Bible reading for March 15 -- 16
Mar 15 -- Proverbs 2 and Galatians 1
Mar 16 -- Proverbs 3 and Galatians 2
"Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles." (Proverbs 1:5-6)
SAYINGS AND RIDDLES. One of the joys of parenting for me was spending time with children building Legos or working on a jigsaw puzzle. It takes time, with frequent looks at the directions (or picture on the box), and a measure of trial and error. It's best accomplished as a group project: "I'm looking for a piece this shape and color. Anybody see it?" Life is like this, presenting us with many puzzling and seemingly unrelated pieces. Behind the book of Proverbs is the assumption that the Lord created all things, great and small, in his infinite wisdom. The universe is intricate and inter-related, and care is needed in navigating its complexity. The moral life can be complicated: a response which is right at one time may not be right at another time. Sometimes these issues are big, like dealing with the reason people suffer or why life seems unfair. Sometimes the issues are smaller, like, when do I say something, and when do I keep silent about things? How should I relate to authority? How should I work and do business? How should I relate to the opposite sex? When and how do I help the poor? Many of these questions don't have a one-size-fits-all answer.
EFFORT INVOLVED. Proverbs, along with other wisdom literature in the Bible, is helping us fit the pieces together, learning and applying truth to real life situations. They are written as Hebrew poetry, usually in the form of couplets, with statement A being followed by statement B (sometimes as a triplet with statement C). Parts A and B may be parallel, synonymous statements (A=B) or antithetical (A contrasted by B), or synthetic (A+B). A proverb is not a promise from God. It is a God-inspired statement about how life generally works (there are almost always exceptions). They invite further thought. We are to pursue wisdom. Learn more about Proverbs in Dr. Constable's notes here. The book of Proverbs begins with a choice to be made. The first nine chapters of Proverbs are an extended introduction to God's wisdom, and a key image is that of Wisdom (personified as a lady) calling us and inviting us to learn. Along with this is a warning to avoid the siren song of Folly (personified as an immoral woman). There is a choice to be made -- to pursue wisdom and to turn away from foolishness.
WISDOM TODAY. Now more than ever we need wisdom from God! Author and poet T. S. Eliot wrote, "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? It is for lack of wisdom, not lack of information, that the people perish." We are surrounded by too much information (TMI), and deluged with too many opinions (TMO). The wisdom of God is not the same as the wisdom of the world (1 Cor 1:19-24; Col 2:23; Jas 3:13-18). The believer today still needs wisdom from God about how to live (Eph 1:17; Col 1:9; 3:16; Jas 1:5). Jesus Christ is himself the embodiment of the wisdom of God (Isa 11:2; 1 Cor 1:24; Col 2:2-3). He is the center and model and design and final picture of what wisdom from God is all about. Without him in the proper place, at the center, the pieces of life don't fit together as they should.
"...we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:16)
TAMPERING WITH THE GOSPEL (ch 1). Galatians is one of my personal favorites in Scripture. This is the earliest of Paul's epistles, written about AD 48 to the churches he had planted on his first missionary journey: Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, situated in southern Galatia (Acts 14:1-23). Judaizing teachers had followed after Paul and told the churches something like, "If you want to be saved, or to stay saved, you not only need faith in Jesus, you need to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses". Paul, and later the Jerusalem council of AD 49 (Acts 15), saw this religious addition as a negation of the gospel. Salvation by grace through faith is the heartbeat of the gospel. Paul says that the Lord Jesus "gave himself for our sins". In his classic commentary on Galatians Martin Luther wrote, "The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul, 'who gave himself for our sins', as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for little and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained." (Martin Luther)
DIED TO LAW, ALIVE WITH CHRIST (ch 2). Paul relates his experiences with the apostles and, specifically, with Peter. The main point is "a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (v 16). Any righteousness that we think will increase by our good works only amounts to self-righteousness: “The more wise, righteous, and holy people are without Christ, the more harm they do to the Gospel. So we also, who were religious, were doubly wicked until God enlightened us with the knowledge of his Gospel despite our apparently true piety and holiness.” (Luther, Commentary on Galatians) Paul says that he has died with Christ to the law and now lives a new life with Christ indwelling him (v 20). This verse (2:20) was one of the earliest verses I memorized as a young Christian. The truth is, not only has Christ died for me (for my sins, including my self-righteousness), but I have died with him and my identity and destiny and nature have been forever changed. And all of this is received through simple, childlike faith. Francis Schaeffer wrote, "Just as the only basis for the removal of our guilt is the finished work of Christ upon the cross in history, plus nothing, so the only instrument for accepting that finished work of Christ upon the cross is faith" (True Spirituality).
THE CENTRALITY OF THE GOSPEL. A number of years ago Tim Keller, at that time serving as pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhatten, addressed these issues related to the Galatians, and showed their relevance for the church today. Read or listen to this excellent sermon in these places: as PDF, or in audio, or in video.
Image credit: photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash. About this newsletter: I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Another resource I recommend is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.