Building to the Specifications
So how do we avoid the sin of Cain? We do that by learning what God wants. And where do we learn that? Where else but His Word. That’s why Paul offers this advice:
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (II Timothy 2:15 KJV)
But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance,persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:10-17 NKJV)
If there is a single point you can take away today, it is this: study the Word of God. I am persuaded the Lord of Heaven and Earth does not care that you are willing to die for the Bible half so much as He wants you to live by it. That is what Paul is trying to tell us. That is what Jesus means when He says things like, “If you love me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15 NKJV) That is the whole point of I Corinthians 13, when Paul says that we can do all kinds of amazing things, but if we have no love, we are nothing. Love begins when we love God, and we love God when we obey what He says. But we can’t obey what He says if we don’t know what He says, and we won’t know what He says if we don’t read His love letter to us.
Paul says we have a choice to build with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw. What are those things? How do we know which one we are building with? The answer is in the Book. I did a little search in the Bible to find out what those building materials are. The results were not a surprise. The wood, hay, and straw were easy enough to figure out. All the references throughout to Bible to those materials are to things that burn up! In the case of wood, many of the references were to idols. The hay is stuff animals eat, and the straw is what animals sleep on. But all of those things have this in common: they cannot stand up to much adversity. Remember that story of the three little pigs? The two foolish pigs built houses of straw and of sticks, and that big, bad wolf just blew them down. Why? Because they were not built of durable materials. And so it is with us. We build with wood, hay, and straw when we do works that have no eternal value. That does not necessarily mean that we are worshipping a Hindu god, or building an illegal drug empire. No, it means we do things like place our careers ahead of our children’s spiritual development. It means we try to work our way into the best social circles instead of listening to and helping those in need all around us. It means we place a higher emphasis on seeing the Tennessee Volunteers winning the football championship for the Southeastern Conference than on getting a hopeless and homeless man off the street. It means we spend more of our time studying the best investment plans than in hiding God’s word in our hearts so we don’t sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
The Best Things
Brethren, these are all good things, but they are not the best things. Our Father wants to give us the best, and He wants us to labor for the best, not settle for good enough. That is why He shows us the difference between the things that burn up and the things that endure. And what is it that endures?
Gold, the incorruptible material. The reason God told Moses to overlay all the furniture in the Tabernacle with gold is because gold will never rust, tarnish, or wear out. Indeed it is shiny and pretty, but gold endures forever. Silver, also, is durable and highly useful, and so also are precious stones. But what are these things in spiritual terms? Here is just a sample of what the Word says:
“Now acquaint yourself with Him, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive, please, instruction from His mouth, and lay up His words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be built up; you will remove iniquity far from your tents. Then you will lay your gold in the dust, and the gold of Ophir among the stones of the brooks. Yes, the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver; for then you will have your delight in the Almighty, and lift up your face to God. You will make your prayer to Him, He will hear you, and you will pay your vows. You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you; so light will shine on your ways.” (Job 22:21-28 NKJV)
But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. (Job 23:10-12 NKJV)
“But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me’; and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be purchased for gold, nor can silver be weighed for its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Neither gold nor crystal can equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or quartz, for the price of wisdom is above rubies. The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold. (Job 28:12-19 NKJV)
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11 NKJV)
The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver. (Psalm 119:72 NKJV)
I have done justice and righteousness; do not leave me to my oppressors. Be surety for Your servant for good; do not let the proud oppress me. My eyes fail from seeking Your salvation and Your righteous word. Deal with Your servant according to Your mercy, and teach me Your statutes. I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies. It is time for You to act, O Lord, for they have regarded Your law as void. Therefore I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold! Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:121-128 NKJV)
Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. (Proverbs 3:13-15 NKJV)
[Wisdom cries out,] “Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold”; for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her. (Proverbs 8:10-11 NKVJ)
Do you get the picture? The gold, silver, and precious stones are things built with the wisdom and commandments of the Living God. That is why Jesus says to the church at Laodicea, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich“. (Revelation 3:18 NKJV) You do not need any money to buy this kind of gold, because it is already paid for in blood. All you need is what’s most precious to you: your time and energy.
Counting the Cost
You may ask whether this is really worth it. I say to you, it most definitely is. I speak from experience. I have been a child of God since I believed on Jesus for salvation at the age of 9, but it was not until I was 40 that I began to build more from gold, silver, and precious stones than from the things that burn. The Holy Spirit impressed on me the reality that I could continue as I was, a competent government employee, a deacon in my church, and a nice neighbor, and I would still die in my respectable mediocrity. The Lord explained to that He had a commission for me that was far beyond what I could imagine, and He challenged me to accept His offer. I did, and I committed right then to make His priorities my priorities. I gave up some things, and I took up some other things. What I learned right away was that once computer games are out of your life, you have hours and hours and hours each day to do things like talk with your wife, play with your children, and study the Word of God. And study I did. At that time I plunged into a very intense period of prayer and deep Bible study. That was over 12 years ago, and I am still in that intense period of prayer and Bible study.
What have I gained? More than I can explain quickly. There are tangible benefits which I attribute to the Lord’s blessing on us in recognition of our obedience. By that I mean that we are out of debt, and I received back again a military career that I thought was irretrievably lost. Then there are the personal blessings. My wife and I weathered storms that would have wrecked our marriage, and now we enjoy a far more intimate and trusting partnership than we would have thought possible. Our children weathered the storms of public school in Northern Virginia, among other significant events in their lives, and have come out as well-grounded women of God. We have seen fruit in their lives that comes directly from our decision as parents to dig out the principles of our Creator and start living by them. And we have seen fruit in the lives of our daughters’ friends, and in the lives of others who have seen our example and sought our help for their own problems.
And that is my exhortation to you all: decide today not that you are going to die for Jesus, but that you are going to live for Him. Understand that He means it when He says that His Word is a two-edged sword capable of discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Understand that human beings live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). That means start at, “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3) and work forward, paying attention to everything He says, even that supposed “ceremonial” law in the supposedly “boring” book of Leviticus. (By the way, Leviticus is considered the heart of the Torah by the rabbis. If you bother to study it for yourself, you will learn why and you will be amazed at the wisdom of God tucked away in those 27 short chapters.)
I close with this. We are made for good works, but not just any good works. If they are to count, they must be good according to God’s definition of good. And that means we have to learn God’s definition before we do anything else. Jesus has made us holy and righteous by His supreme sacrifice. It is up to us to learn what those things mean. If we do not, then we walk into all kinds of uncleanness and defilement that grieves our Father’s heart. And if we remain ignorant of the Word of God, then instead of hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, we will hear, “Your place is in the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
If you want to fix our country, this is how. God’s people perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). We suffer the consequences for throwing out His standard of truth. We, the church, have undermined the foundation God has established because we have sat content in our ignorance and let compromise eat us and our children. We cannot fix it in a day, but we can start today. The decision is yours.
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