The Vanity of Fear Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Listen to the sermon here.

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Ecclesiastes 5:1 | Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.   

Ecclesiastes 5:7 | For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.  

OPENING THOUGHT

The book of Ecclesiastes was written by the Preacher (probably Solomon) to reflect upon his lifelong search for lasting meaning, purpose, and joy in life. But even after obtaining all the pleasure, wealth, sex, and power that he could possibly want, he comes to the conclusion that everything under the sun is vanity, a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow. Of course, the key to properly interpreting Ecclesiastes is the phrase “under the sun.” Solomon’s ultimate goal is to show that nothing on earth can truly satisfy us. We need divine intervention.

In almost every book or sermon to be found on Ecclesiastes, the emphasis of these verses is placed upon how we worship God, and while worship does form the bulk of the discourse here, the point of this passage is more interested in why we worship than how we worship. The Preacher is diving at the heart behind our worship of the LORD, and the result is rather like a piece of classical music. Two movements are at play here describing how to properly worship God, and each movement ends with a refrain that muses over the vanity of dreams and many words. The piece then closes with a thunderous crescendo that is meant to cast a new light upon everything that came before. Like any complex work of art, the goal is for us to meditate deeply upon what lies before us. Here, specifically, we should consider what the repeated refrain is teaching us about how to worship God and how the Preacher’s conclusion changes how we worship by reminding us why we worship.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Solomon presents five commands for worship: guard your steps, draw near to listen, avoid foolish sacrifices, avoid rash and hasty words, and pay your vows. Which of these most resonates with you? Why?
  3. Why are we commanded to fear God? Why does the fear of the LORD cast out other fears? What fears and anxieties do you wrestle with? In what ways can you fight them by fearing God more?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions about the present text.

  • What has God taught you about Himself?
  • What sin is God convicting or reproving you of?
  • How is God correcting you?
  • How is God training and equipping you for righteousness?
Advertisements

Sloth: the overlooked sin

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
(Proverbs 6:6-11 ESV)

Here Solomon speaks to the Sluggard, the slothful person who refuses to work. He calls his attention to the ant, demanding that he learn from her. Without an overseer looking over her shoulder, the ant gathers food and works diligently. The Sluggard, on the other hand, is pictured as sleeping the day away. He creates excuses in verse 10, saying that it is only a little sleep, only a little rest. But poverty will befall him like a robber.

The application of these verses is near infinite, and I find the sin of sloth to be deceptively prevalent in both my life and the society at large. I will, therefore, do my best to make sense of my scattered thoughts regarding this sin.

Let’s address two questions: 1) What is sloth? and 2) Why is it a big deal?

First, the sin of sloth is the refusal to do God-glorifying work. Adam was given work in Eden (Genesis 1:28), so work is not a byproduct of sin. Work is difficult and does not always bear fruit because of sin, but God designed us for the activity of work. By denying work, the Sluggard is, thus, denying his role as an image-bearer of God. We should never denigrate the sinfulness of sloth by assuming that it is merely laziness. No, it is, at heart, a rejection of God’s designed order for creation.

Second, because sloth rejects the godliness of work, slothfulness is problem of worship. We worship God whenever we joyfully embrace what He has ordained for and commanded of us. We withhold worship whenever we disobey God’s commands and designs. Paul displays the importance of this in his warning and exhortation to the Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 | Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

The Thessalonians were wrestling against the sin of sloth (or idleness). Many in the church were refusing to work (likely waiting for Christ’s return). Paul, therefore, gives them the command if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. He even encourages them to keep away from those who refuse to obey this command (thereby issuing church discipline).

Sloth is, therefore, not a sin that can be overlooked or taken lightly. But its sinfulness is subtle rather than overt, which makes it easily ignored while we focus on “more important” sins. Yet sin is sin, and all sin is a rebellion against God. My intent over the three following posts is to provide clarity on three areas where sloth is prevalent in the U.S. culture. These forms of sloth will be as follows: intellectual sloth, spiritual sloth, and busy sloth.

The Journey to Egypt | Genesis 46:1-30

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” (Genesis 46:1-4 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Because Genesis is the Bible’s introduction, we cannot properly understand the rest of the Scriptures without knowing this book. Here we learn that God made the world good and created humans in His image, but we rejected God’s paradise, choosing rebellion instead. But God did not give up on us. In fact, He promised a Savior that would one day defeat sin and death for good, and that Savior would come from the family of a man named Abraham.

Although none in Abraham’s family have proved to be the Savior, God miraculously uses Joseph (Abraham’s great-grandson) to save his family. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph went from being a slave, to being a prisoner, to becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Through divine wisdom, Joseph guides Egypt through a devastating seven year famine, and now he beckons his brothers to bring his father Jacob down to Egypt.

Regularly fearful and nearing 130 years old, the journey to Egypt would have been frightening for Jacob, but God speaks to the patriarch, encouraging him to make the journey down to his long-lost son. Just as Joseph, the grain supplier in Egypt, is an image of Jesus being the bread of life, so Jacob’s journey into Egypt is similar to the journey we must all make toward Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 46:1-30 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Genesis 46:1-27? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Jacob responds to the news that Joseph is alive in Egypt by worshiping God through sacrifices. Do you regularly turn to God in worship upon receiving blessings? What does that worship look like?
  3. Even in his old age, Jacob must make the perilous journey into Egypt to meet Joseph and save his family from the famine. How does this journey parallel our daily walk as Christians? How is Judah similar to Jesus in preparing the way for his brothers? In what ways does discipleship help others on their journey toward Christ?
  4. The always fearful Jacob finds peace to die upon reuniting with Joseph. How is this similar to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8? How does the gospel remove the sting from death?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you in obedience to His Word.

The Wisdom & Worship Reading Plan

This Bible reading plan came about because of a few ideas.

First, I wanted to have a daily reading from the Psalms. The past two years I went through two different reading plans: blended and chronological. I enjoyed both of them and certainly recommend them to anyone who might use them to systematically read through the entire Bible. However, I did not like that both plans required a reading of the Psalms that in no way differed from the other books of the Bible. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so, I do not think that the Psalms should be treated that way. Psalms is a collection of God-inspired, Holy Spirit-breathed poems and songs. Many of the Psalms are deeply-emotional prayers to God, either in praise or lament. This prayerful emotionality makes the Psalms completely unlike any other book of the Bible. They are designed specifically for worship, both corporate and personal.

Therefore, I do not want to read the Psalms as I would Genesis or Matthew or Romans; instead, I long to use the Psalms to foster a prayerful intimacy with God. With this in mind, I have established a reading plan that has a daily Psalm reading. Over the course of a year, the Psalms will be read twice with Psalm 119 being read three times. I divided Psalm 119 into multiple readings because it is essentially twenty-two psalms that together form the longest poem in the Bible. Also, because of Psalm 119’s passionate love for the Scriptures of God, I believe that it is the perfect psalm to begin our year of reading God’s Word.

The book of Proverbs follows a similar thought process. Like the Psalms, Proverbs is a collection from throughout the history of Israel. It contains many wise sayings and ponderings upon wisdom from King Solomon and others. If the Psalms are meant to be springboards for prayer and worship, Proverbs give us practical and applicable advice for daily life. Most of the individual proverbs are not exact promises from God, but they are divinely written guides for how to live life. Therefore, I hope that small and daily readings from Proverbs bring about more Godly wisdom in our hearts.

The Old Testament is laid out the traditional order. The average reading length is two chapters, with some days being more or less. Personally, I have a great love for the poetic literature and the prophets, so I have chosen to read through books like Ecclesiastes and Habakkuk more slowly. As this is my first year to use this plan, I will be closely examining the layout to learn if this approach feels natural or not.

As for the New Testament, the plan will take us through its entirety twice. I have decided to organize the books around the four Gospels. Because Luke was a companion of Paul and wrote Acts as well, the book of Acts and the letters of Paul follow Luke’s Gospel. Mark was a disciple of Peter, so Peter’s letters are read after Mark. Jude bears much similarity to 2 Peter, making it included in this grouping. Matthew is the most Jewish of the four gospels, so Hebrews and James are read after it. John’s Gospel is then grouped with his three letters and the book of Revelation (also written by John). I pray that this will be an effective way of organizing and focusing upon each of the four Gospels and how their themes are traced throughout the New Testament.

May this be a year of growth in the wisdom, knowledge, and grace of God through prayer and the Word of God.

Jacob & Esau Reunite | Genesis 33

Week 9 | Study Guide & Sermon

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.

Jacob’s Vision | Genesis 28:10-22

Week 4 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION 

A he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heave. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! (Genesis 28:12)

Tn Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you. (Genesis 28:20-22)

And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the Angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. (John 1:51)

OPENING THOUGHT 

The account of Abraham’s descendants is already a bumpy one. Isaac followed in the faith of his father, but he also walked after Abraham’s sins. So far, Jacob and Esau have been less than ideal sons. Their fighting began in their mother’s womb and continued to grow with them. After Esau foolishly sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup, we last saw how Jacob also stole Esau’s blessing. Following Jacob’s deception, Esau was so angry with his brother that he began to actively plot his murder.

Our present text occurs while Jacob is journeying to the homeland of his mother, a significant 500 miles away from home. Along the way, Jacob takes rest for the night and finds himself swept up in a vision of God. He sees a great ladder with the angels ascending and descending upon it. Above the ladder is God, who pronounces the covenantal blessing of Abraham and Isaac upon Jacob. He awakes from the vision awestruck and afraid. The text then concludes with Jacob creating an monument, calling the place Bethel (the house of God), and vowing to serve the LORD.

This is easily one of the most important moments of Jacob’s life. Until now, God spoke to Abraham and Isaac but not to Jacob. He had heard of God but not from God. Now the LORD would not merely be the God of his father and grandfather but his God also. The power of this event is also evident even in its structure. First, God calls to Jacob, promising to bless him, and then Jacob responds to God in worship. That is the pattern for all believers throughout history: God gives grace, and we respond in worship.

Read verses 10-15 and discuss the following. 

  • God appears to Jacob for the first time through an extraordinary vision. Does God still use visions or similar signs to speak to believers today?
  • Jacob’s vision is of angels ascending and descending upon a heavenly ladder while God stands above it. How do Jesus’ words in John 1:51 connect to this vision? Why does Jesus use this imagery for Himself?

Read verses 16-22 and discuss the following.

  • Even after receiving tremendous promises of blessings, Jacob still wakes from the vision afraid, which displays a fear of the LORD in him. What is the fear of the LORD, and why is it important for followers of Christ?
  • Jacob worshipfully responds to God’s gracious blessings by vowing to serve the LORD and give Him a tenth of his possessions. In what ways do you live a worshipful life daily in response to believing the gospel?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER 

  • Obey. Consider the actions of worship that Jacob takes in response to God’s blessings. Do you similarly worship God with your life and finances? Ask the LORD to guide you into sacrificial giving.
  • Pray. Though Jacob received a stunning vision, we have in the Bible the full Word of God; therefore, give thanks to God for His revelation in the Scriptures.
COPYRIGHT© B.C. NEWTON 2016

An Unexpected King | Day 8

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:13 ESV)

Saul was not a good king; in fact, he was pretty terrible.

After being made king, Saul disobeys the LORD by making a sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel to make it, making a hasty vow that almost kills his son, and defies God’s command by keeping spoils of war that God forbade.

It is no surprise then that God rejected Saul as king in 1 Samuel 15.

The LORD soon sends Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem, a descendant of Judah. Samuel is to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the next king of Israel, and one by one, seven of Jesse’s sons come before Samuel.

But the LORD rejects each of them.

Samuel asks if there is another, and with what appears to be some reluctance, Jesse tells him that the youngest is keeping the sheep. David, the youngest of his brothers, is brought before Samuel and anointed to be the next king of Israel.

Interestingly, this practice of anointing God’s chosen servants will lead to one of the most common titles for the Serpent-Crusher: Messiah (or Christ), which means anointed one.

But absolutely, no one expected David to be anointed as king.

We are told that Eliab, David’s eldest brother, had the physical stature of a king, so that Samuel immediately assumed him to be the king whenever he first saw him. David, by contrast, was just a youth with the lowly familial chore of shepherding the sheep.

God, however, reminds Samuel that He does not see how humans see: “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (v. 7).”


Like Samuel, do you tend to let outward appearances guide your judgment? More pointedly, is your worship of God outward alone or does it flow from the heart?