John MacArthur – Romans 1:15

Are you happy and eager to fulfill the responsibility God has committed to your care? As you can tell from today’s verse, that was Paul’s attitude. He was consumed with doing the work of the ministry. His personal life was never the issue. Life had only one purpose for him, and that was doing the will of God. He was always eager to preach.

Paul was like a racehorse in the gate or a sprinter in the blocks—waiting to gain the victory. God had to hold him back once in a while because he was so ready to go. Are you as eager? Is that the kind of service you render, or does someone have to prod you along with all their might just to get you involved? If your service to Christ comes from your whole heart, then you will be eager.

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CH Spurgeon – Col. 3:17

We should do all under the sanction of the Lord Jesus as our exemplar. It is an admirable course for us all to pursue, if when we find ourselves in circumstances of perplexity we ask ourselves the question, ‘What would Jesus Christ have done if he were in my circumstances?’ The answer to that question is the solution to your difficulty. Whatever he would have done, it will be safe enough for you to do. It is certain that he would not have been unbelieving, equally certain that he would not have done a wrong thing to deliver himself. We are also sure that he would not have been impatient, rebellious or despairing, nor would he have grown wrathful or morose. Well then, I know what I must not be; it may be possible to learn my positive as well as my negative behaviour from the same guide. By turning over the pages of the evangelists I shall be able to discover some portion of the Saviour’s life very like my own; what he was in that situation I must ask for grace that I may be, and I shall certainly be led in the path of wisdom. The royal rule for a Christian is not what is fashionable, for we are not to be conformed to this world, not what is gainful, for the pursuit of gain would lead us to run greedily in the way of Balaam for reward, not that which is generally prescribed in society, for full often the prescriptions of society are antagonistic to the teachings of Christ, not even the conduct of professors, for too many even among them walk as Paul tells us ‘even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:’ alas, my brethren, the current holiness of the church falls far below the scriptural standard; neither are the common rules of action among professors such as we could safely follow. A safe example is to be found nowhere but in the life of Jesus Christ himself; even the holiest of men are to be followed only as far as they follow Christ, but no further.

For meditation: Consider the negative example of the Lord Jesus Christ in 1 Peter 2:21–23. He did not sin, no guile was in his mouth, he did not revile those who reviled him and he did not threaten his persecutors. Negatives like these can have enormous positive implications (Romans 13:9, 10).

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Jerry Bridges – Hebrews 12:14

The Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us more and more into the likeness of Christ is called sanctification. Our involvement and cooperation with Him in His work is what I call the pursuit of holiness. That expression is taken from Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for [literally: pursue] … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

This pursuit requires sustained, vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no laissez-faire attitude toward even the smallest sins. In short, it demands the highest priority in a Christian’s life because to be holy is to be like Christ—God’s goal for every Christian.

The word pursue in this context means to strive to gain or accomplish. In Philippians 3:12–14, this word is translated “press on.” In the New Testament it is most commonly translated “persecute,” carrying the word’s common meaning—to track down in order to harm or destroy.

At the same time, however, the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure. That statement probably strikes many people as strange. A lot of Christians seem to think the grace of God and the vigorous pursuit of holiness are antithetical—in direct and unequivocal opposition.

To some, the pursuit of holiness sounds like legalism and man-made rules. To others, an emphasis on grace seems to open the door to irresponsible behavior based on the notion that God’s unconditional love means we’re free to sin as we please.

Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a lifelong pursuit of holiness.

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John Calvin – Psalm 4:1

David was in the uttermost distress and, indeed, was almost consumed by a long series of calamities. But he did not sink under his sorrow, nor was he so broken in heart that he could not approach God as his deliverer.

In his prayer, David testifies that, even when he is utterly deprived of all earthly succor, he can still hope in God. Moreover, he addresses his Maker as the God of his righteousness, which is like calling him the vindicator of his right. David appeals to God this way because people everywhere are condemning him. His innocence is besmirched by the slanderous reports of his enemies and the perverse judgments of the common people.

We should carefully note David’s reaction to this cruel and unjust treatment. For while nothing is more painful to us than to be falsely condemned and to endure wrongful violence and slander for doing well, such affliction often daily befalls the saints. It becomes us to learn under such hardship to turn away from the enticements of the world and to depend wholly upon God.

Righteousness is to be understood here as a good cause. David makes God the witness of his own righteousness as he complains of the malicious and wrongful conduct of men toward him. By his example, he teaches us that if our uprightness is not acknowledged by the world, we should not despair because God in heaven will vindicate our cause. Even the heathen know there is no better stage for virtue than a man’s own conscience. But our greatest consolation is to know that, when men vaunt themselves over us wrongfully, we may stand righteous in the view of God and of the angels.

For meditation: What comfort it is to know that we are vindicated in the eyes of God! This knowledge eases the intensity of the pain resulting from false accusations and a tarnished reputation. Remember and emulate David’s reaction the next time that you suffer for the right.

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DA Carson – Esther 4

For narrative simplicity and power, the book of Esther readily captures the imagination. Though by now we are three chapters into it, we can pick up something of both its flavor and its message by reflecting on selected elements of Esther 4.

(1) The book makes its profound theological points by the shape of its restrained narrative. Commentators never fail to observe that not once does the book explicitly mention God. Nevertheless, it says a great deal about God and his providence, about his protection of his covenant people (even when they are far from the land, learning to survive during the exile and throughout the Diaspora), and about their faith in him, even when they are horribly threatened.

(2) The book thus gradually leads us to reflect on the strange circumstances that bring Esther to succeed Vashti as queen, as the consort of the Emperor Xerxes. If the point is overlooked by the careless reader, the chapter before us makes it pretty obvious to all but the most obtuse. “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14), Mordecai asks Esther by the hand of Hathach. Mordecai is not appealing to impersonal fate; he is a devout and pious Jew. But the form of his utterance emphasizes God’s sovereign providence even while implicitly acknowledging that providence is hard to read. God’s people must act responsibly, wisely, strategically in light of the circumstances that play out around them, knowing that God is in control.

(3) Even while Mordecai mourns and wails deeply when he discovers Haman’s plot (4:1–3), he neither descends into fatalism nor loses his faith. Having had time to mull over the wretched threat to his people, he reaches the conclusion (as he puts it to Esther) that, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish” (4:14). Granted that God is faithful to his covenant promises, Mordecai cannot conceive that he would permit the people of God to be destroyed.

(4) True to her upbringing by Mordecai, Esther simultaneously expresses confidence in the living God and avoids the presumption that God’s purposes for her life are easy to infer. She knows that God is there and that he hears and answers importunate prayer. “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa [the capital city], and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do.… And if I perish, I perish” (4:16). While she resolves to do what is right, she acknowledges that she cannot see her own future and commits herself to the grace of God.

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John MacArthur – 1 Cor. 9:16-17

There is a story of an old missionary who was returning home from Africa. He was on the same ship with President Teddy Roosevelt who had been in Africa for a big game hunt. When the ship docked in New York, great crowds greeted the president, but the old missionary and his wife walked off the ship unnoticed.

“It just doesn’t seem right,” said the missionary to his wife in a rather bitter tone. “We give our lives in Africa to win souls to Christ, and when we arrive home, there’s no reward or anyone to meet us. The president shoots some animals and gets a royal welcome.” As they were praying before they went to bed, the missionary sensed that the Lord was saying to him, “Do you know why you haven’t received your reward yet? Because you’re not home.”

That’s what Paul had in mind in his spiritual service. He didn’t want to receive superficial or temporal acclaim. He was willing to wait until he went home—his ultimate home—to receive what God had promised him. Are you willing to wait?

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John Piper

If your “want to” does not conform to God’s “ought to,” what can you do to have peace? I see at least five possible strategies:

1. You can avoid thinking about the “ought to.” This is the most common strategy in the world. Most people simply do not devote energy to pondering what they should be doing that they are not doing. It’s easier just to keep the radio on.

2. You can reinterpret the “ought to” so that it sounds just like your “want to.” This is a little more sophisticated and so not quite as common. It usually takes a college education to do this with credibility and a seminary degree to do it with finesse. (And I believe strongly in both college and seminary!)

3. You can muster the willpower to do a form of the “ought to” even though you don’t have the heart of the “want to.” This generally looks pretty good and is often mistaken as virtue, even by those who do it. In fact, there is a whole worldview that says doing “ought to’s” without “want to’s” is the essence of true virtue. The problem with this is that Paul said, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7, emphasis added), which puts the merely “ought-to givers” in a precarious position.

4. You can feel proper remorse that the “want to” is very small and weak—like a mustard seed—and then, if it lies within you, do the “ought to” by the exertion of will, while repenting that the “want to” is weak, and praying that the “want to” will soon be restored. Perhaps it will even be restored in doing the “ought to.” This is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy hides the absence of the “want to” and pretends it’s there. Virtue confesses the defective desire in the hope that grace will forgive and restore.

5. You can seek, by the means of grace, to have God give the “want to” so that when the time to do the “ought to” comes, you will “want to.” Ultimately the “want to” is a gift of God. “The mind of the flesh is hostile to God … it is not able to submit to the law of God” (Romans 8:7, author’s translation, emphasis added). “The natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God … because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14, author’s translation). “Perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25, emphasis added).

The biblical doctrine of original sin boils down to this (to borrow from St. Augustine): We are free to do what we like, but we are not free to like what we ought to like. “Through the one man’s disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). This is who we are. And yet we know from our own souls and from the Bible that we are accountable for the corruption of our bad “want to’s.” Indeed, the better you become, the more you feel ashamed of being bad and not just doing bad. As N. P. Williams said, “The ordinary man may feel ashamed of doing wrong: but the saint, endowed with a superior refinement of moral sensibility, and keener powers of introspection, is ashamed of being the kind of man who is liable to do wrong” (quoted in Edward Oakes, “Original Sin: A Disputation,” First Things, No. 87, Nov. 1998, 24).

God’s free and sovereign heart-changing work is our only hope. Therefore we must pray for a new heart. We must pray for the “want to”—“Incline my heart to Your testimonies” (Psalm 119:36, emphasis added). “Make glad the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Psalm 86:4). He has promised to do it: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27). This is the new covenant bought by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 8:8–13; 9:15). “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help [us want to do what we ought to do] in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

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