Bible

Bible Studies For Life

Florida Baptist Convention, BCF, Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson is associate professor of missions and chair of the theology division at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

Session 5

January 3, 2021

OVERCOMING WORRY

Psalm 23:1-6

Jesus spent a portion of the Sermon on the Mount encouraging people to stop worrying about food, and clothing, and what tomorrow holds. His treatise begins with the words, “Do not worry about your life…” (see Matt. 6:25ff.) because the Heavenly Father already knows what we need. But as it is with so many things in life, that is far easier said than done! With all of the pressures of life, and the steady stream of uncertainties that we face, worry seems to be the first thing we do.

The 23rd Psalm is a source of comfort in many different ways. For this week, the lesson focuses specifically on overcoming worry. In these brief verses, David was encouraged by three different aspects of God’s care.

We need not worry…we have God’s provision (vv. 1-3). I always picture David penning this psalm while still a shepherd. In my mind, I see him watching over his father Jesse’s sheep, confident that they have everything they need. He is their shepherd. Suddenly he is startled with the thought…the sheep have a shepherd. But what about him? Who is hisshepherd? “Ahh,” he thinks… “the Lord is my shepherd. And because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need” (v. 1). The green pastures and still waters of verse 2 depict peace and tranquility from a sheep’s perspective. Green grass is a sheep’s delight, as well as a shepherd’s. The still waters pose no threat. They are clear and quiet. He restoreth my soul(v. 3) is literally “gives life back to my soul.” This can refer to the soul that has wandered—as sheep are prone to do—into sin, or can refer to giving a “second wind” to the soul that is wearied or anxious from the difficulties of even a committed life. The paths of righteousness (v. 3) are not slippery slopes with dangerous cutbacks, but smooth paths that are straight and comfortable. In every case the sheep of His pasture are free to live their lives in peace, because the Lord has provided everything needed. For reflection: As a follower of Christ, you may not have had everything you wanted. But can you honestly say that you lacked anything that you truly needed?

We need not worry…we have God’s protection (vv. 4-5). The paths of righteousness (v. 3) are contrasted here with the valley of death (v. 5) as David transitions from the Good Shepherd’s provision to His protection. This represents the shepherd’s second great obligation. Not only must the flock be fed, but the flock must be safe. People are no different. Worries about personal provisions like food are compounded by worries of personal safety. David knew the flock was a tempting target to the predator and the thief. His qualifications to take on Goliath were bolstered by his ability to protect his father’s sheep from attack (see 1 Sam. 17:34-36). His very presence guarantees security. The rod and staff should not be allegorized (or “spiritualized”) as some commentators do, but rather seen for what they represent: the weapons needed to keep the flock safe from attack. How safe? Sufficiently safe to enjoy a full banquet while the enemy is lurking about and being held at bay (v. 5). In fact, David is so confident in the Lord’s protection, that he actually feels royally pampered and abundantly blessed, even as his enemies look on. For reflection: With all the crises our nation now faces, can you identify areas where—in spite of it all—the Lord has protected you and pampered you to the point that your “cup runneth over?”

We need not worry…we have God’s promises (v. 6). The psalm concludes with one of the most glorious promises a believer has: an abundant life filled with God’s goodness and mercy in the here and now, and His divine presence for all eternity. A thousand years after David penned those words, the Lord Jesus voiced them in His own personal promise: “In my Father's house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3). For reflection: Can you think of other promises made by the Lord Jesus that help us not to worry, even in the toughest times?

Session 6

January 10, 2021

WEATHERING THE BLUES

Psalm 31:1-8

Trouble comes to everyone.

Job, the Bible expert when it comes to suffering, said, “Man who is born of woman is of few days…and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). That certainly covers everybody! The disciples were arguably Jesus’ closest earthly friends. Yet their lives were filled with storms, even when Jesus was with them (see Mk 4:36ff). Even King David, a person Scripture characterized as “a man after God’s own heart” (see 1 Sam. 13:14), faced terrible situations and continual challenges. If these godly and committed folks suffered trials and tribulations in their lives, why should we expect anything different? Fortunately, in Psalm 31, David reminds us who to turn to when “the blues” are weighing us down.

Seek the Lord…He is our refuge (vv. 1-2). Verse 1 sets the tone for the entire passage. The Holman translation, “Let me never be disgraced” is better understood as “Let me never be disappointed.” The idea is that the Lord might never let the psalmist down when he claims His promises. Rather, might he be saved as a demonstration of the Lord’s consistent and righteous character and the faithful fulfillment of His promises. The Hebrew of verse 2 is literally asking the Lord to bow down His ear closely, and to deliver him speedily. This time, the English translation captures the idea perfectly: “Listen closely” and “rescue quickly.” This intimate and personal plea is then backed up with David’s confidence in who the Lord is: a rock of refuge and a mountain fortress. For reflection: How do you think David’s personal, intimate pleas square with the vastness and sovereignty of Almighty God? In other words, where do we draw the line between the informal and formal expressions of our prayers?

Call out to the Lord…He is our rescue (vv. 3-4). The imagery used in the next set of verses is rich in description and rapid-fire in expression. In verse 3, the Lord is both a source of security (rock and fortress) and a source of direction (leads and guides). This is established by His name’s sake. Not only has His name been designated as a rock and fortress, but God’s own reputation is at stake should He fail to fulfill His promises. In verse 4, the Lord is both a deliverer and a safe place, pointed out in the contrast between a dangerous and deceitful net set by the enemy and the safety that the Lord provides from such enemies. For reflection: What kinds of traps do you think David faced? Who do you think your enemies are…and what kinds of “nets” do you need to avoid in your own walk with Christ?

Trust in the Lord…He is our redeemer (vv. 5-8). The idea that faith is “a blind leap” is absurd. The trust David had in the Lord was complete in the present because it was based on God’s faithfulness in the past. And so is ours. Verse 5 is best known as the text quoted by the Lord Jesus from the cross. David’s usage was in the present and couched in the context of his trust in God’s deliverance. Jesus extended that trust from present circumstances to eternal destiny. (By the way: I like to point out that Jesus was not quoting David, but in reality, David was quoting Scripture that Jesus wrote! See 2 Tim. 3:16; also Ps. 22:1). In verse 6, he contrasts the foolishness of worshipping “useless” idols with the joy found in worshipping the one true God. Unlike dumb idols, the one true God sees his affliction, empathizes with his turmoil, delivers him from his enemies, and sets his feet in a spacious (safe) place. For reflection: Consider the idea of redemption mentioned in verse 5. How do you think the doctrine of redemption is affected by God’s truth (v. 5)? Like David, can you identify the results of God’s redemption in your own life?

Special Focus Session

January 17, 2021

CREATED FOR A PURPOSE

Jeremiah 1:4-10

I will never forget the Good Friday festivities taking place in the small interior town in northeast Brazil. We were IMB missionaries hosting a volunteer group in starting a new church. Because it was Easter weekend, the little town plaza was bustling. Our group had a half-dozen ministry stations set up where we were telling Bible stories, doing crafts, playing games, and sharing the gospel. By afternoon the crowd had grown to over 200 people. As I took a break to wipe my brow and survey the crowd, a nicely dressed Brazilian man standing beside me asked, “Sir, what are you doing here?” “I’m directing a missions project here in your town,” I replied. He shook his head and smiled. “No, I mean what are you doing here?” “Oh,” I explained, “I’m leading the group. We are starting an evangelical church here.” This time he looked me square in the eye, and said, “That’s not what I am asking. Obviously, you are an American. Obviously, you live here in Brazil. You chose to leave America and move to Brazil. You learned our language. Why can’t you tell me in just a few words, for what purpose you have done these things?” I’m sure I stumbled through some “Sunday School” type explanation of why my family felt called to move to Brazil. But in the days that followed I was haunted by the stunning reality that a stranger in a foreign land asked me what my purpose on planet Earth was, and I couldn’t give him a straight answer! Now I tell my students that story and challenge them to be able to verbalize in just a few sentences, to anybody, anywhere, why God put them on planet Earth for such a time as this.

If everybody really does have a purpose in life, what is yours? How do you carry it out? The call of Jeremiah offers some help.

God establishes our purpose (vv. 4-5). Jeremiah served as God’s voice to Judah in the troubled times leading up to the Babylonian captivity. As a result, it is a book filled with heart-wrenching pleas for repentance amidst unwavering promises of coming judgement. The first chapter explains Jeremiah’s calling in those difficult days. First, Jeremiah is told that his calling to service was a solemn act of a sovereign God. Three times in verse 5 God says “I did it.” Jeremiah didn’t ask for it. He didn’t volunteer for it. He didn’t appoint himself. Rather God said, “I did it!” So, three times God said whodid it. Then twice, He pointed out when He did it: “Before I formed you in the womb;” and “before you were born.” Then three times again, He pointed out what He did. Notice the progression: “I chose you…I set you apart…I appointed you.” That Jeremiah would be a prophet to the nations meant that God’s message was not just to the Jews, but to all people. For reflection: That Jeremiah was chosen, set apart, and appointed indicates a specific and personal plan sovereignly assigned by God. What calling does God place on all believers universally? How then does His purpose differ from person to person?

God accompanies us in our purpose (vv. 6-8). With similarity to Moses (see Exodus 4:10-14), Jeremiah protested that he was not a suitable spokesman for God. While Moses argued that he was not eloquent enough in his speech, Jeremiah begged off because he was not experienced enough in his speech. Notice that God did not “fix” Jeremiah’s deficiencies. Rather, He promised to accompany him, direct him (v.7), and deliver him (v. 8). For reflection: God appointed Aaron as a spokesman for Moses and promised His presence as an aid to Jeremiah. Who does God provide for believers today to assist them in carrying out their purposes for Him? 

God equips us to carry out our purpose (vv. 9-10). In the final verses of our focal passage, God equips the prophet with two additional tools to help him carry out God’s purpose. The first is preparation. After God promises Jeremiah His holy presence, He fills him with His words (v. 9). How confident and encouraged young Jeremiah must have felt! Only then did God equip the prophet with information (v. 10). Here, God reveals the enormity of the task. Jeremiah would be the bearer of both bad news (uproot, tear down, destroy and demolish) and the bearer of good news (re-building and planting again). In a prophetic span of about forty years, Jeremiah would depend on all of God’s gifting to fulfill all of God’s purposes for which he was called. For reflection: What kinds of encouragements does God give believers today in carrying out their purposes for Him? Do we too have His presence? His words? His instructions?

Session 1

January 24, 2021

THE BENEFIT OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES

1 Timothy 4:1-10

We often associate the word “discipline” with negative connotations. A naughty child needs to be “disciplined.” An unruly soldier needs to learn “discipline.” But the root word (derived from Latin) refers to knowledge or instruction and includes the application of that knowledge. A disciple, then, is someone who follows the instructions.

While the word “discipline” does not always infer punishment, it does involve following certain rules or guidelines. The goal of discipline is to apply rules to live by, making life simpler and more purposeful. Spiritual disciplines, then, are guidelines for living based on God’s instructions. When applied, spiritual disciplines make us more purposeful and more effective followers of Christ.

In the focal passage this week, the apostle Paul reminds Timothy of the importance of spiritual discipline. Three benefits are mentioned.

Discipline protects (vv. 1-3). After expressing the basis of Christian faith so succinctly at the end of the previous chapter (see 1 Tim. 3:16), Paul described the travesty of apostacy that would one day arrive. The victims would be those led astray by spirits that deceive, demons that proclaim false doctrines (v. 1), and hypocrites that bear false witness without remorse; their consciences deadened like flesh cauterized (seared) by a hot iron (v. 3). Those on the fringe of faith would institute certain practices they erroneously thought would promote a form of godliness (see 2 Tim. 3:1-7): celibacy and dietary restrictions (such as vegetarianism). While many of the world’s religions practice some type of asceticism, these practices entered the Christian church and continue today in the form of monks and nuns who populate monasteries. While some revere them as particularly holy, two questions must be asked. First, does the Bible command such things? And second, what contribution does asceticism make to God’s kingdom while monks and nuns cloister behind monastery walls? Spiritual discipline—believing and knowing God’s truth and living by it—protects believers from those who deceive (v. 3). For reflection: Can you think of other “rules and regulations” that some Christians follow that aren’t biblical? How might you lovingly guide the errant back into biblical faith?

Discipline proclaims (vv. 4-7). A common axiom is, “Nothing succeeds quite like success.” Those who pursue a disciplined spiritual life are the most successful in living out a spiritual life. And those who succeed are best equipped to train others. Here, Paul reminds Timothy that simple biblical principles should be pointed out by the devout to those who stray into false teachings. The immediate context concerns the celibacy and selective diet mentioned in verse 3. But the context is expanded in verse 4 to cover “everything created by God;” as long as it is received with thanksgiving (v. 4) and used as God intended (v. 5; see also James 1:17). Pointing out such simple truths to the brethren is pleasing to the Lord and evidence of true faith and obedience to His word (v. 6). Whereas the apostate follows “irreverent and silly myths” the faithful are to be disciplined “in godliness” (v. 7). For reflection: What are some areas in your own life that need to be “trained in godliness?” What resources do we have to help us live disciplined spiritual lives?

Discipline preserves (vv. 8-10).  Health clubs are booming as our society idolizes physical health and appearance. Certainly, a healthy lifestyle is important. But its benefit is limited to this life. Spiritual health, the apostle points out, is beneficial for this life (see Matt. 6:33; John 10:10) and the next; for it is through spiritual salvation that the body will ultimately be saved (v. 8). That “God is the Savior of everyone” is not a Pauline universalism, but rather the idea that all the blessings of life come from God. And while even the lost enjoy the benefits of a life that God gives, only those committed to Christ fully understand and experience the essence of true life; both here and in eternity (see John 1:4). For reflection: Do you put as much effort in your spiritual condition as your physical condition?

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