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Published during: July 2013

You Already Got Your Prize

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Matthew 6 includes one of the more provocative statements and approaches to personal holiness anywhere in the Bible. Coming out of the “You have heard it said… but I say…” section in chapter 5, chapter 6 transitions to a series of statements that include, “…they have their reward. But you…” The whole sequence hammers home the cost of public practice of holiness for the eyes of men. The cost, it turns out, is that one gets exactly what one was seeking–but that turns out not to be much of a prize at all.

The adulation of men, in the final reckoning, is a short-lived thing that satisfies no one. Our hearts were made for something deeper, truer, and richer than the admiration of other people: we were made to be satisfied by God’s delight in us and our delight in him. When we please God, we have grounds for real joy. When we simply earn the admiring looks of other men by performing all our good deeds to be noticed… well, we have our reward. We get the attention we want from people, but miss all the real joy in those good deeds–deeds God intended to proceed from our love for him, and which, when they come instead from a desire to be loved by people, become just one more form of idolatry.

And idolatry, it must be said, is a very great part of what got us all into this mess in the first place. So to the man who embraces his man-pleasing ways, and especially to the man who uses “holiness” and good works as a means to earning the favor of other people, God says, “Okay. You got your prize. But that is all there is for you so long as you are pursuing the affections and attentions of other people over and above me.”

It doesn’t satisfy.

All the more striking is the placement of the “Lord’s prayer” here, right in the middle of this section. Matthew seems intent on hammering home that no part of our spiritua life–prayer included–is excluded from Jesus’ critique. The prayer he offers is simple, to the point, and without the flourishes that too often characterize my own ways of approaching God. More, this prayer is to be offered in private, in the closet, where only God hears. Who else actually needs to hear our prayers? Can anyone else answer them? Can anyone else do anything about them–except find us worthy of admiration?1

This is particularly hard-hitting for me, because I have sometimes wondered, “Did others agree with what I prayed?” when, during times of corporate prayer there was little verbal affirmation of my own prayers. (I have wondered such things the most when there was verbal affirmation of others’ prayers but not of mine. Ever “Amen” suddenly seemed a mark for or against me, depending on who was praying when it came out.) Yet, plainly put, that is simply this same idolatry: wanting my prayer to be affirmed by the people around me. I ought instead strive to please God in the way I pray, and rest confident that he hears and responds.

Conviction. Hallelujah.

  1. This is of course not an argument against corporate prayer. It is, instead, an argument against prayer for attention, which can happen in many ways and many places, including corporate prayer… but one could, in fact, very easily make a big deal out of going in the closet for long periods of prayer, simply to earn the admiration of other believers. You already have your prize. 

Surrendering Everything to Win Something

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

On Sundays, I will be using this space as an opportunity to reflect publicly on the sermon presented.

Over this summer, our regular teaching pastor, Andy Davis, is on sabbatical, working on a number of writing and ministry projects. As such, the other pastors have been rotating through1 and working through 1 Corinthians. Today, Ron Halbrooks taught through 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, in which Paul famously traces out the ways he surrendered his own rights for the sake of the gospel and encourages the Corinthians to imitate his example. Ron focused on three points:

  1. Paul made himself a slave to all. Paul’s surrender of his own rights was one of the means by which he advanced the gospel: he made sure there was nothing – really nothing! – of his own preferences that he would not give up for the sake of people’s believing in Christ. Though he refused to compromise when people wanted to add requirements to the gospel, he refused to let any non-essential get in the way of his ministry. Ron exhorted us to follow Paul’s example, and especially to consider the preferences we struggle to overcome in reaching out to those who do not yet follow Christ.

  2. The cultural setting: Paul was sensitive to the particular areas in which he needed to make changes. There were plenty of things neither Jews nor Gentiles cared about, and areas where one group was fixated on things the other was not. As Paul went about his ministry, he paid attention to these differences and adapted accordingly. When he was with the Jews, he carefully followed the law; when he was with Gentiles, he had no such concern (how would they have known one way or the other?). Ron pointed out that we need to do the same: do we need to overcome language gaps or be thoughtful of the kinds of food people like? Can we set aside preferences we hold strongly that are merely cultural in order to win others to Christ?

  3. Save some. The goal of Paul’s ministry was to save some. He did not make these sacrifices just because he could (who would want that?), and he did not take the salvation of souls lightly. He aimed to bring about people’s salvation, not merely to educate or inform the world. As such, there was an urgency and an intensity about his actions we would do well to imitate. Because Paul’s goal was not mere education or even cultural change, but eternal salvation, he was moved to take significant or even drastic measures in pursuit of that goal. We, too, ought to consider the goal sufficiently significant as to motivate us so deeply.

Ron concluded by exhorting the congregation to take a number of practical steps forward in response to Paul’s example. First, he challenged the congregation to intensify its efforts in sending members out on mission to the world, whether as international missionaries or as domestic church planters. Second, he exhorted us all to intentionally reach out to those in our community who are unlike us – whether internationals with whom we do not share even language, or simply people from a different cultural background (e.g. white folks having black folks over for dinner and vice versa).

I am also translating the sermon passage from Greek whenever applicable sometime Saturday or Sunday morning for my own profit; I will supply these translations, with some brief commentary, at the end of my reflections in case anyone is curious and wants to see my progress.

1 Corinthians 9:19–23

Chris Krycho’s translation

For, though being myself free from all, I made myself a slave to all, in order that I might gain many. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those under the law as under the law (though not myself being under the law), that I might gain those under the law; to those outside the law as one outside the law (though not myself being outside the law with respect to God, but rather subject to Christ) that I might gain those outside the law; I became weak to those who are weak, that I might gain the weak; I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. And I do all for the sake of the gospel, so that I might become a participant in it.


For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.


Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

You will note that the translations overlap quite substantially. Both the ESV and NIV add periods and fill in the phrase “I became” where I used semicolons and left the phrase out in most cases. My translation is more “literal,” but it’s not more accurate. The sentence I wrote is better Greek than English; that sort of “piling on” of phrases was good form for them, but it’s what we call a run-on sentence in English. Even with semicolons, it’s just not the best way of putting it; if I were to go back and smooth this out I’d add those in just as the ESV and NIV have.

You can see, though, that this is a pretty straightforward passage, and not particularly contentious. The ESV and NIV, though they have somewhat different translation philosophies, ended up with very similar results here, and even my own rough, first-pass translation came fairly close to their carefully studied work. Some passages are like this – they make for a nice change of pace from those which are difficult or ambiguous.

The final sentence is most interesting: I’ve left it rough on purpose, but it’s clear that something is sort of missing in my translation. Both the NIV and the ESV supply “blessings” and translate the sentence accordingly, with some variations as to the syntax. This is interesting, because it’s being inferred from the text. I’m quite curious about why they’re inferring this, as the UBS4 Greek New Testament simply doesn’t have a word for “blessing” present. I’ll probably go look this up in a commentary somewhere to see, because I’m curious.

  1. I think this is great. Given a choice, I would advocate strongly for much more frequently pulpit rotation, and for that matter against the idea of a “senior pastor” at all. As I often say in these short devotional pieces: more some other time. 
  2. Yes, I know the SBC passed a resolution arguing against the NIV2011. While I have concerns with certain interpretive moves the NIV2011 made, I have nearly identical concerns (albeit in different places and different directions) with some of the translations the ESV has made – and the same with the HCSB, the NASB, the NKJV, and so on. No translation is perfect, and the NIV2011 is in general a very good translation. 

Four books, five passages, one Messiah

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

And yes, I missed yesterday’s post. I did that on purpose, because I decided that celebrating my fourth anniversary with my wife was much more important than writing a 500-word blog post. Perhaps because I missed that one, or perhaps because I’m simply in a verbose mood tonight, you’re getting more than the usual 500 words in the main text, and a lot more if you count the footnotes.

One of the interesting things about tackling multiple sections of Scripture at the same time is seeing the ways they shine light on each other. If we affirm – as I do – that Scripture is inspired not only in its individual parts but as a whole book, as a canon, then putting the pieces together can make all of them make more sense.1 Today, for example, I was reading in Genesis 4, Psalms 9 and 10, Proverbs 20, and Matthew 5. One would not necessarily expect these five (counting each of the Psalms as a distinct reading2) disparate texts to particularly overlap in their content.

In a way, that expectation is not far wrong. Genesis 4 highlights Cain’s murder of Abel, his offspring’s worsening sin, and the birth of Seth and his son Enosh. The Psalms both focus on God’s righteousness and sovereign rule over the earth, though from different angles – in the first, David expresses thanksgiving for God’s judgment on evildoers; in the second, he offers a pained plea for God to judge wicked men who seem to get away with their sin. Proverbs, as is typical for The Proverbs of Solomon (chapters 10–24), is a mix without a particular focus. Matthew 5 contains the first part of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, including the beatitudes, his declaration that he has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law,3 and his series of “You have heard it said… but I say…” statements.

Genesis 4 hammers home that sin escalates. It is a matter of mere sentences from the time God removes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to the time their first son murders their second son in a fit of jealousy. It is only a few more sentences before one of Cain’s descendants is boasting about how he will kill a man over trivial offenses. Things start bad and get worse in a hurry. The end of the chapter – and the end of the section that started in chapter 2 – gives a little hope, though: when Adam and Eve have Seth, Eve declares that God has given her an “offspring,” a seed: the very word God used to promise the one who would crush the serpent’s head, and the word that becomes a touchstone throughout the rest of Scripture to point to the coming Messiah. Then people began to call on the name of Yahweh.4

David was the anointed king of Israel. He was the first fulfillment of God’s promise to set the crown in the line of Judah, and that promise in turn was part of God’s Messianic promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In both of these Psalms, though, his focus is on the righteous reign of Yahweh as the hope of the oppressed against the wicked. In both the prayer of thanksgiving (Psalm 9) and the imprecatory prayer (Psalm 10), David ultimately returns to Yahweh’s eternal reign as the hope of the righteous over and against the predations of the wicked. Yet, as the second psalm makes clear, Yahweh does not seem to be reigning at the moment.

The Proverbs of Solomon rarely dive directly into theology proper or what we might call “theological anthropology.” The focus is nearly always on enormously practical observations about life – the sorts of things that really are profitable to make us wise, but which do not directly tell us about the character of God or our relationship to him. They are, instead, focused on wisdom that God has given us to be able to live wisely in this world, broken as it is. In the middle of this set of Proverbs, however, are a pair of statements that caught my attention because they are more theologically elevated, as it were. Verse 9 reads, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” and verse 12 reads, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, Yahweh has made them both.” Between the two the author suddenly and sharply reminds the reader that God made all things, and that no one is capable of making himself righteous or pure in heart – and so all are accountable before God who is creator and judge.

Finally, in Matthew Jesus takes the high bar of the righteousness demanded by the Law and the Prophets, and modeled by the Pharisees, and sets it incredibly higher. The final of his “You have heard it said… but I say” sayings ends thus: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is impossibly higher. The just and righteous God who made all things, who really is reigning and who does judge the wicked even if it does not always seem so, demands that we be perfect. But this same God promised a seed who would set things to right – a promise he was honoring and keeping, Matthew has made clear already, right down through Jesus.

When Jesus says he hasn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them – when he continues by saying they won’t pass away until they are completely fulfilled – and then promptly makes it clear that no one is going to fulfill them but him, Proverbs 20:9 comes back to mind. “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” No one – but Jesus. He made all things; he fulfilled the law; his heart was pure and clean; he is the seed; he is the one on whom people call for salvation; he judges the wicked and was judged for our wickedness; he is the final Davidic king who reigns forever; he is the one who is perfect as our Father is perfect and who has given us his perfection.


  1. This is one reason I’d like to see pastors preach through longer sections of more parts of the Bible much more frequently. But more on that in a non-devotional post, some other day. This post is going to be long even as it is. 
  2. Worth note: the original text doesn’t have any heading between the two chapters, unlike many other breaks. As such, it is possible they should be viewed as connected, at least to some extent: the editor of the Psalms grouped and arranged them in a particular way for a reason. Again: more on that some other day. 
  3. Which is flatly shocking if you actually step back and read the book as a book, rather than importing your assumptions about what Jesus is doing, and especially if you read it in its canonical context. Here we are, plowing into the Messianic narrative Matthew provides as the first book out of the Old Testament, and with absolutely no reason in the book – and certainly no clear reason to expect it from the Old Testament – Jesus suddenly announces that he’s not here to abolish the Law or the Prophets. We’ve become so inured to the changes the New Covenant brought that we rarely stop and consider this at all. “Why in the world,” we should all be asking, “would anyone think – at this point, at least – that he was going to abolish the Law or the Prophets?” And then he promptly goes and even further ups the ante… but more on that back in the non-footnote text. 
  4. I use God’s self-revealed name because I do not see any warrant in Scripture to follow the Jewish custom of not speaking or writing it. When you see Lord in the Old Testament and it’s in small caps (as it is there if you have a decent, modern web browser), that’s “Yahweh.” 

The hope of a righteous God

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

One of the more striking features of the Psalms is the fact that it is so often God’s righteousness that comforts the Psalmist. In an enormous array of situations, David and the other poet/songwriters who penned the Psalms turn from their distress and are comforted – but not by the things we might suppose. I find that I tend to look at the kindness and mercy of God when I am struggling. His compassion, his tender heart, and his love are attributes that easily lend themselves to our cultural bent.

Yet when David faced trials (as when he was facing accusations from someone he had thought was friendly toward him), it was often God’s righteousness he called on.

As I have chewed on this reality through the day, a couple things have become clear. First, I do not spend much time reflecting on the righteousness of God as grounds for my comfort or hope, and I should. David provides a good model to imitate here. When we encounter hostility or persecution – especially for those of us in ministry – we have the promise of God’s correction or vindication to fall back on. This is David’s pattern in the Psalm: he calls on God to act righteously toward David if he wronged someone at peace with him, and then calls on God to rise up against his enemies if David has been wronged. That’s a foreign concept to many of us, but perhaps only because we have little experience of suffering for the gospel. For those who do suffer for the gospel, the promise of God’s righteous vindication is very obviously good news. For those of us who do not often suffer, the promise that God will righteously correct us is good news, too.

Second, given the centrality of the righteousness of God throughout Scripture, this pattern in the Psalms really shouldn’t be a surprise. It is not an overstatement1 to say that God’s vindication of his own righteousness is one of the dominant themes of Scripture – one of the hinges on which everything else turns. It is because of God’s righteousness that we are saved at all, not only from earthly trials, but from our damnation. Paul makes this clear in Romans 3: Christ died so that God can be both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. If the narrative of Scripture is the story of God’s redemption of his people, it is thus necessarily also the story of his vindication of his own righteousness.

We would not want a God who made nothing of sin – who let envy and gossip and slander and greed slide, to say nothing of rape or murder – any more than we would want a judge who just shrugs at every misdemeanor or felony. Such a being would not be good or worthy of worship; he would not be righteous. Nor would we find good a God without mercy and love – he, too, would be unrighteous. But God is righteous, and to show himself righteous he both graciously forgives sins and pays the penalty for those sins.

Because he is righteous, and vindicated his righteousness in graciously showing us his mercy, we are saved. More than that, Jesus became our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), and now… Now, we are the very righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21). Hallelujah.

  1. It would be an overstatement to claim this is the only or even the most important theme in Scripture. But it is clearly one of the central themes, and many others are closely connected to it. 

Learning humility

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

The Proverbs, in addition to being occasionally hilarious (“A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it…” [Proverbs 17:8] – magic stone? Didn’t see that coming), are enormously helpful. It is easy to overlook the wisdom literature, especially Proverbs, as the content isn’t as obviously theological as much of the rest of the Scriptures. I find it particularly tempting to focus on areas where God is more clearly revealed.

Or perhaps more obviously revealed, since knowing wisdom means knowing the source of wisdom. Indeed, if Jesus became “wisdom from God” for us (1 Corinthians 1:30), then knowing wisdom tells us a great deal about theology proper.1 Equally, they are valuable. After all, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). All of it – every word, including Proverbs. Moreover, wisdom is something that must be sought, not merely acquired by happenstance (Proverbs 17:24).

As such, I’ve increasingly recognized its value to me. It has been a small measure of humbling. And humility, as it turns out, is a topic that comes up time and again in the Proverbs. Reading through chapter 17 today hammered home how essential a quality humility is for the one who would be wise. Wise men – as contrasted with fools – quickly take rebuke to the heart (Proverbs 17:10). Do I? Even fools who are silent can seem wise; wise men do not need to be talking all the time to be heard by others (Proverbs 17:28). Do I? Restraining one’s words and keeping one’s temper both reflect a measure of understanding (Proverbs 17:27). Do I?

It has become very apparent to me over the past few years that few things are surer signs of mature godliness than deep humility. If you want to judge a man’s character, look at the areas where he is most successful and where he is least successful, and how he responds in those areas. Does he glorify God in his victories? Does he graciously use his failures as an opportunity to make much of the grace of God that carries him through? Or does he focus on his own accomplishments and perpetually get hung up on his own failures? Is he a braggart, a loudmouth, or easily angered – or is he slow to speak, slow to become angry, and quick to make peace?

The men I admire most – the men I most want to emulate – are all men of deep, quiet humility.2 Studying the Proverbs and humbling myself to learn wisdom from God who has given us all the wisdom we need is a good place to start.

  1. Theology proper is the study of God himself: theology, the study of God; proper, meaning what the term properly refers to (as opposed to the many topics that are now part of theology). 
  2. I suspect “loud humility” would be a contradiction in terms, but gladly I don’t think that being physically loud by nature automatically disqualifies one from humility; if it did, I wouldn’t have a chance. 

“O God of my righteousness”

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Genesis 2 stands in stark contrast to Psalms 3 and 4, Proverbs 16, and Matthew 2 in an entirely different way. In Genesis 2, Moses describes the creation of humankind in considerable detail, elaborating and expanding on the description he gave in chapter 1. Everything is good. There is a garden in which man is to work; marriage was instituted but unbroken (and man’s desire for someone like him was fulfilled), and the world was as it should be.

And David pleads for the aid of God, and notes that he slept and woke again only because Yahweh kept him from the hand of his murderous enemy – that is, from his son.

Arise, O Yahweh!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked

Salvation belongs to Yahweh;
your blessing be on your people!
—Psalm 3:7–8

And again, in Psalm 4, David pleads for God’s salvation. These are not the words of a man whose life is painless and perfect:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?
—Psalm 4:1–2

Matthew, too, has a tale of woe. Herod deceives the wise men who come seeking the Messiah, and then in his rage murders little children. Mothers and fathers saw their young ones struck down because a wicked man thought he could thwart the plan of God – a plan he misunderstood utterly, though no more than any of his peers.

So there is a sharp and biting contrast between the world of Genesis 2 and the worlds of the Psalms and Matthew. It is in the continuity that I found joy, though: the God of Genesis 2, who made all things good, who delighted to bring the man a helper suitable for him, is the God who is David’s savior, and who sent angels to protect Joseph and Mary and the God-child. So in a fallen world, David can write not only his pleas for help, but also:

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
—Psalm 4:3

And again:

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put rmore joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
—Psalm 4:6

Grain and wine are good things; their abounding are a legitimate cause for rejoicing. But knowing God is a better joy, and a great cause for rejoicing.

But above all, in the context of these contrasts, this one phrase (in Psalm 4:1) stands out: “Oh God of my righteousness.” David is pleading with the God who is the source of his righteousness. The righteousness that Adam and Eve had is lost – so broken and twisted and distorted until king kills infants and son seeks to take his own father’s life. David has nothing (I have nothing) but the righteousness God gives. And that righteousness was in the form of a man. He was made like us in every respect (see Hebrews 2). That little baby had dirty swaddling clothes that his parents had to change; he went through long nights of teething; he was sometimes inexplicably fussy. All that so that I might, with David, call on the God of our righteousness.

When the first Maker became made

I am starting a new discipline: for the next six weeks, I am seeking to follow a specific, simple reading plan I’ve devised for working through the Scriptures, along with some other personal goals. One of the goals is to write some “devotional” reflections every day. As such, I’ll be sharing thoughts from my morning reading late each day – after it has had time to marinate and stew all day, and when I have strong incentives to keep the word count (and thus, the amount of time I spend on it) to a minimum. You can expect to see roughly 500 words a day; if I occasionally go long or short you’ll simply have to forgive me.

This morning’s reading included Genesis 1 and Matthew 1. I was struck, reading through Matthew 1 immediately after Genesis 1, how incredible the story is. The God who made everything – who spoke the universe into being, who imagined light and darkness, who fashioned the earth with its peaks and its valleys and its vast seas, who filled the land with ferns and flowers and towering trees, who spun the stars through the vast empty span of the heavens, who shaped cetaceans and made mastodons, who capped his creation with feeble, magnificent humanity – this God stepped into the womb of a woman.

I too rarely feel the force of that: God became a man. The one who made us in his image took on everything that it means to be a human. The ancient divines summed it up magnificently: Jesus partakes of everything that it is to be human, and he is at the same time everything that it is to be God. In magnificent, marvelous mystery, he was both a rapidly splitting mass of cells in the body of a young Jewish woman in Palestine, and still upholding the universe by the word of his power.

This is too great a thing for our minds to grasp. That God who made all things has dwelt among us? This is myth, or the greatest of all possible jests. And indeed, it is both: myth come true (and every heart should leap to hear just one of the fairy-story endings come true), and a cause for laughter in the same vein as (but so much grander than) a platypus. There is nothing to top it – save perhaps the doctrine of the Trinity. There is one to make your head spin and your heart leap and set the world on its ear.

The God who made Adam is now also the son of David, the son of Abraham. (As Luke adds: the son of Adam.) Preposterous? Yes. Wonderful? Yes. Too good to be true? No: it is the one of the only things good enough to be true.

God made all things, then became one of the things he made and did not stop being god. Hallelujah.