Day 289

The Biggest Decision of My Life

Wisdom Psalm 119:41-48
New Testament 1 Timothy 1:1-20
Old Testament Jeremiah 32:26-34:22

Introduction

In early February 1974, I was facing the biggest decision of my life. I was convinced through reading the New Testament that Jesus really is the Son of God. But I did not want to be a Christian as I feared that I would lose my freedom. The last things that I associated with faith were love and freedom. I associated faith with losing my freedom. I thought that God would want me to stop doing all the things that were fun and that I enjoyed.

In fact, over the last nearly half-century, I have discovered that faith leads to true freedom and love. Love, faith and freedom are inextricably entwined.

Wisdom

Psalm 119:41-48

ו Waw

41 May your unfailing love come to me, Lord,
        your salvation, according to your promise;
42 then I can answer anyone who taunts me,
        for I trust in your word.
43 Never take your word of truth from my mouth,
        for I have put my hope in your laws.
44 I will always obey your law,
        for ever and ever.
45 I will walk about in freedom,
        for I have sought out your precepts.
46 I will speak of your statutes before kings
        and will not be put to shame,
47 for I delight in your commands
        because I love them.
48 I reach out for your commands, which I love,
        that I may meditate on your decrees.

Commentary

Trust in God’s word

‘May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord’ (v.41a), the psalmist cries out as he begins this section of Psalm 119. ‘Let your love, God, shape my life’ (v.41a MSG). It ends with a response of love: ‘I cherish your commandments – oh, how I love them! – relishing every fragment of your counsel’ (vv.47b–48, MSG).

In between, he speaks of his faith in God’s word declaring, ‘then I will answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in your word’ (v.42). Trust and faith are almost synonyms.

People of faith are taunted today as they always have been. But, whatever happens, keep on trusting in God’s word. This trust enables you to respond even to taunting with confidence.

Ask God to reveal to you more and more his unfailing love (v.41). Respond in love (vv.47–48), trust, hope and obedience (vv.42–44). Seek God’s ways through the Bible, and you will discover true freedom and be able to say, ‘I’ll stride freely through wide open spaces as I look for your truth and your wisdom’ (v.45, MSG).

Prayer

Lord, today may I experience your unfailing love and respond with love to all those I meet and with whom I speak. As I put my trust in you and your word, may I walk in freedom.

New Testament

1 Timothy 1:1-20

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,

2 To Timothy my true son in the faith:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Timothy Charged to Oppose False Teachers

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

The Lord’s Grace to Paul

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners —of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The Charge to Timothy Renewed

18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

Commentary

Hold on to your sincere faith

The apostle Paul was responsible for leading Timothy to faith in Jesus and, in this way, is Timothy’s spiritual father. Like any good father, Paul is concerned about Timothy and wants the very best for him. He describes Timothy, to whom this letter is written, as his ‘true son in the faith’ (v.2).

Timothy has also become a leader, pastor and teacher. Paul gives him instructions on leadership and how to deal with problems in the church. These are of great relevance to all of us today.

God’s work is by faith (v.4): ‘The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith’ (v.5). Love and faith should always go together.

Paul lists various sins that are to be avoided at all costs (vv.8–11). Among these is slave trading (v.10). Slavery is the opposite of freedom and trafficking people is an abomination.

Paul goes on to give his own testimony in which faith, love and freedom are intertwined. He was ‘once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man’ (v.13). He describes himself as ‘the worst of sinners’ (v.16).

I find it fascinating to see the progression in the way in which the apostle Paul describes himself:

  • Much earlier, he described himself as ‘the least of the apostles’ who does not ‘even deserve to be called an apostle’ (1 Corinthians 15:9).
  • Later on, he says, ‘I am less than the least of all God’s people’ (Ephesians 3:8).
  • Now, he describes himself as ‘the worst of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:16).

It seems that the more he has grown in his relationship with the Lord and the closer he has come to the light of Christ, the more he sees his own unworthiness. I think it is often true that as we go on in the Christian life, our conviction of sin increases and our appreciation of God’s forgiveness, love and mercy grows.

True guilt is not an unhealthy emotion – provided it is followed by repentance and forgiveness. The Scottish theologian P.T. Forsyth (1848–1921) once said, ‘Our churches are full of the nicest, kindest people who have never known the despair of guilt or the breathless wonder of forgiveness.’

Jesus Christ sets us free: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst’ (v.15). Salvation means freedom; it came about as a result of grace. Do not wallow in your past. Rather celebrate your present freedom and the grace that brought it about: ‘Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus’ (v.14, MSG).

Christian love flows out of God’s love for you, which is poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Yet it is far more than an emotion. Christian love is not the victim of your emotions but the servant of your will. Arguably, love is 10% emotion, 20% understanding, 70% will.

Paul became an example for others who would believe in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:16). ‘To believe on him’ is the act of faith.

This initial act of faith needs to be followed by a life of faith. Thus, Paul urges Timothy to ‘fight the good fight, holding on to faith’ (vv.18–19). He warns of others who have ‘shipwrecked their faith’ (v.19). This advice is a reminder of the importance for all of us to ‘pursue a Paul’ and ‘train a Timothy’.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that although Paul was the ‘worst of sinners’, you set him free to live a life of love. Thank you that you can also do it for me and for everyone who puts their faith in Jesus.

Old Testament

Jeremiah 32:26-34:22

26 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 27 “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? 28 Therefore this is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the Babylonians and to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who will capture it. 29 The Babylonians who are attacking this city will come in and set it on fire; they will burn it down, along with the houses where the people aroused my anger by burning incense on the roofs to Baal and by pouring out drink offerings to other gods.

30 “The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but arouse my anger with what their hands have made, declares the Lord. 31 From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight. 32 The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done—they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem. 33 They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. 34 They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. 35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind —that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.

36 “You are saying about this city, ‘By the sword, famine and plague it will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon’; but this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 37 I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. 40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.

42 “This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them. 43 Once more fields will be bought in this land of which you say, ‘It is a desolate waste, without people or animals, for it has been given into the hands of the Babylonians.’ 44 Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.”

Promise of Restoration

33While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the Lord came to him a second time: 2 “This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: 3 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ 4 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword 5 in the fight with the Babylonians: ‘They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.

6 “‘Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. 7 I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. 8 I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. 9 Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.’

10 “This is what the Lord says: ‘You say about this place, “It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.” Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more 11 the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying,

    “Give thanks to the Lord Almighty,
            for the Lord is good;
            his love endures forever.”

For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before, ’ says the Lord.

12 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In this place, desolate and without people or animals —in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks. 13 In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them,’ says the Lord.

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
        I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
        he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
        and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
        The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

17 For this is what the Lord says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, 18 nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices. ’”

19 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 20 “This is what the Lord says: ‘If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, 21 then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. 22 I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars in the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.’”

23 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 24 “Have you not noticed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two kingdoms he chose’? So they despise my people and no longer regard them as a nation. 25 This is what the Lord says: ‘If I have not made my covenant with day and night and established the laws of heaven and earth, 26 then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.’”

Warning to Zedekiah

34While Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms and peoples in the empire he ruled were fighting against Jerusalem and all its surrounding towns, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Go to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. 3 You will not escape from his grasp but will surely be captured and given into his hands. You will see the king of Babylon with your own eyes, and he will speak with you face to face. And you will go to Babylon.

4 “‘Yet hear the Lord’s promise to you, Zedekiah king of Judah. This is what the Lord says concerning you: You will not die by the sword; 5 you will die peacefully. As people made a funeral fire in honor of your predecessors, the kings who ruled before you, so they will make a fire in your honor and lament, “Alas, master!” I myself make this promise, declares the Lord.’”

6 Then Jeremiah the prophet told all this to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, 7 while the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah that were still holding out—Lachish and Azekah. These were the only fortified cities left in Judah.

Freedom for Slaves

8 The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. 9 Everyone was to free their Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Hebrew in bondage. 10 So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free. 11 But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again.

12 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I said, 14 ‘Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you six years, you must let them go free.’ Your ancestors, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. 15 Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. 16 But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the Lord—‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18 Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. 19 The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, 20 I will deliver into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.

21 “I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them, to the army of the king of Babylon, which has withdrawn from you. 22 I am going to give the order, declares the Lord, and I will bring them back to this city. They will fight against it, take it and burn it down. And I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.”

Commentary

Put your faith in Jesus

‘Whatever you love most, be it sports, pleasure, business, or God, that is your god!’ wrote Billy Graham. The constant temptation of the world is to divide our hearts. But God is looking for those who are single-minded. God himself rejoices in doing good to us with all his heart and soul (32:41). Surely we can return his love by serving him with all our heart and soul – with singleness of heart and action?

God’s love endures for ever (33:11). He loves you. He longs for you to walk in a close relationship with him. He was desperately disappointed that his people ‘turned their backs on me – won’t even look me in the face!’ (32:33, MSG). He longed for a time when they would relate to him in ‘singleness of heart and action’ (v.39).

In his love for you God wants to communicate with you: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know’ (33:3). He wants to bring you health and healing (v.6a). He wants you to enjoy peace and security (v.6b). He wants to cleanse you from all the sins you have committed and forgive you completely (v.8).

He wants you to enjoy freedom from captivity (v.7). He wants to bring you joy and gladness (v.11). All this will result in renown, joy, praise and honour for God (v.9). It will lead to thanksgiving: ‘Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures for ever’ (v.11).

God wants his people to be free. Jeremiah was being held in captivity (v.1), which was contrary to God’s purpose for his people. God wants to set his people free from the captivity of the exile into which they are about to go. In New Testament terms, this restoration, this redemption from exile, is ultimately fulfilled through faith in Jesus and the freedom he brings from the captivity of sin.

God continues to have a concern about physical captivity. That is why slavery is such a terrible evil. In the Old Testament we see some hints of God’s disapproval of slavery. He tells Jeremiah ‘to proclaim freedom for the slaves’ (34:8). Initially, the people responded by setting their slaves free, but afterwards they changed their minds and took them back (vv.10–11). God strongly disapproved of their actions.

The Lord says, ‘You have not proclaimed freedom for your own people. So I now proclaim “freedom” for you… “freedom” to fall by the sword, plague and famine’ (v.17). This ‘freedom’ is the false freedom that we so often see experienced in the world today. The freedom to sin leads to destruction. The freedom that God wants to bring in your life leads to a life of faith and love. This is true freedom.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the freedom you bring to my life. Today I turn my face toward you. I want to call on you and hear your voice – to understand great and unsearchable things. Help me to serve you today with singleness of heart and action, to give thanks to you for all your goodness and for your love, which endures for ever.

Pippa adds

Jeremiah 32:27

When facing the big stuff in life, it is encouraging to read: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’

Verse of the Day

Jeremiah 33:6

‘I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security’
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References

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

P. T. Forsyth, quoted in David Pawson, A Commentary on Acts (Anchor Recordings Lid, 2014), p.47.

Bill Graham, The Quotable Billy Graham (Droke House, 1966).

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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