SOAP Journal – 08 February 2017 (Leviticus 8:36)

Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses.

Leviticus 8:36

Verse 36 is the closing statement in the ordination of Aaron and his sons that echoes what has been said multiple times in the chapter. In verses 9, 13, 17, 21, and 29, the phrase just as the LORD had commanded Moses is repeated. And, in those verses, Moses is the one performing the action while Aaron and his sons are acted upon. But this verse takes all that had been done and says something about it: Submission to the LORD’s commands — even when that submission means I am acted upon and not the actor — is active obedience.

I come to this conclusion by reading what is said. In all the other verses, it is Moses who is doing the thing. It is Moses who clothes Aaron and his sons in their priestly garments. It is Moses who anoints the tabernacle and all the implements with oil and blood. It is Moses who disposes of the remains of the sacrifices in accordance with God’s instruction. Over and over, it is Moses who does the thing and yet the account closes by saying that Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD has commanded through Moses.

There is, I think, a parallel in the life of the believer. In Revelation 5, the elders and angles say that Jesus, the Lamb, has purchased people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and made them a kingdom and priests to God (Revelation 5:9-10). Those who were purchased with Jesus Christ’s blood did not purchase themselves nor did they make themselves priests, all of that was done by Jesus Christ. And it is the making them priests to God that seems the parallel.

Just as Aaron and his sons were clothed in garments they had not made and bore witness to the sacrifice that made them able to serve as priests and were anointed with oil and blood, so, too, the believer is clothed in a righteousness not our own and bears witness to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and is anointed by the blood of Jesus Christ and the oil of the Holy Spirit. And all of this is done for the believer by God, just as it was done for Aaron and his sons by Moses.

This morning, as life seems filled with things that require action on my part, let me spend time asking God what He commands be done. It may very well be that He expects me to do nothing more than submit myself to Him and see His will accomplished. That, in the end, is the best of which I am capable.

Thank You, Father, for this reminder that the priests of old and the believer now are both justified and sanctified and glorified by someone else. I can nothing to earn my place. I can do nothing to consecrate myself. I can only submit to what You are doing.

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Spirit Given (2 Timothy 1:7)

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

This verse is often quoted in isolation as a method of encouraging believers to step up and be bold or to not be afraid. But the For with which this verse begins ties it in with the preceding thoughts and it is poor practice to take a verse in isolation when it is clearly connected with those that precede it.

This is one of several thoughts tracing back to Paul saying that he is thankful to God as he remembers Timothy in his prayers and the cause of that thankfulness is being mindful of the sincere faith that is in Timothy (v5). Paul’s mindfulness of Timothy’s faith and his thankfulness for it lead into the next thought, which is Paul urging Timothy – in light of his sincere faith and Paul’s thankfulness for that faith – to rekindle the gift of God that is in Timothy (v6). All of that background is pulled into v7 by the first word: For.

The whole context seems to indicate that Timothy might have needed some encouragement; that his faith – while sincere – was taking a beating and that he was not using the gift God had given him.

Paul encourages Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of timidity. God has not called any believer to be afraid of living out our faith or of using the gifts He has given us. God wants us to be secure in Him, and being timid or afraid shows a lack of security.

Paul then tells Timothy what manner of spirit God has given us: power and love and discipline. The power in question is derived from the same word as the English dynamite. It is power to change things dramatically. The love used is derived from that singular agape (ἀγάπη). This is an unconditional love; a love that does not concern itself with the worthiness (or lack of worthiness) of the beloved, but chooses to love. The last is discipline, which is often a dirty word in modern America. The term used could also be rendered as self-control or moderation – both of which are also often considered dirty words in modern America.

So, can I use the verse – as it is often used – as an encouragement to be bold in living out my faith and using the gifts of God within me? Yes. There needs to be an understanding, however, that the Holy Spirit – the Spirit given me by God – brings with Him power to change that includes changing me; love that includes those who are unlovable; and self-control, which means I am unlikely to be barking in the Spirit or any other such undisciplined behavior. The Holy Spirit does not want me to be afraid to live for Christ and He also does not want me powerless, loveless, or without self-control. The Holy Spirit wants me to live my life with God, secure in the faith.

Restraint (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains [will do so] until he is taken out of the way.

2 Thessalonians 2:7

There is a Rolling Stones song called “Sympathy for the Devil” that includes the words”As heads is tails / Just call me Lucifer / ‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint.” This verse is a reminder that he has exactly that: restraint. That restraint is the Holy Spirit.

The American news media has this morbid obsession with all things negative. And why should they do otherwise when the American populace is morbidly curious about these things? The trouble, for me, with all that negativity is that I can lose sight of the important thing: It would be much worse if not for the Holy Spirit. I know this to be true in my own life. I have seen some of the desires that live in my flesh and I am quite glad that the Holy Spirit restrains those desires and is even willing to kill them out in me if I will let Him.

As with the lesser — my own life — so with the greater — the course of society. One life is not emblematic of history’s arc, except insofar as the general principles hold true in both. In an individual’s life, it is the Holy Spirit Who restrains and quashes the evil desires unless He is pushed aside. He does not force His work on anyone, but politely steps out of our way if we insist on things. Likewise, He will not — as it was put in the story of Noah — strive with mankind forever. At some point, He will step aside and let humanity have what it wants. As with the individual, who finds that what he thought he wanted was not at all what he really wanted, so, too, will mankind learn that what they think they want is not what they have been led to believe it is. The principles hold true at both the individual and societal level.

There are two bits of application for me this morning. First, I need to apply this to my own life and cooperate with the Holy Spirit when He is restraining things in me. Rather than fight with Him, let me cooperate and allow Him to put to death in me those things which are not pleasing to God. Second, I need to pray that as many as possible will see the Truth. The Holy Spirit will not strive with mankind forever and He will, eventually, be taken away. When He is, things will get exceedingly bad. Bad enough that I would no wish that time on anyone. Let me pray that people will see the Truth and be ready to speak Truth when the opportunity arises.

Grace, Love, Fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:14)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:14

I love this verse.

I love it because it is an establishing verse for the doctrine of the trinity. Herein are the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit all mentioned individually though we know with certainty that Paul taught that there is only one God. I do not want to spend too much time on this, but I love how casually Paul tosses the doctrine of the trinity out there and expects that his audience knows what he is on about.

I love it because it is a list of things I should experience as a believer and the list is in order.

First, I should experience the grace of Christ. Grace is getting what I do not deserve. If I deserve punishment and Hell and eternal damnation — and everyone does — then not getting that is mercy. But God does more, He restores my relationship with Him and permits me entrance into Heaven; He blesses me and works to not only wipe away the punishment for what I have done wrong but to expunge the presence of wrong-doing in me at all. He goes far beyond mere mercy and gives so much more than I could ever hope to deserve. That is grace.

Second, grace permits me to experience the Love of God. Not just to experience it as a recipient, but to begin to walk in it. God Loves every man, woman, and child on the planet. He made us. As a creator of things (art, music, story), I can state pretty conclusively that I love the things I create. Even — sometimes especially — the things that frustrate me the most. That is not, I think, what Paul has in min. Everyone experiences that Love, though they may not be cognizant of it. Not everyone is able to walk in the Love of God. In point of plain fact, no one is able to walk in the Love of God until they have met with the grace of God. There are loving people in the world, but their love does not get anywhere near the level of God’s Love. And God works that love into those who are His. There are those who claim to be His and do not evidence this Love increasing within them. I would question whether or not those individuals are truly God’s — including myself, if His Love is not increasing in me.

Third and final, God’s Love manifests in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The idea is that grace brings me to God Who begins to work His Love into and through me and this brings me into fellowship; intimate connection with God and with other believers who are also in God.

I have met with God’s grace and I have seen the moments when He works His Love into and through me — may those moments become more regular until they are the mainstay of my existence — and I have experienced those moments of being close to God and my fellow believers — may this increase, as well.

Father, let these things not only be with me, but also in me and through me. May Your grace and Love define me so that I may be close to You.

What Someone Else Has (1 Corinthians 12:4)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:4

I have noticed that there is a very human tendency to want whatever it is I do not have. Paul, in speaking of the gifts given by the holy Spirit to believers, notes early on that there are several varieties of gifts, but only One Giver of those gifts. And that Giver — the Holy Spirit — divides to each of us as He wants. There is purpose and plan and a design that would boggle my tiny little mind if I could see it, but the Holy Spirit does not give me a view of the whole picture, only my place in it. And, unfortunately, I can also see what the believers near me have.

In grade school, it was often the case that there would be lunch swapping going on. All the kids would open up their lunch bags and set down their trays and start bargaining over who could get what from whom. This never really stopped. As I grew older, the things swapped changed, but it was always a question of getting what someone else has. The whole concept of commerce is based on me wanting or needing what someone else has. This gives rise to a problem in my walk with God: I am not allowed to swap gifts with other believers. I may have the gift of teaching and prefer the gift of speaking in tongues and someone else may speak in tongues but want the gift of prophecy. The issue that I run into is that the Holy Spirit gave me the gifts I have and He gave them with a purpose.

While I might think speaking in tongues would be awesome (I don’t) or that being a great evangelist would be stellar (not at all, crowds make me uncomfortable), the Holy Spirit has given me gifts that are tailored for the work He has in store for me. Ephesians 2:10 tells me that God prepared good works for me before I was even born so that I might walk in those works. Then the Holy Spirit came along and gave me gifts that equip me for those works. I cannot accomplish the good works God has prepared for me with what someone else has — their gifts are meant for their good works, not mine. Let me learn contentment and learn to use the gifts that the Spirit has given me for the good works which God prepared for me.

Old and New (Romans 7:6)

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Romans 7:6

God often brings me back to the question of Law versus grace. My human tendency is to lean on The Law; to try to obey the Thou Shalts and the Thou Shalt Nots. But I am unable to obey The Law. The Law, as Paul writes later in Romans 7, is holy and righteous and good. The fault lies not in the commandment, but in me.

Paul boils the whole thing down to two things: old and new. The oldness of the letter, i.e. the old covenant of The Law, and the newness of the Spirit, i.e. the new covenant of grace. Under which of these do I want to live?

Paul notes that the believer has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). Here in Romans, that crucifixion with Christ means that I have died. The Law only has jurisdiction over the living — despite modern inventions like Death Tax … who knew I could be taxed for doing what I have no choice but to do? — so The Law has no hold over those who have died with Christ. However, Paul’s parallel does not end there. The believer does not simply die to The Law and now live as may please him, but is rather subjected now to Christ’s rule. Rather than being subject to The Law, we are subject to The Lawgiver; rather than being subjected to the letter, we are subject to The Word made flesh. I am not longer subject to a dead code, but to a living Christ.

That, in a nutshell, is the breakdown of it all. While I may be tempted to stray back into trying to be “good enough,” whatever that means, I am not bound by The Law but by the edict of the Lawgiver Who tells me that the whole of His Law can be summed up in the commands to love Him and to love my neighbor. Does He expect me to do these perfectly? Absolutely not. He knows how little I am capable of (Psalm 103:14). What He expects is for me to subject myself to Him more and more until I am so utterly His that He says “Go.” and I go and He says “Come here.” and I go there  and He says “Do this.” and I do it (Luke 7:8). I do not count myself to have apprehended, but I press on toward that high call (Philippians 3:13-14): the call to live in the newness of the Spirit; the new covenant; the new life and relationship with Him.

Built Up, Fearful, Comforted (Acts 9:31)

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.

Acts 9:31

The church in America has enjoyed an almost unprecedented period of peace. We have never really been persecuted. Even today, we are not persecuted, though some think we are. Mocked; derided; scorned; sometimes hated, but not persecuted. There have been times when, speaking with other believers, I have wondered if the American church — myself, especially — was not stronger because of this lack of persecution. This verse reminds me that persecution is not necessary for a healthy, vibrant, growing church. There are, in fact, three things mentioned in this verse.

One, we must be built up. Too often, I find myself tempted to tear down my fellow believers. I suspect that the same is true in reverse. It is not enough to build one another up. I can build up my fellow believer in the wrong way and leave them susceptible to pride. We must be built up in the Truth: exhorted, encouraged, and spurred on to good works. Always with Truth as the foundation.

Two, we must [go] on in the fear of the Lord. I confess that I am not as afraid of God as I ought to be. If I were, it would work itself out in holy living. I am commanded not to be afraid of man, but to be afraid of the One Who has authority to kill the body and to cast the soul into fire. If my walk with God is atrophied, I may need to look no further than whether or not I am appropriately afraid of God. I know that The Bible tells me that perfect love casts out fear and some will therefore claim that I should not be afraid of God. I contend that the two are not mutually exclusive, but inclusive. As a child, I was afraid of my parents when I considered doing something wrong. Fear was part of the deterrent that kept me from some wrongdoing. It was not only the fear of discipline — though that definitely factored into my thinking — but the fear that I would disappoint. This whole balance of fear and love could be an entry unto itself, but the scripture teaches that the holy versions of both have their place in my life as a believer.

Three, we must [go] on in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Too often, we seek comfort from other places — other people, edible treats, potable treats, exercise, amusement, to name a few — and do not turn to the Comforter Who has been sent by no less than Christ Himself. I am especially guilty of taking comfort in potables such as decadently sweet drinks and large quantities of caffeine. Neither is bad in and of itself, but they are utterly sinful when they supplant the place of the Holy Spirit. Did I first turn to Him and ask for comfort? If the answer is not an emphatic “Yes”, then I am most likely in the wrong.

Am I being built up and building others up; going on in the fear of the Lord; going on in the comfort of the Holy Spirit? In order to grow, I must.