Recently, a young man went on a killing spree around Atlanta, Georgia, taking eight lives before he was apprehended on his way to commit even more murder. While much initial (and continuing) attention was shown toward the ethnicity of his victims, the perpetrator claimed his actions were his way of removing temptation from his life. He had been a member of a Southern Baptist congregation, and a few recent sermons from that church spoke of the “battle” between the church and the world. In predictable fashion and timing, this was presented as “hateful rhetoric” that likely emboldened the perpretrator to take such drastic action. In reality, the militaristic parallels contained in Scripture (and sermons based on that Scripture) are just that – parallels to spiritual conflict, not incitement to worldly conflict. (The messages from this church presented this appropriately; this devotional is not an attempt to correct those sermons.)
Invariably, I saw references to Jesus’s words from Matthew 5, telling us we should take drastic action to prevent ourselves from sexual sin, being used as proof that there was a biblical basis for this man’s actions. This could not be further from the truth; let’s look at what Jesus actually said, and draw applications from it that demonstrate what He was telling His followers to do.
27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
This comes from the Sermon on the Mount, in the middle of the section where Jesus presented the list of things “you have heard / but I say.” He clarified that many of the laws that observant Jews had always applied to actions or behaviors were actually matters of the heart. In this case, adultery isn’t something you can avoid simply by avoiding the act (again, Jesus’s point here is that it never was); rather, the desire to commit adultery is where the sin begins.
This is important, but it’s also important to note what is not being said here; we want to be clear about what is actually sin, so we do not fall into either a permissive or legalistic trap. Jesus is not saying that suddenly noticing someone else’s attractiveness is a sin. Rather, the sin comes in when we ponder satisfying (or actively satisfy) our own lusts outside the bonds and bounds of holy matrimony – the union of one man and one woman in which these desires are to be fulfilled, through God’s design and according to His plan.
Continuing with the text (and the theme of “what was said vs. what was not said”), verses 29 and 30 have caused controversy ever since they were uttered. It is holy hyperbole? Was He serious? Pluck my eye out – really? Do those with the use of only one eye or hand not have to deal with lust as a sin? (Uh… no, that’s not it.) I believe, from its context in the other statements Jesus made, He is using these strong statements to indicate how important this is. We might express this today as “If you can’t get this under control, and it’s your left eye that is causing you the issue, get rid of it!” This is not the only place in Scripture where sexual sin is treated as a “greater” sin than many others; Paul describes why in his first letter to the Corinthian church:
15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. 18Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Christians are not sex-obsessed, nor are we focused on sex because our “repressive” teaching wars against our nature; rather, we understand that sexual sin has the unique capacity to destroy our bodies, which are (and should be treated as) the temple of the Holy Spirit. The marital union was given to us not only for our flourishing, but to be a lived-out expression of the relationship between Christ and His church; and, while not exclusively limited to the sexual freedom and fidelity that is a part of a Christ-centered marriage, it is certainly not less than that. Even the world realizes the unique, personal nature of this type of sin; the intro to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit begins:
In the criminal justice system, sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous.
In this case, the “criminal justice system” and Scripture line up perfectly.
There is a sub-culture that talks about this a lot; it’s known in Evangelical circles as “purity culture.” I think a better term would be “hyper-purity,” much as the “hyper-Calvinists” take principles expressed by John Calvin and crank them up to 11 (and beyond). Every Sunday, David French write his French Press newsletter on a topic where Christianity and our culture intersect, and he recently did a deep-dive on this hyper-purity culture. His conclusion, right up front, is that their beliefs are not true Christian beliefs. Paul’s words on the seriousness of sexual sin are true; but, even still, God’s grace is greater than our sin. While sexual sin will have negative effects in one’s marriage, God is still the God Who says “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18)
This brings us to modesty, a valid biblical concept that is too preeminent within hyper-purity culture. Their teaching puts the responsibility on women to not cause men to sin; but this misses the point. Yes, generally-speaking, men are visually-oriented – but, let me state unequivocally that this is immaterial to the discussion. Jesus’s words have no such qualifiers, and Christians should strive to be faithful to His words. Immodest people do not create sin in others; Jesus’s brother James explained it this way:
14But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
The problem is our desire, not the luring and enticement. Of course, this does not mean we can place ourselves where we know we will be tempted, then pray “Sorry, God” as we drift off to sleep. Rather, we can practically apply Jesus’s words by removing ourselves from situations where our eyes or hands (and hearts) would be tempted to sin. Note that Jesus talks about removing our own eye and hand; He does not instruct us to physically “take out” others who may be tempting those eyes or hands. We are responsible for our thoughts and behavior, not those of others; our command to be holy is not contigent on those around us – including other believers – making it easy for us.
At this point, you may be sarcastically thinking “well, this is encouraging…” It isn’t – but, on the other hand, in the full context of Scripture, it is.
5:8…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
… 8:1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
These words from God through Paul, combined with those through Isaiah, should encourage us. While these sins are especially damaging, and may carry life-long consequences, none of them is beyond the grace of God. If we keep our eyes focused on Him, we may find that those eyes can be much less distractable; if we keep our hands busy about His work, they will not be as tempted to other pursuits. All the while, we trust His grace to transform our desires from our own to His.
Love is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. It is a powerful force, an emotion that will inspire people to do things they would not otherwise do. Kingdoms and nations have been formed, joined, and dissolved in the name of love, and it appears in nearly every popular song.
Love is a gift from God, which we see when God brought Eve to Adam; he was so overcome with love that he broke out into song! (Genesis 2:23) Sadly, sin tainted the purity of that love among humans. Yet God continued lavishing love on His people, especially those who were feeling unloved – including Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob; and Hannah, the eventual mother of Samuel. God used human love to preserve His people as well; the love between Esther and the king of Persia kept Israel from mass slaughter, and the love between Ruth and Boaz continued the line of the Messiah. Even the prophets, who would often bring news of pending judgment, were motivated out of love for the people to whom they were sent.
When Jesus walked the earth, He continued to expand our understanding of what love is. He always took time to stop and care for people along the way, showing us that love is not just an emotion, but an action. He told His disciples that the greatest love was to lay down one’s life for one’s friends; then, He actually did it! Writing to the church in Rome, Paul described it this way: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). James challenges us to be consistent, demonstrating our love both in word and in deed. And, in Revelation, we read about the time yet to come, when Christ returns and restores the pure, true, and holy love that sin lost.
Today, as we light the candle of love, we express our love for our Savior, eagerly anticipating the day when mankind’s love is once again true and pure.
Today’s focus verse is one that is an encouraging principle and promise from the Word about how we can live the Christian life. Let’s start with the verse itself, 1 Corinthians 10:13.
13No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
The common twist on this is actually in the way it’s usually quoted; it becomes…
God won't give you more than you can handle.
- Misquotations 7:15
There are at least two problems with this twist. First, it simply isn’t true. I’m in my 40th year of knowing Jesus as my Savior, and I can assure you that God gives me more than I can handle all the time; just my past 7 days have had way more than I alone could handle. If we tell struggling people “Well, you know, the Bible says that God won’t give you more than you can handle!”, we are seriously damaging our credibility, which will, in turn, hamper our further ability to share the things of God. If God never gave us more than we could handle, why would we need Him once we have obtained salvation? The Bible is replete with examples of people who were getting more than they could handle; let’s look at one such instance in Psalm 40.
11As for you, O Lord, You will not restrain
Your mercy from me;
Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness will
ever preserve me! 12For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
13Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me! 14Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
The Psalms, being poetry, often speak to feelings common to mankind, and this is one of those places. The theme of the psalm is God’s deliverance, something David cannot manage to do himself - it’s literally “more than he can handle.” Yet, this bigger-than-him situation causes David to cry out to God for help, and to depend on Him for his deliverance. God brings us through situations that are more than we could handle ourselves, to demonstrate His love that is not just a saving love for our souls, but a living and active love for our lives as well. How could He do that if He never allowed “more than we could handle”?
The second problem with this twist is that it completely misses the actual promise of the text. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is talking about temptation, and comes immediately after a verse that is usually quoted correctly, even when snatched from its context.
12Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
In the even larger context of this chapter, Paul has warned the Corinthian church about idolatry, sexual immorality, and testing God. He then writes vv. 12-13, telling them to be on guard, yet encouraging them that God will not allow a temptation so great that they, through Him, cannot resist. This is a very big deal! We all face temptation; if you have tried to resist it yourself, you’re likely thinking back to the time when you failed in those efforts, and gave in to the sin you had been resisting.
Why are we so bad at resisting temptation on our own? The main reason is that resisting temptation is spiritual warfare, but our fallen nature (what we use when we do it “on our own”) is ill equipped for that battle. Paul writes that we have a way of escape provided; let’s look at a few different strategies given in the Bible. The first is from Jesus Himself, speaking to His disciples after He returned from praying in the garden of Gethsemane and found them asleep.
40And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And He said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with Me one hour? 41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Did you pick up on any common themes in those three passages? “Pray” (Matthew 26:41), “pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:22), and “submit[ting]…to God” (James 4:7) are three different ways of saying the same thing - we must have God’s power if we are to be able to resist temptation. We must actively pray, pour His Word into our hearts, and be vigilant. This is the only way for us to be able to recognize the “way of escape” so we can take it.
There is one final caution, back in vv. 12-13, where Paul says that this temptation will not exceed our “ability.” Ability is developed through practice, and God, in the process of refining us to make us more like Him, will provide opportunities for us to increase our ability. Don’t lose heart if, after successfully resisting temptation, another stronger one appears. Conversely, you may reach a point where most temptation is pretty easy to resist; that’s where the warning in verse 12 becomes even more important. When we let our guard down, we become the most vulnerable to temptation.
As we have looked at what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, and what it doesn’t say, I pray that you have been blessed. It truly is an encouraging promise for us who are trying to live our lives the way Christ would have us live them. I hope you also realize how much damage this common misquotation can do, both to the truth and to our witness. The Christian life is great, having Jesus to guide, warn, and protect us; I wouldn’t want to live any other way. That being said, though, we would be lying if we say that it is easy, and saying this to a hurting person will provide the opposite of comfort.
Here, Mark lists those that Jesus called out to be His disciples while He was performing His earthly ministry. Looking at who He chose will give us a good idea of the type of person He used, and help us see the type of person He will continue to use. The first part of this may seem like a history lesson, but it is all background to illustrate the point that comes near the end.
First in the list is Simon Peter - he is one of the main characters in all four gospels. He was a fisherman, and he gave 100% to everything he did, even if he hadn’t stopped to think about it first. Much is made of his sinking while he was walking on the water towards Jesus, as an illustration of a lack of faith; while this may be true, it is also true that he is the only one who got out of the boat, and to this day the only person other than Jesus to accomplish this miracle. He famously declared that he would never deny Jesus, then denied Him three times, just as Jesus said he would. Peter, though, became a central figure in the early church; nearly all of the book of Acts that doesn’t concern Paul deals with Peter and his ministry. He was even used of God to write two books that are in our New Testament today!
James and John are next in Mark’s list. James is described as the son of Zebedee, which distinguishes him from James, Jesus’ half-brother who wrote the book of James. Together with Peter, these two brothers were the only disciples with Jesus when Jairus’s daughter was raised, the only disciples to view the transfiguration, and the disciples that Jesus took with Him further when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His betrayal. They were called while they were with their father by the seashore; the implication is that they were also fisherman.
Andrew was Simon Peter’s brother. He was a fisherman as well, and was the one to whom Jesus used the term “fishers of men.” Philip and Bartholomew are always mentioned together; they were from the same town, but the Bible doesn’t reveal their line of work, and extra-biblical writings don’t shed any more light on their history. Matthew was a tax collector before being called by Jesus, and was used by God to write the gospel of Matthew. Like Philip and Bartholomew, we don’t know what Thomas did for a living; however, Thomas is much more famous for his unbelief rather than his belief. When Jesus appeared to some of His disciples, Thomas wasn’t there; he did not believe until he actually saw Jesus for himself. James the son of Alphaeus does not appear much in the gospels past his being named in lists of disciples like the one above. Thaddaeus is an interesting study; in some places he is called Jude, some Thaddaeus, and in one place even called “Judas not Iscariot,” to distinguish him from the last disciple in the list. Simon the Zealot was from Canaan, but we don’t know his profession before becoming Jesus’ disciple either.
Last on the list is Judas Iscariot. We don’t know what he did before becoming a disciple, but we do know that as a disciple, he filled the role that we would today call the treasurer. His attention to money served the disciples well; there is no record in any of the gospels of Jesus and the disciples being out of money. However, he seemed to have his mind more on the money than on the ministry. Some have speculated that his objection to the expensive oil being used to anoint Jesus’ feet had less to do with his concern for the poor than it did his concern for holding even more money. Sadly, his desire for money was his ultimate downfall, as he betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
Well, there’s the list. What do each of these men have in common? Let’s look at couple of examples.
17“Follow Me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!”18Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
Just as in these two examples, in every calling of the disciples recorded in Scripture, Jesus said “Follow Me” and they did. They were willing to leave their current profession, their current livelihood, and follow Jesus. (Yes, even Judas Iscariot did this - at one point, he was a disciple in good standing.) This is the key! I believe this is one reason why, as we tried to look at what some of the disciples did before following Jesus, we could not figure out what everyone’s existing profession was. If this information had been recorded, we as checklist-oriented people would have written them down. We’d have 12-member churches where each of the 12 members was from the profession that the disciples had followed. By leaving it a mystery, the Bible is telling us that it is not an important piece of information for us to have; if we were doing a scientific study, we’d leave that variable out of the equation.
What kind of person are you? Are you an act-first, think-later hard-charger like Peter? Are you a nit-picky ledger-balancer like Matthew? Are you as unsure of yourself and everything in the world as Thomas was of Jesus’ resurrection? Are you a behind-the-scenes sort of person, like James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, or Thaddaeus? Do you identify with James and John more than with any of these? This is one of the wonderful realizations from looking at the disciples; Jesus called people with lots of different personalities, backgrounds, and education levels. And, whether they were used to write books, or you just know them from their names in a list of disciples, every single one of them (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) went out and spread God’s Word after Jesus ascended back into heaven. Once again, in our study, personality gets left out of the equation.
I could go on, but you probably see the pattern here. Every other factor we could come up with would, upon examination, be discarded. There’s no formula - there’s just one step. Look at the last three words of both passages above - “…and followed Him.” That is the single item on the checklist of someone God can use; they must be willing to be used by God.
How is your willingness today? Are you holding back because you don’t think God can use you? Are you holding on because you want to do something for God, instead of letting Him do something through you? Those are two sides of the same issue, which is a lack of willingness to follow Christ. If you’re still, you’re not following; if you’re out ahead of Him, you’re not following. I pray that, today, each of us will learn from the one common factor among all the disciples, and be willing to follow where Christ leads us.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.