I Believe

Martin Luther once said, “Although I’m indeed an old doctor, I never move on from the childish doctrine of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. I still daily learn and pray them with my little Hans and my little Lena.”

For the next thirteen weeks, we will be studying the Apostles’ Creed, which we will then follow with studies of the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments. These three texts have long been used to disciple new believers into the basics of the Christian faith and to keep mature believers rooted in the essentials. Addressing the head, heart, and hands, these texts direct how we are to believe, pray, and obey. May we, like Luther, never move on past these core truths.

WHAT IS THE APOSTLES’ CREED?

The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest formal confessional statement to become widely used and affirmed by the church through history. Despite its name, the creed is almost certainly not written by the apostles; instead, we call it the Apostles’ Creed since it is a summary of their teachings.

Based on its first appearance in the writing of Hippolytus, the creed began as a baptismal confession. Before immersing the confessor in the water, he or she would be asked, “Do you believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth?” When they responded, “I believe”, they were dunked into the water. The process then repeated through the next two articles of the creed. Through use in this setting, the Apostles’ Creed came to be seen as a time-tested, helpful, and concise synopsis of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

It is also worth addressing, if anyone is concerned why we are preaching through a text that is outside of Scripture, I will give attention to that question very soon. I will assure you, however, from the very beginning that these sermons are intended to be very much expository messages. The exposition, though, will look a bit different than usual. Typically, I preach through a particular book or section of Scripture drawing out and explaining the message therein. These sermons will focus instead upon the large doctrines of the Bible. The goal is still to be expositional, just from a 30,000-foot view. From this altitude, my aim is nevertheless in agreement with Simeon’s, who said:

My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head; never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding.

WHY SHOULD WE AFFIRM THE APOSTLES’ CREED?

The main reason that we should affirm the Apostles’ Creed is that it is a faithful summary of essential Christian doctrine; it is a snapshot of the core teachings of Christianity. This is crucial because the Bible repeatedly commands us to stand firm in sound doctrine. Acts 2:42, for example, tells us that the fledgling church devoted (or immersed and saturated) themselves in the apostles’ teaching, which is revealed in the Scriptures. Through the prophets in the Old Testament and apostles in the New Testament, God has made Himself known to humanity. The Scriptures alone, therefore, define the basics of our belief. They teach us the faith for which we must be ready to contend.

The Apostles’ Creed, like all creeds and confessions, is not Scripture. It does, however, provide us with a lens for understanding the overall message of the Bible. Creeds, therefore, are not ends unto themselves; rather, they are a means by which we are able to better know God’s Word.

But if the Bible itself is the only authoritative revelation of God, wouldn’t creeds and confessions just distract from the Bible itself? Or to put it another way, should we believe in “no creed but the Bible?” The problem with rejecting all creeds, confessions, and statements of faith as undermining the authority of the Bible is that the idea is almost entirely fallacious in logic. Because creeds are statements of belief, the phrase “no creed but the Bible” is itself a creed, which means that its meaning falls apart as quickly as arguing that there are absolutely no absolutes. The very premise is self-defeating as even summarizing and paraphrasing the message of the Bible would necessarily be a kind of informal creedal statement.

In fact, creeds are helpful and even necessary for understanding the Bible. Christians, furthermore, have long looked to the Apostles’ Creed as a guide for understanding the essential doctrines of the faith. The Bible certainly contains many issues and topics but not all of them are essential, and we don’t have to agree exactly about interpreting these things. For example, many believers disagree on whether the supernatural gifts of the Spirit continue today or have ceased. Both cases can be reasonably made from Scripture, and since it is a secondary issue, we don’t lob heresy grenade at one another. We disagree and remain united around the core truths that make us disciples of Christ.

The Apostles’ Creed is a great tool for reminding ourselves what exactly those essentials are. Albert Mohler states, “All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, but none can believe less” (xvi). If our beliefs and convictions do not go beyond the creed then we don’t have any familiarity with the Bible, so we must go further than the creed in our walk with Christ. But also, each statement of the creed represents an essential doctrine that if denied removes a person from the historical stream of orthodoxy.

As I stated a few sermons ago, we must be vigilant to guard these essentials from two threats: liberalism, which seeks to make the essentials into nonessentials, and fundamentalism, which seeks to make nonessentials into essentials. The Apostles’ Creed is an easy to memorize guide for guarding against those pulling tendencies. When we use it as a guide, it helps us to realize that far more is at stake when speaking with someone who denies that church is necessary for following Christ or that there will be a physical resurrection to come than with someone who holds a different slant on complementarianism. As our society continues to become more and more polarized, we are tempted into thinking that every argument is the next Arian Controversy or Diet of Worms, but not every hill is worth dying on. Or perhaps more accurately, not every disagreement is worth a fight. Let us, rather, firmly dwell upon the essential doctrines so that when the next great heresy arises, like Athanasius and Luther before us, we would be ready to stand against the world for what we believe.

We should also note that two key doctrines are implied by the creed even though they are not mentioned explicitly. First is the doctrine of the Trinity. While the creed does not use the Trinity, it clearly affirms the triune nature of God. In fact, the very structure of the creed is trinitarian, just as the foundation of our faith is our God, who is three in one.

Second is the authority of Scripture. In fact, the Apostles’ Creed doesn’t even mention Scripture at all. Critically, this doesn’t mean that the creed denies the supreme authority of Scripture; instead, it just assumes it. One of the practical benefits of warding off heretical teachings is that they force God’s people to clarify what we believe. For instance, Paul would have never written his opus against adding works to the gospel if the Galatians hadn’t fallen under the sway of the Judaizers. Nor would the deity of Christ have been so explicitly affirmed as it is in the Nicene Creed without the threat of Arianism. In the same way, the Apostles’ Creed assumes the authority of the Scriptures since it is simply aiming to explain their most important teachings.

WHY DOES EACH ARTICLE BEGIN WITH I BELIEVE?

The words I believe, which begin each article of the Apostles’ Creed, are written as credo in Latin. The English word creed and the Spanish verb creer both come from this Latin root. It might be helpful, therefore, to think of the creed as the Apostles’ Belief. When we declare the teaching of the creed as our own belief, we are asserting our place among the apostolic lineage, the universal church that began with twelve men of Galilee. We declare that we are among the family of God, the body and bride of Christ throughout the ages.

Doing this is critical because the Bible is full of creedal statements for uniting God’s people. Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) is the most significant of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This simple confession united Israel together in worship of the one true God.

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 establishes the core section of the Apostles’ Creed:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Then we have the Christ-hymns from Colossians 1 and Philippians 2, which also have a notable creedal feel to them.

Philippians 2:5-11 | Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Colossians 1:15-20 | He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Notice that each of these New Testament “creeds” centers upon Jesus Christ and, particularly, His death on the cross for our sins. They do so because the death and resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Those events form the core of the gospel, which Jesus Himself commanded us to believe. In fact, in Mark’s Gospel, the message of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry is summarized by Jesus declaring: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15).

The very structure of the Apostles’ Creed reflects the structure of the gospel. It begins with God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. He built the cosmos out of nothing, giving to humanity the distinct privilege of reflecting His image. But we rebelled. Discontented with being like God, we tried to become gods, and, as a result, our sin broke us and the world under our dominion, ushering in death. But God did not leave us to perish in our sin; instead, He sent His only Son, who is the eternal Word by whom and through whom the world was made. So God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, entering our world as one of us. The God-man, fully human and fully divine, lived a life of perfection and rejection that culminated in His willing crucifixion as a substitute for us. Upon that cross, the only person to never deserve death died, and His body was placed in a grave for three days. On the third day, He rose to life, becoming the firstborn of the resurrection. He then ascended into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand until the day that He will return to judge every soul that has ever lived with righteousness and equity. Until then, He has poured upon His people the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, who dwells within us so that we are empowered to continue Jesus’ earthly ministry. As such, we join every disciple of Jesus the mission of calling upon all people to repent and believe the good news, to become disciples of Jesus as well. As they do, they too join the fellowship of God’s people, rejoice in the forgiveness of their sins, and fix their hope upon our eternal life with Christ in resurrected bodies like His.

It is fitting that the Apostles’ Creed ends with Amen because those who believe these things can scarcely say anything else. The reminder of this good news should elicit a joyous declaration of “May it be so!” from our lips! These must be living truths within our breasts, not dead pieces of knowledge or trivia.

Indeed, to believe is to exercise our faith in these truths. The analogy of sitting in a chair is always fitting. We might cognitively understand that chair will support our weight when we sit down, but that belief can only truly be seen whenever we actually sit in the chair. To simply affirm that we could sit down in the chair without sitting in it does us no good. In the same way, many will gladly affirm the truths presented in the Apostles’ Creed, but they aren’t sitting in the chair, their lives don’t reflect what they claim to believe.

For example, you say that you believe in God the Father almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, yet you rarely take God’s design and will for all things and you specifically into account. Intellectually, you exalt God as supreme, but practically you do what seems right in your own eyes.

Or perhaps you claim to believe in the forgiveness of sins, but in reality, you’ve established your own penitential system for working off your guilt. If you do one sin, you ask God for forgiveness the following day when its not so fresh and you don’t feel so dirty. Or if you do another one, you start looking for something good to do to offset the scales.

Or maybe you maybe you affirm that you believe in life everlasting after the dead have been resurrected, yet you have no real longing for the world to come. Worse yet, those who are around you on a daily basis see no evidence that your great hope is to be with Christ for eternity. Really, they don’t see much of a difference between you and them at all.

May these examples never be true of us! To believe and affirm these doctrines means conforming our lives to their truth. To believe that God is almighty and the creator of all things can only result in us actively and persistently trying to unite ourselves to His pattern and design for reality. To do anything else would utterly foolish and reflect unbelief. To believe that God became a man, suffered, and died for my sins would make attempting to pay for my own sin an act of total irrationality.

Brothers and sisters, we must not simply affirm these doctrines as factual; rather, let us examine over these next twelve weeks how believing their truth transforms each day of our lives. What does it truly look like to believe whole-heartedly that God died for me? Or that God now dwells within me? Or that Jesus will come back in judgment over everyone, alive or dead?

In all likelihood, we will each find ourselves at some points of these studies praying the prayer of the man in Mark 12:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Indeed, let us affirm these doctrines with all our heart, soul, and might, while remembering that we will fail entirely without attached to the grace of Jesus like a branch to the vine.

So, do you believe?

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Biblical Wisdom

Trust in the LORD | Proverbs 3:1-12

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones. 

Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
and your vats will be bursting with wine.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. 

Proverbs 3:1-12 ESV

 

We are now in week five of our study through the first nine chapters of Proverbs, and as I’ve said, Proverbs is generally divided into two main sections. Chapters 1-9 are the introduction, and chapters 10-31 are the actual collection of proverbs. So almost one-third of the book is spent giving us a proper introduction to prepare us for reading the actual proverbs. If the book spends so much time introducing us to wisdom, then it probably means that we should pay careful attention.

These nine chapters continue to teach us that wisdom does not come from the proverbs themselves. Wisdom comes from God. The proverbs teach us what wisdom looks like and to turn to God. But wisdom itself only comes from the hand of God.

Let us also remember that wisdom is applied knowledge, the skill of living life well. When we talk about wisdom, it has its root in knowledge and understanding, but wisdom is primarily about living well. When you make good decisions and life goes well for you, you are living in wisdom. And true biblical wisdom is only found in knowing God.

In fact, Proverbs teaches that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the wise and the fools. Each of us are simple-minded who will, given the right circumstances, fall into either category. We will either be wise or foolish. The Bible defines the fool as saying in his heart that there is no God, but wisdom begins by fearing God. Therefore, we need God to give us wisdom.

Here is a quick word about how these twelve verses are structured. There are six pairings of thoughts. The first verse will give us a command to follow, and it will be followed by a blessing that comes from obeying that command. This general structure will be guiding our study.

PEACE & LONGEVITY // VERSES 1-2

The first command: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” Notice that he is essentially saying the same thing, once positively and once negatively. “Do not forget” “but let your heart keep”.

Now comes the blessing: “for length of days and years and peace they will be added to you.” Well that’s an interesting promise. If we remember the commandments of the LORD, He is promising us peace and longevity. Is that true? Yes, in a general sense. Wisdom after all is about making wise decisions. Thus, living in a wise, godly manner will generally lead to us having a longer life. If I have the wisdom to understand that riding my bicycle off the roof, my life is more likely to continue on further (and with less pain). Foolishness often leads to premature deaths. How tragic to read about people dying from drinking and driving! They are killed because of foolishness. They set themselves up for having their lives cut short. Thus, if we do abide in wisdom, generally our lives will be longer than if we make foolish decisions. Sadly, there was a young college-age missionary who was recently taken to ICU after his car getting totaled by a tornado. He was about to lead a team to fulfill the Great Commission but was hospitalized instead. Unfortunately, the world is broken by sin, so pain and suffering still happen. But ultimately, this will be complete in its final form in heaven. If we live in the wisdom and fear of God, we will have eternal life with the LORD.

THE TABLET OF YOUR HEART // VERSES 3-4

The second command: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you, bind them around your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart.” These two words, steadfast love and faithfulness, are covenant words used throughout the Old Testament. Steadfast love is essentially the Hebrew equivalent of agape in Greek. It is not a passionate, feeling, or infatuated love; instead, it is based upon commitment. It is a love that declares, “I will love you. Period.” But this love is often paired with faithfulness, which is interesting because together they form a redundancy. Faithfulness is a crucial aspect of steadfast love. Faithfulness is what makes steadfast love steadfast. God is doubly emphasizing to us that His love for us knows no end. His love will not run dry, and it will not go away when our actions rebel against it.

Not only are those covenant words, but the commands also allude to the Mosaic Covenant. Binding them around your neck alludes back to the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. We have already discussed this in week two, so I won’t dive into it again here. Writing it on the tablet of your heart is a callback to the tablet of the ten commandments. Just as the ten commandments were written on tablets of stone, take God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and write them upon the tablet of your heart. Interestingly, many centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah would use this same imagery to describe the New Covenant that God would establish with His people.

The blessing that comes from obeying this command is favor and good repute with both God and man. Favor is the Old Testament equivalent of grace in the New Testament. Good success could also be translated as a good reputation. Thus, if we stick to the love and faithfulness of God, we will find favor and good repute with God and men.

FEARING GOD // VERSES 5-6

The third command: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” This is, I believe, one of the most popular verses in the Bible, and rightfully so. Proverbs 1:7 is the thesis of Proverbs, but these verses are the heart of the book. In fact, I would argue that these verses describe what it means to fear the LORD.

Let us begin with the blessing first. What does it mean to have a paths made straight? We’ve seen that Proverbs continues to use the imagery of life having two paths: one leads to wisdom and God, while the other leads to death and foolishness. Jesus takes this imagery and applies them in the Sermon on the Mount. He states that the wise path is difficult with a narrow gate, but it leads to eternal life. The foolish path, however, is a easy road with a broad gate that leads to death and destruction. Few will find the narrow gate, but many will find the broad gate. The straight path here in Proverbs means that God will keep us on the wise road with the narrow gate. The reward of following these commands is that God will keep us on the difficult path that leads to eternal life. That is tremendous blessing, especially when Jesus tells us that only a few will find the narrow gate!

First, we must trust in the LORD with all our heart. Notice that if we have God’s steadfast love and faithfulness bound around our necks and written on the tablet of our hearts, it becomes a little easier to trust Him. When we have His Word, promises, and faithfulness deeply engrained within us, it becomes easier to trust God. Also notice that the command is not to trust in the LORD with all your spirituality. It is not to trust in the LORD with all your religion. Nor is it trust in the LORD with all of your Sunday (and maybe Wednesday night). No, trust in the LORD with ALL your heart. This means that every aspect of your life is submissive to Him. We trust Him with our children. We trust Him with our careers. We trust Him with our recreation and free time.

Trusting the LORD means that we will not rely on our own understanding. We will know that His ways are higher than our own, that He knows better than us. We must have a refusal to be self-reliant. This is difficult though because we love the idea of the self-made man, the hero who pulls himself out of the mire by his own bootstraps. We love this idea because we love giving glory to lesser gods. And the only thing we love more than glorifying false gods is being one of those gods. But the wise God-fearer knows the limit and fallibility of his own understanding; therefore, he trusts God.

But we cannot simply trust Him and not ourselves, we must also acknowledge Him. Too many believers have the idea of preaching the gospel at all times and using words when necessary. Unfortunately, that typically means that we try to live good, moral lives and hope that we never have to actually share the gospel because that gets really uncomfortable. Acknowledging means verbally declaring that everything we do is for the glory of God. It means being like Paul who said that he would boast in nothing except for the cross of Christ. Whoa, Paul. What about when I get a promotion, don’t I get to boast in my hard work and success? No, boast only in the cross of Christ. Does your zeal and passion for the glory of God come out of your mouth?

WISE IN YOUR OWN EYES // VERSES 7-8

“Be not wise in your own eyes, fear the LORD, turn away from evil, it will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” In essence, verse 7 is restating what we saw in verses 5-6. When we do not trust the LORD, rely upon our own understanding, and fail to acknowledge Him, we are being wise in our own eyes. We are not fearing the LORD; instead, we are fearing ourselves. We turn ourselves into gods. We delight in evil instead of turning from it. But if we refuse to be wise in our own eyes, if we fear the LORD, and if we turn away from evil, it will heal and refresh our bodies.

One of the most difficult concepts for me to believe is that God’s way is more restful than sin. Often we look at the Bible and see command after command. But Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That is difficult for me to believe. I would rather go anywhere else for rest. Netflix, YouTube, etc. But Jesus says, “Come to me.” When the commands of God are etched upon our hearts, they are not burdens but joys. We understand that God is loving Father who longs for us to live as we were designed to live. Following after God is healing, refreshment, and rest. Do we believe that?

WISDOM & PROSPERITY // VERSES 9-10

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, and with the firstfruits of all your produce. Then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vast bursting with wine.” What does it look like to honor the LORD with your wealth? He clarifies with the second phrase: giving Him our first fruits. This meant that the first of any crop was given to God as an offering of thanksgiving. The heart of this is not God taking our stuff; rather, God gave us our wealth. Especially when considering farming, we remember that farmers can plant and water, but God must cause the seed to grow. God gave the growth of seeds. Therefore, produce came from the hand of God. Likewise, the LORD grants us everything that we have. Our ability to work and jobs come directly from the grace of God. Everything we have is blessing from God. Therefore, what we give to the LORD is out of thanksgiving for His grace. Do we thank the LORD for all the money in our bank accounts?

This generosity leads then to prosperity. But is God promising prosperity here? Yes, just maybe not now. Do you believe that God has truly promised to bless you as His child, if only in the eternity to come?

THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD // VERSES 11-12

Command number six: “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of this reproach, for the LORD reproves Him who He loves as a father the son in whom he delights.”

God loves us so much that He is willing to discipline us.

That’s not a fun statement. Can we go back two verses and hear about prosperity again? It is, however, no accident that discipline and disciple come from the same root word for training or teaching. You cannot be a disciple of Christ without facing the discipline of the LORD because discipline is a means of teaching, of training us to follow Jesus. In fact, Proverbs does teach that a father should delight in disciplining his children.

Listen to just two proverbs. Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline.” Do we think of discipline in those terms? If a father does not discipline his children, he hates them. He does not love his children, and he is setting them up for failure later on in life. Or Proverbs 19:18: “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” That’s saying that without discipline, children are heading for death (maybe not always in this life, but certainly spiritual death). Discipline is a good thing. Hebrews 12:7-11 also quotes these two verses and then offers this commentary:

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Anyone who has ever exercised knows the truth presented in these verses. In the moment, the discipline of working out is painful, not pleasant. But in the long run, it produces the fruit of greater endurance for our bodies. Likewise, God’s discipline is a means of training us and growing us in the peace, righteousness, and holiness of God.

Let me make this clear, the discipline of the LORD is NOT punishment. The ultimate goal of discipline is not to punish sin but to correct the heart. Discipline takes us off the path leading to destruction and back onto the path leading to eternal life. It corrects us out of love, calling us toward repentance. Punishment is simply about satisfying justice, but discipline is about teaching, instructing, and correcting.

In the Bible, there are two big forms of God’s discipline. First, God sometimes allows us to face the consequences of our sin. Take note that we believe Jesus’ death absorbed all the punishment for our sins; therefore, there is not one ounce of God’s wrath left for us. We have nothing but love, grace, and favor from God our Father. We believe that. But at times, God allows us to feel the temporal consequences of our sin in order to impact and affect us as a means of discipline. These consequences are meant to show us the truth of our sin and what it costs.

We find God using this form of discipline on Israel in the Old Testament. Coming out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were meant to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it by God’s strength. Unfortunately, only two of the twelve spies sent into the land encouraged the Israelites to trust the LORD to give them the land, and the people sided with the other ten. God, therefore, caused the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years until that present generation died off. God did not permit them to enter into the land of promise because they failed to trust Him. This wilderness wandering was a disciplinary act of the LORD as a consequence of their sin. In fact, at the end of the forty years (Deuteronomy 8:2-5), God explicitly tells them so:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did you fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not sell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.

The LORD allowed them to feel the consequence of their sin as discipline, not punishment. The entire point of the wilderness was to teach them trust in Him. The humility of forcing the Israelites to rely upon God for their daily provision was an act of love from the LORD.

The second form of discipline is through general sufferings, which are the natural sufferings that come with living in a broken, fallen world. In other words, these are sufferings that are not the consequences of particular sins but instead are the result of sin scarring the world. Paul speaks of these sufferings in Romans 5:3-5:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been give to us.

Why does God allow us to go through suffering? Because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, meaning it causes us to trust and rely upon the LORD. Suffering forces us to hope only in God, to trust Him. Suffering conforms us to the image of Christ.

All suffering, whether it is the consequence of our sin or simply the product of life, is the discipline of the LORD. For the Christian, this is good news because it allows us to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that nothing happens to us as a punishment from God. Jesus has already absorbed every drop of punishment for our sins, satisfying the justice of the Father. Therefore, every trial and suffering that we face, even when our sin caused it, God uses to discipline us, teaching us how to trust Him more and more.

But we must also make one more point of observation here. Notice that God disciplines as a father disciplines his son. Here God is like a father, but He is not a father. This kind of language is true of the Old Testament where viewing the LORD as our father would be unthinkable. But Jesus does the unthinkable, He tells us to pray to God as our Father. Jesus takes the father-son analogy away from being a figure of speech and into reality.

JESUS‘ PERFECT OBEDIENCE

It is good news that God is our Father because although we have seen six commands here and the blessings that flow from obeying them, we are incapable of upholding them. We know that we must trust the LORD, but we fail to do it each day. We repeatedly rely upon our own understanding. We constantly use our wealth for selfish gain instead of honoring the LORD. We often despise God’s discipline. We regularly delight in sin rather than turning from evil. This is a problem. If we cannot obey the commands, we cannot reap the blessings that follow. In our disobedience, we constantly veer off the straight and narrow path.

Fortunately, our blessing is not dependent upon our own obedience but upon the faithful work and obedience of Another. Jesus is the only human to ever perfectly embody the commands listed in these verses; therefore, He is only one deserving of the blessings as well. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus took the penalty of our disobedience upon Himself and graciously gave us the blessings of His obedience instead. The Christian, therefore, has claim to each blessing in these verses, not because of his or her obedience, but because of the gracious imputation of Jesus’ righteousness.

Wrestling with God

What Jacob Taught Me

About a month ago, I finished preaching through the third of four planned sermon series through the book of Genesis. The series covered Genesis 25-36, which is primarily the life of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. Last summer, as I finished preaching through Abraham’s life, I wrote a post about what Abraham’s life taught me. I planned to do the same sort of the post with Jacob, but four weeks passed by without writing even a word of it.

Before I explain why I was so sluggish to write this post, allow me to first explain why I wanted to write it in the first place. Whenever we read about the lives of people in the Bible, we must understand that their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, triumphs and sins, are all written down for our benefit. Their lives have been recorded as examples for us: either what to do or not to do. For instance, Paul calls Abraham the man of faith for good reason. The faith he placed in God throughout his life is astounding! Abraham’s faith is worthy of our imitation. We should strive to be like him.

And the same point can be made for David’s love of God. Or Moses’ obedience. The lives of former saints are recorded as both encouragements and warnings.

For me, Jacob’s life blends the encouragement and warning so much that it’s scary.

You see, I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write about what Jacob’s life taught me because in many ways, Jacob connected to me more deeply than Abraham did. And I think it’s because Abraham was such an example of faith. I certainly know that Abraham sinned. He was willing to sell his wife away to save his owe skin twice, and he committed adultery with his wife’s servant (even though it was his wife’s idea). But even with these sins of Abraham on display, he still feels larger-than-life. He feels like a superhero when it comes to following God. I simply don’t know if I could ever pass a test like Abraham’s having to sacrifice his own son.

In a lot of ways, Abraham’s life seems to point toward Christ’s absolute perfection more than it resembles my life.

But Jacob wasn’t like his grandfather.

Jacob’s life was essentially one massive struggle against sin and against God. Jacob was a coward and a deceiver by nature. Especially for the first few chapters of his life, it seems that Jacob lets himself be pushed around by everyone. His mom coerces him into deceiving his father. His father-in-law tricks him into marrying the sister of the woman he actually loved. His two wives toss him back and forth while they fight about who is loved most and who has more children. Often it feels like life simply happens around Jacob, like he’s a pawn in his own story.

Of course, when Jacob does take action, it’s rarely godly. Jacob’s cowardliness constantly shows as he tends to flee from conflict, instead of facing it directly. Jacob’s fear was merely the symptom of his little faith. He repeatedly took matters into his own hands rather than trusting God.

Unfortunately, this is the aspect of Jacob’s character that I relate to most. Like Jacob, I tend to be cowardly instead of bold. I’m often full of fear instead of faith. I consider too much what others might think of me instead of being concerned with doing the will of the Father.

I’m not Abraham.

I’m Jacob.

I’m not a man of faith.

I’m a man of struggle, wrestling against both God and sin.

By providence, I think that’s why God chose Jacob. I mean, even though Abraham was awesome, God named the nation of Israel after Jacob, not Abraham. And I think it’s because Israel was more like Jacob than the man of faith. The people of Israel continuously wrestled against God, following the pattern of Jacob.

But the great lesson of Jacob’s life, of Israel’s history, and of us today is that God is faithful even when we aren’t. God’s biggest grace to Jacob was not giving up on him. In many ways, God beat Jacob into maturity through struggle after struggle. But those struggles were grace.

It’s interesting that the brief descriptions we have of Esau (Jacob’s brother) seem to be the exact opposite of Jacob. Esau appeared to have great wealth (much greater, it seems, than Jacob), and there is no account of any great struggle in his long, prosperous life. Chapter 36, instead, simply lists the great men that came from Esau’s lineage.

Esau seemed to have it all.

Given the choice between Esau and Jacob, most people would rather be Esau. We’d rather have the easy life of prosperity. After all, material blessings are a sign of God’s favor, right?

Through the prophet Malachi, God declared His love for Jacob and His hatred for Esau. God’s relentless pursuit of Jacob was Jacob’s greatest blessing. Esau’s prosperity and ease, which led to self-reliance and self-sufficiency, were God’s curse upon him.

It’s a difficult truth, but it’s also full of hope. Jacob was a deeply flawed and sinful man of God, but he was still just that: a man of God. Jacob grew to follow God only because God never stopped wrestling him into maturity.

Like I said, I’m Jacob, not Abraham.

I’m often a man of struggle, not faith.

Thankfully, a wrestling match is often God’s means of grace.

Wrestling with God

Jacob & Esau Reunite | Genesis 33

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION 

Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. (Genesis 33:11)

And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. (Genesis 33:19-20)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

OPENING THOUGHT 

Jacob’s life is a continuous war being waged between fear and faith. Even after God prophesied that Jacob would usurp his older brother’s firstborn right, he still took matters into his own hands by deceiving his father into blessing him instead of Esau. Afterwards, Jacob fled from Esau to his mother’s homeland, where he found his wife, Rachel. Unfortunately, his father-in-law, Laban, deceived the Jacob into also marrying Rachel’s older sister. Chaos ensued in Jacob’s family, but eventually God commanded Jacob to return to his home. Jacob chose to flee in fear of Laban, rather than trusting God to care for him. Then upon arriving at his father’s land, Jacob prepared to meet his brother by giving him 550 animals in a series of waves, hoping to appease Esau’s wrath.

Though Genesis 32 built up the tension of the reunion between Jacob and Esau, the chapter ended with the twist of Jacob wrestling God throughout the night. Having now been given both a limp and a new name, Jacob goes forth to greet his brother. Twenty years had passed, and Jacob assumed that Esau still intended to kill him, which Esau’s four hundred men only helped to imply. Providentially, Esau is not angry with Jacob; instead, Esau warmly greets Jacob, embracing and kissing him. Jacob clearly understood this to be the work of God upon Esau’s heart.

But even though God had changed Esau’s heart, one of the biggest questions of this chapter is whether Jacob’s heart has changed as a result of his wrestling match with God. Some commentators are quick to jump to Jacob’s defense, believing that Jacob is an entirely new man now. Others present the opposite opinion, claiming that Jacob acts here in virtually the same manner as before. I will throw my lot in with others still who believe that Jacob is more complex than the other two opinions give him credit for. Jacob’s life has been a battle of fear and faith, and that fight continues here. Sometimes it appears that Jacob’s faith is winning, but at other moments, fear gets the upper hand. We know this to be true of ourselves as well. After encountering God in salvation, we do not miraculously cease sinning and act only in faith; rather, we still face temptations and doubt. But like Jacob, God’s grace keeps growing us in maturity, even if it is inch by inch.

Read verses 1-11 and discuss the following. 

  • The time has now come for Jacob to reunite with his brother, Esau, and Jacob goes through an elaborate display of submission before having Esau embrace and kiss him. Did Jacob act in fear or faith here? Why?
  • With his 400 men and his calm decline of Jacob’s sizable gifts, Esau seems to be quite wealthy himself. It does not, therefore, seem unreasonable that God may have softened Esau’s heart toward Jacob by giving him material blessings. How can material blessings distract us from worshipping God?

Read verses 12-20 and discuss the following.  

  • Now that Jacob has made peace with his brother, he builds booths for his livestock and settles down. Have you experienced a similar peace that comes from reconciliation?
  • Having settled matters with his brother, Jacob buys land and builds an altar to worship God. What was the twofold purpose of an altar? How do we worship God today?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER 

  • Obey. Having been rescued from Esau’s wrath, Jacob builds an altar to worship God. Similar to Jacob, we have been saved from the wrath of God by the sacrifice of Christ, and worship should be our response to that good news. Take time this week to evaluate your worship of God.
  • Pray. Jacob was far from perfect before he wrestled with God, and he was still sinful after that encounter. But by God’s grace, Jacob continued to grow in maturity and godliness little by little. Pray that the same would be true of you.
Wrestling with God

Isaac & Abimelech | Genesis 26

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

And the LORD appeared to him and said, Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. (Genesis 26:2-5)

And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake. So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well. (Genesis 26:24-25)

OPENING THOUGHT

Our study of the book of Genesis has led us from the creation and fall of the world to the life and faith of Abraham and now to the life of his offspring. Over the course of these chapters, we will read about Isaac, Abraham’s son, but the story will primarily focus upon Jacob, the son of Isaac. In the previous chapter, we read about Abraham’s death, his provision for Isaac beyond his death, and the birth of Isaac’s two sons. The chapter then ended with Jacob tricking his older brother into selling away his birthright.

Though Jacob is the primary figure of the chapters of our study, this is the only chapter of the Bible that gives its main focus to Isaac. In many ways, Isaac’s life is a less eventful mirror of his father’s life. Like Abraham, Isaac is faced with a famine, during which he must decide how to best provide for his family. Like Abraham, Isaac sojourns in a foreign land, and also like his father, Isaac forsakes his wife in order to protect himself. But most importantly, like Abraham, Isaac received the same covenantal blessings promised: a multitude of offspring, a land for them to dwell within, and a blessing for all nations through his offspring.

Within this chapter, we have a snapshot of Isaac’s life. Overall, he was obedient in much the same ways as his father, but he also sinned after the pattern of Abraham. Isaac’s life foreshadows Jacob’s as well because Isaac engages in deception to save himself. But like Jacob, simply being himself exposed Isaac’s masquerade. Though it is a short section, we are able to view God’s grace, faithfulness, and blessing through Isaac’s sin and his obedience.

Read verses 1-5 and discuss the following.

  1. When God appeared to Abraham, He commanded him to journey into a foreign land, and now in appearing to Isaac, God commands him to remain in Gerar through a famine, even though traveling to Egypt would have been more logical. What is faith? How is obedience related to faith?
  2. God gives to Isaac the same promises that He gave to Abraham. How would Isaac’s offspring become a blessing to all nations?

Read verses 6-22 and discuss the following.

  1. In Gerar, Isaac lied to the people by saying that Rebekah was his sister, hoping to save himself from being killed by them. How does lying display a lack of faith?

Read verses 23-35 and discuss the following.

  1. Isaac’s blessings caught the attention of Abimelech once more, leading him to seek a treaty with Isaac to avoid any major conflict. In what ways in this chapter did Isaac’s life provide a good witness as God’s servant? In what ways was he a poor witness?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider the relationship between faith and obedience. Evaluate your daily obedience to the Scriptures.
  • Thank God for His promise to provide for us, and pray for faith to trust God in every circumstance and for the obedience to act in faith.
COPYRIGHT© B.C. NEWTON 2016
Good Works | Sound Doctrine

The Hope of Eternal Life | Titus 1:2-4

in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
To Titus, my true child in a common faith: grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior

Titus 1:2-4 ESV

 

Last week, in the opening of our study on Titus, we saw Paul’s twin self-identifications and purposes. He readily called himself both a slave and an apostle of Christ. As a slave, he placed his life entirely into the hands of his Savior, and as an apostle, he considered himself sent into the world to proclaim the good news that Jesus saves. The sent-servant then expressed that he slaved to increase the faith and knowledge of the truth in God’s chosen people, growing them toward godliness.

We conclude Paul’s greeting this week as he continues to provide his motivation for writing to his disciple. If strengthening the faith and knowledge of God’s elect was Paul’s purpose, then the hope of eternal life is his goal. Hope is the future expectation of faith. While faith is the daily assurance of things hoped for, hope is faith in the things to come. We are saved through faith, and our hope is in the completion of our salvation.

Paul goes on to explain that our hope of eternal life is secured by a promise from God, who never lies, and is manifested in God’s word through preaching. This emphasis upon God’s trustworthiness was likely especially poignant in comparison to the unreliability of the Greek and Roman gods. Finally, Paul closes his greeting by reminding Titus of the grace and peace that we have in God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

THE HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE // VERSES 2-3

If the first verse of Titus was the purpose for Paul’s writing, this is his aim or goal. His purpose is to strengthen the faith and knowledge of God’s elect, but his aim is that they would have faith that leads to a hope in eternal life. Hope is the sort of word that we may feel we understand, but when thinking upon it deeply, we realize that we cannot explain it. It is similar to how Augustine said that he knew abstract concepts when he did not have to say anything about them, but when asked about them, he did not know them anymore. What then does hope mean? What does it mean to hope in something?

Nowadays, we use many words outside their biblical understandings. Hope is one such word. We use it quite frivolously as a substitute for “wish”. Biblical hope is much concrete and certain. Hope is tied to faith. The two cannot be separated. Faith is believing in God, trusting in and having confidence in Him. Faith means we have the ability to walk with God. A parachute is a great analogy for faith. We may say that we trust a parachute to support us, but actually jumping out of a plane is a realistic indicator of that confidence. Faith is believing in God. If faith is walking with God in trust on a daily basis, it is then a present living hope. And hope is the future goal of faith. Hope always seems to bring a future tense along with it. Hope is, by definition, looking forward to something. It is looking into the future and having faith that something will happen. Hope is future faith, and faith is present hope. The two are intertwined.

Romans 8:23-25 says that all of creation “groans inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” This is Paul saying that just as creation is groaning for everything to be set back into order, for God to destroy sin once and for all, we are also longing for God to give us the redemption of our bodies. This means that one day our bodies will be without sin. One day we will have fleshly and physical bodies that are not longer subject to sin. We groan for that day. In this hope, we are saved. That longing for glorification with Christ is the hope for which we are saved. That life spent in God’s presence, loving Him for all eternity without sin, is our hope of eternal life.

If our faith is not grounded in hope of eternal life, then it has no substance. This hope is also tied into the godliness of verse one because if our hope is truly set on eternal life, we will live differently in the present. You cannot know that you were made for eternity and live like everything is dependent upon the now. If you truly know that what truly matters are things and events that happen ten billion years from now, there will be things in this life that become small. If we simply look at our lives over the span of seventy to one hundred years, there may be problems that look and feel massive, but if we view them from a fixation of eternity, many of our troubles become very small. Hope of eternity leads to a transformed life in the present.

God, Who Never Lies, Promised

This is the first of two securities that Paul provides for our hope of eternal life. We can have faith in our future hope because God promised it. God promised before the ages began (Eph. 1:4). God set into motion our salvation before Genesis 1:1 ever happened. If there is any person’s promise that we can trust, it is God. Paul did not have to place the clause “who never lies” in the verse. There are likely two reasons for including that clause.

First, remember that at this point in the first century, most of Paul’s fellow citizens worshipped Greek or Roman gods. Any quick reading of such mythologies will show that these gods were liars and cheaters for their own personal gain, and this was not exclusive to Greeks and Romans. Most societies lived in fear because their gods were selfish and less than honest. Paul, however, reminds Christians that our God is different. He loved us so much that He died for us. Our God is loving and completely truthful.

Second, Paul could be setting God as opposite to Satan. Jesus warns in John 8:44 that the devil is “a liar and the father of lies.”

Manifested in His Word

Our second security that our hope will not fail us is that God has manifested that hope of eternal life in His word. Do you want to be able to see the promises of God for security? Look then to the Scriptures. The hope has literally appeared in His word. To remember and fix our eyes upon the hope of salvation, we turn to the Bible. We do not seek inward mediation or outward performances. We read God’s words, hearing what He says to us.

Romans 10:13-17 describes the importance of learning the word of God through preaching:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

In order to get this hope of eternal life, we must call upon the name of the Lord, and He will save us. We trust in Him as our hope, security, and salvation. But then Paul brings us through a succession of questions and answers. How can someone call on Him if they have not believed? How can they believe if they have not heard? How can they hear without someone preaching? It should go without saying that God could save anyone by appearing to them visibly; however, His principle way of working is to use us. Though He could do everything Himself, He chooses to let us be a part of it, to use us as His instruments. He wants to give us the joy of being a piece of His redemption of the world.

Of course, there is a special entrusting upon those called to preach the word before a congregation; however, pastors and teachers are not alone entrusted with the proclamation of the Scriptures. Instead, in a very real way, everyone is a preacher, as a Christian. We are all called to declare the word of God. For most of us, this proclamation will happen on an intimate or interpersonal setting, such as with coworkers or family members. We are each commanded by God to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. If you are a believer in Christ, you have been entrusted with the gospel. God does not simply give the gospel to save us but gives it to us to share with others so that we can be the means through which God saves people.

MY TRUE CHILD // VERSE 4

Though we know little about Titus, most scholars assume that Titus came to know that Lord through Paul’s ministry and then became Paul’s disciple. Paul uses the same terminology of child with Timothy, who was very close to the apostle. Thus, Timothy and Titus may have been Paul’s spiritual children in the faith.

The phrase “in a common faith” would have had a special meaning with Titus. We do know that Titus was a Gentile and that he was uncircumcised (Gal. 2:3). Circumcision was a massive issue within the first century church (as we will see later in the letter). In short, beginning with Abraham, circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with His people, Israel. Most of the first Christians were also Jewish, so they began to ask about circumcision’s role in following Christ. Eventually, the church fully concludes that because Jesus alone is necessary for salvation, circumcision should not be required of Gentile Christians. If we make anything other than Christ necessary for salvation, we create a false gospel. Thus, Paul writes this phrase (“in a common faith”) in order to emphasize that the uncircumcised Titus is of a common faith with all other Christians. Paul essentially put his arm around Titus, including him in the Christian faith and brotherhood.

Grace & Peace | Father & Savior

This is one of Paul’s favorite greetings to give, his proclamation of blessing to other brothers and sisters in the faith. Grace and peace represent the culmination of both testaments. Grace is the summation of the New Testament. It is the free gift of God that we have received in Christ Jesus. Grace encapsulates the New Testament ideas better than just about any other.

Likewise, peace is a summation of the Old Testament theology. In Hebrew, it is shalom. Though we translate it to peace, it is actually far more. Biblical peace also meant a perfect harmony with God. Sin severed our relationship to God, but the gospel has restored our shalom with Him. God’s grace has given us His peace.

He then states that this grace and peace come from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. Paul has already called God our Savior, which is a favorite of Paul in this letter. Savior is used twelve times in the New Testament, and six of those are found in Titus. By calling both the Father and Jesus our Savior, Paul affirms the divinity and deity of Christ. Therefore, this opening greeting is a concise and succinct summation of the gospel across both testaments of Scripture.

Biblical Worship

The LORD Is My Shepherd (Psalm 23)

Psalms Study Guide (Week 3)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 19:6)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  (John 10:11)

OPENING THOUGHT

Thus far, we have discussed worship as a way of life and two reasons for worshiping God. The natural revelation of God (as displayed in creation) and the special revelation (as declared in Scripture) both guide our hearts toward worshiping the LORD. In viewing the glory and the goodness of God through nature and the Bible, we see the weight of our sin more fully, allowing us to pray alongside David for God to make our words and our thoughts acceptable to Him.

We now dive into, what is often considered, the most popular psalm throughout the history of the church. This song of David boldly declares the LORD to be our shepherd, which means that God will be faithful to care and provide for him. As much as this is a psalm of faith, it is also a psalm against fear. David is essentially proclaiming here that he should not fear enemies, death, or lacking what he needs because the LORD is faithful to guide, provide, and protect him.

Throughout history, many have turned to these words for comfort in times of difficulty. When the shadow of death looms over, they recall this psalm for solace. However, this psalm is not full of blanket promises for humanity in general; rather, only the people of God are able to truly call Him their shepherd. If God is our shepherd, we are then His sheep. We are helpless, defenseless, and not very intelligent, just like sheep. Fortunately, we have a very good Shepherd, who is faithful to care for us.

Read verse 1 and discuss the following.

  1. For being one of the most well known verses in the Bible, it is quite odd for two reasons. David calls God his shepherd, which was a less than ideal profession, and he calls himself a sheep, even though he is a king. What does this tell us about David’s relationship with God (and our relationship with Him)?

Read verses 2-3 and discuss the following.

  1. Twice David states that God leads him and once that God makes him lie down. Like a sheep to a shepherd, the king is acknowledging his utter dependence upon the LORD to lead and instruct him. Do you likewise understand your need for God’s leading? In what ways has God led you or caused you to depend upon Him recently?

Read verse 4 and discuss the following.

  1. David declares that he will not fear whenever death’s shadow falls upon him because God is with Him. The very presence of God is all the comfort that David needed. In what ways do you take comfort in God’s promise to be with us to the end of the age?

Read verse 5 and discuss the following.

  1. Banquets were the epitome of ancient provision and hospitality; however, they were not often prepared for the guest in the midst of his enemies. Still David claims that his head is anointed and his cup is full (two signs of a well made banquet). What does this verse tell us about David’s faith in the LORD?

Read verse 6 and discuss the following.

  1. David claims that goodness and mercy (or steadfast love) will follow him all the days of his life. He does not mean that they will casually follow him but that God’s goodness and love will relentless pursue him all of his life. How are we able to believe that God’s goodness and love follow us, even though we know that suffering and troubles still occur?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Read John 10 alongside Psalm 23. Make a list of connections between the two chapters, and how Jesus applies David’s statements about the LORD to Himself.
  • Consider David’s confidence in God as his shepherd. In what areas of life are you fearful? Bring them before God in prayer, acknowledging His sovereignty, protection, and provision.