God knew that Israel would sin, and He wanted them to know that He knew. Why? Because knowing our weaknesses causes us to cling closer to God and His grace!

Deuteronomy 32, “Know that God Knows”

When it comes to prophecy, the sad fact is that we tend to pay far too little attention to Biblical prophecy, and engage far more often in self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-fulfilling prophecy is when we tell ourselves we’re going to have a bad day because we’re in a bad mood, giving ourselves permission to stay in a bad mood, and then end up irritating everyone around us. We end up having a bad day, and tell ourselves, “I knew that was going to happen!” No – it happened, because we set ourselves up to make it happen; not because it was supernaturally prophesied to be that way.

Biblical prophecy, on the other hand, is certain. These things will come to pass, precisely because God has said they will come to pass, and God never lies. When it comes to specific events, this makes sense. After all, when Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, that had to be of God, because there was no way it could otherwise happen. With other things, however, we question it. When the Bible speaks of our certain tendency to sin, is it really our fault when we sin? Or is it just self-fulfilling prophecy? We were told it would happen, so we set ourselves up to make it happen.

No. Biblical prophecy is the certain, sure word of God – but sometimes it serves as a warning, just as much as it does a prediction. Yes, we have a tendency to sin; and yes, we will sin; but we do not have to walk in the way that leads to sin. When we are in Christ, we still have a choice in how we respond to the temptation to sin…we still have the opportunity to walk in faith.

Sometimes we forget that we still have that opportunity. Sometimes we just resign ourselves to failure. That was what happened with Israel, and God exhorted the people through Moses that it didn’t have to be that way.

After 40 years in the wilderness and with the military victories over two kings and their nations on the east side of the Jordan river, the nation of Israel camped in the plains north of Moab to receive their final instructions before entering the Promised Land. What Moses gave them was their national covenant: the formalized details of their relationship with God. This was the word of Almighty God to His people of how He would govern them as King. The law was given, the law was enforced through blessings and curses, and the law was ratified by the people in affirmation of their commitment.

From that point, Moses started to bring the book to a close. He handed over both his leadership and the book of the law to a new generation, and he pointed Israel toward their future. As he did, God commanded Moses to teach a song to Israel, as a witness against them regarding their future rebellion. God knew that His people would sin and fail, and He wanted the people to know that He knew. And in the midst of all of this, God still chose to bless them.

Chapter 32 contains the words to that song. We do not know the melody (sadly!), but we have the lyrics. It is not the most joyful song, but it is a necessary one. Again, this song was to serve as a testimony against the people of God, prophesying their future foolish abandonment of God, as well God’s judgment that would result from it. But that is not all it says. It also speaks of God’s goodness, He merciful compassions, and His power. It speaks of God’s faithfulness that endures beyond our own faithlessness. Ultimately, it serves as a warning – one that would be ignored, but one that was necessary. God knew how the people would sin, but He gave them the warning and opportunity not to sin. Instead, they had the opportunity to walk humbly with their God.

So do we. God knows us intimately. He knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs, and He has known our every thought and act since before we were born. He knows the number of our days, and the manner in which we will die. This means He also knows each and every one of our sins. And guess what? He still gave His Son Jesus to die for us on the cross! Knowing each and every way you would rebel against Him (even as a born-again Christian), God still gave you not only the opportunity to become a Christian, but to walk as one. Will you fail? Certainly. At times, all of us will. But we still have the opportunity to walk in humble faith.

Don’t let the certainty of future sin cause you to lose hope; let it take you closer to Jesus, so that you hold tightly to His hand as you walk with Him!

Deuteronomy 32

  • Song – Call to worship: Hear of the goodness of God (1-4)

1 “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. 2 Let my teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, As raindrops on the tender herb, And as showers on the grass.

  1. It all begins with a call to worship – a call to all creation to hear the words of the Lord through Moses (and later, through the nation of Israel as they sang this song for themselves). The expanses of sky and land would serve as a two-fold witness to the testimony of God as He spoke of the things to come.
  2. And how was this word to be received? Like dew and rain. As difficult as some of this prophecy would be for Israel to hear, Moses’ prayer was still that his words be edifying and nourishing. And so they should! Medicine is not always easy to swallow, but it is usually good for what ails you. No one likes the taste of Ny-Quil, but it’s needed when you have the flu. Likewise with this song. Few people like being told of their weaknesses, but it is necessary for us to know, if we are to know how to deal with them.

3 For I proclaim the name of the LORD: Ascribe greatness to our God. 4 He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.

  1. God is to be praised for who He is. He is YHWH, the great I AM. He is the Rock, the foundation and strong fortress of His people. He is the perfect God, the just God, the God who is the truth and speaks the truth and who acts according to truth. He is righteous in every way. God is perfect! God is the very definition of “goodness,” and we know what goodness is in this world, by comparing it to our God. To proclaim His name is proclaim a good thing!

Moses could stop here, and still have sung enough. To come worship our worthy God is a good thing! There are angels in heaven who do nothing but proclaim the goodness and glory of the Lord, and although they repeat their refrain, it never grows dull. When it comes to the infinite God, there is always more glory to ascribe! He is the awesome God, the righteous God, the God who is worthy of our praise.

And this is the God to whom we cling! It is because of His goodness that we should be so careful in our actions, and so wary of sin. The more we understand the infinite goodness of God, the more we will be filled with the holy fear and reverence of Him, and the more we will steer our feet away from evil.

  • Song – Call of prophecies: Beware of the foolishness of sin (5-35)

5 “They have corrupted themselves; They are not His children, Because of their blemish: A perverse and crooked generation. 6 Do you thus deal with the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father, who bought you? Has He not made you and established you?

  1. The indictment comes quick, as Moses prophetically sees how Israel will have already “corrupted themselves.” They brought on their own ruin. Although God purchased Israel as His children, they did not act as if they were. Instead, they acted as “foolish and unwise,” as if they had been strangers to God.
  2. In reality, God made them who they were. He was their heavenly Father only because He called them and chose them to be His children. He was the one who “bought” (acquired) Israel as a nation through the purchase of the firstborn in Egypt and the Red Sea. Going back further than that, He was the one who made the nation even possible by giving a son to Abraham, a son to Isaac, and 12 sons to Jacob whom God preserved in Egypt. Israel was who it was (and is who it is) only because of the work of Almighty God.
    1. Bring it closer to home: God has made us who we are. Not just as a nation (although God has blessed the United States of America for 200 years, even if it may not be too much longer); He has made the Gentile church as His people. We are the people of God, His royal priesthood and holy nation – not through works of our own, but by God’s gracious declaration and the purchase made through Jesus’ blood. Everything we are, and everything we have as His people (and in general) is due to God’s gracious gift. Never forget! The moment we forget is the moment we willingly walk into corruption.

7 “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; Your elders, and they will tell you: 8 When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel. 9 For the LORD’s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance.

  1. Remember how God worked in your history. For Israel, they could look back to Egypt, but they could look back much further. They could go back to Abraham, back further to Shem, to Noah, and to the sons of Adam. They could look to when El Elyon (God Most High) chose a lineage through which to bring His Messiah, and how the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob received that blessing. God chose This itself was an act of His grace.
    1. Christians (especially non-Calvinists) have a difficult time with the idea of God choosing His people. From our perspective, we choose Christ when we choose to put our faith in Him as we repent from our sins. Yes, but that’s our From God’s perspective, the Bible tells us that He chose us. It does not mean that we do not freely and willingly put our trust in Jesus, nor does it mean that the invitation to trust Jesus through faith is anything less than a legitimate invitation – but even so, the Bible readily affirms that God chooses us. How it works is a mystery; that it works is a doctrine we accept by faith.
    2. That it exists at all is something for which we give God praise! You don’t have to be able to explain God’s choosing you in order to rejoice over it. As a kid, who didn’t like getting picked for the team? As a single person, who doesn’t like getting asked on a date? It is good to be chosen, and Christian, God chose you! It is a sign of His love, and it is a reason to praise!
  2. BTW: note verse 9: God’s inheritance is “His people,” just like God was the inheritance of the Levites. How did God view Israel? As His wonderful inheritance. How does God view us? In the same way. We are the inheritance of God, the bride of Christ, the portion over which He will rejoice and care forever. Who is man that God is mindful of him? Yet God is mindful of us. That’s amazing!

10 “He found him in a desert land And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. 11 As an eagle stirs up its nest, Hovers over its young, Spreading out its wings, taking them up, Carrying them on its wings, 12 So the LORD alone led him, And there was no foreign god with him.

  1. God rescued Israel, and God provided for Israel. Had Israel lost itself in the desert wilderness? In a manner of speaking, yes. When they rebelled against God at Kadesh Barnea in their refusal to enter the Promised Land, God sentenced them to their wilderness wandering…but it was their They brought this upon themselves, and spent 40 years under God’s discipline. Yet God had not abandoned them. His presence stayed with them, and He continued to guide them, feed them, and give them drink. God continued to love Israel, keeping “him as the apple of His eye,” meaning that that God was so focused on Israel, it was as if it took up all of God’s pupil and that was all He could see. From Abraham to the present day, God had always provided for Israel. (Just like He does for us!)
  2. Who did it? God! God alone did this. There were no other gods assisting YHWH – there were no other gods able to help Israel. Even Israel’s pagan enemies acknowledged as much, seen when Balak the Moabite king hired Balaam the prophet to curse Israel. Balaam wasn’t hired to call upon the Moabite gods, or the other Canaanite deities to curse Israel; Balaam was hired to call upon Israel’s God, YHWH the one true God. God alone is God, and God alone provided for Israel.
    1. God alone provides for us. There is no other god upon whom we can call for help. Other religions have their gods, but their gods are empty. They are either false ideas of their imaginations, or demons who pretend to have more power than they do. YHWH God is the only God, and He can only be known through Jesus Christ, His Son.

13 “He made him ride in the heights of the earth, That he might eat the produce of the fields; He made him draw honey from the rock, And oil from the flinty rock; 14 Curds from the cattle, and milk of the flock, With fat of lambs; And rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, With the choicest wheat; And you drank wine, the blood of the grapes.

  1. Speaking (or singing!) of the future, it could be said that God gave Israel every blessing. It was assured that God would bring the people into the land, and that He would provide for them there…even miraculously. The manna (bread from heaven) might stop the moment the nation entered the land, but God would still give honey and oil. In an land that is otherwise destitute, when God blessed its fruit, it became fruitful indeed! The covenant Israel affirmed with God promised all kinds of material blessing, from the fields to the flocks to the family, and Israel would experience it all. These things were guaranteed to Israel, all through God’s grace.

15 “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; You grew fat, you grew thick, You are obese! Then he forsook God who made him, And scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation. 16 They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger. 17 They sacrificed to demons, not to God, To gods they did not know, To new gods, new arrivals That your fathers did not fear. 18 Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, And have forgotten the God who fathered you.

  1. Jeshurun” is an ironic name in this case. In other situations, this would be the name for Israel when they served God in their ideal. The root word means “upright,” and Jeshurun means “upright one.” The irony becomes clear as Moses indicts Israel for acting anything but upright! Although Israel got fat off of God’s blessing, they got fat and lazy at the same time. They took God for granted, abandoning Him, and provoking Him through repeated idolatry.
  2. One needed read far in the Biblical books of history to see this to be true. Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings are filled with the cycle of abandonment, repentance, and restoration (with the repentance and restoration becoming less and less frequent). The people of Israel were a fickle people, choosing to worship God in ways He had not commanded (such as the high places), or abandoning Him altogether through the adoption of idolatry (such as the Baals). Although the Bible repeatedly shows the record of God’s faithfulness, it also shows the records of mankind’s faithlessness…Israel fully included.
    1. If there is any danger from blessing and comfort, this is it. We tend to grow fat, happy, and lazy. The American evangelical church is a perfect example! For over 200 years, well before our nation’s independence and constitution, we have experienced freedom of religion. Whereas other nations around the world have lived with the constant threat of physical persecution, we have had it easy. Some of our neighbors might not agree with everything we say, and the gospel we preach, but we’ve been able to preach it. (Things are changing now, but this has been the norm.) The result? The church has grown fat while doctrine has grown thin. Many of the mainline American churches discount the inspiration of the Bible, and openly question that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. The situation in the evangelical church is not much better, with many churches more concerned about “how to have your best life now,” rather than seeking the glory and kingdom of God. The church has sought after the gods of entertainment and the age, and we too are provoking God to anger!
    2. We need repentance and revival…and it begins with us. We need to seek God, asking Him to reveal wickedness within us, to reveal waywardness within us – to show us where we’ve valued the world more than Christ. And as He does, we need to confess it, repent from it, and seek His face. Then we’ll be ready to pray for others in the church, that God would awaken us from our fat laziness & get moving again as His people!

19 “And when the LORD saw it, He spurned them, Because of the provocation of His sons and His daughters. 20 And He said: ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end will be, For they are a perverse generation, Children in whom is no faith. 21 They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation. 22 For a fire is kindled in My anger, And shall burn to the lowest hell; It shall consume the earth with her increase, And set on fire the foundations of the mountains.

  1. Remember back in verses 5-6, it was clear that God had chosen this people to be His children, His nation. What happened now? God turned away from the people He He “spurned” His own sons and daughters. One provocation led to another. The people provoked God through idolatry and jealousy, so God promised to “provoke them” by another nation. Who was it? Due to the context of Israel’s judgment, it is perhaps a prediction of Babylon and/or Persia, as these were the nations chosen by God to be His instrument of wrath upon His people (and for Persia, His instrument of restoration). That said, a later fulfillment is identified as Paul as the Gentile church (Rom 10:19). Because of the relationship we have with the Jewish Messiah, it provokes the Jewish people into jealousy, with the intention of bringing them to repentance and faith. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will – and it is something for which we pray.
  2. As God is provoked to angry jealousy, Israel finds that God’s anger is like His character: a consuming fire. And the results of it are terrifying.

23 ‘I will heap disasters on them; I will spend My arrows on them. 24 They shall be wasted with hunger, Devoured by pestilence and bitter destruction; I will also send against them the teeth of beasts, With the poison of serpents of the dust. 25 The sword shall destroy outside; There shall be terror within For the young man and virgin, The nursing child with the man of gray hairs. 26 I would have said, “I will dash them in pieces, I will make the memory of them to cease from among men,” 27 Had I not feared the wrath of the enemy, Lest their adversaries should misunderstand, Lest they should say, “Our hand is high; And it is not the LORD who has done all this.” ’

  1. These are God’s acts of anger on His people. God sends nations and beasts alike against Israel. Where once the people experienced every blessing possible from the land (honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock), now they experience every terror imaginable. No longer did the people dwell in a place of safety. They had turned their back on God, so God turned His back on them. He removed His hand of protection from them, and actively worked against them, to the point that all were consumed in terror.
    1. As the writer of Hebrews states, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! (Heb 10:31) It is glorious when we abide in Jesus, knowing His fellowship, and experiencing the blessings that come when God is for us, for no one can be against us. But to turn that around? To work against God, and have God work against you? Terrifying! Who could stand? (No one…which is exactly why we need Jesus!)
  2. So much destruction is promised to come that Israel might have been completely destroyed (per vss. 26-27), if it had not been for God’s concern for His own reputation and testimony. Israel truly deserved Their sins against God were immense, having broken their covenant to the full. Yet what would have happened if God gave Israel what they deserved? The pagan neighboring nations would have dismissed God, claiming God’s word wasn’t true – perhaps even claiming that their own might was able to defeat Israel. This is why God has always left a remnant of Israel, even to this day. The Hebrews have existed for thousands of years, even as other ancient peoples have vanished from the earth. That itself is proof of the truth of God’s word. He promised to preserve His people, and He has. (Likewise, He has promised to save His people, bringing them to faith in Jesus, and He will!)
    1. If God so values His word and His reputation among Israel, surely God values His word and reputation among us. Praise God for His faithfulness to His own self, character, and promise! If God were not faithful to Himself, we would have no hope.

28 “For they are a nation void of counsel, Nor is there any understanding in them. 29 Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, That they would consider their latter end! 30 How could one chase a thousand, And two put ten thousand to flight, Unless their Rock had sold them, And the LORD had surrendered them?

  1. Although we typically aren’t to call people “fools,” sometimes you have to call things as they are. Israel had acted stupidly. They were “a nation void of counsel,” as Israel foolishly provoked God to wrath. Sin makes us stupid, and Israel was no different. They needed to understand that God alone was their hope & strength. The only reason they were in the land was by the grace and the power of God. God had taken them in the land, and God could take them out. They had nothing in themselves, and had no claim to anything apart from God. Any claim of their own was a claim to foolishness.

31 For their rock is not like our Rock, Even our enemies themselves being judges. 32 For their vine is of the vine of Sodom And of the fields of Gomorrah; Their grapes are grapes of gall, Their clusters are bitter. 33 Their wine is the poison of serpents, And the cruel venom of cobras.

  1. False gods lead to false results – they are powerless and dangerous. Israel’s idolatry led to a dangerous place. For all their sins, all Israel faced at this point was vengeance and judgment.

34 ‘Is this not laid up in store with Me, Sealed up among My treasures? 35 Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.’

  1. Many of us recognize the phrase “Vengeance is Mine,” from Paul’s quotation in Romans 12:19, but please note the original context. Originally, this was not about God’s people living in peace and harmony with their neighbors around them – it wasn’t about the Hebrews not taking up vengeance for themselves, and trusting the Lord. Rather, the original context was that this was God’s vengeance against Israel! Israel had sinned immensely against God their King, and as their King, God was taking vengeance on this treasonous mutiny. He promised His destruction upon His own people, due to their repeated unrepentant sin against Him.
    1. Question: Is this same vengeance promised us? Not when we have faith in Christ! When Jesus became our sacrifice on the cross, He substituted Himself in our place, bearing upon Himself the full wrath and vengeance of God. Now, we do not live in God’s wrath, but in God’s mercy and love. That’s us…but for the unbeliever, this is exactly what they will face on the day of their judgment. When they do not trust Jesus alone as their Savior, they have no salvation, and they will face the full vengeance of God on their own. And again, that is a fearful thing!

The bulk of the song focused on Israel’s prophetic future: their foolishness and their failings. It may not have been welcome news, nor a song they necessarily wanted to sing, but it was something they needed to hear and know. It was something they needed to be reminded of. Why? Because the more they remembered the prophecies of the future, the greater they would cling to God in the present.

Think of it: if you know you’re about to walk off a cliff, you’re going to slow down your pace and step very carefully. You pay closer attention to your surroundings, and try to stay as much as possible on solid ground. That’s the way we ought to treat our weaknesses and failings. God knows them all too well – He knows everything about us! But because God knows them, He also wants us to know them, so that we would walk carefully. If we truly realize how much we are “prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love,” then we will cling even closer to Christ in the present.

  • Song – Call to repentance: return to the pity and power of God (36-43)

36 “For the LORD will judge His people And have compassion on His servants, When He sees that their power is gone, And there is no one remaining, bond or free. 37 He will say: ‘Where are their gods, The rock in which they sought refuge? 38 Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, And drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise and help you, And be your refuge.

  1. The promise is that God judges but that also He has compassion. God feels pity for His people as He sees them suffering in their state. Think of it through their history: God allowed Israel and Judah to be conquered, but how long did the captivity last? 70 years. God had pity on His people (per His word), and He brought them back into their land, allowing them to rebuild their temple. Yes, they had turned away from God, but they eventually learned that their idols were powerless. Their false gods did not receive any sacrifices – their false gods did not serve as their refuge. Their only hope was the true God, their covenant God.

39 ‘Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.

  1. God alone is God! Emphasized in the Hebrew (and seen in the English) through the repeated use of the personal pronoun. Typically, personal pronouns (I, you, he/she) are inferred in both Greek and Hebrew, simply being part of the conjugation of the verb (I am, he ran, etc.). When a personal pronoun is spelled out, it is generally for emphasis; when it is spelled out twice, it is definitely for emphasis. We need to know that God alone is God. God alone created the universe – God alone has power over life and death. God alone has the power of salvation. God alone reigns!
    1. Why is it that we preach Jesus so exclusively? Because God alone is God, and Jesus alone proves that He is the Son of God through His resurrection. It cannot be “Maybe Jesus is good for you, but Mohammed or Buddha or Krishna is good for someone else.” Religion cannot be treated like a spiritual buffet line where we can pick and choose what we want from different traditions. God alone is God, and Jesus alone reveals Him to us. Yes, Christianity is exclusive, but Christianity is also the truth. To put your hope into “everything” is to put your hope in nothing. We need our hope and faith in the right thing, and the right thing is Christ!

40 For I raise My hand to heaven, And say, “As I live forever, 41 If I whet My glittering sword, And My hand takes hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to My enemies, And repay those who hate Me. 42 I will make My arrows drunk with blood, And My sword shall devour flesh, With the blood of the slain and the captives, From the heads of the leaders of the enemy.” ’

  1. God alone metes out judgment and vengeance. God alone will render judgment on Israel’s enemies. Note that the object of God’s wrath is no longer Israel, but the enemies of Israel. Here is the grace of God! That He would turn from His wrath and receive His people back to Himself, acting once again as their King and Protector.
    1. Have we seen this yet? Partially, when Judah was restored under the Persians and survived as Judea in the Roman empire till 70AD. Will we see this again? Yes, at the end of the Great Tribulation in the battle of Armageddon, and during the Millennial Kingdom.

43 “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”

  1. All the world will see and rejoice in God’s work for Israel. If they might have doubted God’s work through the potential destruction of Israel, there is no question they will rejoice over Gods’ work at Israel’s restoration. How can one see it as anything but the miraculous work of God?
  2. FYI: The ESV differs greatly on this translation. They follow the LXX, rather than the MT (like most English translations).

Even with the certainty of Israel’s future failings, there was good news: they would once again be rescued and restored! God would act on their behalf, when they finally humbled themselves before Him in repentance. The key? Don’t wait till judgment for humility! If they walked in humble faith and obedience now, they wouldn’t face judgment later.

Why do we want for the consequences that come from sin, until we humble ourselves before Jesus in repentance? Far better to live in an attitude of repentance and dependence on grace, than to wander off into rebellion, and come to our knees later.

  • Postlude to song: exhortation to obedience (44-47)

44 So Moses came with Joshua the son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people. 45 Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 and he said to them: “Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe—all the words of this law. 47 For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life, and by this word you shall prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess.”

  1. Remember that the song was a warning. It was always intended to be a witness and a testimony against them (31:21), telling them well in advance how God knew of their future sin, and promised His future grace. But it was one thing to know that God knew of their future sin; it was another to actually do something about it. This is why Moses exhorted the people to obedience. The people needed to obey the law, lest they live out the song!
  2. Question: Was this all futility? (vs. 47) If these things were prophesied to come true, was it futile for Israel to attempt obedience? Was it an exercise in vain emptiness? Not at all! Their sin and God’s judgment was prophesied in great detail; the timing was not. Israel did not know when these things would come to pass. Why bring God’s judgment upon themselves any sooner than necessary? Their obedience would “prolong [their] days in the land.” Better to live as long as possible in God’s favor, than to hurry to God’s judgment! Israel had the opportunity to obey, live, and be blessed. Why would they not take it?
    1. Why wouldn’t we? Yes, we will fail – we will always struggle with the sinful nature of our flesh, and there will always be battles of temptation. But don’t resign yourself to defeat – don’t give up the fight! As long as you have the opportunity to walk in humility with Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, do it! 
  • Personal note to Moses: mercy in discipline (48-52)

48 Then the LORD spoke to Moses that very same day, saying: 49 “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, across from Jericho; view the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel as a possession; 50 and die on the mountain which you ascend, and be gathered to your people, just as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people; 51 because you trespassed against Me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Wilderness of Zin, because you did not hallow Me in the midst of the children of Israel. 52 Yet you shall see the land before you, though you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving to the children of Israel.”

  1. The time for Moses’ own judgment had come. Although Moses survived the 40 year march through the wilderness, he had sinned on his own, and the time had come for his own punishment. Moses would not personally enter the Promised Land. Though he dreamt of it for 40+ years, and led the people to its doorstep, his foot would not touch the ground of his ancestors. When Moses misrepresented God in the wilderness, he forfeit his blessing in the land.
  2. It was punishment, but at the same time, God also gave Moses a gift of mercy. The prophet would not be able to enter the land, but he would be able to see Mt. Nebo overlooks much of the land, and Moses would be able to see if from afar.

Conclusion:

The song God gave Moses was a sober warning of things to come. Although God had been (and would continue to be) so very good to His people, they would reject Him. They would provoke God to wrath, and God would pour it out. But God was also a God of mercy, and He would receive Israel again, judging their enemies. Why tell the people this? They needed to know! Not so that they would hang their heads in resigned shame, just giving themselves over to sin believing they had no choice in the matter; but that they would acknowledge their weaknesses and walk humbly with their God in the present day, experiencing His voice and grace while their hearts were still soft enough to hear it. God loves His people, showing mercy to them even in His discipline (as Moses was to learn firsthand). Far better to walk in His love and grace now, rather than experiencing His judgment and discipline to bring us to that place later.

We have the opportunity to walk with Jesus today…let us take it! Let us be mindful of our weaknesses, but not resigned to them. Let us acknowledge that our hearts are wicked and deceitful, and that in men, nothing good dwells. But instead of that giving us sad permission to sin, let that drive us to the arms of our Savior, clinging to His grace! That ought to cause us to be even more dependent on Him than ever before. He loves us, and He wants us to walk with Him in truth and obedience. He will not spurn those whose hearts are humble toward Him.

Not only do we not judge one another as Christians, neither ought we stumble one another. Don’t trip up others; build up others!

Romans 14:13-23, “Dealing with Disagreements, part 2”

Trail runners have an understanding: at some point, you’re going to trip and fall. The unusual thing in trail running is not stumbling; it’s not “not stumbling” – it’s running seamlessly without a fall. A trail run without a trip is a run to remember! 

This is something we understand in sports – some things just go with the territory. What makes it rough is when we get tripped up in unexpected areas. Or, it’s when we get tripped up by unexpected people. For instance, we expect to have differences with non-believers in the world. Why wouldn’t we? We have a different mind and a different worldview from them. They are still dead in their transgressions (just like we were!), whereas now we are born of the Spirit, and given understanding of spiritual things. Of course we’ll have differences with them…that’s expected. What is unexpected is when we have differences within the church. Moreover, it is when we trip up each other within the church. It’s one thing not to agree on every single detail; it’s another thing to bring grief to our brother or sister in Christ. That’s a stumbling we want to avoid!

That is precisely the kind of stumbling addressed by the apostle Paul in Romans 14. Remember that Paul has transitioned from doctrine to application in his discussion of the gospel. Once we understand that the gospel of Jesus is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe (both Jew and Gentile), what do we do with it? Or, to quote the title from Francis Shaeffer, how should we then live? This was when Paul launched into the idea of giving ourselves back to God as living sacrifices, in both the realms of the church and our broader culture. Among the church, we should use our spiritual gifts with humility and preferential love. Among the culture, we should live peaceably with all men and submit obediently to the government. Our time on earth is short, so we are to do all we can to live for the glory of God, making no provision for our earthly lusts.

With those general ideas given, Paul returned to our relationships within the church, specifically on the idea of differences in nonessential doctrines. There are times that good Christians with good intents will disagree on a variety of issues. How should we handle those things? Simple: with love and grace. We treat nonessentials like nonessentials, and we give liberty on those things, not judging one another for their different stance. Paul’s specific context dealt with the issues of diet and day of worship – things common for him to address, due to his constant conflict with the Judaizers (people who claimed Gentiles needed to become good Jews before they could be good Christians). These issues are nonessential to the faith – they affect neither the nature of God, nor the gospel of Christ, so good people can disagree. We have no business judging our fellow believers on these things, for we must all answer to our Lord Jesus Christ at His judgment seat. As Paul ended in verse 12: “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” You won’t be answering for me, nor I for you; we will all answer for ourselves – each of us ever-dependent on the overflowing grace of Jesus.

The subject continued through the remainder of the chapter, with the focus shifting just a bit. There are two basic issues for dealing with differences between born-again believers: (1) how we might judge one another in legalism (vss. 1-12), and (2) how we might stumble one another in liberty (vss. 13-23). It’s one thing to look down our noses at other believers (which Paul has already addressed); it’s another thing to potentially trip up one another because of our differences (which Paul addresses next).

How appropriate an issue for our current times! We live in a day where differences between born-again believers abound. One believes Christians can drink alcohol and/or smoke cigars; another does not. One believes that Christians should be involved in politics; another refrains. (And more to the immediate day) Some believe Christians should wear facemasks during our season of coronavirus; another does not. How do we deal with these things? What do we do in terms of potentially causing offense? All of this is what the Bible addresses in the latter half of Romans 14.

  1. We are commanded not to stumble one another.
  2. We are told how we might stumble one another.
  3. We are told the blessings of not stumbling others.

We will all stumble from time to time…that is simply a fact of life. The key for us as believers is to not stumble one another. We don’t trip up other Christians; we build up other Christians, all for the glory of God.

Romans 14:13–23

  • Don’t stumble others (13)

13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

  1. Verse 13 serves as a transitional statement. On one hand, it wraps up the teaching Paul just concluded – on the other hand, it introduces the teaching he begins. His premise is straightforward: neither judge nor stumble other believers. Break it down:
  2. Judgment is what Paul has been dealing with, to this point. We are not to judge other believers, looking down upon them or despising them. We are not to decide whether they are good servants for their Master, for Jesus is their Master, just like Jesus is ours. They answer to Him; not us. When dealing with nonessential doctrines (for Paul, like diet or day of worship; for us, like spiritual gifts or eschatology), these are not issues that decide whether someone is a mature or immature Christian (strong vs. weak). These are issues that are debatable, and each person should be fully convinced in his/her own mind. To judge one another, in this sense, is to take on a responsibility that is not ours; it belongs to Christ.
    1. This is where the famed passage of “judge not” comes in. Matthew 7:1 is likely the most quoted Bible passage by nonbelievers to Christian believers, and it is almost always quoted out of context. In Matthew 7, Jesus is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, a message given to His disciples (which is key) about what it means to live as God’s kingdom citizens in our current world. Matthew 7:1–5, “(1) “Judge not, that you be not judged. (2) For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (3) And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? (4) Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? (5) Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” The issue forbidden by Jesus is hypocritical judgment from one of His disciples of the disciples’ “brother” (presumably another disciple). If a Christian judged another Christian unfairly, then the first Christian would be held to account. How we judge other people is the measure/standard by which we ourselves are judged. If we judge legalistically, then that legalism will be used back on us. If we judge Biblically, then we will be judged Biblically. And notice we are to judge Biblically. Jesus never denies that the speck in our brother’s eye is to remain unaddressed; He only says we need to remove the plank from our own eye first. If we are judging ourselves by righteous and gracious standards, then we are equipped to help and assist our brothers/sisters with their issues.
    2. Bring that back to Romans 14: We are not to judge one another hypocritically and/or legalistically, because we are not our brothers’ judges; Jesus is. Should sin be called out and addressed? Absolutely, and Paul himself sets the example in other letters to other churches. But Paul’s context here is not sin; it is nonessential doctrines and practices among born-again Christians. And these things are not issues that should be the cause of judgment and division.
  3. Not only do Christians not judge; Christians doresolve” not to trip up one another. The wording is interesting, in that it refers to us as believers being the cause of stumbling in someone else. Paul used the same term for “stumbling block” in his discussion of Israel’s stumbling over the gospel of Jesus Christ and their lack of faith (Rom 9:32-33). Here, he combines it with the term for “cause for fall,” from which we get our word “scandalize.” Put it together, and he writes of us as individuals being the cause for another believer to trip, or us even serving as a trap for someone else. Imagine one Christian pushing another Christian into sin…horrendous – scandalous! Yet this is exactly the danger of which Paul warns.
    1. Can this really happen? Can one believer really cause another believer to stumble into sin? Yes! Paul will give a specific example, but it isn’t difficult to imagine our own current scenario. One Christian believes he has the liberty to do XYZ, and believes it makes him a stronger, more mature Christian in doing so, because he does it from faith knowing that his righteousness is found only in Christ. He does not make himself “more righteous” by refraining from the practice – and being that it isn’t specifically prohibited in Scripture, it is something in which he has freedom to engage. Another Christian comes along, having struggled with a weakness in that area in the past and sees the 1st Christian engaging in it. The 2nd Christian thinks it’s sinful and speaks up, only to be rightly shown from the pages of Scripture that it is not. The 2nd Christian picks it up again, and before long, is trapped in a cycle of sin, grief, and repentance. There has been a stumbling in his/her walk with Christ, and it came all because of the legitimate freedom of the 1st Christian.
    2. Beloved, this happens far too often, and the “XYZ” can be literally almost anything. The Bible never states that Christians should never take a sip of alcohol, yet this freedom gets abused with others who struggle with drunkenness. Likewise with smoking, eating junk food, or any other issue that deals with moderation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, even something like a morning quiet time can turn into a legalistic burden if it is imposed upon a believer as a “test” of their maturity. What can be a blessing to one Christian can be a terrible burden to another, something that stumbles him/her in their walk with Jesus.
    3. Keep in mind that this isn’t what Jesus has called us to! The only burden Jesus asked us to pick up is His own yoke, and He said it is easy and light (Mt 11:29). Why is that? Because Jesus bears the load for us! We do not bear His yoke in our strength, but in His. Christ has called us (as Paul writes in vs. 17) to “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Any other burden placed upon Christian believers by other believers is stumbling…these things are sinful.

The basic premise is simple: don’t stumble other believers. Don’t do what might trip someone up. Our judgment and condemnation of one another in nonessential matters is scandalous, but so is the flaunting of our liberties. We can act in scandalous, stumbling ways towards our brothers and sisters that trips them up in their own walk with Jesus.

  • How we stumble others (14-18)

14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

  1. Although Paul’s opening statement seems to be somewhat general, it quickly becomes clear that the primary example he uses in the remainder of Chapter 14 is that of diet. Again, we need to remember that Paul’s primary opposition in his missionary ministry came from the Judaizers. The letter to the Romans was written at the height of his ministry, during his 3rd missionary journey around 57AD. During this time, Paul had dwelt for three months in the city of Corinth, which came on the heels of dealing with the riot in Ephesus, where he had lived and ministered for nearly three years. By this point, he had been chased out of city after city, with Judaizers following him from place to place, trying to snatch the new Christian believers away from the gospel of grace. The point? Dealing with Jewish objections to diet was nothing new! This was almost certainly a constant issue for Paul. Paul’s mission was the Great Commission, simply to see men and women saved when they surrendered their lives to the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ, which had nothing to do with converting Gentiles to a Jewish kosher diet. But because it was a sign to some people of so-called “maturity,” it became a burden to be placed on others (despite the ruling from the Jerusalem elders way back in Acts 15!).
  2. As for Paul, he knew that “there is nothing unclean of itself.” Just because a certain animal didn’t make to the list in Leviticus, or just because other animals were not slaughtered in the way approved by the Jewish priestly class, it did not mean that these animals were inherently “” The word used by Paul could technically be translated “common,” but depending on the context, it could also refer to “profane, defiled, worthless.” Paul makes it clear that nothing is inherently worthless. Some foods were considered ritually unclean for the Hebrew diet, but there was nothing inherently profane about any of them. Pork and shellfish are not inherently sinful. What made these foods unclean was the declaration of God to His people. God wanted the Hebrews to be set apart from the world around them, and their diet was one way to go about it. Spiritually, these foods were unclean, according to the Mosaic Covenant. But that is not our covenant. We have a New Covenant in Christ. Our covenant it not marked by our diet, our circumcision, or an observation of the 7th day Sabbath; it is marked by our faith in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. Thus, all food is fair fame. Nothing is inherently unclean for the Christian.
  3. Where did Paul learn this? “The Lord Jesus!” Jesus specifically taught this to the multitudes (and cleared up the teaching with His disciples), after rebuking the Pharisees for their own rebuke of the disciples for eating with ceremonially unwashed hands. Mark 7:15–16, “(15) There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. (16) If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” Jesus went on to explain that foods enter our stomachs; not our hearts. It is the sin in our hearts that is truly defiling. (Which is why we need the new heart He alone can give us when He makes us new creations!) How Paul learned this from Jesus is unknown. Perhaps he heard it from the disciples in some of their discussions together – perhaps he learned it from the Lord Jesus during the years they spent together in Arabia (Gal 1:17) – perhaps he had a vision, along the lines Peter had in Joppa, as God prepared Peter to share the gospel with a Roman centurion (Acts 10). However Paul learned it from Jesus, he learned it – and what he learned, he held to. He knew and was “convinced” of this fact. When it came to the issue of dietary freedom, this was something Paul knew without the shadow of a doubt. This wasn’t a matter of personal opinion; it wasn’t “I, but not the Lord.” On the contrary, it was “I, because of the Lord!”
    1. What was Paul doing? He was establishing his credentials, his baseline. If someone was to question Paul’s commitment to freedom in diet, it couldn’t be done. Paul’s reputation and practice on this was more than clear. And because it is, it serves as the perfect example for the issue of stumbling. If a freedom like this could be laid aside in humility by Paul, then surely the rest of us can follow in the same example.
  4. With that in mind, how then, is the next statement to be understood? “But to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” No food is inherently unclean, but it can be personally and individually unclean. If a Christian is convinced of the defilement of a certain food, then that Christian should not eat it. To that Christian, he/she would have sinned through the unclean thing, and that would weigh on the person’s conscience and mind. Paul comes back to this idea in verse 23 to explain further.

15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

  1. The idea of “grieved” is that of severe emotional distress. One dictionary defines it as “to inflict pain” (NIDNTT). The same word was used of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane regarding the anguish He felt (Mt 26:37-38). The same word was used by Paul in his contrast of the sorrow of the world versus the godly sorrow that produces repentance (2 Cor 7:8-11). IOW, this is serious, and it is personal. When a fellow Christian is grieved in this way, it isn’t them looking askance at us for the exercise of our freedom – it isn’t them raising an eyebrow in self-righteous judgment. This is someone who has been truly hurt and offended by our liberty, truly grieved by our actions.
    1. Why that person might experience this kind of grief is another question. Perhaps it comes from a legitimate hurt of the past, as when Christians who have experienced the tragedies of alcoholism later witness other Christians drinking a glass of wine. Perhaps it is personal confusion and turmoil brought on when they see other Christians doing something they believed was forbidden. Or, perhaps it stems from an area of immaturity in their own life, and they just cannot reconcile what they see with what little they know about the Bible. We all bring in our own biases and baggage…sometimes it causes us a bit more personal grief than others.
  2. Notice what Paul does not say: he doesn’t say that the food was wrong. Quite the opposite! He just wrote of how no food is inherently sinful or unclean. The personal preferences of someone else do not change the nature of the item before God. It may change what we do with that item, however.
  3. What might we change? Whether or not we eat. Why? In a word: “” Love cares for others, and we are commanded to walk in love with our neighbor, and preferential love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to love one another with the selfless agape love of Christ, which means we are to desire God’s best for them, just as we desire God’s best for us. If something like food gets in the way of that…awful! Think of it from Paul’s perspective and culture. He had the real freedom to eat pork chops, and let all his disciples and converts eat pork chops. Was that freedom worth causing grief and emotional pain to the truly sincere (though immature) Jewish Christian in the same town? As much as people love their bacon, what if eating it caused someone you loved pain? It is “love” when you chew down on every bite, savoring it in their face? No – it’s cruel, and taunting. We are called to walk in love with one another.
  4. What might happen if we don’t? We might “destroy with [our] food the one for whom Christ died.” This is the first of two “Do not destroy” phrases in this text, with the word for “destroy” referring to utter ruin. The same word is where the name/title of “Apollyon” is translated from Revelation 9:11 (of the angel of the bottomless pit). Question: Is Paul’s language a bit extreme? Perhaps…but between the ideas of “grief” and “destruction” the point is clear. Throwing our liberties in the face of those who lack them is harmful, loving, and the opposite of what Christians ought to do.
    1. Paul makes this same point to the Corinthians, regarding meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Idols are nothing, and sacrifices to them mean nothing. If you ate something had been sacrificed without knowing it had been sacrificed, then no big deal. But what if you knew, and other people knew that you knew, including other Christians with different convictions? 1 Corinthians 8:9–13, “(9) But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. (10) For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? (11) And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? (12) But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. (13) Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” Flaunting our liberties in front of other believers can wound their walk with Christ. Something that may not be inherently sinful can become sinful in my attitude or my carelessness in how I practice it. If we know a certain liberty causes harm to a fellow brother or sister in Christ, it is better to surrender that liberty than to potentially bring our fellow Christian to grief.
    2. Have you ever considered surrendering your liberty for the benefit of someone else? It seems strange to consider that in America, particularly on July 5th, the day after celebrating our national independence. Just because we can exercise a particular liberty does not mean that we should. Not if it causes grief to another born-again Christian – not if it potentially causes another believer to stumble. Our personal freedom in Christ does not trump someone else’s walk with Christ.
    3. Considering that most of us do not follow a Jewish kosher diet, what might be some examples for us? Again, alcohol. If you feel a particular freedom to drink (responsibly and with much moderation), would you pour your wine in front of someone who abstains? Of course not. Or, take facemasks for coronavirus…not a theological issue in any way, yet still a matter of controversy that has divided many Christians from one another. If you feel you have freedom not to wear a mask, would you shame a believer who masks? Or vice-versa: if you mask, would you make it a test of faith for someone who does not? Beloved, this is a Romans 14 issue. We must not make it a test of faith, nor should we make it an issue of divisive grief. Instead, we look out for one another, being mindful of the convictions of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and do all we can to not cause them If it causes someone grief by not wearing a mask, wear the mask. If it shames someone to wearing a mask, don’t wear the mask. What is best for the other person? Moreover, what is best in that situation for the gospel? Do that.

16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

  1. There is a single word that is translated “be spoken of as evil”: βλασφημέω (~ blasphemy). Depending how we use our liberty (our “good”), our liberty can be blaspheming. Something truly good might be slandered as something evil. The freedom we have in Christ – that He has fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf – this good truth might be blasphemed and slandered because of our insensitivity towards our Christian neighbor. Imagine it from Paul’s day. On one hand, he is ministering to a Gentile Christian who eats whatever meat is put in front of him, but then that Gentile starts bragging to the Jew and flaunting his freedom. He taunts the Jewish believer, saying, “Don’t you know you have freedom to do the same? Why not give up your tradition and do what I do?” Some might call this “discipleship;” Paul called it potential blasphemy and slander. That wasn’t what the “kingdom of God” was all about anyway. Becoming a believer and follower of Jesus isn’t about what foods we can eat or what feasts we do/don’t observe; it is about “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” If we aren’t seeking these things for both ourselves and our Christian brethren, then we’re missing the point! Our liberty is not to be used for our selfish pride; it is to be used for the glory of God and the edification of His church.

18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.

  1. Remember whom it is that we serve! Remember whom it is that gave us our liberties and our freedoms. Who was it that cleansed us from every sin, who gave us His own righteousness before God, and made us the children of God? Who was it that called us by His grace, and gave us a new life and new purpose? Jesus. To whom will we be accountable on our day of judgment? Jesus. We serve Christ. We are His slaves, His bondservants. What burden is it to us, to lay aside a few of our liberties, if it pleases our Master? If we can help another born-again believer (another forgiven sinner just like us) grow closer to Jesus, why wouldn’t we push aside our liberty a bit?
    1. Keep in mind that Jesus pushed aside His liberty for us. He didn’t just give up a meal or two. He didn’t do something relatively minor, like we might do. Jesus gave up glory for our sakes. Philippians 2:5–8, “(5) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, (6) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, (7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” What did Jesus give up? Everything! Why did He do it? For the glory of God, and so sinners like us could be saved. Jesus humbled Himself to the death of the cross. Jesus went to the extremes of humility, and has now been raised to the extremes of glory.
    2. He is our Master, and He is our example. We think about the things we might give up for the sake of other Christians…what are those, in comparison with the cross? That we give up our liberty? For Jesus’ sake, yes!
  2. As we do, we are “acceptable to God and approved by men.” We might even translate this that we are “pleasing to God, and proved to men.” The word for “approved” speaks of testing, something that is seen as genuine. Our Christian faith becomes evident to others through our acts of God-pleasing humility and love. We do not seek the approval of men (for only God approves us), but when we act in selfless love toward one another, the work of God is seen as genuine among us, and it is seen by the men and women around us. 

As to the question of how we might stumble someone, the answer is surprising: through our liberty. If we use our liberty in such a way as to cause another Christian grief, it stumbles them, and slanders the word of the gospel. Liberty isn’t worth that, is it? What good is freedom if it causes someone else to fall? 

That’s not to say that we never exercise our Christian liberties (in fact, Paul addresses this in a minute); it is to put them in the proper perspective. We are given these liberties, for a reason: because of the love of Christ for us. This is why Christians who go out of the way to act in love and humility show themselves as servants of Christ, pleasing God and giving proof of Jesus’ work among us.

  • Benefit of not stumbling others (19-23)

19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.

  1. We might say it this way, in light of how the flaunting of our liberties can stumble others: Don’t pursue selfishness; pursue peace! The idea of “pursue” is interesting. It is to “move rapidly and decisively,” and sometimes used to describe persecution – sometimes used to describe driving something away. In the context here, Paul is saying this: let us run after these things! Let us pursue them as a treasured goal & prize. If we’re going to seek anything, let us seek after the best things!
  2. What are those things? Peaceful things – edifying things. Instead of pursuing after the potentially selfish liberties where we say, “I have every right to do XYZ, and don’t tell me I can’t!” – we pursue the things that bring the peace of Christ. Instead of doing what divides the body of believers, we actively try to unite it. One of the striking descriptions of the early church in the book of Acts was that they were all of “one accord.” It is used of the church no less than five times in the first five chapters. They were all united in their love of Christ, and in the gospel of their salvation. Later, when division came into the church through the work of the Judaizers, the elders again came together, affirmed liberty for the Gentile believers, and once more declared themselves in “one accord,” (Acts 15:25). At a moment when they could have forced a certain point of view, they didn’t. They pursued the things that made for peace, the things that would keep the church as a whole in one accord. They pursued the things that built up the church, rather than tear it down.
    1. This is the problem when it comes to us asserting our own personal liberties in Christ: we asserting what’s good for us; not what is good for the church. We’re seeking after ourselves and our personal preferences; not what will build up other brothers and sisters in the Lord. At its core, it’s selfish…and Jesus calls us to be selfless.

20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.

  1. This is the 2nd “Do not destroy,” and it is basically a restatement of verse 14 – the same idea, worded in a bit of a different way. Even the word for “destroy” is different, this time referring to demolishing, or tearing something down. It goes hand-in-hand with the word Paul used for “edify” in verse 19, as that word literally (and originally) means “to build a house.” Verse 19 is the command to build up the house of God; verse 20 is the prohibition from tearing it down. And again, it is especially wrong to do this over matters so minor as kosher diets (or pick your modern nonessential issue of choice).

21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.

  1. Is it difficult to willingly surrender liberty? But it is good not to stumble our brethren. Remember, this was what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8. If Paul’s diet was going to make another Christian stumble away from Christ, Paul would rather forgo meat the rest of his life. The other Christian was more important than Paul’s personal preference.
  2. Objection: Doesn’t this give them “veto” power? We hear so often today how we should not speak out on certain topics because someone might be offended or “triggered”? Does Paul command us to stay silent on issues of right and wrong due to the potential of offense? Not at all! We cannot divorce Scripture from its context, and these situations are two totally different contexts. Romans 14 is all about nonessential They are not gospel issues – they are not the difference between what is godly and what is sinful. They are issues of personal preference and conscience; not good versus evil. For Christians to speak out on certain sins is “triggering” to a great many people. The cross of Jesus is itself a stumbling block to those who reject Him and His grace. That is something from which we never back down, and no one (nor any government) has veto power on how we proclaim our God or how we praise Him. But when it comes to nonessentials – when it comes to issues of preference – on this, we do not have the right to cause other Christians pain by the exercise of our right. In the world, it’s been said that “the right for you to throw your fist ends where my nose begins.” A similar thing might be said within the church regarding these nonessential, non-gospel practices and preferences. Your right to practice something ends when another Christian’s grief and stumbling begins.

22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

  1. Notice that we still have liberty! We can have these things, if we have faith. If, by our study of the Scriptures and the cleanness of our conscience, we can participate in these things, then do it! Eat the bacon, drink the glass of wine, do whatever the Bible gives you the freedom to do (or not to do, as the case may be), within the boundaries and guidelines the Bible gives. In fact, if we have them, we are blessed! “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves,” the word for “happy” being the same word used by Jesus in the Beatitudes. Blessed are you as you enjoy your freedom in Christ! Blessed is the Christian who understands that all our sufficiency is in Jesus, all our salvation is in Jesus, and all our hope for both now and forever are in Jesus. And if you have the freedom to do it, then do it at home, in private, or among other believers who share that same conviction. Just don’t “condemn” yourself by forcing your conviction on someone else. Don’t condemn yourself by stirring up division within the body of Christ. Look for what benefits the other person, and do that, for Jesus’ sake.
  2. The contrast to the happy/blessed Christian who partakes in faith is the “condemned” (speaking temporarily and relatively) Christian who partakes without In Paul’s day, this would have been the Jewish Christians guilted into eating a non-kosher diet. With every bite they took, they would be questioning themselves. They would be condemned by their conscience. Likewise for the modern Christian who is convinced of the sinful danger of alcohol, or the Christian who cannot abide certain Christmas celebrations because of potential pagan roots. For those people to partake in those things is sinful, “for whatever is not from faith is sin.” If you cannot do something with a clear conscience before God, then for you, that issue is sin. Some people cannot ever get on the internet today without engaging in sin. Some Christians cannot watch certain movies without feeling guilty. Pick your issue…if you cannot do it giving glory to God, then don’t do it. For you, it is sin, and it should be avoided at all costs.
  3. Question: Is this affirming relative truth? To say that something “is sin for you, but not for me,” isn’t that the same as saying “It’s true for you, but not for me”? This isn’t relative truth; it is relative application. Certain acts are sinful, because they are defined by the Bible as being sinful. Drunkenness, lust, pride, deceit, etc., are not optional for Christians depending on our level of faith. These things are sinful, period. What is relative is the application of certain practices. Paul used the example of diet, but we could use examples of what music you listen to, what stores you shop at, what clothes you wear, etc. These are not black/white issues; they are things of preference, and we need to be guided by our own convictions from God’s word.

We have liberty, and we are blessed when we experience them! But we are also blessed when we lay aside our liberties for the sake of others, and seek peace.

Conclusion:

Beware of stumbling and scandalizing one another in the church. We don’t want to trip people up; we want to build them up. Seek the things that lead to peace as each of us follow the Lord Jesus with a clean conscience. If that means laying aside your convictions for a bit, then do it. If that means not pressuring someone else to follow your example, then so be it. We need to leave the nonessentials as nonessentials as we build up one another in Jesus.

There’s a tough truth that accompanies all of this: we’re going to disagree on some things. There are going to be issues that we don’t all see eye-to-eye on. Guess what? We can still be “in one accord” and disagree on minor, nonessential issues. Musicians have a wonderful perspective on this, because there are two ways multiple notes are played: in unison, or in harmony. Unison can be wonderful, but harmony is broadly beautiful, and is still unified through the structure of the chord. Beloved, we may not have unison in all things, but we can have harmony. And we will, when we extend grace, when we act in love, when we seek what is best for one another, and in the end, live as the servants of Christ to the glory of God.

Keep in mind, this is only possible through the grace of Jesus. The last thing we want to do is walk away from Romans 14 thinking that we have the power to live out the Christian life of ourselves. Not so! Left to ourselves, we will trip and stumble one another, constantly. Left to ourselves and our own selfishness, we will naturally promote our own desires and live for our own pleasures without regard for one another. We will claim that it is our “freedom in Christ,” and the guy or gal who believes otherwise simply needs to grow up. When that is the case, that is anything but “freedom in Christ;” it is anti-Christian behavior. After all, our example is Christ Himself. And what did He do? He gave up everything in humble obedience and service to God, that sinners like us might be saved. He laid down His life for us – thus, it is only through Him and His power that we might lay down our lives for one another.

Even though God knew what Israel would do with the marvelous opportunity He gave them in the Promised Land, He still gave it. Why? Because He is a gracious God!

Deuteronomy 31, “God-Given Opportunities…Despite Us”

What is worse: never having the opportunity, or having an opportunity and wasting it? On one hand, those who never get the opportunity never know what they’re missing. On the other hand, when given the opportunity, we at least have a chance to experience the blessing, even if we fail. Whatever philosophical position you take for yourself, it seems that God’s preference is to give the opportunity, even if that opportunity is to be wasted. He, at least, gives us the opportunity to know Him, His power, and His grace…even if He knows it is an opportunity we will pass by.

This is seen throughout the Bible, starting with the first family in human history. Adam and Eve were given the choice and chance not to sin, but to rely on God’s blessings and provision. Cain was given the chance not to murder his brother Abel, but to find his satisfaction in God. Both generations wasted their initial opportunities, just as God knew they would. But He still gave them the chance.

God gives us opportunities as well. He wants us to walk in His blessing and in close fellowship with Him. He even gives us what we need to do so in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Of course, He also knows our weaknesses & failings. But despite it all, He desire for us is to succeed, and Hives us the chance to do it.

God gave the same chance to Israel, which is evident in Deuteronomy 31. Although God was giving them all the provision they needed, and told them the purpose for why they would need it, God also knew prophetically that Israel would fail. It was a foregone conclusion. Yet…God gave them the opportunity anyway.

This is the grace of God! This is His love for His people. No, He does not want us to fail, and yes, He knows that we will fail. But God also knows our future beyond our failings. God knows what He will do in us through Jesus. So yes, God continues to give us opportunities to follow Him, that we may understand our continual and utter dependence on His grace.

Deuteronomy 31

  • The nation commissioned (1-8). God’s promise/provision for Israel.

1 Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. 2 And he said to them: “I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also the LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’

  1. At this point, the book of Deuteronomy is transitioning towards its conclusion. The main portion of the book was done, with the law having been fully instructed to the nation, along with its incentives to keep the law (blessings and curses). Wrapping it up, the choice was given to Israel of life and death. The people could obey the Lord and live, or they could forsake Him and be destroyed. Moses had implored the people to “choose life,” (30:19), and with that, the formalities of the covenant were completed. Obviously, the book wasn’t yet ended, and that was because Moses’ life wasn’t yet ended. Deuteronomy is not only the final of the five books written by Moses, but it covers the finality of Moses’ own life. His swan-song was still to be written, which is the basic overall subject of Chapters 31-34.
  2. It begins with Moses acknowledging that his days on earth were almost done. The prophet was not just a senior-citizen, but a senior-citizen’s senior-citizen. At 120 years old, he would have almost qualified for Social Security twice! Skeptics have long doubted Moses’ age, but considering God’s sovereign plan for Moses in the development of Israel, it shouldn’t seem at all unusual that Moses lived to such an old age. Joseph (the son of Jacob and prime minister of Egypt) died at 110, while his father Jacob was 130 years old at the time he met Pharoah and died 17 years later at the age of 147. Moses was only a handful of generations separated from them, and he had the blessing of God.
    1. Interestingly, Moses’ life can be split into three 40-year segments. The first 40 years, Moses lived as a man of wealth and influence in the house of Pharaoh; the next 40 years, Moses lived in the shadow of Mt. Sinai living humbly as a shepherd; the final 40 years, Moses lived still as a shepherd, but a shepherd of God’s people as he humbly served the Lord. Most of us start slowing down our lives at age 60; Moses started his ministry career at 80! God can do incredible things through elderly believers!
  3. For as much as Moses did and could do, the one thing he was not allowed to do was “cross over” the Jordan river. Although Moses had not rebelled against God in the same way as the rest of the nation at Kadesh Barnea when they refused to enter the Promised Land, Moses had sinned against God in his own way. Fed up with the complaints of the people, Moses misrepresented the Lord before them, acting in anger when striking the rock two times for the people to drink, after the Lord had specifically told him to speak to the rock (Num 20). As God’s prophet and mediator to the people, Moses had a sacred responsibility to represent God rightly, and he failed. Although the Lord was merciful on Moses and allowed him to live, God did not allow Moses to physically enter the Promised Land. Being that Moses was now 120 years old and his instruction of Torah law was complete, the writing was on the wall. His death would be coming soon, and a transition would need to take place. It’s that transition that he instructs…

3 The LORD your God Himself crosses over before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over before you, just as the LORD has said. 4 And the LORD will do to them as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites and their land, when He destroyed them. 5 The LORD will give them over to you, that you may do to them according to every commandment which I have commanded you.

  1. Moses wouldn’t cross the Jordan, but God would! Just because Israel’s prophet was disciplined by God did not mean that Israel was punished as well. The nation would bear the punishment for their own sin, but that would be later. For now, God would personally bring Israel into the land, according to His promise. YHWH God would act on Israel’s behalf. Three actions are shown…
  2. Act #1: God would provide a new leader in Joshua (vs 3). One prophet would die, but another was raised – and Israel could not have asked for a better successor! Joshua had served as Moses’ disciple and assistant for decades, going back to the earliest days after leaving Egypt. Joshua had been with Moses on Mt. Sinai, and had been privy to some of Moses’ most personal times with the Lord. If anyone was prepared to pick up where Moses left off, it was Joshua.
    1. FYI: Joshua is the name for “Jesus.” It means “YHWH is salvation” or “YHWH saves” – a perfect name for our Savior!
  3. Act #2: God would provide victory over the enemies (vs 4). Although the initial adult generation coming out of Egypt had died in the desert for their rebellion, their children had grown during the wilderness wanderings and already took part in a few battles, where they acquired the lands east of the Jordan river north of Moab. Just as God had done to Sihon and Og, so God promised to do to the kings over the Jordan. Israel had seen God work in the past, and they could trust God would work in the future.
  4. Act #3: God would provide deliverance to the nation (vs 5). Although this is similar to the promise of military victory in verse 4, there is a distinction. In verse 4, YHWH fights the battle for Israel; in verse 5, YHWH delivers the kings to Israel. It isn’t a temporary military victory that God gives; it is the total conquering and the delivering of the land to His people, that Israel may permanently dwell in the land. 

6 Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

  1. Be strong and without fear! Don’t back down – don’t shrink into unbelief and faithlessness. They had come too far to turn back now. Forty years prior, their fathers and grandfathers balked at the edge of the Promised Land. They had heard reports of giants being in the land, and they feared. They feared the earthly giants more then their infinite God. This time, things could be different! Moses pleaded with the people not to fear – to stay strong in their faith, and move forward with the Lord in power.
  2. Why? Because YHWH God was with them! Moses might be leaving them, but God was going to remain with the nation in major ways! Just as surely as His tent remained at the center of Israel’s camp, so would His presence remain with the nation itself. God was not leaving His people alone on the brink of their next stage of history. He would give them victory, just like He promised.
    1. Beloved, we need to be strong and courageous! The things God has promised us, God will fulfill. There is nothing in this world that we need fear. Not coronavirus, not financial crashes, not riots in the cities, not political upheavals or cultural revolutions, or any such thing. To listen to the media, one would think they want us to fear, so that we would cling to our political leaders (on either side of the aisle). But when we cling to Almighty God through the Lord Jesus Christ, we have no reason to fear! Will sickness come? Will people fight in the streets? Perhaps. We hope it doesn’t come to that, and we pray for peace and sanity to prevail. But fear? Never! We have no reason! We serve Almighty God, and He has us in the palm of His hand. Be strong and courageous! Walk in faith; not fear. Walk in wisdom, in prayer, in supplication, in intercession – but never walk in fear. We may go through trials, but when we are in Christ, we will never go through them alone. Our God is with us, and He will never leave us nor forsake us!

7 Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. 8 And the LORD, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”

  1. Joshua was the tool/instrument to be used by God. God would take the nation into the land, defeat the enemy kings, and deliver the nations over to Israel – but God would still use a human leader to do it. Joshua was that man…he was simply a tool in the hands of God. (What a blessing it is to be an instrument in the hands of the Master!)
  2. Notice that Moses repeats the promise God gave to Israel, this time to Joshua individually. Just like the nation need not fear, likewise with Joshua. God was with him, too. God would give Joshua the strength and the wisdom required to lead the nation according to God’s will. And just as God’s presence among Israel meant that they needed not fear, so too with Joshua. God would be with him, too.
    1. This is our promise! God is not only with and among His church (which He is); He is with and in us, too. Our individual bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God is really with Why should we fear? Never!

God had given His people a wonderful promise: God would go with them! He would be with them as they entered the land, and He would give them everything they needed to occupy it and dwell there. This was Israel’s wonderful opportunity! They were not only being given a new home, but they wouldn’t be going into that land alone. The God who had been with them in the wilderness would be with them as they crossed the Jordan, as they conquered the nations, and as they settled into their new home. Israel had the opportunity to be in constant fellowship with the Lord!

We too, have this same opportunity. We can spend every day in constant fellowship with our Lord Jesus. We can live every day filled with the Spirit, guided by His Scripture, and following after Christ. We can do it…we just don’t often follow through. But the opportunity exists! May we seize it every day!

  • The law remembered (9-13). God’s purpose for Israel.

9 So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.

  1. Notice that “Moses wrote this law.” If there was any question that Moses is the author of Deuteronomy (if not Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers as well!), this should put it to rest.
  2. Practically speaking, Moses wrote the law and handed it off. These weren’t his personal memoirs for him to keep and pass down to his family. It wasn’t reserved for only the tribe of Levi. It was given to the whole nation, “to all the elders of Israel,” through the safeguarding of the priests. This was God’s word to the nation, and it belonged to all the people of the nation.
    1. We can say the same thing about the rest of Scripture. It belongs to all the people of God, not being reserved for a priestly caste. For nearly 1500 years, the Bible was kept out of the hands of the common people, reserved in languages only a few people understood (including only a small percentage of the priests), and was said to be too difficult for the average person to understand. That was never the intent of God for His people in either the Old Testament or New Testament. God wanted all of His people to know and understand all of His word, because it is His word that we need to make us complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:17).
    2. Since we have this gift (one for which men and women bled and died), let us use it! Read the word, and read all of God’s word. Don’t just reserve your Bible knowledge to a few catchy phrases and promises; read it all, prayerfully asking for God’s help along the way.

10 And Moses commanded them, saying: “At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.

  1. When was it read? During the Shemitah, the 7th year Jubilee. During the same year that people were released from their financial debts, the people were to be refreshed in God’s word, potentially releasing them from spiritual burdens. Considering that only a few copies of God’s written word existed (family Torah scrolls were rare), imagine what a joy it would have been to have the word of God presented! Sure, you heard bits and pieces of God’s word during Sabbath worship, and there were many Scriptures you had memorized. But to hear it all – that was something to celebrate in the seventh year!
  2. How was it read? During a national convocation at the location of the tabernacle. “All Israel” was to gather, further described in verse 12 as being virtually every single human within the boundaries of Israel. All of them were to leave their homes and travel to the tabernacle, where the priests would “read this law before all Israel in their hearing.” Some have objected, saying that it was too many people who travelled too far. Not necessarily. National convocations were commanded during certain feasts, so this wouldn’t be much different. Others have objected, saying that it was too much to read to too many people. Again, not necessarily. It is unlikely that all five books of Moses were read, but rather only the book of Deuteronomy – a task which could be completed in less than 3 hours. There is at least one recorded instance of this taking place after the people returned from Babylonian captivity, as Ezra the scribe read from the law to the people gathered in Jerusalem (Neh 8). It took from morning till midday, and the people paid attention all the way through. 

12 Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.”

  1. The purpose for this reading was three-fold. First, to “learn to fear the LORD your God.” Second, to learn to obey God and “carefully observe” the law. Third, to teach “their children” to do the same.
    1. To learn to fear the Lord is essential! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10). Without the fear of the Lord, without the righteous reverence for the holiness of God and respect for His Person, we have no motive to worship Him or to walk with Him. Why worship a God that is just another guy? Why worship a God that is no more worthy than you or me? When we downgrade the holiness of God, we lose our reverent fear of God, thus we lose our worship of God. Fear the Lord!
    2. To carefully observe the law is also necessary. Obviously, a perfect obedience of the Lord is impossible – this is why we rely on the grace of Jesus. But to disregard any obedience is foolish! To discount God’s word as worthy of obedience is to not fear the Lord as God. It is to not love the Lord as God. Jesus told His disciples that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (Jn 14:15, 21). Certainly, we will need His power and grace to keep them, but we should keep them.
    3. To teach our children is to pass on our love for the Lord to the next generation. Hebrew homes would raise up their children in the admonition of the Lord – Christian homes should do likewise. It starts by modeling a sincere love of God, and it is accompanied by loving instruction in God’s word.

This was a wonderful purpose in God’s gift of the law to Israel: that they would fear and obey God as God. This was exactly what Israel needed in the glorious opportunity before them! How would they know what to do day-by-day in this new land? By looking into God’s instructions and commands for them. The better they knew God’s word, the more they would hide His word in their heart and not sin against Him (Ps 119:11).

How we need the instruction of God’s word! The Bible is far more than a “how-to” manual of the Christian life, but it does certainly tell us what God expects from us in our Christian life. More than that, it continually points us to Jesus who empowers us to live this Christian life! The Bible is not a handbook of regulations for the Christian; it is a guidebook taking us to Jesus!

  • The future predicted (14-29). God’s prophecy over Israel.

14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, the days approach when you must die; call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of meeting, that I may inaugurate him.” So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tabernacle of meeting.

  1. What Moses had known instinctively (vs. 1-2), he was told specifically by the Lord. The time had come for his death, and for the torch of leadership to be passed to Joshua.
  2. What was “inauguration”? We use the term every 4 years with presidential election cycles; it was a bit different for Israel. Joshua was not elected by the people, nor was he “sworn in” in the same way our public officials are. Notice that this was a semi-private ceremony: just Moses, Joshua, and the Lord at the tabernacle. Obviously, the priests and elders would know what was going on inside, but it was only the two men inside with the Lord. This was a holy commissioning – a solemn charge from God to Joshua, the formal call to ministry.
    1. There isn’t a firm parallel to this in our New Testament churches. Those who are ordained to ministry are generally ordained in a public setting, although the spiritual call takes place privately between a man and God. God calls a man to pastoral ministry; ordination is the public recognition of that call – it is when the church recognizes and affirms what God has already done.
    2. As for our Chief Prophet, Jesus…His call and inauguration took place before the foundations of the earth! He was publicly ordained during His baptism by John, but Jesus’ call to ministry predated the need for ministry, as Jesus was slain before the foundation of the earth. God always knew His plan for Jesus, and He gave His Son before He ever created man. (Which tells us how much He loves us, that He would still bother to create us, knowing what we would do in our sin!)

15 Now the LORD appeared at the tabernacle in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood above the door of the tabernacle. 16 And the LORD said to Moses: “Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.

  1. When God showed up at the tabernacle, He showed up in a glorious appearance (“theophany”). The “pillar of cloud” was the cloud of His glory that so often led Israel through the desert, fully descended “above the door of the tabernacle.” There would have been no doubt in the eyes of the people what was going on. Although the families in the back of the camp would not have been able to hear what was being said, surely they saw the pillar of cloud and knew God was there!
  2. Along with the theophany was a sober prophecy. Even with God’s joy over Joshua, God knew what would take place after the generation of Joshua, how the people would fall away. He describes it in a tragic picture and contrast: as Moses lay down in the grave (the bed of “rest”), the people would rise up in sin. Moses would die, but the idolatrous desire of the nation would rise like a zombie, bringing out the worst of the people. (Just like our sinful natures so often do! We reckon our old sinful desires dead, but they rise up at the most inopportune times. Just another reason we need to rely on Jesus!)
  3. The future failure of Israel was worse than our normal experiences; their failure was total. God didn’t describe a temporary slip-up, or a sudden stumbling. So often, that is what our sin is. It grieves us, but it grieves us immediately, for our consciences are struck as we know exactly what it is we have done. We quickly confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and receive it by the grace and promise of Jesus (1 Jn 1:9). That isn’t what God describes for Israel. Here, God describes total apostasy. “They will forsake Me,” meaning they would utterly abandon God. They would reject God, break the covenant, and forsake the God who had brought them to this place of blessing.
    1. How tragic it is when a once-professing Christian now rejects Jesus! How sad when a person has fallen into true apostasy! Whenever this happens, the question usually becomes: “Were they ever truly saved?” Scripture gives the indication that they probably were not, as John wrote that apostates “went out from us, but they were not of us,” (1 Jn 2:19). But really, that isn’t the question we’re asking. What we’re really asking is: “Can this happen to me?” Answer: not as long as you abide in Jesus! Our eternal security is not tied to our past prayer of salvation or a future potential failing; it is tied to faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sin. Someone who trusts Jesus for salvation is saved – not because of the ability of the person to walk obediently with Christ (or lack thereof), but because of Jesus’ finished work at the cross and resurrection. When we see examples of people who have fallen into apostasy, whatever we can image of their past or of their future, we can say this much for certain: they are not at that moment trusting Christ. Will they in the future? Perhaps, and we pray that they might…but at that moment, they do not need the promise of assurance; they need the fear of the Lord and repentance!
    2. The key for us and our walk? Abide in Christ! Stay focused on Him, trusting Jesus. Don’t look for permission to sin with impunity, nor fear the loss of salvation with every slip-up. Just stay in Jesus! He is powerful enough to keep those who trust Him.

17 Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ 18 And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods.

  1. Question: Is this a contradiction with God’s earlier promise? In verses 6-8, God states how He will not forsake His people. In verse 17, God declares that He would. Contradiction? We cannot remove this statement from the context of the covenant. Per Israel’s covenant with the Lord, this is exactly what the Lord promised to do when they abandoned their worship of Him. Back in Chapter 28 it is clear that God would bless them immensely if they obeyed, but God would curse them fiercely if they did not. If the people abandoned God, then God would abandon His protection of them. It does not contradict His promise because it is part of His promise.
  2. Additionally, we need to look at the context of the earlier promise of God not forsaking His people. What was that in reference to? The conquest. When Joshua led the nation across the Jordan into the land, God promised them victory and to be ever with them. And that was exactly what happened! The testimony of the book of Joshua shows that God was always with His people throughout all their conquests, and it was only by God’s power that the land was delivered into the hands of the 12 tribes of Israel. After that, during the period of the judges, was the time the people started to abandon the Lord, and that was when God’s protection started leaving them.
  3. No, there is no contradiction, but there is a solid principle: without God, His people are helpless! It was God who conquered the kings of the land; not Israel. It would be God who protected the nation from attack; not Israel. If Israel decided to do without God, then they would do without His protection and blessing. They would be left helpless and alone.

19 “Now therefore, write down this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel. 20 When I have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant.

  1. Typically, we think of songs commemorating good and joyful things. Even patriotic songs like “America the Beautiful” are sung as odes to our nation, with hopeful thoughts for the future. That isn’t the purpose of this particular song of Israel. Unlike many of the other psalms in the Bible, this song is not a personal song of praise or even a song of lament seeking God’s power; this is a song of “witness” – a testimony against When the nation delved into their sin and apostasy, God wanted this particular song and melody ringing in their heads as a memorial for what God said would happen.
  2. Notice what set it off: their provocation of God. By bringing them into the land, God would have done so much for His people. He would have blessed them in tremendous ways, even far beyond what He had done in delivering them out of Egyptian slavery and providing for them 40 years in the wilderness. God would have given them a home, driven out the nations from before them, and planted them in a fruitful “land flowing with milk and honey.” And Israel’s response to those blessings? Once they grew “fat” on the land, they would despise the One who gave it to them, and they turn to serve other gods. Truly, it was provocation to God, stirring up His righteous anger and wrath.
    1. Do we see our sin as provocation? Or do we see it as a minor slip-up that God doesn’t mind. God minds. Sin is rebellion, and that is something we can never forget.

21 Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them.” 22 Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel.

  1. The song (again) serves as a testimony. Because it was written so long in advance, and because it was memorized so long in advance, there would be no way to claim that it had been written in the moment for the circumstance. It would be a song testifying that God knew of their future apostasy. He knew what would happen, and He wanted Israel to know that He knew.
  2. Our God does know what will happen with us. He knows each and every detail about our lives: past, present, and future. There is no act we can take that will surprise Him. He knows – and He wants us to know that He knows. Why? Because that gives us even more reason to trust Him! That gives us even more reason to rely on His grace!

23 Then He inaugurated Joshua the son of Nun, and said, “Be strong and of good courage; for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land of which I swore to them, and I will be with you.”

  1. What was commanded in verse 14 is fulfilled in verse 23. God personally “inaugurated” (commissioned) Joshua, and gave him the same specific promise that God had given earlier through Moses. What had once been said second-hand, was now stated by God first-hand.
    1. We have the first-hand promise of God regarding the same thing! How long did the Risen Jesus promise to be with His disciples? Always, even to the end of the age. He never leaves us!
  2. How wonderful that on the heels of a song predicting the apostasy of Israel, God still affirms the promise to Joshua of His presence. He still gives Joshua the exhortation to be strong and courageous. Though God knew what would happen with the nation, it never changed God’s promise and provision for the nation. God promised to give them the land; God would give it.
    1. Praise God that His grace is based on His faithfulness & not our own! If we had to trust our faithfulness to experience God’s blessing and grace, we’d never get it. Thankfully, where we are faithless, God is faithful. God is good!

24 So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, 25 that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying: 26 “Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you; 27 for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD, then how much more after my death?

  1. Verse 9 already mentioned how Moses delivered the book of the law to the priests; verse 24 provides the details of the delivery. Moses did the task of writing, gave it to the ordained Levites, and commissioned it as a “witness against” Israel. Like the song (recorded in Chapter 32), the book of Deuteronomy itself served as a prophetic witness against the nation. It records in precise detail the future apostasy of the nation. There was no question that Israel would fall in such a way. Moses had seen their repeated grumblings and rebellions for 40 years…surely they would continue the trend to a greater extent after his death!

28 Gather to me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands.”

  1. Again, the future was clear. Israel would “do evil in the sight of the LORD,” provoking God to anger through their corrupt idolatrous practices and apostasy. Yet note what is not said: any change to the promise of God. Although God knew that His own people would spurn Him and provoke Him to anger after all the blessings He heaped upon them in abundance, God never once revoked the blessing that had been promised. What God said He would do, He would do. It was up to the people to rely on His grace for obedience. 
  2. God is always faithful! What God promises, He fulfills based on His goodness alone! 

(Verse 30 more naturally goes with the song in Chapter 32…)

30 Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song until they were ended:

Although Israel was being given godly leadership, their future looked bleak. Although they were being handed a wonderful opportunity (practically on a silver platter!), the people would soon waste it, and they would bring upon themselves the curses of the covenant. It wasn’t something that God desired for the nation, but it wasn’t something that God was surprised by, either. He knew about it, and He wanted Israel to know, too. The more they knew, the more opportunity they had to humble themselves in repentance and rely on God’s grace. It wasn’t an opportunity they took…but it was available.

Conclusion:

It is a sober note on which to end, but this was the reality faced by Israel in the future. Moses was not relying on human intuition when predicting the failure of Israel; this was the sure prophecy given him by God. There was no doubt that God’s own people would provoke Him to wrath through their rebellion and idolatry – this was a prophetic truth. Yet God still gave them the opportunity to follow Him. He promised to take them into the land, to provide victory over their enemies, and He gave them the law for the purpose of Israel learning to fear and obey Him. Yes, they would fail…they were human. But God gave them the opportunity because God loved them. God gave them grace, and God wanted them to depend on His grace.

What a gracious God we serve! He knows everything about us, including all of our weaknesses & failures. God knows the beginning from the end, and He knows each of our future sins…even the abhorrent things that today we swear we would never do. And God still loves us. He still wants His best for us. He still gives us the opportunity to succeed, by walking daily with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Imagine it: even for wretched people like us, God still loves us as His own. Why? Because we belong to Jesus and we have been bought by His blood. God sees us through the redemption of His Son, which means He sees us through the lens of grace.

Will we fail? Yes. God already knows it. Do we have permission to fail? Not in terms of having license to sin. Sin is still sin, even for the child of God. But sin for the child of God is forgiven because of the sacrifice of the Son of God. We live now in glorious grace!

Some today need to remember the grace we have been given in Jesus. For those who are in Christ, abiding in the gospel having all our hope in Him, Jesus never leaves us nor forsakes us. Jesus never abandons those who believe on Him for salvation!

Some may need to remember that although our hearts are sinful and our strength is weak, God still calls His people to fear and obey Him. That we sin as Christians is not permission to sin as Christians. We are just as reliant on the Spirit and grace of God to walk with Him, as we are to receive daily forgiveness from Him. We need God’s grace for everything!

How should Christians deal with disagreements on nonessential issues? Stop arguing, and start getting ready for Jesus!

Dealing with Disagreements

Posted: June 28, 2020 in Romans, Uncategorized

Romans 14:1-12, “Dealing with Disagreements”

How do you deal with those who are different from you? It is one thing to consider this question in our culture-at-large (which increasingly seems to be at a tipping point!); it is another to consider it within the church. Among our broader culture, we can expect things to be different, because we are fundamentally different from our non-Christian friends and neighbors. We have been born of the Spirit; they have not. We follow Jesus as our living Lord; they do not. We have God the Holy Spirit living inside us; they do not, and will never experience apart from their regeneration once they repent and put their faith and trust in Jesus alone for salvation.

We expect differences with the world – but what about differences within the church? There are differences here, too. Not just distinctions between liberal and evangelical churches – much of that is the distinction between unbelievers and believers. After all, if an organization or denomination denies the Biblical gospel, it cannot truly be considered a Christian “church,” no matter how it wants to label itself. As to the rest, there can be (and are) true differences between Christians. Gospel-preaching, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians can have real differences with each other, even on matters of doctrine. We may all hold to the essentials (things that directly affect the nature of God and His gospel), but in other areas (even important areas), there are differences. How are Christians supposed to deal with these things? This is what Paul addresses next as he proceeds through the book of Romans.

Remember that Paul is in his section of application. He wrote eight solid chapters dealing with the fundamentals of the gospel and how we are saved from sin’s penalty, we are being saved from sin’s power, and how we will be saved from sin’s presence. For three more chapters, he dove deep into how this related to the nation of Israel, as the focus of God’s plan has turned temporarily to the church comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. From chapter 12 on, Paul has dealt with the application of the gospel, through our ongoing sacrifices to God as we continually surrender our lives to Him. We serve God and the church through the spiritual gifts given us by God – we love the church preferentially – we live peacefully with our neighbors. As Christians submitted to God, we submit to the God-ordained government, being ever mindful to love our neighbors sacrificially as we remain ever-ready to see Jesus.

How we see Jesus on that day, and what reward we will have is greatly affected by the way we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ. We know to love our neighbors, but what about our brothers and sisters? What happens when we disagree with them? Do we still treat them as part of our family – or do we revile them and stir up constant conflict? This is what Paul deals with next.

It should be no surprise that good people sometimes disagree. Husbands and wives often disagree over what to eat for dinner. Why would we expect fellow Christians to agree about everything? We don’t. One day we will, when we stand before Jesus face to face. In that day, there will be no more debates over doctrine, and so many of the arguments we once thought so important will surely fade away. No doubt, we will find that we were all wrong to some extent, because for now the best we can do with our limited human understanding is like looking through a glass dimly. It is when we finally see Jesus and know as we are known that full understanding will come.

In the meantime, how do we deal with disagreements and debates? When solid Christians come to different conclusions about doctrine, what do we do? Paul tells us:

  1. We stop arguing with each other.
  2. We start preparing to see Jesus.

Jesus is our Master & Judge, just He is for our brothers & sisters in Christ. The more we seek to please Him alone, the less we will judge and argue with one another. We need to keep the main thing, the main thing…and the main thing is Christ!

Romans 14:1–12

  • Stop arguing (1-6)

1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.

  1. This is the basic premise for the entire chapter. Receive the weak one (i.e. the weak Christian), just like the church is to receive all those who have faith in Christ. Christian maturity isn’t the test of fellowship to receive someone into a local congregation; Christian faith Maturity and strength is going to vary among all born-again believers. You might be strong in one area, where I am weak – but I’ll be strong in a different area, while you’re a bit more immature. That is natural & normal, and should not be a barrier to receiving someone into a local church. If someone has believed the Biblical gospel having received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and God, that is enough to recognize a person as belonging to the family of God.
  2. So receive the weaker Christian; just don’t receive the debates and arguments that the weaker brother or sister brings to the table. We can recognize other people as Christian believers, without engaging in every belief that they hold in non-essential things. Especially if those beliefs lead to “disputes” – those things we need not engage at all. Interestingly, the words for “disputes” and “doubtful things” can each refer to disputes. Don’t dispute over disputes – don’t engage in arguments over arguable stuff. Proponents of either side have thought through their views, and can distinguish between them. When that’s the case, the debate isn’t worth it. You might believe that another position is weaker, but you aren’t to argue about it.
    1. What makes this interesting is that the “one who is weak in the faith” is not necessarily one who is uninformed of the faith. It isn’t necessarily one who is young in the faith. Spiritual maturity is not always tied with physical maturity & age of years (sometimes yes; sometimes no). Someone who is “weak in the faith” might still have researched his/her position, having thought through the doctrinal issues…and still be wrong.
    2. It tells us that we need to hold our “strength” (as we suppose!) with a healthy dose of humility! Just because someone disagrees with us doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t know any better. It simply means that he/she disagrees. For as “weak” as we might view that person, to him/her, we are the weak ones!
  3. So we are to receive the weak (to us!) Christians – but we are also to be mindful not to let our relationship degrade into disputes over disputable things. We have our own cultural proverb for this: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Now, be careful with this…we don’t necessarily want to use the whole quote, popularized by the 1997 book title “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all Small Stuff.” Some things are most certainly not “small stuff.” Some issues are worth drawing a line in the sand over, vowing never to cross. Others? Not so much. This is the difference between essential and nonessential doctrine. Essential doctrine is stuff we cannot do without – it is doctrine that without which we cannot consider ourselves Biblical Christians. Nonessential doctrine is the “small stuff” – not necessarily unimportant doctrine, but doctrines over which good Christians can disagree. Examples?
    1. Essential doctrines affect the nature of God and the message of the gospel. That God is all-powerful, sovereign, and the creator of the universe is essential. The exact methods through which God exercises His sovereignty or His creative power are up for debate, but that He is the sovereign creator is not. That Jesus is God in the flesh who literally died for our sins at the cross and rose from the grave on the third day is essential. One cannot be considered a Christian if one debates or doubts the literal and necessary work of Jesus. Nearly every cult or post-Christian religion attacks either the deity of Christ or His literal resurrection from the grave (i.e. Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims), and when they do, they have left any claim to being Biblical.
    2. Nonessential doctrines are issues that do not affect God’s nature or His gospel message. These are issues in which people can legitimately disagree and still be considered Christian believers. Calvinism is a theological system that explains how God saves through the gospel, but it does not affect the basic facts of the gospel itself (nor does Arminianism, or Lutheranism, or any other soteriology that came from the Reformation). Eschatology (the study of the end times) has a wide range of interpretations regarding the rapture (pre-tribulation, pre-wrath, post-tribulation), as well as the nature of the kingdom of God (millennial or amillennial) – all of which are important issues that have direct impact on the way Christians live our lives today. However, none affect the nature of God or the gospel, thus they can be debated by Christians who each claim the Bible as their final authority.
    3. Our purpose today is not to give an exhaustive list of what is essential and what is not; it is to show that not every doctrine is essential Too many times, Christians think all doctrine is essential, and the word “heresy” gets thrown around to every person who disagrees. We ought to be very careful with that label. Technically the word simply means “divisive,” but if that’s the case, then there are many solid Bible-believing Christians who could be labeled as “heretics” for the way they bring division into local churches! Heretics (as we should use the term today) are those who depart from the Christian faith, who attempt to divide real believers from the truths of Scripture – or for those who try to divide Christians away from simple faith in Christ, adding burdens on to the believer, of which Jesus never intended.

Paul’s purpose at this time is not to identify the heretics as he drills down to the core essential issues of the Christian faith (although Paul definitely does this in other letters!); it is to show how we might deal with the differences in the nonessentials. Providing that everyone involved is an actual born-again Christian, what do we do when potential debates arise? Paul gives a couple of examples…

2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

  1. Example #1: Diet. Although there is much speculation as to the exact circumstances, there is much question as to what Paul is referring to. That some Christians believed they could eat “only vegetables” is clear, but their motive for doing so is not. Perhaps they did it for health reasons (not bad in itself), but determined they were more spiritual for supposedly caring for their physical bodies better (i.e. their earthly temples). Certainly, that would be a “weak” position. Perhaps they ate only vegetables because they feared that they might end up eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Again, this itself isn’t necessarily bad – but it became bad if it became a source of spiritual pride. Or, it would be undesirable if it was done solely out of fear, with the Christian believing that all meat was someone tainted by the rampant idolatry in the land. It would be weak because the Christian was living out of fear; not faith.
  2. Whatever the circumstance, Paul describes that believer as being “weak,” and his assessment of the believer was not good. The word uses for “weak” in both vss. 1-2 means exactly what we think it would mean: “to be sick, weak, in need, feeble, powerless, etc.” In other words, it isn’t complementary! In the example given, to refrain from eating meat for religious reasons was a weak An individual might claim he was more “spiritual” through the legalistic stance of refusing any meat offered to him, but Paul labels him as the weak one.
    1. Legalism never leads to spiritual health. Any time we add to the gospel, we take away from the sufficiency of Christ. “Sure, believe that Jesus died for you and rose again – but you better hold this certain political position as well…” “Yes, it is good to believe the gospel, but you’d better be careful what you believe about the spiritual gifts…” Beware! The gospel is the gospel is the gospel. It is about Jesus, and that’s it! If you need anything besides Jesus (and the Biblical truths about Him) to be saved, then you’ve taken away from the sufficiency of what Jesus does for us – you’ve taken away from the gospel itself. The good news of Jesus is not Jesus+ our works, Jesus+ our politics, Jesus+ our radio stations or clothing or any other superficial thing; the gospel is Jesus+ nothing.
  3. Regarding the actual issue of not eating meat, some might remember the example of Daniel and his three friends. Back in Babylon, they refrained from eating meat out of their devotion to God – were they “weak,” according to Paul? Surely not. (1) Daniel and his friends did not impose their convictions on anyone else, regarding their meals. (2) Daniel was not merely fearful that the meat given to them might have been sacrificed to idols, or killed in a non-kosher fashion; it was absolutely certain. (3) Daniel and his friends acted out of sincere faith, trusting God to provide for them. This was not an exercise in legalism or spiritual pride; it was humble dependence on God.
    1. Again, we do not know the specific circumstance that Paul judged as “weak,” but we need to be careful not to take the statement of Paul out of his cultural context and force it on others. In that case, we would be the weak ones!
  4. The main issue here is not Christian veganism or vegetarianism; it’s Christian love. Whatever your stance on what consists the best diet for a believer, don’t judge any other believer. One’s diet might be a physical matter; it isn’t an essential spiritual matter. It isn’t a gospel issue. It isn’t something to despise another Christian over (or mock, deride, etc.) – it isn’t something to judge a fellow brother or sister about. Imagine looking down one’s nose at a believer simply because of what he/she eats…ludicrous! Of all the silly things in the world to argue about, surely this nears the top of the list.
    1. Lest we think we’ve never done likewise, we have our own list of silly stuff. I’ve seen Christians judged over the restaurants they went to – over what kind of boots they’ve worn – over what radio stations they listen to – over what t-shirts they’ve had on. To be sure, there are certain things that are more helpful to us than others – certain song lyrics more God-honoring than others. Even so, these things are not, and cannot, be the determination of our salvation. They must not be the method by which we judge one another and relate to one another as born-again Christians. Our fellowship, just like the gospel, is based in Christ alone.

4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

  1. The “servant” was the house servant, the domestic. It isn’t either of the two words Paul normally uses to refer to slaves or servants (doulos or diakonos); this is specifically the house slave – the butler or maid in large mansions, or the personal aides, or the nannies. Few of us have these kinds of servants today, but they were not usual among the well-to-do of the Roman empire (just like they are not necessarily unusual among the super-wealthy today). Imagine walking up to someone’s personal aide and deriding that person for how they dressed that day. If the employer was nearby, they might come up to us and (rightly) say, “Who do you think you are? That’s my It’s none of your business how they’re dressed or what they’re doing. I’ll take care of my own business, thank you very much!” This is God with us. He’s the Master; we’re His servants…and we answer to Him. We do not have rights or authority over one another; God has all authority over us. Remember what happened with Peter when he was told by Jesus how he would eventually be killed for his faith in Christ, how he saw John walking along and Peter asked Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” (Jn 21:21) IOW, Peter thought to himself, “I don’t want to be the only one facing a death sentence. What about the other disciples? John’s walking with us – what about him?” John 21:22, “Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”” IOW, “What about John? John isn’t your concern. You do what I’ve called you to do, and let Me worry about John.” It’s the same principle here with Paul and the Romans. It isn’t up to us to deride or berate or judge other believers for their pet-issues or nonessential doctrines. That isn’t our job; it’s God’s. And God will do what God will do.
  2. Bear in mind, this does not mean we have no responsibility for one another. If we see another brother or sister overtaken in sin, then those who are spiritual need to come alongside the struggling Christian, and bring them to a point of restoration (all the while maintaining their own humility, lest they be tempted; Gal 6:1). As a body of born-again believers, we are all to submit to one another in the righteous fear of God (Eph 5:21). Even so, we all still serve the Lord as individuals. You will not answer for me at the judgment seat, nor will your fellow brother or sister answer for you. Only one person directly affects your daily walk with Jesus: you. You make your choices, and I make mine. Even as a pastor, though I try to influence your decisions for Christ, I cannot make them for you…nor should I! Although I am an under-shepherd for the Lord Jesus, He alone is our Chief Shepherd, and it is His voice we hear and follow. Thus, we dare not judge one another as though we stand in a place of authority over each other, for we do not. That position belongs to Jesus alone.
  3. There is good news in all of this: even for those who are weak and stumbling, as long as we are in Christ, we are given His grace. For those who have become truly “weak” to the point of falling, God does not let us go. “God is able to make [us] stand.” God strengthens us when we are weak – God picks us up when we stumble – God forgives us when we sin – God gives grace upon grace when we need it most!
    1. Here too, is cause for us not to judge, deride, or argue with one another. Why should we get on one another’s case, when God is ministering to us in grace? Who are we, that we should heap guilt upon a brother or sister, when God is causing that person to grow and be strengthened? Our job as believers within the church is not to judge people in Jesus’ name; it is to take people to Jesus for grace! We are His, and we need to treat each other with the grace and love that He expects for His bride.

5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

  1. Example #2: Day of worship. Once again, Paul does not directly identify the exact issue, but the wording strongly implies a reference to the Sabbath. The Jews worship God on Saturday (the 7th day), as it is the day set apart by God as a day of rest. This naturally carried over to the Jewish Christians. Gentile Christians (by and large) worship God on Sunday (the 1st day), as it is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. The day of the Sabbath did not change, and the day referred to in the New Testament as the “Lord’s Day” is always Sunday; not the Sabbath, for the Sabbath is Saturday by definition. The potential for conflict is obvious. Some Christians saw one day per week as being prescribed by Scripture for worship; others saw every day on equal footing.
  2. This conflict still exists today. There are Christian Sabbatarians who see it as a violation of the 4th Commandment to worship the Lord on any day other than Saturday. There are other Christians who firmly believe that the Sabbath was moved to Sunday in the New Testament, and even call Sunday “the Christian Sabbath.” Then, there are those (like us) who believe that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath through His finished work on the cross, that we find our rest in Him when we believe upon Him as Lord, and that the 4th Commandment is truly kept when we find our sufficiency in Jesus. (Which means we can worship Jesus any day we like! Sunday is traditional, it celebrates the resurrection, and it is just as good as any other day.)
  3. So what do we do with this debate? It is something to fight over, to send lengthy letters to churches telling the pastors how they are leading their people in sin if they worship on Sundays? (Which really happens, on a fairly regular basis!) Do we leave solid Bible-believing churches because they aren’t holding their worship service on our preferred day of the week? (Which also sadly happens.) This isn’t something over which to divide – it isn’t a test of one’s orthodoxy in the gospel. It is a nonessential issue.
  4. In fact, it’s so nonessential that Paul told his readers they could decide their own position for themselves. “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” The term for “fully convinced” is a compound word in the Greek, combining the words for “fulfill/full” and “carry/bear.” You carry something to the fullest extent – it is “to be completely certain of the truth of something” (Louw). Paul used the term one other time in the book of Romans, when writing of how Abraham was “fully convinced” that God was able to keep His promise regarding Isaac (Rom 4:21). That sort of “convincing” is a firm foundation! That is to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt. And that is exactly what Paul wrote about our position on the proper day of worship. Do the research! Investigate the positions and come to a firm conclusion.
    1. And guess what? If you’ve done the research and your conclusion is different than someone else, that’s okay. It is okay to be fully convinced and still have a difference of opinion. “Let each be fully convinced in his own” Your job is not to convince me of your opinion and sway me to your side on nonessential issues, nor is mind to convince you. My job (as a pastor) is to present Biblical truth to you and let you come to an informed conclusion, based on the text and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, I have my own biases and I will tell you what I believe and why I believe it, and I will go to the hilt on essential doctrine. But on nonessential doctrines, you have freedom to believe differently, as long as it is Biblical. (And likewise, with me!)
    2. Too many Christians spend too much time trying to get everyone else to believe just like them. That isn’t what Jesus has called us to do – it isn’t our job. Again, our job isn’t to lead people after us; it’s to take people to Jesus and let Him lead us individually.

6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

  1. You want to worship on Saturday? Go for it. Want to worship on Sunday – or Monday or Wednesday, etc.? Go for it. You want to eat meat? Knock yourself out – or don’t. Refrain if you want. Just do it all for Jesus. Observe whatever day you worship as a day dedicated unto the Lord. Give God thanks for whatever food you have received, for He is the one who has provided for you (irrespective of the menu). These things aren’t worth fighting about. All these positions can be God-glorifying, because all of them (when held sincerely and Biblically) are based in grace.

The point? Stop arguing with one another! All of these arguments and debates over nonessential issues are useless and distract from the gospel. They distract us from Jesus. If you disagree with someone over doctrine, as long as it is not foundational to the faith, it is okay. We need not agree on everything to still see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

It grieves me every time we lose someone over nonessential doctrine. It’s to say, “I know we agree on 99% of Biblical interpretation, but that 1% is too much! It’s beyond the pale!” Yet what is it that we say we want in a church? A church that loves Jesus and each other – a church that worships in the holy fear and reverence of God – a church that consistently teaches the Bible – a church that earnestly seeks to glorify God. If you have that, then you have something that multitudes of Christians around the world wish they had! So what if you don’t agree on 100% of nonessential doctrine? It’s called “nonessential” for a reason. These things are not cause to bring argument and division; they are cause to extend grace.

  • Start preparing to see Jesus (7-12)

7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.

  1. We belong to Jesus. Once we put our faith in Him as Savior and Lord, we no longer answer to ourselves; we now answer to our Lord and Master. He is our Sovereign, our King. Your life belongs to Him, as does your death (because when we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord). Thus, whatever you do, do for Jesus. Just like we remember we are not the master of any other servant of Christ, we remember that we too, are His servants and He is our Master.

9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

  1. When Jesus died, He died as the only innocent Man who ever lived. Jesus was the only human who never deserved death, for the wages of sin is death and Jesus never sinned. The only reason Jesus died was that He became sin for us, bearing our sin in our place as our substitute. But death could not hold Him. Jesus truly died, but He remained dead for mere days, rising to new life early Sunday morning. Jesus conquered death, and He reigns in everlasting life at the right hand of God. The result of it, according to Paul, is that Jesus is “Lord of both the dead and the living.” Jesus is Lord of all. To the point, from verse 8, “we are the Lord’s.” We belong to Him, Jesus being our Lord and Master in every phase of our life from beginning to end to eternity.
  2. This is the gospel! This is the good news believed by every Christian, and the good news that is available to the entire world that they might be saved. Paul gave the facts: Jesus died and rose and lives again. Paul gave the results: Jesus is the Lord of both the dead and the living. What comes in between? Faith! To those who believe that Jesus died and rose and lives again, to them Jesus is Lord of dead and living – to them (us), Jesus is Lord. If you do not yet believe, then Jesus is not yet your Lord. He is Lord, simply by definition. Jesus is God, and He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and to Him, every knee will bow (as Paul notes in verse 11). But if you have not surrendered your life to Jesus, believing Him to be your Lord, then you have no promise of life after death. All you await is judgment. – The good news is that this can change, and you can give your life to Christ today!

10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

  1. This gets back to the idea of judgmental arguments over nonessential doctrine. When Christians get a superiority complex, believing themselves to be more “spiritual” than the other – when Christians start looking down their noses at each other because of disputable doctrine – this is nothing less than ungodly judgment. Again, the context here isn’t judgment of essential truths; those things should be judged and called to account! When Oneness Pentecostals teach error about the Trinity, saying that God exists in various modes, but does not exist as the Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – this should be named and judged as dreadful, foundational error. When Word-Faith teachers claim that Christians become little gods and can command weather patterns and healings at their own will rather than God’s will, this should be judged. When charlatans drop glitter from the ceiling, claiming it to be gold dust from heaven, that should be judged as rank deceit. But none of that is in mind for Paul right now. Here, the issue is nonessential doctrine: things like our view of the spiritual gifts, our position on the end-times, our preferences for Bible translation – all of which are important, but still does not affect our salvation. To judge our brothers and sisters on these issues is unnecessary and ungodly.
  2. Ultimately, this kind of unnecessary judgment is contempt. The word for “contempt” could easily be translated “disdain.” It is “to show something has no merit or worthy, to reject something as being beneath consideration.” Imagine showing that kind of “contempt” for our brother or sister in Christ. How arrogant! How dangerous! Who are we to disdain someone for whom Christ died? Remember that when we put our faith in Jesus, we become part of the church…and the church is His bride. Do we dare speak against Jesus’ bride? Personally, I can take a lot of criticism and flak, but when people go after my bride, watch out! I have a tendency of losing my witness in those times. Jesus will never lose His godliness, but He will act on behalf of His beloved. Beware how you speak of the bride of Christ!
  3. Why else should we be careful? Because we ourselves will be judged by Christ Jesus! “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ,” speaking of the Bema seat of Jesus. Paul writes much the same thing to the Corinthian Christians: 2 Corinthians 5:9–10, “(9) Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. (10) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  Although Christians often believe that we will not face the judgment of God, what the Bible teaches is that we will not face a certain, specific judgment of God: the judgment at the Great White Throne. That judgment is reserved for those who never put their faith in Christ, and are raised from the dead after Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom. At that judgment, people are judged according to their works, and because their names are not found written in the Book of Life, they are raised only to be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20). That judgment is a judgment that believing Christians will never face. But Bible-believing Christians will be judged. Not at the Great White Throne of God, but at the Bema Seat of Christ. (“Bema” is simply Greek for “judgment.”) At that judgment, we are not judged for salvation, but for reward. The things we did prior to coming to faith in Christ have been wiped away and cleansed (as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us!). But for the life we lived in Christ, and for the things we did in Christ and for Christ, those things will be judged regarding the reward we take into the Kingdom. (Paul goes into great detail on this in both 1 and 2 Corinthians.)
    1. As to the point here, imagine standing before Christ Jesus and answering for the unjust judgment you laid on your brother or sister in Christ. Consider that we will give an account for every idle word spoken (Mt 12:36). What answer will you give to your Lord Jesus for the judgment trip you put on someone else? What answer will you give for how you disdained your sister in Christ, or regarding the gossip you engaged about another Christian? Will we lose our salvation over these things? No (praise God!) – but we will give account. It is a sobering thought.

11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

  1. Paul gives his own loose rendering of Isaiah 45:23, something he references again in Philippians 2. To the Philippians, the context is all the world finally recognizing Jesus as Lord. To the Romans, the context is all the church. We will bow our knees, and we will confess to God. Not only will we confess Jesus as God, but we will confess our sins and failings to Him as we give account. Does it change the fact that Jesus is our great Advocate? Does it change the fact that Jesus makes intercession for us, and that nothing shall separate us from His love? No. Does it change the fact that He will wipe away every tear from our eyes? No – praise God, no! If He is our Savior in life as we abide in Him, He will be our Savior after death and into eternity. On that, we have His glorious promise! But oh, the thought of giving account! Not just for our personal failings, but our sins and judgments against others in His body. How careful we ought to be in our treatment of one another as Christians! How loving we ought to be with those who are Jesus’ bride, even (and especially) in areas where we disagree. What we say to them today will be one day said in front of Jesus.

Are you ready to give account? Have you been preparing to see Jesus? If so, how has that affected the way you treat other believers? We understand that in our preparation for the judgment seat of Christ that we want to be about the business of making disciples and sharing our faith. But what about our treatment of one another within the faith? As is the case with earthly families, we have the tendency to take one another for granted. Sometimes our cruelest words are said to the ones with whom we’re the closest. Some of the things we’ve said to our parents or our children are things we wouldn’t dare say to strangers. Why? Because we’ve gotten too careless, forgetting in the moment our relationship to them. We can easily do the same thing with the church. How we ought to be careful with our words and judgments within the body of Christ, for we are family…and more than that, we are Christ’s family. Surely, we should treat Jesus’ bride with the greatest respect of all!

Conclusion:

Will we disagree with our brothers and sisters? Sure. Like any family, we’re going to have squabbles from time to time – but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re still family. My brother and I disagree on what food to have at Thanksgiving, but he’s still my brother and we’re still family. When it comes to the important stuff on how to care for our mother, we are in full agreement. We’ve kept the main thing the main thing.

It isn’t any different among the family of God. Yes, we will have our squabbles and disagreements – sometimes on matters vastly more important than what kind of cornbread dressing and pie to serve at the table. Issues like end-time theology, church government, the use of spiritual gifts, etc., all affect the way we live our lives right now. What they don’t affect is our salvation in Christ. They don’t change whether or not we are family.

What makes us family is our faith in Jesus, and we can be unified in Him, despite our disagreements on the minor stuff. When we remember that He is our Master and Judge, it becomes far easier to keep the main thing the main thing. When our focus is on being ready to see Him face to face, we’re going to spend a lot less time worrying about the way our brothers and sisters do some things a bit differently. As long as they are in Christ, and we are in Christ, that’s the stuff that matters.

How much more might we accomplish in the Great Commission if we stopped bickering with other Christians? How much more effective might our testimonies as Christians be, if the people around us see us acting with Christian love towards one another? Actually, we don’t have to imagine the answer to that question, because Jesus already gave it: John 13:34–35, “(34) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (35) By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” How will people see how we have been transformed by Jesus into His disciples? By our love for one another.

Beloved, we need to stop spending so much time picking fights with one another! Instead of beating our own drum, trying to prove why we’re right and everyone else is wrong – let’s beat the drum for the gospel and just point people to Jesus. Let’s show less of us and more of Him, and see Him glorify Himself among all His church.

God made a wonderful covenant with His chosen people – one which they would break, but from which they also could repent. For now, they had a choice before them: life or death, through their obedience to the covenant. We too, have a choice. Choose life – choose Jesus!

Choose Life!

Posted: June 25, 2020 in Deuteronomy, Uncategorized

Deuteronomy 29-30, “Choose Life!”

Covenants. For all the talk about covenants throughout the Bible, few Christians understand much about them, or why they are so important. We might think of covenants along the line of contracts, and relegate them to something that’s little more than legalese. Like the “terms of service” everyone agrees to but rarely read when using various apps and social media platforms, covenants are acknowledged but often ignored.

What we need to understand is that covenants with Almighty God are our basis for relating to God. No covenant, no relationship. This is not unlike marriages today. My bride and I have a certain exclusive relationship with one another only because of our sworn covenant that took place the day of our wedding. Yes, we knew each other prior to that point, and we had a dating relationship and engagement that totaled several years. But things fundamentally changed when we formed a marriage covenant, and that change made all the difference in the world.

Likewise, in our covenant with God. With a covenant, we have a relationship with Him; without one, we do not. Yes, it has many details in the pages of the Bible, but it is far more than just a bunch of words on paper – like a marriage is more than the license alone.

It is with that in mind that we come to Deuteronomy 29-30. God had made a covenant with His people. Although they were certain to break it, God was also certain to restore it. What the people needed to do in the meantime was choose to walk in obedience to the covenant, by God’s grace.

God had already chosen Israel, just like He has chosen us. He knew everything about their weaknesses and failings, including how they would reject Him and lose everything. God also knew it wasn’t the end. His grace was greater than their sin, and His restoration was fully available. But that was why Israel’s choice was so important. They could choose to walk in grace…they simply did not.

Will we? We are just as weak as ancient Israel, prone to the same sins. We are just as much in need of God’s grace if we are to abide in our own covenant relationship with God. Make the right choice! Choose to walk in grace – chose to walk with Jesus – choose life!

Deuteronomy 29

  • Covenant made (29:1-15). God chooses us.

1 These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb.

  1. Just a brief word to begin – simultaneously both an introduction and conclusion. It is an introduction to the narrative and instruction that follows, opening up how God speaks through Moses to the people, confirming His covenant with them. At the same time, it can be seen as a conclusion to the previous section of Deuteronomy, hearkening back to Chapter 12 in which the details of the law (“the words of the covenant”) were given. In fact, Hebrew Bibles number this verse as the last verse of Chapter 28, with Chapter 29 beginning with our English verse 2.
  2. It’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily a different covenant with the people as the one God made with them at Mt. Sinai/Horeb. There, God initially detailed the covenant with the nation; the covenant He commanded in the plains of Moab is a reiteration of the original covenant – this time, spoken to the generations who replaced the older Hebrews who died in the 40 year wilderness journeys.

2 Now Moses called all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land—3 the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs, and those great wonders. 4 Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.

  1. Moses began with a reminder of what God had done for the people in Egypt. Although Exodus 7-15 seem like ages ago in our study of the Bible, in relative terms of Hebrew history, it wasn’t long at all. Only 40 years prior, the Hebrews had been miraculously delivered out of Egypt through the supernatural intervention of God. There were plagues and great signs and wonders. The waters of the Red Sea had literally parted before them, and their entire nation had walked across the sea bed as if it were dry ground – only to have the waters crash back down on the Egyptian army with all its chariots. God had worked wonders in their midst!
  2. And the people were personal witnesses of these things. Although the adult generations had died off over the past 40 years, there were still the former children (those originally under 20) at the time of the rebellion who had come out of Egypt and personally remembered the plagues and the Exodus. To put it in perspective, 40 years ago was 1980 and although I was a child, I still remember the headlines surrounding the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the phenomenon of the Rubik’s cube, the presidential election of Ronald Reagan, and the mystery of “Who shot JR.” Just because the eldest Hebrews were children at the time of the plagues didn’t mean those things were not burned in their memory. There’s no question they remembered!
  3. At the same time, they saw but didn’t see. The people had been spiritually blind through their stubborn hardheartedness for the past 40 years. They had barely gotten out of the land of Egypt before they started grumbling about food and water on the way to Mt. Sinai. As a nation, they had not spiritually matured in all that time…not even through their 40 years of wandering…

5 And I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet. 6 You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or similar drink, that you may know that I am the LORD your God. 7 And when you came to this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out against us to battle, and we conquered them. 8 We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh.

  1. Moses moved from Egypt to the present. This was what God had done for the people in the wilderness. He personally led them and provided for them. God gave them manna from heaven to eat, gushed water from the rocks for them to drink. God gave them food and clothing that didn’t have to be replaced. He even gave them a foretaste of their possession in the Transjordan as God empowered the people to defeat the local kings and take their lands for 2½ tribes of Israel. God’s personal presence was always among the people and the sign of it was ever present with God’s glory over the tabernacle at the center of camp. 
  2. Notice the reason for all of this in verse 6: it was a testimony to the Lord! God led them and provided for them in irrefutable supernatural ways so that the Hebrews would know that God was “the LORD your God.” The same reason God performed the plagues in Egypt was why He provided for the Hebrews in the wilderness. For all that God did among them, there should have been zero reason for doubt in the minds of the Hebrews. Sadly, there was much.
    1. Be careful about pointing fingers too soon! How much has God done for us – and how often do we doubt Him? Just in the idea of someone becoming a Christian, they ask for proof and God has already given it: Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead! Jesus has given abundant proof that He is God, and all people have every reason to look at Him and know He is the Lord their God (and thus, fall on their knees in surrender to Him!). But the same is true for the born-again Christian. How often do we doubt our God? He provides for us again & again, and then we question His provision. Or because we don’t care for God’s answers of our prayers, we claim He doesn’t answer them at all. We doubt the One who has always been there for us, and we question the faithfulness of the truly Faithful God. It isn’t any different than Israel, and it is just as sinful.

9 Therefore keep the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.

  1. It was a call to obedience. God had acted towards them according to the blessing of the covenant relationship He offered them – now, it was their turn. They were to “keep” the covenant by hearing and heeding the commands God had given. For all God had done for them, they weren’t to give up on the Lord now! The time had come for their obedience.
    1. It isn’t unlike the call we have as believers, in response to the wonderful work of Jesus for us. Remember what Paul wrote to the Romans: Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Our logical response to the work of Jesus is to give ourselves for Jesus. It is to act according to the covenant Jesus offers us through the sacrifice of His own body and blood.
  2. What would happen if Israel obeyed? Israel would prosper! Remember that this was part & parcel of their covenant relationship with God. Chapter 28 detailed out the list of blessings and curses that enforced their covenant terms. If Israel obeyed, they would be blessed in the city, in the country, in their offspring, in their flocks, and more. They would enjoy physical, military, and financial prosperity to the utmost.
    1. God does not promise us physical prosperity, but He did promise Israel this kind of prosperity. It was available to them for the asking. All they needed to do was to walk in humble fellowship with God as their God.
    2. That said, God does promise us fellowship! We keep the terms of our covenant by believing upon Jesus as our Lord & Savior, and by walking in love with God and men. As we do, we experience such a personal relationship with God that is tangible & real! It isn’t something that is based in ritual or legalistic religion; it is a prosperous relationship with the Living God, and we know that we know Him – and we know that He knows us!

10 “All of you stand today before the LORD your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones and your wives—also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water—12 that you may enter into covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath, which the LORD your God makes with you today, 13 that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

  1. This was a full assembly. It wasn’t just the leaders, but it was all the men of Israel. It wasn’t just the men, but also the women and children. It wasn’t just the Israelites, but even the strangers among them. Even the mixed multitude who had come out of Egypt with them were invited to this. 100% of the people were included in the covenant, as they were all affected by the covenant.
    1. Who is invited to be in a covenant with God today? Everyone! Men, women, children – leaders, servants – rich, poor, etc. There is no difference between us. We all need Jesus, and we’re all invited to know Jesus. We are all equal at the foot of the cross! Our culture wants to divide us on the basis of skin color, sex, and finances; our sin sees no such division, leaving us all Praise God that Jesus offers life to all!
  2. Question: Was Israel not already in a relationship with God? Were they not already His people? Yes, of course they were – they had been God’s redeemed people ever since He purchased them through the blood of the firstborn on the night of Passover. They had been His people, ever since He brought them through the waters of the Red Sea. They hadn’t always acted like God’s people, but they were His people by God’s right and declaration. As for this, this was a reaffirmation of their relationship with Him. After all this time and all their rebellion over 40 years, God was not casting them away. Instead, He again took them to Himself as His own…exactly as He promised He would to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God had promised to bless this people, and even though they didn’t deserve His blessing in the slightest, God was going to be faithful to His word in giving it!
    1. Aren’t you glad that the blessings of God are based in His grace & not on our merits? If we had to earn the blessings of God, we would never receive them! No, we are blessed because God promised to bless us in Christ, and it is because of God’s faithfulness alone that He continues to treat us as His children.

14 “I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, 15 but with him who stands here with us today before the LORD our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today

  1. This covenant went beyond the current generation of Hebrews; it was for all Hebrews in the generations going forward. In a sense, the future Hebrews were present as well, in the “loins” of their fathers and mothers. God’s promise was to all. This was a national covenant for His national people.

In all of this, did you notice who made the covenant with Israel? God. It wasn’t Israel making the covenant with God; God made it with them. God had chosen them, extended His grace to them, and freely offered His covenant of life and blessing to them. In other words, the covenant (even the covenant of the law) was based on grace.

It doesn’t change! God chooses us, and He graciously extends His covenant to us through Jesus. It is based on His work alone, for He is faithful (even when we are faithless). He gives us His grace when He offers us His hand of relationship. 

  • Covenant broken (29:16-29). We reject God.

16 (for you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we came through the nations which you passed by, 17 and you saw their abominations and their idols which were among them—wood and stone and silver and gold);

  1. Just as surely as Israel had witnessed God’s supernatural works among Egypt, Israel also had ample witness of Egyptian idolatry. The Egyptians worshipped a pantheon of gods and lesser gods (with Pharaoh seeing himself among them), and that didn’t get any better outside the Egyptian kingdom. The various nations by which Israel travelled also had their “abominations and their idols” which were worshipped. 
  2. Why bring this up? Because the danger for Israel was that they might do the same thing! This had already happened at Mt. Sinai/Horeb with the golden calf. It could very easily happen in the future (and it did). Starting from the book of Judges on through the entirety of the kingdom years, the history of Judah and Israel is littered with idolatry. They made gods of “wood and stone and silver and gold” just like the nations around them. The very thing that God and Moses warned Israel not to do was exactly what they did.
    1. Isn’t that just like us as humans? If we’re told not to walk on the grass or touch fresh paint, what do we do? If it seems “forbidden” for us, we reach for it. But it’s forbidden for a reason. God and Moses were not warning the Hebrews away from idolatry for no reason – these things brought great harm and terrible consequences. God would spare us from those things. Sadly, we often have to learn the hard way.

18 so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; 19 and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart’—as though the drunkard could be included with the sober.

  1. Israel was strongly warned against their future idolatry. It would start small: just a heart turning away from God…but it led into terrible results. Faithlessness leads to idolatry. Idolatry leads to bitterness and sorrow.
    1. It isn’t any different for us as born-again Christians. When our hearts wander from Jesus, our attention gets drawn to the stuff of this world. We start lusting after people or things that are opposed to godliness, and we declare it okay because “it’s right for me – this is my truth,” which is nothing less than personal idolatry. It inevitably leads to terrible consequences, filling our hearts with sorrow (for those who repent) or bitterness (for those who don’t). Again – God would spare us from these things, but we need to listen to the leading of His Spirit!
  2. Notice that idolatry also leads to foolishness! It is foolish to think that we can escape the consequences of our sin. Israel was warned against being like the drunkard, who fooled himself into thinking that he could act just as sober as anyone else. (Not unlike men and women today who try to convince themselves they’re “sober enough” to drive. One drink impairs judgment. No one who’s drunk can truly fare as well as those who are sober!) In this case, it is clear: no one can escape the judgment of God. When we sin, we have consequences…period.

20 “The LORD would not spare him; for then the anger of the LORD and His jealousy would burn against that man, and every curse that is written in this book would settle on him, and the LORD would blot out his name from under heaven. 21 And the LORD would separate him from all the tribes of Israel for adversity, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this Book of the Law,

  1. A terrible description of God’s wrath upon covenant breakers! God’s anger would burn against him, and his very existence would be blotted out. He would be separated from the nation, forced to feel the full brunt of God’s wrath on His own. Why? Because the lawbreaker removed himself from his only access to a mediator. The man/woman who rejected God also rejected God’s methods to receive atonement. That’s a person without hope!
  2. Of course, the idea is bigger than the Mosaic covenant. This shows the eternal unsatisfied wrath of God. Those who reject Jesus unto death reject their only hope. They have removed themselves from the only method through which they can receive atonement and forgiveness, and they must face the justified wrath of God on their own without God’s appointed Mediator.

22 so that the coming generation of your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, would say, when they see the plagues of that land and the sicknesses which the LORD has laid on it: 23 ‘The whole land is brimstone, salt, and burning; it is not sown, nor does it bear, nor does any grass grow there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger and His wrath.’

  1. Even the Gentiles would recognize the wrath of God. As they travelled through the land, the evidence of God’s judgment on the people would be unmistakable. No longer would the land be a land flowing with milk & honey, but it would be filled with “brimstone, salt, and burning.” The physical land itself would be punished because of Israel’s sin.

24 All nations would say, ‘Why has the LORD done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?’ 25 Then people would say: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt; 26 for they went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them. 27 Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. 28 And the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.’

  1. It was all because of their idolatry. When Israel forsook their covenant with God, it wasn’t just in terms of minor sins here & there (i.e. improper dealing with leprosy, or not wearing the right kind of tassels on their garments); the context is of wholesale abandonment. They forsook God Himself, turning to idols, serving and worshiping “gods they did not know.” For this, they would endure the fierce “anger” of God. This was God’s righteous judgment against the nation for their apostasy (abandonment of Him). – And it was exactly what happened during the Assyrian conquest of Israel and the Babylonian conquest of Judah. The Hebrews were “uprooted” from the land God had given them, and God flung them far off in His righteous anger and judgment.
  2. God’s reaction to apostasy is far different than our own. We think of the “big” sins to be things like murder and theft. And no doubt, these things are evil, are forbidden by God’s word, and should be abhorred by God’s people. But the occasional murder or act of violence was not what got the people ejected from the Promised Land; apostasy was. When the people fully rejected God, they ejected themselves out of the covenant benefits – they brought on themselves the full and fierce wrath of God.
    1. Even as New Testament Christians, our only hope is Jesus. If we reject Him, turn away from Him, treat Him as unnecessary – what right do we have in God? What relationship is there for us, if it is not solely based in Jesus and His grace? The Bible is clear: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6). There is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5). If we abandon Jesus, we abandon our only hope!

29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

  1. What is secret/hidden and what is revealed? What does any of this have to do with the previous prophecies? Moses only gave the people a glimpse of the future, as not all of it was made known to him. Moses understood a fraction, with the rest being hidden, remaining “secret” with God. God knew it all, even the many things that were not revealed to Israel. But what was revealed was enough. What they had was enough to call them to obedience. In fact, Moses says at much when he says why this was revealed: “That we may do all the words of this law.” These words were not given for mere religious purposes; they were given for application. A relationship with their God wasn’t mere theory; it was to be reality. (Same with us!)

There was no doubt that Israel’s covenant with God would be broken. Despite what God offered Israel in His grace, they would reject Him. Israel would engage in idolatry, fall into apostasy, and experience the fierce punishment of God.

We have a different covenant, but we are no less guilty. We too, have abandoned God in various ways. Every time we say “no” to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we abandon God. Every time we ignore the plain instruction of the Bible, we turn aside from God. Every time we choose to engage in the sins of our flesh thinking we can ask forgiveness later, we are turning aside from Jesus.

Will we experience His wrath? Will He eject us from His covenant? No – not as we abide in Him. Our covenant with Jesus is based on His faithfulness; not ours. As long as our hope is in Him, He is merciful. That said, we cannot engage in ongoing sin expecting it to be unaddressed. We may not experience the wrath of God, but we can (and do!) experience His judgment and discipline. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can avoid it. He loves us too much to allow us to endure like that.

Deuteronomy 30

  • Covenant restored (30:1-10). We can turn back to God.

1 “Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, 2 and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you.

  1. Notice the certainty in all of this. After the punishment, when the people repent, when they obey. All these things would Yes, the Babylonians would come and remove the people from the land of promise, but that period of removal was limited. At a certain point, the people would turn back to God in repentance, which was historically seen in people like Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others. They turned back to the Lord, exactly as Moses prophesied that they would, and they threw themselves on the covenant promises of God.
  2. And God honored those promises! What would happen in response to the Hebrew repentance? Blessing! That was when the people would be regathered as God brought them back into the land of promise. When the people remembered the word of God, came back to the love of God, and followed through in their obedience to God and worship of God alone, that was something to which God responded, and He promised to regather His people.

4 If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. 5 Then the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.

  1. God can restore anything from any place. From Babylon, from Persia, from Egypt, from any place to where the Hebrews had been flung – God was able to bring them back. Not only would they be brought back, but they would be restored with greater blessing than they had ever had before! (Still yet to be seen during the Millennial Kingdom. Israel will be blessed to the point that they will be the most prosperous nation on planet earth!)

6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

  1. Even as Moses institutes his original covenant, already he prophesies the new covenant. This is what we acknowledge when we celebrate Communion: the new covenant in which God’s law is written on our hearts, and we are wholeheartedly the Lord’s possession. What we experience today is what Israel will experience in the Millennial Kingdom in their final restoration (Jer 31).
  2. Even in the days of Moses, this was God’s intent for Israel. Remember the Great Commandment: Deuteronomy 6:4–5, “(4) “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! (5) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This is not a command of rules and regulations; it is a command to love. It is a command to fully surrender oneself to the Lord as God, throwing oneself upon God’s mercies. This was always God’s intent for Israel…and it is His intent for us!

7 “Also the LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. 8 And you will again obey the voice of the LORD and do all His commandments which I command you today. 9 The LORD your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your land for good. For the LORD will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers, 10 if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

  1. Restored obedience = restored blessing, per the covenant. God will rejoice over them, as they rejoice over Him with their wholehearted love.
  2. There is an important condition: true repentance and obedience, per verse 10: “if.” This is a crucial difference between Israel’s covenant and our own. Israel’s was conditioned on their obedience; ours is conditioned on Christ’s. There is no way that anyone can keep all of the commandments and statutes written in the book of the Law – but even this fact was supposed to drive them to God’s mercies asking for grace. (And that was what He wanted!)

As surely as it was prophesied that Israel would turn away in their rejection of God, it was also prophesied that they would turn back in repentance. The option was always there for them to turn back to God their King.

When is it too late for us to turn back to God? When we stop breathing! There is a point of no return, by which our hearts are hardened so much that we will never seek repentance (just ask Pharaoh!). However, we don’t know when that is. As long as we have even the slightest inkling to turn to Christ, we should do it! We dare not harden our hearts against Him, for one day we might no longer care.

  • Covenant chosen (30:11-20). Choose Christ!

11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

  1. What was the commandment (per vs. 11)? The Shema: the command to love God wholeheartedly. It wasn’t “” It was not unreasonable nor incomprehensible. It is simple enough that a child could understand, and in fact, was to be taught to children all their days. Neither was it impossible. It wasn’t as if the Hebrews had to travel great distances to fulfill the command. They could love the Lord right where they were with everything that they had.
  2. Or was it? If this is all that is commanded of us, why can’t anyone fulfill it? If all we need to do is love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength, why can’t we go to heaven on our own? The point Moses makes isn’t to say, “This is so easy a child could to it,” but rather, “This isn’t something you need a degree to understand. If you understand your need for the Lord, grab hold of Him!” To love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength is always going to be a failing task because at the first moment we sin, it shows we haven’t loved God with 100% of everything. But this is what keeps us clinging so tightly to Jesus and His grace.

15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, 18 I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess.

  1. It was a clear choice: life or death. They could walk in the blessings of God or the curses of God. They could cling to God in love and live, or they could choose death through their disobedience.
  2. Was this a “turn or burn” choice? Yes…but it is an accurate description. Some choices are exactly that stark. You can choose to drive with traffic and get to your destination, or you can choose to drive against traffic and get into a wreck. You can choose to eat well and exercise for health, or you can choose non-stop pizza buffets and get a heart attack. We have the freedom to make the choice, but we don’t have freedom to choose which consequences accompany those choices. That much is decided in advance. Our responsibility is to choose wisely.

19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

  1. Called to choose!
  2. Choose life! Love God, Obey God, Cling to God as our everything.

The choice for Israel was clear: they could choose life or death…they needed to choose life.

What will you choose?

Conclusion:

Israel had a choice before them…one they would again be presented with in the future. After Joshua later led the people in the conquest, he set the same choice before the nation as did Moses. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” (Josh 24:15). They could choose the idolatrous gods of the nations they had conquered, or, like Joshua, they could choose to serve the Lord. They could choose life, in their covenant with God.

Choose life! Yes, there is wonderful grace for our failings, and God gives us marvelous opportunities to repent of our sins. But it is far better to make the right choice the first time! Why experience the consequences of sin, if we don’t have to? Why go back to our rebellious ways only to experience God’s discipline and be brought to a point of repentance? Far better to remain in a state of humble repentance, ever-dependent on Jesus’ grace. Far better to choose life!

As a Christian, you have been so blessed to be chosen and called by God! Anyone who loves Jesus finds that Jesus has first loved us, and that He knew us before we ever knew Him. He extended His covenant to us through the cross & resurrection. That is something to treasure; not trivialize. Where have you (me!) taken that covenant relationship for granted? Where have we started to drift? What consequences loom on the horizon for us?

Choose life! See what is before you, and repent. Call upon the loving grace of God, humbling yourself in word and deed. Choose to return to your first love of Jesus and walk in grace with Him. The covenant He has made with you is amazing! Choose to walk in its blessings and in His grace!