Day 287

How to Avoid Backsliding

Wisdom Psalm 119:33-40
New Testament 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
Old Testament Jeremiah 29:24-31:14

Introduction

As a young man, Philip was kidnapped and held hostage in Greece. There he remained for several years. During this time he received a military education. Then he returned to his homeland, which had conceded many defeats and had lost much land. Within five years he had become king.

Philip II of Macedon desperately needed his army to stand firm. He is remembered for two major innovations. First is the sarissa, a very long spear. Second is the re-development of a rectangular military formation used by ancient armies (known as a phalanx). A core of highly-trained infantrymen, armed with Philip’s longer spears, stood shoulder to shoulder in files normally eight men deep.

As long as they stood firm and did not break rank they were virtually invincible and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. Using this tactic, Philip united the city-states of Greece and conquered the city of Philippi (that is named after him) in 356 BC (see Philippians 1:27).

Sometimes, it seems that the Christian life is like facing a powerful enemy. It feels like an intense struggle in which another army is attempting to push us back and break down our ranks. If we don’t stand firm, we fall on our backs and slide in the mud in the wrong direction. We have seen how Jeremiah warned the people many times against backsliding (Jeremiah 2:19; 3:22; 5:6; 14:7; 15:6).

It is not a matter of us standing firm on our own. We are part of a community. In today’s New Testament passage, Paul invokes the image of the phalanx Shoulder to shoulder, the church can stand firm. This is one of many occasions that Paul exhorts the church to ‘stand firm’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Wisdom

Psalm 119:33-40

ה He

33 Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
    that I may follow it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law
    and obey it with all my heart.
35 Direct me in the path of your commands,
    for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to your word.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant,
    so that you may be feared.
39 Take away the disgrace I dread,
    for your laws are good.
40 How I long for your precepts!
    In your righteousness preserve my life.

Commentary

Get a firm grip on your heart and your eyes

It has been said that ‘a great oak is only a little nut that held its ground’. The temptation to fall away and backslide usually begins with our hearts and eyes. The psalmist clearly experienced a battle within himself. He wrote, ‘Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things’ (vv.36–37a).

So often, backsliding begins by setting our hearts on what’s in it for us, or allowing our eyes to wander onto ‘worthless things’ (v.37). Turn your heart and eyes to God’s word and you can stand firm.

God’s word is the place to find delight (v.35) and be enabled to persevere (vv.37,40). This is because God’s ‘laws are good’ (v.39). Pray like the psalmist, ‘Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end’ (v.33). Jesus said, ‘Whoever stands firm to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 24:13).

Prayer

Lord, help me to find delight in your words. Turn my heart away from ‘selfish gain’ and my eyes from ‘worthless things’.

New Testament

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

The Man of Lawlessness

2Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter —asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Stand Firm

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Commentary

Hold firmly to the truth of the gospel

Paul urges his readers to persevere and stand firm, holding firmly to the truth of the gospel.

He warns the Thessalonians, ‘Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way’ (v.3). ‘[Don’t] become easily unsettled or alarmed’ (v.2).

Satan is a deceiver. Paul warns against ‘the coming of the lawless one’ that ‘will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives’ (v.9). Those who ‘refuse’ to ‘love the truth’ will be taken in by ‘a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie’ (vv.10–11).

Don’t be taken in by those ‘saying that the day of the Lord has already come’ (v.2). I know of at least one dangerous and deceptive cult today that is saying exactly that. But when Jesus returns, it will be obvious to everyone. There will be great darkness before the dawn (vv.3–7), but the powers of evil will be revealed.

These powers are absolutely nothing compared with Jesus who will ‘overthrow’ the ‘lawless one’ with the ‘breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming’ (v.8).

The early church lived in daily expectation of the second coming of Jesus. So should we. Martin Luther said, ‘I live as though Jesus Christ had been crucified yesterday, had risen this morning and was coming again tomorrow.’

While you wait for Jesus’ return, stand firm. Paul had every confidence that the Thessalonians would do so. What is true of them is true of you – you are ‘loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved by the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (vv.13–14).

You have your part to play. You have to ‘stand firm and hold to the teachings’ (v.15) of the New Testament. However, the reason that you can be so confident in standing firm to the end is because of the love of God, ‘the sanctifying work of the Spirit’ and the power of the gospel, which enables you to share in the glory of Jesus Christ (vv.13–14).

So Paul writes, ‘May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word’ (vv.16–17).

Be generous with encouragement. It is verbal sunshine. It costs nothing, it warms hearts and enriches lives. God himself has given you ‘eternal encouragement’ (v.16) and wants to encourage your heart.

God encourages you so that you may encourage and help others ‘in every good deed and word’ (v.17). You are encouraged to live like Jesus ‘who went around doing good’ (Acts 10:38).

Prayer

Father, thank you that I am loved by the Lord and that, one day, I will share in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to stand firm, holding onto the truth of the gospel despite opposition.

Old Testament

Jeremiah 29:24-31:14

Message to Shemaiah

24 Tell Shemaiah the Nehelamite, 25 “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You sent letters in your own name to all the people in Jerusalem, to the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah, and to all the other priests. You said to Zephaniah, 26 ‘The Lord has appointed you priest in place of Jehoiada to be in charge of the house of the Lord; you should put any maniac who acts like a prophet into the stocks and neck-irons. 27 So why have you not reprimanded Jeremiah from Anathoth, who poses as a prophet among you? 28 He has sent this message to us in Babylon: It will be a long time. Therefore build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.’”

29 Zephaniah the priest, however, read the letter to Jeremiah the prophet. 30 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 31 “Send this message to all the exiles: ‘This is what the Lord says about Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, even though I did not send him, and has persuaded you to trust in lies, 32 this is what the Lord says: I will surely punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants. He will have no one left among this people, nor will he see the good things I will do for my people, declares the Lord, because he has preached rebellion against me.’”

Restoration of Israel

30This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you. 3 The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.”

4 These are the words the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah: 5 “This is what the Lord says:

“‘Cries of fear are heard—
    terror, not peace.
6 Ask and see:
    Can a man bear children?
Then why do I see every strong man
    with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor,
    every face turned deathly pale?
7 How awful that day will be!
    No other will be like it.
It will be a time of trouble for Jacob,
    but he will be saved out of it.

8 “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty,
    ‘I will break the yoke off their necks
and will tear off their bonds;
    no longer will foreigners enslave them.
9 Instead, they will serve the Lord their God
    and David their king,
    whom I will raise up for them.

10 “‘So do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
    do not be dismayed, Israel,’
        declares the Lord.
‘I will surely save you out of a distant place,
    your descendants from the land of their exile.
Jacob will again have peace and security,
    and no one will make him afraid.
11 I am with you and will save you,’
    declares the Lord.
‘Though I completely destroy all the nations
    among which I scatter you,
    I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you but only in due measure;
    I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’

12 “This is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wound is incurable,
    your injury beyond healing.
13 There is no one to plead your cause,
    no remedy for your sore,
    no healing for you.
14 All your allies have forgotten you;
    they care nothing for you.
I have struck you as an enemy would
    and punished you as would the cruel,
because your guilt is so great
    and your sins so many.
15 Why do you cry out over your wound,
    your pain that has no cure?
Because of your great guilt and many sins
    I have done these things to you.

16 “‘But all who devour you will be devoured;
    all your enemies will go into exile.
Those who plunder you will be plundered;
    all who make spoil of you I will despoil.
17 But I will restore you to health
    and heal your wounds,’
        declares the Lord,
‘because you are called an outcast,
    Zion for whom no one cares.’

18 “This is what the Lord says:

“‘I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents
    and have compassion on his dwellings;
the city will be rebuilt on her ruins,
    and the palace will stand in its proper place.
19 From them will come songs of thanksgiving
    and the sound of rejoicing.
I will add to their numbers,
    and they will not be decreased;
I will bring them honor,
    and they will not be disdained.
20 Their children will be as in days of old,
    and their community will be established before me;
    I will punish all who oppress them.
21 Their leader will be one of their own;
    their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
    for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
        declares the Lord.
22 “‘So you will be my people,
    and I will be your God. ’”

23 See, the storm of the Lord
    will burst out in wrath,
a driving wind swirling down
    on the heads of the wicked.
24 The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back
    until he fully accomplishes
    the purposes of his heart.
In days to come
    you will understand this.

31“At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”

2 This is what the Lord says:

“The people who survive the sword
    will find favor in the wilderness;
I will come to give rest to Israel.”

3 The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
4 I will build you up again,
    and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
    and go out to dance with the joyful.
5 Again you will plant vineyards
    on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
    and enjoy their fruit.
6 There will be a day when watchmen cry out
    on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
    to the Lord our God.’”

7 This is what the Lord says:

“Sing with joy for Jacob;
    shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
    ‘Lord, save your people,
    the remnant of Israel.’
8 See, I will bring them from the land of the north
    and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
    expectant mothers and women in labor;
    a great throng will return.
9 They will come with weeping;
    they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
    on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
    and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

10 “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations;
    proclaim it in distant coastlands:
‘He who scattered Israel will gather them
    and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’
11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob
    and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.
12 They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;
    they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord—
the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,
    the young of the flocks and herds.
They will be like a well-watered garden,
    and they will sorrow no more.
13 Then young women will dance and be glad,
    young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
    I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
14 I will satisfy the priests with abundance,
    and my people will be filled with my bounty, ”
        declares the Lord.

Commentary

Stand firm together as a strong community

You are not on your own. God never intended you to fight your battles alone. He called you to be a part of a strong, healthy, vibrant, growing community of his people. Together you can stand firm, not only resisting backsliding but moving forward.

Jeremiah warned the people against being deceived by false prophets: ‘This is what the Lord says… Shemaiah has prophesied to you, even though I did not send him, and has led you to believe a lie… he has preached rebellion against me’ (29:31–32).

Yet, although Israel had backslidden – ‘your guilt is so great and your sins so many’ (30:14) – God promises that he will restore them: ‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds… I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt’ (vv.17–18). He promises at least four things:

1. Joyful worship

There will be ‘songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing’ (v.19a). There will be shouts of joy, ‘they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord… They will be like a well-watered garden… they will sorrow no more’ (31:12): ‘I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow’ (v.13).

2. Numerical growth

There will be growth: ‘I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased’ (30:19b). Numerical growth is a blessing from God. Pray for it, plan for it and prepare for it.

3. Strong community

Their ‘community will be established’ (v.20), ‘a community in which I take pride’ (v.20, MSG) – something strong and immovable. You are not on your own. We need one another to help and support each other and enable us together to stand firm.

4. Good leadership

The leader will be one of their own: ‘Their ruler will come from their own ranks’ (v.21, MSG). Someone with the same vision and who walks in a close relationship with God: ‘I will bring him near and he will come close to me, for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ (v.21b). This is the challenge for all of us as individuals and as the church. Devote yourself to getting close to the Lord.

God loves you with an ‘everlasting love’ (31:3). God told his people, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!’ (v.3, MSG). He promises to rebuild and restore (v.4). He ‘“will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they’ (vv.10–11).

Prayer

Lord, may we not backslide but stand firm to the end with joy and thanksgiving. May our love and numbers increase. I devote myself today to being close to you.

Pippa adds

Psalm 119:35

‘Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.’

Delight is such a wonderful word. I wouldn’t expect to find ‘delight’ and ‘obeying God’s commands’ in the same sentence.

Verse of the Day

Jeremiah 30:17

‘I will restore you to health |and heal your wounds, declares the Lord’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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