1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
Where do we turn when we’re down? To all who sense their deep need for help, Psalm 40 speaks volumes of relief. In this Psalm, David expresses his gratitude for God’s rescue; he had waited on the Lord (1) and had been helped by him. He describes his desperate situation as being in a “miry bog” (2a), an image sufficiently vague enough to have a wide application. The metaphor of being stuck in a slimy swamp suggests disgust and helplessness. Whatever his actual situation was, David had not just escaped the miry bog, but found himself on solid ground (2b).
Secure once again, David immediately finds occasion to praise God (3a) which flows outward from him to others (3b). What is this “new song” of “praise” which God had given him?
“New song” language is especially common in the Psalms (see Psa. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1). When David says, “He put a new song in my mouth,” it is as if he is saying, “God, you have done something so wonderful for me that none of the songs I know can adequately express this new blessing!” When Scripture speaks of a “new song,” it marks the beginning of some fresh blessing. God has done something new and unexpected, something that breaks our notions of what we thought was possible. With the new blessing, comes a new song expressing our wonder and praise.
There is a “new song” which stands above the rest. In Revelation 4-5, God is depicted in colorful metaphor as the sovereign Creator. All the spiritual beings bow in his presence and cast their crowns before him acknowledging their utter dependence on him. They come together and sing that God is worthy of all glory because he created all things and by his will all things exist (Rev. 4:11).
Once the stage has been set with God’s glory at the center, the drama unfolds in chapter 5. In God’s right hand is a scroll sealed with seven seals which contain all of his plans for redemption and judgment. But his plans can’t be enacted until the seals are broken (Rev. 5:1). For example, the last will and testament of Emperor Vespasian was sealed with seven seals as well. And because no one had the authority to open them, his will had to go into probate court so the seals could be broken and his will put into effect.
In Revelation, a mighty angel challenges the entire universe, asking who is worthy to approach God to take the scroll and break the seals so that his will can be done (Rev. 5:2). But no one is found who is worthy. And John weeps because God’s justice and blessing can’t go forth (Rev. 5:3-4). But then one of the elders tells John to stop crying. “Look, the Lion of tribe of Judah has prevailed!” (Rev. 5:5)
John looked and saw a Lamb (apocalyptic literature loves to mix its metaphors; the Lion is the Lamb — Lion: majestic/royal/powerful; Lamb: sacrificial/innocent, yet having seven horns, embodying complete kingly power). Because the Lamb-Lion takes the scroll, he prevails to bring about all of God’s purposes for judgment and blessing. Therefore, everyone present sings a “new song.” But it is no longer the song from chapter 4, praising God for creation. Instead, it is a song addressed to Christ (see Rev. 5:9-14).
We have all tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psa. 34). And we have songs to express our praise. But when we go through some new agonizing situation and God pours out his grace in a fresh, unexpected way, he gives us a “new song” to sing. But all our new songs will have the same focus: Jesus, the Lamb who was slain to ransom us and make us a kingdom of priests to reign with him forever!
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect
1 Peter 3:15
What does it mean to “give an answer” (NIV) or “make a defense” (NASB/ESV) for the hope within us? The word “answer/defense” comes from a Greek word from which our English “apologetic” is derived. But giving one's apologetic does not mean apologizing for one’s faith. An apologetic is a verbal a defense (Acts 22:1; 25:16; 2 Tim. 4:16), a reasoned argument (1 Pet. 3:15) or a legitimate excuse (Rom. 1:20). It entails explaining the reason we have hope within us. But even more than this, the aim of our apologetic is to persuade others to seize that hope for themselves.
For example, when Paul was in custody at Caesarea, he said, “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews” (Acts 26:2). Now notice Agrippa’s response after he had heard Paul’s “defense”: “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28) He understood that the goal of Paul’s “defense” was not merely to exonerate himself from the spurious accusations of the unbelieving Jews, but to persuade Agrippa to turn to Christ. This is the command that Peter is giving us. We are to be ready to explain the “reason” for our hope and persuade others to lay hold of it too.
Peter not only expects every Christian to be equipped to answer the question, “Why are you a Christian?” but he also assumes unbelievers will ask. On the surface, that sounds pretty easy. We just follow Jesus and get ready for people to walk up to us and say, “You have such hope within you. I want to have that hope too! Can you please sit down with me and explain it?”
While this scenario is possible, this is not at all what Peter is talking about. Peter wrote to an exiled people (1:1, 17) who had “been grieved by various trials” (1:6). Like Jesus, they had been “rejected by men” (2:4), spoken of against by “evildoers” (2:12), and suffered unjustly (2:19) sharing in the Lord’s “sufferings” (4:13).
Even the immediate context of verse 15 won’t allow a painless evangelism. The previous verse (14) speaks of suffering “for righteousness’ sake” and the following verse (16) mentions being “slandered” and “reviled” for Jesus' sake. Therefore, Peter is teaching us to be ready to defend our hope in the face of hostile, unbelieving, incredulous people. We must be ready to explain our hope when we are attacked for what we believe or how we live. We must be willing to risk rejection, loss of reputation, and persecution.
Instead of hearing, “Wow, you are such a hopeful person. What makes you so different?” it is much more likely to hear, “The way you live offends me, and your beliefs are ridiculous. Why would anyone believe the Bible? You Christians are so intolerant!” In the face of such hostility we will be tempted to stay quiet or alter the message to avoid the pain or even to strike back. But Peter teaches us to be ready to respond clearly, gently, and respectfully.
Jesus sent out his disciples as sheep among wolves (Mt. 10:16). Have we forgotten that? Evangelism isn’t easy. Evangelism means knocks. But those knocks just make us look more like our King and give others a chance to hear the saving gospel. The costs of evangelism are relatively “light and momentary” compared with the “eternal weight of glory” laid up for us (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
How do we persevere when evangelism is painful? “In you hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,” that is, allow Jesus to rule unconditionally on the throne of your heart. Only when Jesus is given complete control of our lives, can we truly be free to give our defense of the gospel without any fear (1 Pet. 3:14).
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:17-19
The topic of wealth was often on Jesus’ lips. But the Lord was concerned with its use and how it is viewed rather than the mere possession of it. In the kingdom, it is not a crime to be wealthy. Wealth can be a blessing from God (Deut. 28:1-8), but it does come with both responsibilities and warnings. Wealth is deceitful (Mt. 13:22). Therefore we are not to “trust” in it for security (Lk. 12:19), but to use it in God-honoring and neighbor-loving ways.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he warned those who were poor “but desire to be rich” about the dangers of the “love of money.” The lowly Christian is to be content with having his basic needs met (1 Tim. 6:6-10) and “boast in his exaltation” in Christ (Jas. 1:9) finding his sufficiency in him (Phil. 4:10-13).
But lest those Christians in Ephesus who were “already rich in this present age” feel condemned simply for being wealthy, Paul instructs and comforts them (1 Tim. 6:17-19). In this section, he puts wealth into perspective and teaches us several simple lessons about how we are to view and use our wealth as Christians.
Live for the future — In Jesus, the rich and the poor alike have “tasted… the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5). We have learned that earthly wealth belongs to “this present age” and is, therefore, uncertain and temporary (1 Tim. 6:17; 1 Jn. 2:17; Prov. 23:4-5). For those living for the future, material gain is irrelevant and therefore greed is irrational (1 Tim. 6:7; cf. Job 1:21; Ecc. 5:15). The rich young man’s downfall was his attachment to the wealth of this age (Lk. 18:18-23). In that same context, Jesus promised that those willing to forsake all to follow him would receive eternal life “in the age to come” (Lk. 18:29-30). It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom but what is impossible for us is possible with God (Lk. 18:27).
Hope in the Lord — We live for the future by setting our hope on God, “who richly provides us with everything” (1 Tim. 6:17). We are not to be “haughty” nor place our hope in money. The rich fool believes his surplus will provide him with rest and security (Lk. 12:13-21). The wealthy wise finds his rest and security in God (Jer. 9:23-24) and lays up “treasure in heaven” (Mt. 6:19-21). But how?
Give with generosity — Paul says to be “rich in good works” and “ready to share, thus storing up treasure.” True wealth is found in giving, not having or getting (Acts 20:35). However, “storing up treasure” is not buying shares in heaven or paying God off. Rather, generosity with earthly wealth is evidence that one is hoping in God, living for the future, and laying “hold of that which is truly life.”
Enjoy with thanksgiving — Wealth is also meant to be “enjoyed” as a gift and an expression of God’s generosity: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:1-5; Ecc. 5:8-20; Col. 2:20-23). Enjoyment is not self-indulgence (Mt. 23:25; 1 Tim. 5:6; Jas. 5:5) when it is connected with sincere gratitude and generosity. Enjoyment of “everything” as God’s generous gift leads away from pride and false security to the freedom of being generous ourselves.
The poor and the rich are united in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Poorer Christians should never resent their wealthier brothers and sisters. Likewise, wealthy Christians should never be haughty (Jas. 1:9-10), but should put their trust in God, use their wealth for good, and enjoy what God has richly provided them with.
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
The book of Acts shows us, among many other things, the wide response to the gospel in the first century. Luke’s record describes how people came to believe and follow Jesus Christ, giving us an invaluable pattern today. Though each situation is unique there are several elements which are always present when a person is converted: someone is preaching the good news while someone is listening to it with God at work in the process.
Take the conversion of Lydia. Paul preached, Lydia listened, and “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) The preacher, the message, the listener and God all worked together resulting in Lydia’s salvation.
Hearts are opened by God — God is the initiator and author of salvation. He is at work opening hearts and minds (cf. Lk. 24:45), drawing sinners to himself for salvation (Jn. 3:5; 6:44; 12:32). The Lord promised that when the Holy Spirit would come, he would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn. 16:8) How does God affect hearts like that today?
God opens hearts through the gospel — Salvation comes through the message of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 2 Thess. 2:14). People believe the gospel when it comes to them “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” (1 Thess. 1:5) As Paul preached to Lydia, God’s Spirit was working on her heart through the gospel to convict and convert her.
God opens hearts through preaching — For Lydia to have heard the saving message in the first place necessitated a messenger (Rom. 10:13-17). While God was at work in the process, this in no way lessened Paul’s responsibility to preach and persuade Lydia to receive the gospel (2 Cor. 5:20; 6:1; cf. Ezek. 3:16-27).
God opens hearts through love not coercion — God’s activity in no way removed Lydia’s responsibility to “repent and believe the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15) We mustn’t mistakenly pit God’s activity over against human responsibility in regard to salvation. Scripture teaches that the two work in concert. In God’s wisdom, he has devised a way to save us while not overriding our will in the process. The door of Lydia’s heart was not pried open. Jesus does not barge in uninvited; he lovingly knocks on the door of our heart (Rev. 3:20).
In the gospel, God both proves his love and calls us to love (1 Pet. 1:22-25). This life of love we are called to is a gift we may accept or reject (Rom. 6:23). Since love cannot be coerced, God gives us the dignity of choice (Josh. 24:15; Deut. 30:19). Making this gift available to all ensures that those who ask, receive, those who seek, find, and those who knock, it will be opened to them (Mt. 7:7-8).
The human choice of obedience works in cooperation with God resulting in salvation (Acts 16:14), while the human choice of rebellion colludes with Satan resulting in condemnation (2 Cor. 4:4).
Paul wrote of those who do not believe the gospel, “in their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.” (2 Cor. 4:4) This blindness is both self-inflicted and imposed upon them making them both culprits and victims. The gospel, therefore, is the ultimate litmus test; our response to the priceless gift of God’s Son reveals the condition of our heart (Mt. 13:1-23). This system of salvation by grace through faith ensures that no one who earnestly desires eternal life will ever miss it. And best of all, because salvation is a gift, when anyone is saved, God gets all the credit!
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…
2 Peter 1:3-5a
Spiritual growth takes two things: God’s activity and our cooperation, in that order. Peter presents God’s plan for our spiritual growth at the beginning of his second epistle. In Christ, God provides the raw ingredients (1:3) and the motivation to grow (1:4). Peter then calls upon us to respond by putting these gifts to use.
We are to “make every effort” (1:8) and “be all the more diligent” (1:10) to “grow” (3:18) in the eight ways he outlines in 1:5-7. As we grow in these areas, we resemble our Lord more and more and partake more deeply of his “divine nature” (1:4). The combination of human exertion and divine grace is the key by which we gain entrance into God’s “eternal kingdom” (1:11).
One of the areas we must grow in is “virtue.” Virtue is excellence, a general term describing a quality which is outstanding, surpassing ordinary standards. We can easily tell the difference between something that is ordinary and something that is excellent. Certain cars, restaurants, athletes or musicians simply excel beyond the average. In the context of the letter, Peter describes moral excellence, a quality of character that is extraordinary. Our character is who we are when no one is looking. How can we grow in moral excellence? Paul’s words to the Romans are helpful:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
First, we must renovate our mind. Our ethics begin with our thinking. Our minds need renewed before we can become more virtuous people because they have been wired according to this “world.” Our culture can no longer dictate our thinking. We must abandon the world’s ethical system and adopt God’s. Therefore, before our “works” (actions) can become more virtuous, our “mind” must be “renewed” (rewired) according to “the will of God.”
Second, we must elevate our standards. Discerning God’s will and discovering “what is good and acceptable and perfect” raises the bar of our moral expectations. Before, when we were still “following the course of this world” (Eph. 2:1-3), we set the bar much too low. Our sense of right and wrong was not fixed (Jdg. 21:25). We measured ourselves by one another (2 Cor. 10:12) making us our own moral authority (Gen. 3:5). But in adopting God’s kingdom-standards, the bar is raised. Jesus calls us to a deeper righteousness, the highest ethical standard (Mt. 5:20, 48).
Third, we must activate our response. Educating our minds is not enough. For our knowledge to be “fruitful” (Col. 1:10), it must be put to the test. That is why Paul says it is only “by testing,” that is, putting God’s will into practice in the real world, that we can experience “what is good and acceptable and perfect” ourselves. Putting God’s will into practice is part of “discerning” it. The word “discern” (dokimazo) can also mean “prove.” It often has the sense of finding out the worth of something by putting it to use in a practical way (Lk. 14:19; 1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 8:22; 1 Tim. 3:10).
By living out God’s will, as Jesus did, we come to learn that his high standard of morality is the way human beings were meant to live all along. Let us then raise the bar and strive to live more like Jesus.