat 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Mat 6:34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
This passage immediately makes me uncomfortable. I like to plan. I like to have some idea of what I’m doing. I know that God provides, but I have this seemingly natural urge to want to take care of my own future.
It seems that this passage is advising not to worry about the future whatsoever at face value. However, I’m not positive that that is true.
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus is talking about the birds. They do not prepare their own food. They do not have fields or harvest. In that sense, they do not plan in the way that we do.
Mat 6:26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
I was thinking about the birds, and God does provide them with food. However, they need to use their natural abilities to hunt for that food. God provides a world that is full of potential food, but if the bird just sat in the nest all day, it would starve.
I then think about this passage where Jesus is telling us not to worry, but he did not tell us to go and tear up all of our crops. We certainly use what God has given us. We are called to be stewards. Sometimes taking care of things does mean that we plant responsibly for a future harvest.
Therefore, maybe it is wise to go back even farther in this passage.
Mat 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
We cannot serve God and stuff. This is really what I think it comes down to. I think that is where all of these other ideas flow from. God cares for the birds. They are stewards of their natural abilities, and they do what God designed them to do. God did not design them to starve after all.
I think there is a reason then that Jesus tells us to not worry about the future but does not condemn farming. We are to use the abilities that God has given us just as the birds do. However, we need to remember who we are ultimately serving. I think that is what we are supposed to get from this passage. We are to seek the kingdom of God. We are to follow the way. We take care of what God has given us, but it is not supposed to become our preoccupation. We have something more important to focus on.
Welcome to Micah chapter 1. According to my commentaries, he was an approximate contemporary of Isaiah. I find it really interesting that whenever God is going to bring severe punishment to the people of Israel and Judah, one thing that always seems to be emphasized is the fact that the false idols are going to be destroyed.
Mic 1:6 Therefore I will make Samaria as an heap of the field, and as plantings of a vineyard: and I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley, and I will discover the foundations thereof.
Mic 1:7 And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces, and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate: for she gathered it of the hire of an harlot, and they shall return to the hire of an harlot.
I think that this is important to recognize because it helps perhaps point out a purpose in all of these problems. For example, what might have happened if all of this punishment had come, but the people still were worshiping the false gods? There might still be some ambiguity for the people. By demolishing the idols, there was no doubt who remained.
Think about the difference there. Certainly, there was a temple that was used as a worship place for God, but the Jewish people understood that God was not just a statue. In fact, it wasn’t like there was a God statue. When the Temple was destroyed, it didn’t mean that God was destroyed. The Old Testament is rather clear about that point that God is independent from His creation. God existed before anything else was created.
Compare that to the idea of a graven image that is worshiped. Often times, it seems as if the idol itself is the object of worship, so when you trample that, what do you have left? It is much more symbolic to tear down something that is actually a graven image. That meaning probably would not have been lost on the people of Israel.
To answer my previous thought, it seems to me that God was using these times that would’ve been difficult for the people of Israel as a way to help bring them back to Himself. By tearing down the idols, it would have pointed out that these are graven images are inadequate. It would challenge the people think about when was the last time any God came through for them. I know of one that met their needs for their entire history.
God wants people to know that He is God. Ezekiel 35 is a short chapter, but we are told that the people of Mount Seir will know that God is God five times. Here is one example.
Eze 35:14 Thus saith the Lord GOD; When the whole earth rejoiceth, I will make thee desolate.
Eze 35:15 As thou didst rejoice at the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so will I do unto thee: thou shalt be desolate, O mount Seir, and all Idumea, even all of it: and they shall know that I am the LORD.
I find this interesting because everyone has some type of god. It might not take the form of the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God of the Bible, but everyone has something in their life that they hold in high regard. It is possible to make a god out of our careers, families or friends. All three of those things that great things, but we cannot put them in that top spot.
The people of Mount Seir had other priorities that were not God. Therefore, they did not know that God is the one deserves that top spot. They had put other things there, but God was going to show them that He was the one who deserved the top spot.
I think that this is something else we need to make sure we keep our minds on. Do we know that God is truly the Lord? Do we put him in the appropriate context? For example, I can certainly believe that God is real, but I can refuse to acknowledge him as my Lord. Even the demons know that God is real, but they do not have a right perspective on who God is. There is something more about this relationship that we need to embrace.
We need to be okay with being second to God. We need to not only know that He is God, but we need to know that He is Lord as well. I know this isn’t a popular topic in our independent culture, but it is hard to get around that from a truly Biblical perspective.
These two ideas come together. Everyone has some type of god in their lives, so we want to make sure that we know which one deserves that top spot. However, we also need to understand what it means to give God that top spot. We are not in charge anymore.
I know that we talk a lot about God being omniscient, but we don’t really live like that. We are kind of like the people in Ezekiel 8 who think that they can worship idols in secret and avoid the attention of God.
Eze 8:9 And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here.
Eze 8:10 So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, pourtrayed upon the wall round about.
Eze 8:11 And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up.
Eze 8:12 Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.
This stood out to me because it was a very clear vision. It wasn’t as if God said that there are some people among you who are doing bad things. Ezekiel was able to see the people and even name names. That points out to me that first of all God is able to see everything. After all, how could He communicate specifics to Ezekiel if He didn’t know them first?
I think that we can forget that. These were obviously elders in the community of Judah, and you would think that they would know best of all. You would think that they would be the ones who would stick to the teaching of God, but this is clearly a case where they didn’t. It seems as if they simply did not understand or remember the idea that God cares just as much about what we do in secret as what we do in public. He looks at our hearts.
This is a challenge for us. We can hide a lot from everyone else around us, but ultimately we cannot hide from God. Nevertheless, we can rest on the promise that He is faithful to forgive us if we confess our sins honestly to Him. It can be hard to want to own up and confess, but it releases the burden, and that is definitely a good thing.
Jeremiah doesn’t seem to be like the kind of guy who would hold back. As we read Jeremiah 10, we read some very harsh words for anyone who would worship any other God besides Jehovah God.
Jer 10:11 Thus shall you say to them: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”
Jer 10:12 It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
Jer 10:13 When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
Jer 10:14 Every man is stupid and without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them.
Jer 10:15 They are worthless, a work of delusion; at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
I think that verse 11 is kind of funny. The people he was speaking to in that situation are the people who would worship those other gods. Basically, he gets right to the root of the conflict. Some people believe that there are other gods, but those gods are going to perish. They are not real. They are delusions.
While obviously not politically correct by modern standards, you have to admire his ability to cut through all the niceties and identify the main difference of worldviews.
For Jeremiah, God existed from the beginning of time and created everything. For these other religions, the idols were created by people and simultaneously worshiped. I think that probably the people who believed in these religions would say that the idols were simply physical representatives of the gods that they actually worship, but this is slightly different because many of these gods were part of the creation themselves. For example, I know that in Greek mythology (which would obviously not be Jeremiah’s intended audience) all of the deities were created out of chaos and love. They were part of creation rather than the creators themselves. That seems to be pretty typical as far as I know in ancient mythologies.
This is an important lesson for us. We have a similar situation today where we live in a society of many worldviews. We need to think like Jeremiah and cut to the basic difference. Once we have found that point, we are in a position where we can have a discussion. We can debate peripheral issues all day, but I think that if we can find that root difference, our conversations will be much more profitable and beneficial.
In Jeremiah 1, we saw that God was going to use Jeremiah to confront the leadership in Jerusalem, and that confrontation begins in Jeremiah 2. God wants to know why they abandoned Him, and whether or not they had found anything better.
Jer 2:26 As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets,
Jer 2:27 Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us.
Jer 2:28 But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah.
Jer 2:29 Wherefore will ye plead with me? ye all have transgressed against me, saith the LORD.
God is basically going to expose them here. Like a thief is caught and ashamed when his deeds are brought to light, the people of Israel will have their transgression brought to light when their false religions are tested.
Nature worship was prevalent at this time, and that is where verse 27 comes from. People were worshiping animals or rocks, but God is issuing the challenge. What are they going to do when times of trouble come? What will they do to help you?
He makes the bold prediction that they will not help, and He encourages the people to come back to Him.
I think that a practical application of this today is our pursuit of happiness. Happiness is almost given a divine status, and we are to pursue that at all costs. However, if that is all we are chasing after, we are going to spend our entire lives chasing and never find contentment because there is always something out there that will make us happier. I think that God feels same way about us in that situation. He wants to know when we will come back to Him and recognize that happiness and contentment can only come through God.
This is basically a prodigal son type situation. Israel in the Bible or people in general today run away from God thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. God, through the prophet Jeremiah, is asking the people how well that worked out. From what I have seen in stories I have read, it doesn’t seem to work out that well most of the time.
God has spent a lot of the book of Isaiah demonstrating how He is different than all of the other gods created by human hands, and chapter 46 is another step in that direction.
Isa 46:5 To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
Isa 46:6 They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship.
Isa 46:7 They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.
Isa 46:8 Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
I think this is a very important point. There is a reason that there were not giant God statues in the tabernacle. There are reasons that even though we might have statues of Jesus, we don’t worship the statue. God is more than the statue, but in the case of these other idols, that statue was what they had.
They commissioned that the statue would be built out of gold and silver, and then they carried it around until they found the right spot to put it down. Then, the people would worship it. That was the entire experience.
God is so much greater than that. It isn’t like we can pick up God, move Him into our church, put Him down and worship Him. If we limit our worship of God to only the worship of a statue of God (which would be really interesting because I don’t know how you represent the Trinity in the statue), we are missing out on a large part of what makes God God. We are trying to use human means to represent His power, glory and majesty. That simply can’t be done anywhere near adequately.
I think that it is important to remember the difference here. Other people were worshiping such limited gods. The God of the Bible was and is so much greater.
The people of Israel noticed something interesting that separated the God of the Bible from the gods of the other religions around them. You hear about some of these differences in Psalms 115, and let me highlight some of them now.
Psa 115:2 Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God?
Psa 115:3 But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.
Psa 115:4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.
Psa 115:5 They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
Psa 115:6 They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
Psa 115:7 They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
Psa 115:8 They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.
We still deal with verses two and three today. That is such a common challenge for Christianity. People want us to scientifically prove that there is a God. However, it is very hard to scientifically prove something that by definition exists beyond the parameters of science. Science is a great way to systematically understand our universe, but if God is greater than all of that and exists in dimensions beyond that, then we are beyond what science can tell us.
If we can’t use science then, what can we use to demonstrate that there is a God? We can take the claims that we have in the Bible and evaluate how well they match up with what we observe, and if they are correct about observation, then it would be reasonable to trust these documents. If we can trust them for that, then maybe we can trust them for things beyond that.
Then, if the Bible holds up, compare it to the alternatives in the following verses. We are talking about idols that are made by people. They can’t really do anything, but they sit there, and people believe them. The writer of this Psalm is basically saying that there are options out there, but if you realistically look at these other choices, why would you bother? These statues don’t do anything.
Today, we still have choices about what religion we want to follow, and, in America, we are incredibly free to do that. However, I think that this Psalm is calling us all to evaluate what we believe. For Christians, we need to make sure that we know about this God that we claim to worship. For non-Christians, the challenge is made to look at what you are really worshiping. Maybe you will find them to be nothing more than man-made idols, or maybe you won’t. The point is that we all need to evaluate what we are putting our faith in.
Psalms 9 is basically an entire chapter discussing the justice of God. David is asking God to remember his struggles and the attacks of his enemies. David had plenty of them. However, he never doubted that God was in control, and he emphasized throughout the chapter that he was still going to praise God no matter what because of all the great things He had has done.
However, right before we hit the end of the chapter, I found something very interesting that I wanted to explore with you today.
Psa 9:19 Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight.
Psa 9:20 Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah.
David does not want any man to prevail, and he wants the nations to know that they are simply human. In other words, he wants people to stop thinking that they are God.
Unfortunately, it is easy to put ourselves up on pedestals. I think that having good self-esteem is great, but we are talking about something entirely different in this situation. These people don’t feel like they have any moral accountability. They have elevated themselves to such a point where they believe they can do whatever they want without repercussions. That is why David does not them to prevail. They need to be judged because they have this warped impression of themselves. They have not acknowledged God and His authority.
This is something that we need to be careful about. We need to make sure that we always attribute everything to God that belongs to Him. We are not the ones who are ultimately on top. We have to deal with the reality of God. How are we going to respond to Him?
As Christians, I hope that we respond by glorifying God and putting Him first. I hope we are not like these people that David is complaining about who perceive themselves as something greater than human. We need to understand where we belong in the universe and where God belongs.