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1 Cor. 12:18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

“God, if you get me back to Cincinnati, I promise I won’t leave!”  This was my plea to the Lord around 1993.  Ironically, Cincinnati was the last place I wanted to be.  My family and I left Cincinnati in 1985, and I swore I was never returning.  The last image I wanted to see of Cincinnati was out my rear view mirror.  Yet, in New Jersey, here I am crying out to the Lord to get me back to the city I despised.  Why? I had no idea.  There was simply something in my heart that was telling me I was not in the right place.  So the Lord opened the door, and we returned to Cincinnati in 1995.  I didn’t return because of a fantastic job opportunity; I didn’t return because of family.  I returned because in my heart, I knew this was where God desired me to be.  I knew it in my heart, even though I wasn’t aware of the passage in 1 Corinthians.  Within two years, however, the picture became clearer.  I needed to be in Cincinnati to hear a man from Texas proclaim and teach about the kingdom of God.  I would not have heard that distinct voice had I remained in New Jersey.  I needed to be where God set me, and I needed to be there at the proper time, in order to hear the message of the gospel.  Is it important to be where God has set you?  It is more than important; it is vital to your spiritual health.  Remember, however, that God sets members in the body where it pleases HIM, not you.  He doesn’t set you where all of your family is; he doesn’t set you where you are comfortable.  He doesn’t set you where it is convenient for you; he doesn’t set you where the best jobs are.  It may please him to set you in the midst of a crime-ridden community; you may be set in the midst of people whose faith is not like your own.  While you may desire to fellowship with a large group of people, God may set you in a body of three or four.  This is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges saints of God face in a country where we value our right to choose.  Now, our Lord is saying “in my house, you give up your right to choose, and I choose to set you where I am pleased.”  Understanding this truth cannot occur absent a renewed mind.  Yielding to this truth is not a work of the flesh; it must be a work of the Spirit.  Have you felt an uneasiness in your inner being, have you heard that voice of distinction that is telling you where you are to be set?  If you have, don’t try to muffle that voice.  Don’t let other voices distract you from being set in the proper place.  Submit to the rule of God, for he knows what you need in order to accomplish his will.

Matt. 6:11 Give us today our daily bread.

One simple sentence.  A few short words; but oh, how powerful this appeal.  Christ instructed us to appeal to the Lord God for what we need for this day.  Not for yesterday, which has passed, never to return.  Not for tomorrow, which is not guaranteed.  Our appeal is for this day.
Psa. 118:24 This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day that is full of hope, full of promise.  It is full of unknowns; it is full of challenges.  We do not know what this day holds in store for us. We know only that by the grace of God, he has allowed us to experience the light of this day.  And just as God provided manna for the children of Israel for that day and that day alone, he will provide for his servants what they need for this day.  What do you need for this day?  What nourishment must you have for this day in order to accomplish God’s will?  Let us not be presumptuous, assuming what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year.  Let us not look back with either longing or regret at the days of old.  Let us focus on this day, and let us remember that our source of provision is not our job, it is not our bank account, but rather it is our confidence in the Provider who, just as he cared for the children of Israel while they were in the wilderness, will care for us this day as well.  “For I am the LORD; I change not.” (Mal. 3:6)  The LORD provides for all who obey him.

Matt. 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

What exactly does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness?  We know how we feel physically when we have been deprived of food or drink for periods of time, but how does that translate to hungering and thirsting after righteousness?  How will we know that we have tasted righteousness?  Even more basic, what is righteousness?  Indeed, these are difficult questions that we cannot avoid.  We must not only meditate upon them, but it is of necessity that we take action upon them.
Fortunately, Paul provided an answer for at least one of those questions.  In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul wrote:
Rom. 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
The kingdom of God IS righteousness.  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness; blessed are they who hunger and thirst after the kingdom of God.  Blessed are they whose spirits yearn to be citizens of the kingdom of God.  Blessed are they who are famished, who are weak from being deprived of the Holy Spirit.  Truly, God will fill them with His Spirit that they may never hunger again.  

county-courthouseTHE PURE AND WISE AND EQUAL ADMINISTRATION OF THE LAWS FORMS THE FIRST END AND BLESSING OF SOCIAL UNION

WHAT DOTH THE LORD REQUIRE OF THEE BUT TO DO JUSTLY AND TO LOVE MERCY

EQUAL AND EXACT JUSTICE TO ALL MEN OF WHATEVER STATE OR PERSUASION RELIGIOUS OR POLITICAL

THAT THE COMMONWEALTH MAY HAVE A GOVERNMENT OF LAWS AND NOT OF MEN

These are the words that are engraved in the perimeter walls of our county courthouse.  I had the occasion to read them again last night.  The first time I stopped to read those words, they fascinated me.  This time, they bothered me.  In particular, what bothered me was the word “justice.”  For as I stood reading those words, I had to admit to myself that I don’t know what true justice is.  I can tell you what I believe justice is in my mind, but how do I define true justice?  As I stood outside staring at the engraved words, I was speechless.  I felt as if I was standing before a judge, with all the evidence presented against me, and the judge asked me what I think the verdict should be.  In my heart, and out of pure selfishness, I would blurt out “NOT GUILTY!” Truth, however, which is what I claim to desire, says “I am guilty.”  The verdict, then, is that I am guilty of not knowing what true justice is.  It should be noted here that the etymology of the word “verdict” explains that the word is formed from two roots: ver, meaning true, and dit, from the verb to say. An accurate transliteration of the word verdict would be a true report.

The following parable is an example of true justice.  It is found in the gospel of Matthew, in the 20th chapter.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. And after agreeing with the workers for the standard wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When it was about nine o’clock in the morning, he went out again and saw others standing around in the marketplace without work. He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and I will give you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and three o’clock that afternoon, he did the same thing. And about five o’clock that afternoon he went out and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why are you standing here all day without work?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go and work in the vineyard too.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give the pay starting with the last hired until the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each received a full day’s pay. 10 And when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each one also received the standard wage. 11 When they received it, they began to complain against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last fellows worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us who bore the hardship and burning heat of the day.’ 13 And the landowner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me to work for the standard wage? 14 Take what is yours and go. I want to give to this last man the same as I gave to you. 15 Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

I have read this parable many times, and have received greater understanding since I have heard the gospel of the kingdom of God.  But as I pondered this parable again in light of the words engraved upon the walls of our county courthouse, I was humiliated.  I knew that I would be one of the first to say “Lord, that just isn’t fair!”  For how could it be fair that some workers had toiled all day in the heat of the sun, while others, who stood idle all day, come in at the last hour, do a little work, but earn the same compensation?  Of course, I had to realize that I was viewing this parable from a very jaded, temporal perspective, instead of from a true, eternal perspective.  For if the reward is eternal citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, then the amount of time one spends laboring in the vineyard of this life is of little relevance.  I should be rejoicing that one performed any labor in the landowner’s vineyard, and that we both have equity in this spiritual commonwealth.  Instead, the selfish, corrupt heart of mine prohibits me from seeing the truth, and I want merely my own brand of justice – “pay more to the one who worked more!”

Lord, have mercy upon my tarnished, shallow soul.  Forgive me for petitioning you to exact my own perverted brand of justice.  Forgive me for attempting to know better than you what truth is.  Forgive me for not exhibiting the mercy that you have shown me, when true justice would demand that I receive no mercy at all.

do unto othersMatt. 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The Lord Jesus made a powerful statement.  Simply put, He said that the principle of doing to others what you would have them do to you sums up everything in the Jewish law (Torah) and the Prophets (Nevi’im).  Would you desire others to be kind to you?  Then be kind to others.  Would you desire that others be patient with you?  Then be patient with others.  If you don’t want others to talk about you behind your back, then don’t talk about others behind their backs.  It is profound that our Lord would say that everything that was written in the Law and the Prophets could be summed up in this one instruction.  Ponder that thought for a moment.  All of the exploits, all of the teachings, all of the prophecies in the Old Testament can be wrapped up in this simple teaching of how we are to treat others.  This instruction requires us to be deliberate in every action we take.  It calls for us to be intentional in our words and actions toward others.  This particular teaching is also unconditional; meaning that it isn’t based upon whether others treat you that way.  I am to obey this teaching regardless of how others treat me.  In other words, I cannot use the treatment I receive from others as an excuse not to obey this instruction.  Our Lord made it clear to us that to whom much is given, much is required.  This is what the Lord expects of His kingdom citizens.  

Understanding the proper definition of a single word can completely change your perception of a passage in the Bible.  Take, for example, Ephesians 4:1 – I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

If you isolate that passage, as I have done for the purpose of this post, you can easily interpret the message to mean that Paul is urging every individual to walk in a manner that is fitting for whatever God has called a person to do.  For example, if God called you to be a teacher, then you should teach in a manner worthy of your calling.  If God called you to be an athlete, then you should perform in a manner worthy of your calling.  This type of interpretation is very common in our country, where a person can be whatever he or she desires to be.  This is an example of how our culture has persuaded saints of God to interpret the Bible in a manner that conforms to our way of thinking.

If, however, we renew our minds as we have been instructed, and conform our way of thinking to the Bible, that passage says something completely different.  Paul was not addressing individuals; he was addressing the church at Ephesus.  Since the church is one body, the “you” is not singular; rather, it is a collective “you.”  Since the “you” is plural, the vocation, or calling, has to apply to all concerned.  Indeed, this is consistent with what Paul said in his letter to the Romans:
Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

Notice that the word gifts is plural, because there are many gifts in the body of Christ.  The word calling, however, is singular, because there is only one call – out of the world, and into the kingdom.  All saints of God respond to the same call.  What is that call?  The gospel of the kingdom.  It is this call that unites us; it is this singular vocation that joins us together.  We aren’t employees of an organization; rather, we are several members of one organism – the body of Christ.  We are all joined together in one body; as such, we are admonished as one church to walk worthy of that calling, each one of us doing our part in order that God may be glorified.