Day 289

The Biggest Decision of My Life

Wisdom Psalm 119:41–43,45,48
New Testament 1 Timothy 1:3–6a,12–16,18–19
Old Testament Jeremiah 32:37b–39a,40a,41

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 119:41–43,45,48

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.

45 I will walk about in freedom,
        for I have sought out your precepts.

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 1:3–6a,12–16,18–19

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...

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.

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.

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 32:37b–39a,40a,41

37 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... 40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them... 41 I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.

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’

Thought for the Day

Christian love is not the victim of your emotions but the servant of your will. Love is: 10% emotion 20% understanding 70% will
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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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