Author Archives: Gary E. Davenport

About Gary E. Davenport

Christian man, husband, father, father-in-law, and granddaddy

Heaven in the Home: God’s Plan for His Family #3 – Wisdom in Family Matters

wisdomProverbs 22:17-21 (NIV)
17  Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach,
18  for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips.
19  So that your trust may be in the LORD, I teach you today, even you.
20  Have I not written thirty sayings for you, sayings of counsel and knowledge,
21  teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to him who sent you?

Luke 8:18 (NIV)
18  Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”

There is a cost to acquiring wisdom, but it’s worth it! It isn’t enough to own a study Bible and read books about the Bible, helpful as they are. It’s one thing to know about the Bible and quite something else to hear God speak through His Word and teach us His wisdom so that we become more like Jesus Christ.

During my years of ministry, I’ve met several people whose knowledge of Scripture was phenomenal, but who failed to manifest the fruit of the Spirit: Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, {23} gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Of these ‘knowledgeable” people, these words speak: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1).

But there’s a positive side to this as well: Wise (and blessed) people don’t waste their time listening to foolishness and lies.

Psalm 1:1-6 (NIV) Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
2  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
3  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
4  Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6  For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Wise people are careful about what they read, what they hear and see, and what they talk about in daily conversation.  They’re diligent to keep trash out of their minds and hearts, because “garbage in” ultimately means “garbage out.” For this reason, they carefully control the radio and television and they are selective in their reading.

Those who are wise profit from rebuke and from advice: Proverbs 9:8-9 (NIV)  Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. 9 Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.

They don’t think so highly of themselves that they can’t learn from others: Proverbs 26:12: “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

We should keep in mind two things:

  1. Life is short
  2. Our eternal existence is greatly influenced by how we live during this short life

It is imperative, then, that we not waste our time through rash and foolish decisions which not only jeopardize our eternal destiny but can also make this life miserable. Life is too short and families grow too fast for us to raise a family through “trial and error”

The value of wisdom is especially seen in family relationships: “He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind.” (Prov. 11:29).

Consider what many people think is most important in providing for a family. Many would say it is the “necessities” of life such as food and clothing, and a place of shelter. Most would feel that other things are also necessary such as the “finer things” (luxuries) for the children, which parents never had as children. A good “education” for the children, so they too can be affluent.

  1. Instilling a fear of the Lord (reverence and awe). Proverbs 15:16: “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and turmoil with it.”

The fear of the Lord provides: Proverbs 16:6: “By loving kindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil.”

  1. Giving them love.

Proverbs 15:17: “Better is a dish of vegetables where love is Than a fattened ox served with hatred.”

Proverbs 27:5: “Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed.”

Providing an environment where love reigns is more important than providing material abundance. Troubled children come from homes where “love” is lacking, not money!

  1. Providing a peaceful family life.

Proverbs 17:1: “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it Than a house full of feasting with strife.”

What can be done to insure adequate material provisions for the family: Be righteous!

Proverbs 20:7: “A righteous man who walks in his integrity– How blessed are his sons after him.”
Today that means putting the kingdom of God first in your life. Then God will watch out for you and providentially see that your needs are adequately met! Children of righteous parents are truly blessed! But parents who fail to put God first go through life without God’s providential help, and their children may suffer as a result!


Inspired wisdom is explicit in the proper use of “corporeal punishment.” Used properly, it is a demonstration of true love.

Proverbs 13:24: “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Proper discipline has proper objectives…

Proverbs 22:15: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”

Proverbs 23:13-14: “Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. {14} You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol.”

Proverbs 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.”

Proper discipline has its rewards

Proverbs 29:17: “Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul.”

Proverbs 19:18: “Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not set your heart on his destruction.”

It is to be applied before the situation gets of out hand (“while there is hope”). It is also to be applied under controlled circumstances (“do not set your heart on his destruction”). i.e., do not put it off until you strike in anger.

There IS a difference between proper “spanking” and “child abuse”! Corporeal punishment should never be a vent for letting off steam. Rather, a controlled use of one method to discourage bad behavior. To be accompanied with love!

These important points:

  • when you discipline your children, you’re acting like God
  • discipline is a function of love, and appropriate punishment is not something done to a child but for the child
  • spanking before 18 months of age is not wise and after 10 years of age is not effective
  • it should be reserved for times of defiant or rebellious behavior
  • when love is abundant at home, proper discipline (even a spanking) won’t be resented

Children are gifts from the Lord but between 15-36 months they don’t want to be restricted in any way. They are the most self-centered, manipulative, and controlling things on the planet…parents must be adults and be in charge

James Dobson: “The proper time to begin disarming the teenage time bomb is 12 years before it arrives. Children thrive best in an atmosphere of genuine love, undergirded by reasonable and consistent discipline. In a day of widespread drug usage, immorality, sexually transmitted diseases, vandalism, and violence, we must not depend on hope and luck to fashion the critical attitudes we value in our children.”

    “In those situations when the child fully understands what he is being asked to do or not to do but refuses to yield to adult leadership, an appropriate spanking is the shortest and most effective route to an attitude adjustment.” (The New Dare to Discipline, page 28, 7, and 60-61)
Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (as implied by the word “nurture”)

Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This allows for the common interpretation in which a child’s outcome is virtually dependent upon his training, especially in spiritual matters. i.e., if the child is brought up right by godly parents, the child “must” turn out all right…so if a child is not a faithful Christian, it must always be a failing of the parents.

The original root word for “train” is the term for “the palate, the roof of the mouth, the gums.” In verb form, it’s the term used for breaking and bringing into submission a wild horse by a rope in the mouth. But the term was also used in the days of Solomon to describe the action of a midwife, who, soon after helping deliver a child, would dip her finger into the juice of chewed or crushed dates, reach into the mouth of the infant, and massage the gums and the palate within the mouth so as to create a sensation of sucking – a sense of taste.

The juice was thought to also have a cleansing agent. They would then place the child into his mother’s arms to begin feeding.

It was a word, used, then, to “describe a thirst.” And when we see this application from the original language, it takes on a whole new meaning for Christian mothers and fathers. We must develop a thirst within our children for God and His church. The idea reminds one of Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” 

The verse can also be translated: “train up a child according to HIS way…” that is, train up a child according to his or her inclinations. The key in developing this thirst is sensitivity – an awareness of our children and what they are and what they need.

Adapt the training of your child so that it is in keeping with his God-given characteristics and tendencies; when he comes to maturity, he will not depart from the training he has received.”

Therefore, this verse, like so many in Proverbs, is simply giving us practical advice in raising our children (without necessarily any spiritual implications). However, I might add that trying to force a child to go against their “aptitude” may encourage a child to rebel in ALL areas of parental influence (including spiritual).


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Posted by on January 16, 2020 in Family


“Heaven In The Home: God’s Plan For His Family” Series #2 – Walking and Talking

goChristWithChild 001

What would you be willing to do for your children? The quick response is “everything…anything.” When they are infants, they literally depend upon their parents for everything!

In Man in the Mirror, Patrick Morley tells of a group of fishermen who landed in a secluded bay in Alaska and had a great day fishing for salmon. But when they returned to their sea plane, they found it aground because of the fluctuating tides. They waited until the next morning for the tides to comes in, but when they took off, they only got a few feet into the air before crashing back into the sea. Being aground the day before had punctured one of the pontoons, and it had filled up with water.

The sea plane slowly began to sink. The passengers, three men and a 12-year-old son of one of the men, prayed and then jumped into the icy cold waters to swim to shore. The riptide was strong, but two of the men reached the shore exhausted. They looked back, and saw the father with his arms around his son being swept out to sea.

The boy had not been strong enough to make it. The father was a strong swimmer, but he had chosen to die with his son rather than to live without him.”

Morley went on to say: “The most important thing my dad ever taught me is that there are more important things than me. My major effort as a parent must be devoted to my children. If they turn out badly, nothing I could do in the public eye would have any meaning.’   

That remind me of Paul’s statement: Romans 9:1-3 (ESV) I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2  that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
3  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

   The Message renders these verses this way: Romans 9:1-3 (MSG) At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. 2  It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it. I’m not exaggerating—Christ and the Holy Spirit are my witnesses. It’s the Israelites… 3  If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute. They’re my family.

Parents give us a sense of self-worth and confidence. It’s advice we can pass on to any parent: Morley: “They always answered my question ‘Do you think I can do it?’ with ‘Of course you can.’ And they were never too busy to give me attention. Even as a teenager, I thought I must be the most entertaining company in the world because my folks loved to be with me–and with each of my siblings. It didn’t occur to me until years later that they chose to spend time with us.”

 There are some Christian homes which are no better than some of the worst of secular homes; affairs there can be in utter chaos and confusion. Instead of orderly, love-filled peaceful homes, they can be battlegrounds from morning to night, arenas of constant bickering and squabbling and fighting and rebellion.

Deuteronomy 6:1-6 (ESV)
1  “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it,
2  that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.
3  Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
4  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
5  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
6  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

That is a word addressed to parents. The place to begin, the place to recover the proper functioning of the home, is with the parents. We must begin to heal ourselves before God in order to heal our children. There is no escape from that. We cannot pass on to them something which we ourselves are not. Parents are models, and children will invariably follow the model.

They will live with us in exactly the same way we have lived with them. So we must begin the correction with ourselves. We must discover and develop our own personhood before we can help our children to discover and develop theirs. That is absolutely essential.

Parents who do not recognize that their first responsibility is to what they are before God, and not to what their children become, will ultimately lose both.

Parents who give everything to their children and ask nothing in return quite unknowingly are teaching their children to expect to have everything done for them, and to give nothing in return. It is no wonder, therefore, that is exactly what so many children expect these days. They have been taught that in the home. So the first step is for parents to begin with themselves.

Now we come to the second step, which is found in the first part of Verse 7 in this great summary passage. Moses said, Deuteronomy 6:7 (NIV) Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

This means that along with, and as a result of, obedience to the first step will come this second step. While you are learning to become a person yourself, as a parent, you will at that same time, and in the same process, pass it along to your children. You don’t wait until you have reached ultimate maturity. None of us ever do that anyway. But what you are learning, and while you are learning it, you are passing along to your children.

Some time ago I came to the realization that every day is hut a miniature of life itself, and that a child needs, every day, what a person needs for his whole life. At the beginning of life our needs are obvious — security, a sense of identity, assurance that we belong in a family. Therefore, parents are tremendously important to a child at the beginning of his life.

It occurred to me that this is true also at the beginning of each day, and that every day ought to start with an expression of security, of identity, of appreciation. So in our home we started greeting one another with a hug the first thing in the morning, the first time we meet for the day — just to say, “I love you and you’re important to me, and you belong here.” And it had been wonderful to watch a sense of trust develop, a sense of relaxation in the feeling of a secure home. That’s what God does with us, and this is what is important in the display of love.

We are preparing our children to live lives independent from us, and that, therefore, the acquisition of all the knowledge they will need must start, at least, in the home. It may be continued in school, but the acquisition of all knowledge starts at home:

  • We want our children to know the names and the natures of things. This is the beginning of science.
  • We want them to know how to count and to reason, and there you have the foundation of mathematics.
  • We want them to learn the relationships of cause and effect — why one thing does this, and another does that — and there you have philosophy.
  • We want them to learn how to enjoy themselves, so there you have the arts and crafts and sports.
  • We want them to learn how to exert their influence properly upon other people, and there you have social sciences coming in.
  • We want them to learn how to use their imagination, which brings up the whole realm of literature and drama.
  • We want them to learn how to behave themselves responsibly, how to take responsibility for their own actions and not to blame them on somebody else, and there you have the humanities.
  • And above everything else — that which no school can ever impart — we want our children to learn how to handle failure and guilt. Nothing plagues human beings more than the sense of failure and the terribly agony of guilt. Therefore, the one thing that Christian parents ought to be responsible for, above all else, is to learn how to handle failure and guilt, and to teach their children how to handle it also.

    There is the story of a woman who came to an authority on child raising and asked him, “Sir, when should I begin to teach my child about God?” He said, “How old is your child?” She answered, “Six.” He said, “Madam, hurry home. You’ve already lost five of the most important years!”

Proverbs 22:6: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Unfortunately, it is a most misunderstood verse. Most people understand this verse to mean, “If you teach your child the way you want him to live, while he is a child, then, when he has grown up, he will not leave that way.” But, unfortunately, that notion is not confirmed by experience.

What the text says literally is, “Train up a child according to his own way.” What it is referring to is the fact that children are basically different. There is a mystery built into every child. And the job of a parent is to discover the particular form of the mystery which is there in each child — and no two children are the same. There is a creative urge built by the Creator himself into every child. It is usually related to one of the five senses. That is,

  • Some children love to see things. They love to look at pictures and to investigate and perceive. They are the ones who become the philosophers and the thinkers, etc.
  • Some children are related more to movement. They love to move and they enjoy the feel of movement. They are the ones who build cars and locomotives and airplanes.
  • Some will relate to smell and taste, and they are the ones who make good chefs.
  • Some like sound, and they become musicians and audio engineers, and so forth.

So what this text is saying is that God has built into every child a uniqueness that is “his/her own way,” and the parents have to find that. And when they find it, and help a child find it, that child will find fulfillment, a fulfillment so rich and full that when he is old he will not leave it. When he has grown up he will have found himself. This is true not only of natural abilities, but of spiritual gifts as well. And the role of a parent is to help him in this discovery.

Here is where love comes in — love which spends time with children, love which watches them, and thinks about them, and leads them out in various exploratory paths to find out what interests them, and what they like, love which gives security and identity, and helps a child find out who he is in an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement. And when these two factors interplay, one against the other — law which regulates, and love which discovers — then, you see, you have the pattern for raising children in a way which will produce God-reliant men and women, able to cope with life the way it was intended to be.

We are going to look at many other concepts as we go along in this series. Some of them will be more specific. Some will teach us how to apply these principles to the various methods of handling the education of children. But I hope we will understand that only as we begin with ourselves, and apply these principles first to ourselves, so that our children can see the changes which are occurring in us, only then can they be passed along to those who are coming behind us.


My hands were busy through the day I didn’t have much time to play

The little games you asked me to I didn’t have much time for you.

I’d wash your clothes, I’d sew and cook but when you’d bring your picture book

And ask me please to share your fun I’d say, “A little later, son.”

I’d tuck you in all safe at night and hear your prayers, turn out the light

Then tiptoe softly to the door I wish I’d stayed a minute more.

For life is short, the years rush past A little boy grows up so fast

No longer is he at your side His precious secrets to confide.

The picture books are put away There are no more games to play no goodnight kiss,

No prayers to hear That all belongs to yesteryear.

My hands once busy now lie still The days are long and hard to fill

I wish I might go back and do The little things you asked me to. –Anonymous

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Posted by on January 9, 2020 in Family


Heaven in the Home Series – Where Do We Begin?

Christ In The Home seriesA question asked by many people in this 21st century is a complex and deeply felt one: is it possible to have a Christ centered home in today’s world of trouble and sin?

If you are a Christian, you are concerned about this problem. Recent studies have listed many issues with which parents must cope today:

— finances (the cost of bearing, clothing, feeding, entertaining and educating children is the greatest in our history)
— working mothers (a majority of American mothers hold jobs out-side the home, many out of necessity)

– drugs, divorce, alcohol, crime, runaways, and abuse.

More than 1.5 million couples were divorced last year. Drugs and alcohol are on the rise among youngsters. The second leading cause of death between ages 14-24 is now suicide, and one child in eight can expect to appear in juvenile court before he turns 18.

It might be of comfort to realize that the world has always been a difficult place in which Christians must live. It has always been opposed to God’s values and God’s will.

Satan longs for the soul of any age person who will reject good, right, and truth and turn to his way of thinking. Christians must daily remind themselves of the clear, simple words of Jesus, from Matthew 7:13-14: “”Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

We might also be encouraged to remember a story recorded in 2 Chronicles 20, which shows a situation similar to the one we face today. Jehoshaphat had some men before him reporting the approach of a vast army, one the size of which his army could not defeat.

He inquired of the Lord his future and God’s answer is recorded for us in 2 Chronicles 20:15-17: “He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.'””

That message is an eternal one! It remains for Christians today who feel the odds against them in this sin-filled world.   

Man’s domestic problems begin when he departs from God’s counsel regarding the home. And this study is vital because our understanding of Christ’s relationship to the church is dependent upon his conception of the home. God is interested in our homes because our spiritual understanding is at stake.

Home Means Different Things To Different People

There are many reasons why people look upon the home in different lights. In the first place, we have all had different backgrounds. Our home training has been varied, the emphases have been placed in many different spots as we have been reared through the years of childhood and adolescence.

It is no wonder that the word “home” means something different to one than to another:

  • we may look upon the home as a place for protection where our simple needs are met
  • it might be a place where we have been taught respect and obedience, where character and service have been taught
  • young married couples view the home as the ideal situation, anticipating their life with optimism and ambition
  • older people define home in terms of memories, and because of their mature minds, they certainly describe it with reality…it takes on a sense of reward and meaning

A truly Christian home is a place where sinners live; but it is also a place where the members of that home admit the fact and understand the problem, know what to do about it, and as a result grow by grace.

It is important that this environment be in place so all members of the family will have a loving, graceful, safe, and warm place in which to grow. It’s vital that we treat each other in the same way Jesus treated His 12 apostles.

As they stumbled and fell and made mistakes, he was patient with them because of one simple point: He knew they were not yet what they would become. We need to “be patient, God’s not finished with me yet!”

Strong Church Families– Case Examples (from actual minister from a large Southern congregation):

ITEM: A sixteen year old boy with this startling confession: “I can’t stand my parents. I hate my dad, I wish he was dead. “

ITEM: A seventeen year old youth With this pleading request: “Can I please talk with you. My parents won’t listen. My dad is an elder. He has time for everyone else, but he doesn’t have time for me. He thinks I don’t have anything worthwhile to say.”

ITEM: A nineteen year old coed on a Christian college campus asks for help. Her problem? For the past six years her father has been involved with her sexually. Her father is supposedly a leader in the Lord’s church.

ITEM: An adolescent, between the ages of 9 and 14, a resident in a children’s home in California, writes a night time prayer for sinners, wherein she prays: “I admit I am very sinful. I had a hard time with the family. Now I have no family. I was starved when I was little.”

ITEM: A college junior relays a sad message: “My parents have just informed me that I can never come home again. I am no longer their daughter. They never want to see me again.”

ITEM: On the afternoon prior to the concluding service of a gospel meeting that evening, a seventeen year old girl that has been attending the meeting, calls with this message and plea: “My mother has just kicked me out of the house. I have no place to go. I wish I were dead. In fact, about a year ago I tried to kill myself. I have been under psychiatric care. Can you help me?”

ITEM: An early morning emergency phone call, an urgent Saturday morning visit to the office and a desperate plea for help from a hurting and frustrated mother is a nearby congregation. Her problem? The night before she had discovered that her husband had been going to their daughter’s bed before coming to hers.

Each of these case examples have a least three major things in common.

  1. They are true . . . they actually happened.
  2. They each suggest some serious problems in the area of parent/child relationships in some homes.
  3. Are you ready for #3 . . . They each involve a supposedly Christian home or environment

They are not the strong families of which strong congregations are built. I am not plowing new ground when I tell you that today many homes and families, in the church and outside the church, are in serious trouble.

  1. No doubt, you know some.
  2. No doubt you have shed tears over some.
  3. No doubt, you will again.

Tragic things are happening in and to homes and families today.

  1. 53% of all marriages end in divorce.
  2. One-half of all children now live with one parent.
  3. 700,000 young people drop out of school annually.
  4. 5,000 to 6,000 young people commit suicide annually.
  5. 40% of all teenage girls become pregnant one or more times before reaching the age of 20.
  6. 52% or youth fatalities are alcohol related.
  7. Child abuse and abandonment are on the rise. In the past several years, there has been a 300% increase in placement of children outside the home.
  8. Homosexual marriages (men marrying men, women marrying women) then wanting to adopt and rear children in such an unscriptural and unwholesome environment.
  9. Abuses (sexual, physical, parental, etc.) running rampant through our society.

Let’s look in detail for a moment at three significant items that make all the difference in the world; (as they are discussed, think of the atmosphere or environment which these will create in the home):

  1. Christians admit their sins.

Because they know the Bible says that no Christian is ever perfect in this life, they are free to admit their sins.

1 John 1:8-10: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

What does it mean to you to know that your boss, parents, etc., can admit when they make a mistake and acknowledge sin? What response do you give to this kind of person? What kind of response is given to the person who thinks they are perfect, who acts like they never do wrong?

Christians are able to acknowledge the fact and, in time, learn to anticipate and prepare for sin. Christians, of all persons, should never rely upon rationalizations, excuses or blame-shifting to try to euphemize their sins.

Because they can admit their sins, there can also be a certain amount of openness, honesty, and relaxation about the relationships that Christians sustain to one another, especially at home. Christians can pour their time and energies into the endeavor to replace sinful patterns with Biblical patterns of life.

Rather than wasting time minimizing or denying the fact of sin, Christians can concentrate on dealing with sin.

  1. Christians know what to do about their sins.

Because they have the Bible as the standard of faith and practice, Christians not only know why problems occur in the home, but they know what to do about them!

Is any sin too big for God? Can any sin be overcome in a loving, forgiving environment? We need to realize that each person in the Bible who stands before us a “great men and women of faith” are average people with sin in their life, which God helped remove.

  1. Christians progress out of their sins.

Where there is spiritual life, there also will be spiritual growth. No Christian may remain the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

A fundamental presupposition of the Christian faith is that there will be growth out of sin into righteousness. Where there is Bible study, prayer and the fellowship of the saints, the Spirit of God will be at work to produce His fruit.

The Christian home, then, is a place where sinful persons face the problems of a sinful world. Yet, they face them together with God and His resources, which are all centered in Christ. Sinners live in the Christian home, but the sinless Savior lives there too! “That is what makes the difference!

What purposes shall we try to achieve in our homes?
The first purpose is the personal development of each family member. This is not to say that one should view his home selfishly and think only in terms of what he can get out of it himself. Each family member experiences personal growth and receives a sense of genuine fulfillment by giving of himself in order to build a happy home.

The second purpose involves the accomplishment of certain social functions of the home. The primary social function is to provide a special companionship for each member of the family. To feel alone and unloved is one of the emptiest feelings on earth. But we must also prepare each member to be part of the larger group of society.

But the third purpose reaches into eternity: we must work toward achieving the spiritual development of the family members. We must never forget that marriage and the home is primarily a spiritual relationship.

We should daily be reminded of the question asked by Jesus in one of his most penetrating sermons, recorded for us in Matthew 16:26-27: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

What qualities of character do we need to possess and demonstrate in our homes in order to fulfill these purposes?

Generally speaking, the development of Christian character is the single most important factor in achieving a successful home. The two marriage partners must desire success in their home, and genuine love is absolutely necessary! Each member of the family must take their differences into account and strive to communicate their feelings to each other.

This also relates to the church family

Paul Tournier once said there are two things one cannot do alone – be married and be a Christian.

The essence of being a Christian is not an extended set of correct doctrinal beliefs or even well-formed personal character. To be a Christian is to be connected to Christ in such a unique and special way that all other relationships are defined by that union. The perfect triune fellowship of God as Father, Son, and Spirit from eternity past has been opened to me by the blood of Jesus at Calvary. But I cannot experience their fellowship in isolation from all others who have been called into it.

Having others around is not a nuisance but a necessity for families. These interactions shape us. We sing and read, stand and bow, laugh and cry. And, yes, we certainly eat and drink together. But we do all these things as a network of friends. A gathering of family members. A church whose identity is not contained in itself but is found in the God who has formed it.

We are the community of the children of God! We carry his spiritual DNA. We bear his name. We have a great inheritance. Awareness of these things makes a difference in how we see ourselves and function in this world.

Perhaps if more of us saw ourselves as children of God rather than members of the church, we would claim a nobler inheritance. If we understood church as persons in relationship rather than names on the roll, we would function differently as the church. If we saw sin as the breaking of relationships rather than the breaking of rules, we would both live better and deal with one another more gracefully.

If we really love God the Father, we will create churches that are communities of love, accountability, and nurture where gradual spiritual transformation takes place over time. We will live gently with one another. Listen to one another’s stories. Teach and learn from one another.


     We pray for the children who …… sneak popsicles before supper… erase holes in their math workbooks and can never find their shoes.

    We pray for the children who …… don’t know how to run down the street in a new pair of sneakers… are born in places where we wouldn’t be caught dead… and, have never been to the circus.

    We pray for the children who …… bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions… hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.

    We pray for the children who …… never get dessert or have a “safe” blanket to drag behind them… watch their parents watch them die… can’t find bread to steal… don’t have any rooms to clean up… don’t have pictures on anybody’s dresser and… whose monsters are real.

    We pray for the children who …… spend all their allowance before Tuesday… throw tantrums in the store and pick at their food… like ghost stories and shove dirty clothes under the bed… never rinse out the tub and get visits from the tooth fairy, and… whose tears we sometimes laugh at and smiles can make us cry.

    We pray for the children who …… whose nightmares come in the daytime… will eat anything and have never seen a dentist… aren’t spoiled by anybody, and… go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep.

     We pray for the children who …… want to be carried and for those who must, and… we never give up on and for those who don’t get a second chance.

    We pray for the children who …… we smother with love and affection and… will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

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Posted by on January 2, 2020 in Article


A study of legalism #3

legalism (1)Legality is a mechanical and external behavior growing out of reliance on self, because of a desire to gain a reputation, display a skill, or satisfy an urge to personal power.

That is legality. It is religious performance, scrupulous and meticulous in its outward form, but, inwardly, as Jesus described it, “filled with dead men’s bones,” {Matt 23:27}. It is relying on self, personality, background, training, and talent or skill instead of the grace of God through the Spirit of God. And it is operating for and on behalf of one’s own personal glory. 

The thing that is appalling to us is to remember that there is no way to cheat in this matter. God knows our hearts. He sees us as we are and he turns off the power immediately when a legalistic spirit is present, even momentarily, in our life. What we do out of that spirit never produces anything of value in the kingdom of God. We can’t fool him. We may fool others, but we can’t fool him. God acts immediately upon the basis of what he has said he would do, and so legality results always in death.

That is why it needs constant evaluation on our part. You can’t live the Christian life and never take a look at yourself.

If you go on week after week, year after year, never examining yourself, never asking, “What kind of a Christian am I? Where am I before the Lord?” you cannot escape a legalistic spirit. We must always be asking, “What kind of attitudes do I manifest? What kind of disposition do I display to others?” You must ask these questions repeatedly. That is why the Scriptures say, “examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith,” {cf, 2 Cor 13:5}. The life of faith requires this.

Furthermore, it requires an openness to the help of others in this respect. Not only are we to examine ourselves, but we are to let others examine us, because it is amazing how little we can see ourselves. At times we can. We all have moments of truth. You know how they feel. Moments of truth come when you are suddenly aware of what you are. But God doesn’t leave us to depend on these alone. He also gives us the rest of the body of Christ to help us. So pay attention to what others say about you — especially if they say it in love and not in harshness. Listen to their appraisal. They may be seeing something that you are not seeing, and it is important to consider and to face honestly what others make clear to us.

We don’t like that, do we? We all want to deal with God directly. We don’t mind his seeing us. We don’t mind his telling us what is wrong because he does it in secret. But it really gets to us when he chooses to use someone else to do it. As Oswald Chambers says:

“God never allows you to choose the scene of your own martyrdom. If you object to the fingers by which he crushes his grapes, you will never become wine poured out to bless the hearts of others.”

So don’t object to them. Allow others to minister to you and to help you with their insights into your life. That is why we need the body.

Well, then, what is the cure of legality? Suppose you find it in your heart — and we all will. If you can go on week after week and never find any evidences of legality in your life you are utterly blind. There is something wrong with you, because legality is there. It is present. It is always waiting to be manifested at any moment of weakness, and there are plenty of moments of weakness, aren’t there? But what do you do with it when you find it?

The Scriptures suggest a very simple and unfailing remedy: Those who are baptized believers (“in Christ”) …repent and believe — that is all. Repent of it. Change your mind about it. Don’t justify it. Don’t excuse it. Don’t call it something else. Don’t try to cover it up and pretend that it is something acceptable.

You may fool the people around you but you won’t fool God. He knows. So repent of it. Admit it. Say so, openly and freely. And then believe that God has already taken care of it, that death need not follow. Commit it to him and out of death will come resurrection; from death will come life. The moment you acknowledge the death, the resurrection immediately follows — always. God brings to life that which would otherwise be barren and dead. That is the secret of handling legality.

How much grief we would be spared in our lives if we gave people the same liberty we expect for ourselves. We don’t want somebody else to tell us how to dress in order to come to church.

There is no rule in the Bible that says you must wear shoes to church or anything of the sort. I know this is not a problem with us any longer, but there are plenty of places where it is. And I am sure that we have lingering moments of other kinds of legalism. But I am not trying to judge anyone, I simply want to say, “Let’s look at the legalistic attitudes we find within us and judge them in the light of the Word, because legality is death.” Legality is hypocrisy. Legality is phony Christianity. It is a false way to trying to appear right, and, therefore, it is a stench in the nostrils of the God of truth who loves to have people be honest and true as he made them to be. (borrowed)

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Posted by on December 26, 2019 in legalism


A study of legalism #2

LegalismOur study continues on the subject of legality, or legalism. There is much misunderstanding on this subject by many.

First, one form of legality is to have the wrong standard. Legality then becomes making unwarranted or unnecessary demands on yourself or on someone else, especially in areas which are not prohibited in the Scriptures. That becomes legality.

There is a standard which is prescribed. As I have mentioned, the Law of God never changes and it is always right, always applicable and relevant to a Christian. For instance, it is always wrong to murder, or to lie, or to steal, or to commit adultery, or to covet your neighbor’s things. These are always wrong. They are never right. There is no way ever of justifying them.

But there are other areas in which we are given a great deal of personal liberty, and it is legalism to make standards (particularly for someone else) in these areas. Here we must be careful, because, for ourselves, it is proper to set standards or rules which apply to us. When we have difficulty with some situation, or we discover a weakness within ourselves, it is wise to make a rule for our own protection:

“I will not go to bars because I have a weakness toward alcohol and I believe it is something I should avoid. I tend to lose control and get drunk, therefore I won’t go there.” That may be a perfectly proper rule for your life.

“I find myself easily inflamed by pornographic literature,” you may say, “therefore, I won’t read that kind of stuff…plus it is wrong. I find myself sexually aroused to the point where I want to do the wrong thing, so I won’t read literature or go to movies which do that to me.”

It is right to set these kinds of rules and limitations upon yourself. And you will find they will change as you grow as a Christian.

But legality comes in when a group of Christians makes rules for each other, or for anybody else. That is what is wrong. That becomes legalism. We may sit down and explain a situation to somebody and ask him, “Would you agree to observe this standard of behavior if you work or study with us?” If he says “Yes,” then he has agreed, and has adopted the rule for himself. But the Scriptures are careful not to command behavior in certain areas.

When the Corinthians wrote to Paul they asked, “What about these Christians who are eating meat offered to idols?” A group of them were upset about this and they wrote to the apostle, saying, “We don’t think that is right; to us that is demon worship.”

But Paul wrote back and said, “Now be careful!” He said, in effect, “It would be the easiest thing in the world for me, as an apostle, simply to say, ‘Yes, you are right, don’t eat meat offered to idols,’ but I am not going to say that. What I am going to say is that here is an area where each man must be fully persuaded in his own mind. You can’t make rules for each other, and you have to honor a weaker brother’s conscience. If he is troubled by a certain action then don’t flaunt your liberty in his presence, but be careful of one another and love each other.”

So it becomes legality for Christians to levy standards of achievement or behavior or spirituality upon others. Today this involves matters concerning clothing styles, length of hair, certain demands of ritual observance — like whether you may cut your lawn on Sunday or not, whether or not it is right to eat meat on Friday, food and behavior restrictions — all these things become legality when they are legislated upon somebody else.

These are areas in which we are left free to be guided by our conscience, instructed by the Word of God in general principles. We are free to counsel one another, and help one another, but not to legislate. It is wrong, absolutely wrong, to do so. It becomes legality when we make unwarranted demands upon others in an area not prohibited by Scripture. This focuses upon the what of an issue, what it is you are supposed to do, and you can be legalistic at this point.

A second form of legalism (and it is the same basic thing, even though it takes another form) has to do with the power upon which you rely in order to act. Legalism is also the making of quite proper demands, but making them on those who have no awareness of the proper power it takes to fulfill them. That becomes a very subtle form of legality because it is always based on a proper demand. It is in the realm which Scripture authorizes — thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not lie, and so on — a moral code which is approved of in the Scriptures. But even in that area it is wrong to make a demand upon someone who doesn’t understand the power by which it is to be met. It becomes legality.

Do you see how subtle this can be? The actual behavior can be exactly the same in the case of a legalist or of one behaving as an authentic Christian. They both may be real Christians and their behavior may be exactly the same, but one is legalistic and the other is not. It is what is going on inside that is the issue in question. It is a matter of inner reliance. What are you reckoning on to meet this demand? Are you counting on your ability, your own adequacy, your talent, your personality? Is that what you are reckoning on in order to accomplish what is expected of you? Well, if you are reckoning on anything other than the activity of God at work in you, you are a legalist!

We all do this from time to time. Who has not found himself falling back into some form of reckoning upon himself — either his ability (to try to show someone what he can do) or his inability (to use as an excuse). If you do this you immediately become a legalist. This is focusing now on the how you are going to do something. The most widespread form of legality in the Christian church is the flesh — trying to do something before God which will be acceptable to him.

The flesh is the old life, the natural life inherited from Adam, with its apparent resources of personality, of ancestry, of commitment, of dedication, and so forth. You can do all kinds of religious things in the flesh. The flesh can preach a sermon. The flesh can sing in the choir. The flesh can act as an usher. The flesh can lead people to Christ. Did you know that? The flesh can go out and be very zealous in its witnessing and amass a terribly impressive list of people won to Christ, scalps to hang on a belt. The flesh can do these things but it is absolutely nauseating in the eyes of God. It is merely religious activity. There is nothing wrong with what is being done, but what is terribly wrong is the power being relied upon to do it. That is legality.

That is why, in any Christian activity, you have to be careful that your inner reliance is on God, and not on you. Otherwise it comes out all wrong and makes all the difference between heaven and hell, life and death. You can do exactly the same thing that someone else is doing, and, if you do it with a sense of reliance on anything other than the Spirit of God, what they do will bless people but what you do will curse them. It is the very same action, absolutely the same. What you do one moment, trusting in God’s Spirit, will bless people and strengthen them and bless your own life and enrich and fulfill it, but the very next moment you can do exactly the same thing in the power of the flesh, and it will be damaging and destructive and hurtful to others and to you. That is why you need to recognize the subtlety of all this and to be aware that God looks not at the outward appearance, as man does, but at the inner heart. What is going on inside is all-important to God.

It is paramount that we understand that. Because other Christians around you approve of what you are doing is no sign at all that what you are doing is acceptable to God. What you are doing must be done out of a reliance on the power he provides or else it is nauseating, religious hypocrisy, in his sight, and it will ultimately prove to be that in the eyes of others as well.

Now let’s move to the third area. You can go wrong in the motive which moves you to do things. Legality is also the fulfilling of external requirements for reasons of self-exaltation or personal merit. Here we are focusing on the why of what you do. You must be right in what you do, how you do it, and why you do it.

Why do you do things? Are you trying to build a reputation for yourself? Do you want a name as a spiritual Christian? — and so you let it be known how many Bible verses you memorize each week, how many hours you spend in prayer, and how much you give to the missions.

That is exactly on a par with the religion of the Pharisees. This is what Jesus is highlighting in the Sermon on the Mount — men who love to be seen before men instead of being content to be visible only to the God and Father who sees in secret. If what is motivating you is a desire to gain preeminence, some prominence as a Christian, if you long to have your name blazoned before others, published around the world, known here and there, and if you love to table-hop at Christian conventions (believe me, I know plenty about this in my own heart), this is legality. It is a stench in the nostrils of God. It will end up producing only death in your life and increasing the shame and reprobation of Christianity before the world.

Of course, combinations of these failures are possible. You can be wrong at two points as well as one, or at all three — and then you are really a legalist! You can be an obvious legalist as well as a subtle one. But it is all legality. It is what the Scriptures fight unstintingly and what the enemy is clever to cover over and make look like something good.

Now we are ready to attempt a definition of legality which I hope will fit all the circumstances we have looked at. (more to come)

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Posted by on December 19, 2019 in legalism


A study of legalism #1


Ancil Jenkins (a fellow servant for several years in South Florida) shared this illustration:  ‘Fasten your seat belt,’ I said to my wife, Elaine. ‘It is the law, you know.’ As she fastened her seat belt, I thought, ‘Dummy, that is not the reason you want her buckled up. You want her protected from the harm of any accident you might drive her into.’

How shallow would be my concern if I was more in fear of paying a fine than in her being seriously hurt!

“How much this can describe our approach to our obedience to God! Almost all we do is from mixed motives. Yet which motive is overriding? Do we obey because we fear God’s wrath and judgment? Do we feel He will break our leg or burn down our house if we disobey? Do we feel that Christianity is just a set of rules to be obeyed and our satisfaction comes from doing a good job of keeping rules?

“The result of such an attitude will only breed fear and guilt. Fear comes from any failure to obey, and there will be such failure. Guilt comes from many sources, such as finding there was a law you had been failing to obey. Any failure at perfect obedience can lead to regarding some laws as more important than others. All this can lead to a disregard of others who do not keep laws as well as we do (Luke 18:1). It can lead us to giving more attention to the minute details and neglecting the major virtues God desires us to have (Matt. 23:23). We become ridiculous gnat strainers and camel swallowers (Matt. 23:24).

“We should obey God because we love Him. We obey because He has done so much for us and we have done so little for Him. We obey because love is never content to accept but must always give. Jesus said, ‘If you love Me, you will do what I command’ (John 14:15). We then come to realize that our disobedience not only breaks the laws of God, it also breaks the heart of God. How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness and grieved Him in the desert! (Ps. 78:40).

“Such obedience is far fuller, richer, and freer than can ever come from a legal motivation. Imagine a woman who is a nurse and a mother. She may work at a hospital all day caring for the sick. When she has worked eight hours, she goes home. Upon arriving home, she finds her child is seriously ill. She will then give her child the same care she gives the hospital patients. However, when she has cared for her child for eight hours, she will not quit. She gives care no one can buy. The difference is the motivation.

“What is your major motivation? Seek to know God better, and you will find yourself obeying out of love. It will become ‘richer, fuller, deeper’ and will become ‘sweeter as the years go by.’ “

We want to begin a study of legality, or legalism.

There is much misunderstanding on this subject by many. We tend to think that everybody else has it, but that we don’t. We often treat it like the common cold. We don’t understand what it is or how to cure it, but almost everyone suffers from it, and we find it to be very highly contagious.

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to liken it to hay fever, since I see that some of you are joining me in a chorus of snuffing and sniffling and wheezy breathing. Legality can be very much like that. It comes upon you and you hardly know what has happened. But there it is. The symptoms are suddenly present and you don’t know what to do with it — certainly not how to cure it — and so you suffer through it, but don’t know what is wrong.

But legality is one of the favorite weapons of the enemy. He loves to get Christians to be legalistic, for then he has destroyed their enjoyment of the Spirit and he can use them to spread havoc among a generation or a company of believers, and ruin a vital, active, and growing Christian group.

The enemy wants us to doubt our relationship with God…to doubt the work of grace in our life…to think we need to ‘earn our way’ in order to be pleasing to God.

That is exactly what happened in Galatia, and is what drew forth the letter to the Galatians from the Apostle Paul.

Here was a group of young Christians who had a fantastic beginning. Their response to the preaching of the apostle was heartwarming. They had given themselves totally to Christ. Paul was greatly enthusiastic about this group of growing young Christians. But, after a while, word came to him that legality had set in, legalism was taking its toll.

What had been a bright and marvelous testimony of the grace and glory of God was being turned into a dull, apathetic group of religionists — cold, barren, and empty, almost devoid of spiritual life.

That is what legality will do. Legalism destroys! It did then, and it does the same thing today. I know of no affliction in Christendom which is more widespread, and more devastating in its destructiveness, than this.

Across the world today many churches are sunken into a pall of boredom and futility largely because of the legalistic spirit which has throttled their spiritual vitality.

Legalism can also be described as false Christianity because that is essentially what it is. It uses Christian language and biblical terms. It sounds evangelical. It loves to use phrases like “evangelism,” “fundamentalism,” “biblical literalism,” and such. It sounds Christian, and looks Christian, but it is emphatically not true Christianity.

It as a spurious fake, an imitation Christianity, an empty, hollow counterfeit of the real thing. It is a burdensome drag upon the spiritual life that creates a sense of bondage and guilt. It is a sickening, nauseating fraud in the eyes of others.

God describes it in the Scriptures as a stench in his nostrils. That is what legality really is. We ought not to be proud of it in any degree although, strangely enough, I find Christians boasting of their legalism. They don’t call it that, but they nevertheless boast in what is in effect a legalistic spirit. But God does not boast of it. He finds it disgusting. Yet it is so widespread.

Why is that? Why should it be so universal? Surely the answer is that the enemy strives diligently to keep us in ignorance as to what legalism really is. We recognize certain forms of it and try to divest ourselves of those, but then we are not aware of other forms of it that are gripping our lives and holding us in bondage. So while we are denouncing legality on one side, as practiced by others, we ourselves are practicing it in another form. Thus it spreads its noxious influence throughout a local Christian body, across the nation, and throughout the entire worldwide church.

How can you recognize legalism? That is the question we want to zero in on. We must first understand that since legality is basically false Christianity, then you can never recognize the false unless you understand the true. That is where I want to start.

What is real Christianity? What is Christianity as the Scriptures set it forth — true Spirit-filled living? Let me attempt a definition:  True Christianity is to manifest genuinely Christ-like behavior by dependence on the working of the Spirit of God within, motivated by a love for the glory and honor of God.

That is the genuine article. You will notice that it has three essential elements, and without all three it becomes legality. If it fails in even one point it is nothing but legality:

First, there is an expected pattern of behavior. There is a law, if you like, a code, to which we are expected to conform. Many Christians make the mistake of thinking that to be free from legalism you must become free from any law whatsoever. Nothing is further from the truth.

The Scriptures never endorse that notion but what we are talking about is not freedom from the Law but freedom from the curse of the Law. That is something quite different.

There always must be law. This is a law-governed universe because the law reflects the character of God. God himself is reality. God is behind all things, and his character is the law which governs everything. Therefore, Christians must always be related to law — the law of the character of Christ, of the law of the Ten Commandments — it is the same thing.

The Ten Commandments simply describe the nature of God’s character. So true Christianity isn’t freedom from the existence of law. There is always a standard, always a code of conduct to be observed. That is essential. But be careful what the standard is! You can go wrong selecting the law. You can be legalistic in the standard you have set.

The second necessary element is a sufficient and adequate power. That is absolutely essential to true Christianity. The whole glory of the gospel comes in right at this point. The good news is that God has given us a sufficient and adequate power, indwelling us, available to us at all times, so that we never have an excuse for not being what we ought to be. In the Spirit of Jesus Christ, indwelling us, we have what it takes — a sufficient and adequate power.

The third essential is a motive which moves us to action — a powerful, compelling hunger for the glory of God, an urge that God be honored and glorified. If I can put all the foregoing in another way, the true Christian life is fulfilling a law by means of a unique power because of an overwhelming desire.

It requires: An outward standard or code of behavior, An inward power which makes it possible to meet it, and A motive which drives us on to do so.

But it takes all three. You cannot manifest genuine Christianity without all three. If it fails at any one point it immediately becomes legality. The other two can be perfect and yet it still will be legality. You can go wrong at any one of three places.


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Posted by on December 13, 2019 in legalism


Why Jesus Hates Legalism – Luke 11:37-54

There is probably no sin more tolerated or more widespread in the Christian world than legalism. It may surprise you to hear it labeled as sin. Legalists are thought to be a bit overzealous or “uptight,” but they aren’t usually thought of as sinning in the same sense as adulterers, thieves, liars, and the like. To the contrary, legalists seem to be concerned about holiness.

Yet the Lord Jesus had more conflicts with the legalists of His day than any other group. It wasn’t the adulterers, the robbers and that sort, who put Jesus on the cross. It was the legalists. Later on, the Apostle Paul had the same experience, as the legalists dogged his steps, perverting the gospel of the grace of God.

When you study the life of Christ, it is noteworthy how He deliberately did things to provoke the legalists. He could have healed people on any other day of the week, but He often did it on the Sabbath. He could have been more discreet in violating the Pharisees’ rules, but He did it openly. When a Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner, He could have gone along with their elaborate hand-washing custom, but He deliberately ignored it. When they questioned Him about it, He could have been more polite, but He blasted them for their hypocrisy. When a lawyer pointed out that Jesus had offended them as well, He didn’t say, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to offend you good folks.” He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well!” Jesus confronted legalism as sin.

And yet many Christian churches today are riddled with legalism, but the ministers are too “nice” to stand up to the legalists and say, “You’re not going to do that in this church!” The evangelical church today is plagued by “niceness.” Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that to be like Jesus means always being nice, never offending anyone, never confronting anyone. But clearly, if we want to be like Jesus, we must confront sin. And, legalism is sin!

What is legalism? Some erroneously confuse it with an emphasis on obedience. I have been accused of being legalistic because I preach that we must obey God’s Word. But every book of the Bible teaches that we must obey God. Being under grace does not mean that we are free to disobey God.

Others say that legalism is when we set up any man made rules. But there are many areas not specifically addressed in the Bible where we need some rules in order to function as a family or church. Parents are not being legalistic when they set a curfew for their kids. Churches are not being legalistic when they follow certain procedures or practices.

So, what is legalism? Legalism is an attempt to gain favor with God or to impress our fellow man by doing certain things (or avoiding other things), without regard to the condition of our hearts before God. At the root of legalism is the sin of pride, because the legalist thinks that he is able to commend himself to God by his own good deeds. Invariably, he is only looking at externals, not at his heart.

Also, the legalist’s pride motivates him to exalt himself in the sight of others by his outward behavior, again neglecting to see the corruption of his own heart. As such, it is opposed to the gospel of God’s grace. That’s why both Jesus and Paul clashed with the legalists.

The real bottom-line: we never know how we stand before our God!

Jesus hates legalism because it does not deal with the condition of our hearts before God.

Christianity is primarily a matter of the heart. Everything flows from a heart relationship with God, who transforms our hearts when He regenerates us. The Jewish religious leaders seemingly were seeking after God, but in reality they were self-seeking. They didn’t see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. They saw themselves as good people because they kept the Law. But in reality, they didn’t keep the Law because they didn’t apply it on the heart level. Thus, Jesus in effect said that if they would be as careful about clean hearts as they were about clean hands, then they would be what they ought to be.

The structure of our text is that in 11:37-41 we have the setting and overall theme, that legalism puts the emphasis on the external to the neglect of the internal.

Then, in 11:42-44 Jesus pronounces three woes on the Pharisees in which He sets forth some of the specific problems with legalism. At this point, an expert in the Jewish law speaks up in self-defense, pointing out that Jesus’ remarks not only condemn the Pharisees; they also insult the lawyers.

Rather than apologizing, Jesus launches into a series of three more woes on the lawyers (11:46-52). The result was not repentance, but rather increased hostility on the part of the Pharisees and lawyers in an attempt to trap Jesus in something He might say (11:53-54).

The overall theme: Legalism puts the emphasis on the external to the neglect of the internal (11:37-41).

37  While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table.
38  The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.
39  And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.
40  You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?
41  But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.


Before we look specifically at the theme, take note that Jesus accepted social invitations from unbelievers. But, also note that He did not hesitate to confront unbelievers with their sin! He deliberately provoked this confrontation by doing something that surprised His host. But we need to be careful about how we apply this. Jesus was in a cultural context that understood the bold language of the prophets. Also, He is the Lord and as such has both the insight and authority to speak in this manner.

Paul instructs us, “Walk with [NASB, margin] wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:5, 6). The metaphor of salt implies that we can and should be provocative, but we also must speak in a gracious and sensitive manner. But in every social contact with unbelievers, keep your purpose clear. You’re there to be the instrument of the Holy Spirit in convincing the person about sin, righteousness, and judgment, and to proclaim the good news of God’s grace in Christ.

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, ostensibly in an attempt to keep God’s Law, had devised and added hundreds of manmade laws. But in so doing, they had shifted the focus from the heart to the outward man. This included elaborate rituals for washing themselves before meals and for cleansing their dishes and utensils. While there was a basis for these practices in the Book of Leviticus (11:33-34; 15:12), the Pharisees had taken them far beyond what God intended. Jesus uses this practice to confront the main issue.

Religion apart from God is always trying to fix the outer man to look good to other men, but it neglects the fact that the Lord looks on the heart. Jesus (11:39) confronted the Pharisees with the fact that although they went to great lengths to clean their cups and platters, they neglected to cleanse their hearts, which were full of robbery and wickedness. The Pharisees despised those who were openly sinful, but God looks not only at the outward person, but also on the heart. Inwardly, the Pharisees were greedy and wicked. Jesus compares this to washing the outside of a bowl and then eating out of it, even though the inside was filthy! The God who made the outside made the inside as well. Genuine religion is a matter of the heart, not just of external compliance.

The meaning of verse 41 is debated, but Jesus seems to be saying that if we deal with our hearts before God, then everything that flows outward is clean. As J. C. Ryle explains, “Give first the offering of the inward man. Give your heart, your affections, and your will to God, as the first great alms which you bestow, and then all your other actions, proceeding from a right heart, are an acceptable sacrifice, and a clean offering in the sight of God” (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:48-49).

Then Jesus launches into the three woes on the Pharisees:

1. The first woe: Legalism majors on minors and minors on majors (11:42).

42  “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

      The Pharisees were meticulous about giving a tenth to God to the degree that they even tithed their spices! (Rue is a strong-scented herb.) While Jesus upheld the obligation of tithing (Lev. 27:30 was used to support the tithing of spices), He condemned them for neglecting the weighty part of the Law, namely, justice and the love of God. As He elsewhere affirmed, the love of God and the love of neighbor sum up the entire Law (Matt. 22:37-40). But the Pharisees would cleverly tell even their parents that they could not help them financially because their money had been devoted to God (Mark 7:11). Technically, they were tithing, but practically, they were neglecting to love their own parents!

Modern day legalists also major on the minors and minor on the majors. Some churches and Christian parents put major attention on rules about petty issues, such as dress codes or certain activities, but they tolerate serious sins, such as gossip, greed, and pride. If we shun people because of how they look, or over certain behaviors that, according to the Bible, are not major, we are guilty of the sin of the Pharisees.

2. The second woe: Legalism focuses on self-glory (11:43).

43  Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
Jesus next condemns the Pharisees because they loved the front seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. They loved to have people notice how important they were! It made them feel good to be addressed as the Reverend Doctor So-and-so. But pride was at the root of it. They were focused on their own glory, not on God’s glory. Pride is at the heart of legalism; humility is at the heart of true Christianity.

The legalist can take pride in himself and his attainments because he is looking at outward matters, not at issues of the heart. He doesn’t acknowledge that his heart is just as sinful as the heart of the prostitute or robber. If he had been reared in their circumstances or had encountered the problems in life they had faced, he would have engaged in the same behavior, because he had the same heart of lust and greed. No, he sees himself as a notch above these sinners. He has attained a righteous life by his own hard work and discipline. The legalist is puffed up with pride.

Scripture declares that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). One sure mark of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts is that we see ourselves as terrible sinners in the sight of God. We see that we deserve His judgment because of our pride, selfishness, and rebellion. Rather than comparing ourselves with others and concluding that we are basically good, we compare ourselves with God and conclude that no good thing dwells within us. Thus convicted of our great need, we flee to the cross for mercy. But legalists don’t like the message of the cross, because it confronts their pride.

3. The third woe: Legalism subtly corrupts others (11:44).

44  Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
     Jesus compares the Pharisees to concealed tombs. If a Jew came in contact with a tomb or a dead body, he was ceremonially unclean for seven days (Num. 19:11-22). The picture behind these ceremonial laws was that sin leads to death and that the contamination of sin and death spreads to others if it is not dealt with. The Jew who became contaminated by contact with a dead body had to take responsibility for cleansing through the ashes of a red heifer and ritual washing (Num. 19:1-11). Here, Jesus accuses the Pharisees, who were meticulous about such laws of cleanliness, of defiling the Jewish nation through their own spiritual death! The charge must have shocked them!

The application is that the sin of legalism contaminates unsuspecting people. It turns off unbelievers and keeps them from the truth of the gospel, because they can see the hypocrisy of the legalists. It contaminates young believers, who are mistakenly taught that if they do certain things and do not do other things, they will grow in holiness and be pleasing to God. But invariably, the things that they are told to do and not do are not the important issues of the Bible, such as the love of God and neighbor (as summed up in the Ten Commandments). Rather, they are petty things, often things that Scripture does not directly command.

One reason many kids who grow up in Christian homes later reject the faith is that the parents and the church have been shot through with legalism. Instead of the joy of knowing God and of having our sins forgiven through His grace, the focus was on the rules and the outward conformity that had to be maintained so that everyone else would think that the kids (and parents) were good Christians. I’m not saying that Christian homes should not have any rules. But the emphasis in our homes and church should be on the joy of knowing God. As Paul says, “the kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

At this point, an expert in the Jewish Law who was at the dinner spoke up. Probably he thought that this young rabbi did not grasp the full implication of His words. He was not only indicting the Pharisees; His scathing words also insulted the lawyers and the entire Jewish religious leadership. But rather than apologizing or backing down, Jesus laid into the lawyers with three more woes:

4. The fourth woe: Legalism burdens people with peripheral commandments (11:46).

46  And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
    The lawyers had taken the commands of Scripture and had multiplied them into hundreds of minute adaptations. But, like lawyers in every age, they had also come up with legal loopholes that enabled them to skirt around their own rules, while the average guy was still burdened with them. For example, on the Sabbath the lawyers determined that you could only travel 1,000 yards from your home. But if a rope was tied across the end of the street, the end of the street became his residence and he could go 1,000 yards beyond that. Or, if before the Sabbath a man left at any given point enough food for two meals, that point technically became his residence and he could go 1,000 yards beyond that.

On the Sabbath, you couldn’t tie a knot, because that was work. But a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So if you needed to draw water out of the well on the Sabbath, you couldn’t tie a rope to the bucket, but you could tie a woman’s girdle to the bucket! (These examples are in William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke [Westminster Press], p. 158.)

The Sabbath laws were given for our benefit, so that we would set aside one day in seven for worship and rest. I believe that modern Christians err by throwing out the entire Sabbath principle. Most Christians treat Sunday just like every other day. But some err by coming up with specific lists of what you can and cannot do on the Lord’s Day. The main issue is our heart before God. We are to honor Him one day each week by ceasing from our normal routine and worshiping Him.

Legalism burdens people with peripheral issues and rules. Biblical holiness frees people by pointing them to the beauty of God’s holiness and love. As 1 John 5:3 states, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” When we obey out of a heart of love for God, even though it is not always easy, it will always result in great joy and blessing.

To summarize, Jesus is elaborating on the theme that legalism puts the emphasis on the external to the neglect of the internal. He has shown that it majors on minors, it focuses on self-glory, it subtly corrupts others, and it burdens people with peripheral rules.

5. The fifth woe: Legalism dodges the personal application of God’s holiness, but pretends outwardly to honor it (11:47-51).

47  Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed.
48  So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.
49  Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’
50  so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation,
51  from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.
     The religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not submit their lives personally to the message of the Old Testament prophets, but they built monuments to them to make it look as if they honored them. But Jesus lumps the current leaders with their ancestors who killed the prophets. He is saying that the current leaders are finishing off the job that the earlier generations started. As in all the other woes, the underlying problem is that though outwardly they act as if they honor the prophets, inwardly they do not repent of the very sins which the prophets condemned.

When Jesus refers to the wisdom of God (11:49), He is not quoting any specific Scripture, but rather is summarizing and personifying all of God’s wisdom as revealed through the prophets. Abel was the first man to die because his righteousness convicted his brother of his evil deeds. In the arrangement of the books in the Hebrew Bible, Zechariah was the last prophet to be killed (2 Chron. 24:20-25). Jesus is saying that the blood of all the righteous men who were martyred in the Old Testament would be charged against this current wicked generation, because they rejected God’s revealed wisdom about their sin. This may point to the awful judg­ment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or it may also include the final judgment. The point is, legalists don’t apply God’s holiness to their hearts; they just put on an outward show of honoring it.

6. The sixth woe: Legalism misses the true knowledge of God and misleads those who seek to know Him (11:52).

52  Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”
     The key of knowledge refers to the personal knowledge of the living God through His revealed Word. As Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). True religion is a matter of knowing God personally and growing in that relationship with Him. Legalism is a matter of going through rituals and of keeping rules, but it’s devoid of the personal knowledge of God.

In many well-meaning but legalistic Christian homes, parents mistakenly think that the way to keep their teenagers in line is to lay down and enforce a lot of rules. But the way to keep your teenagers in line is to lead them to a personal knowledge of the Holy One. He’s with them when you cannot be there. If they truly know Him and know the great love of Christ who gave Himself for their sins, they will want to please Him, beginning on the heart level. As our kids grow in their walk with God, we should be able to ease up on the number of rules, not impose more. Our goal is to get each child to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ, in a growing personal relationship with Him. Legalism takes an external approach; biblical Christianity focuses on the heart relationship.

53  As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54  lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

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Posted by on December 6, 2019 in legalism

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