In this article I offer an update on the series of studies currently underway at Covenant this 2014. We have called it “Our Moral GPS.” We are engaging in a serious, but popular study of Christian ethics. We began by looking at 5 great ethical texts in the Bible in this order: 1 Cor. 15:33 (“Bad Company”), Micah 6:8 (“He Has Told You“), 2 Chron. 31:20 (“That’s Good), Mark 10:18 (“God Only Good”), and John 1:14 (Ethical Glory in Jesus”). You can follow this series by listening to the messages found on our Sermon Audio site (link found at the bottom of the sidebar).
The main part of our study in Christian ethics, however, is a careful study of the three, great, ethical standards that God has given to us in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Fruit of the Spirit. These three statements, standards, summaries, present Christian ethics in the most beautiful form.
Is beauty “in the eye of the beholder,” as the saying goes? We admit of some interpretation and a subjective element in the experience of beauty. Yet, beauty stands the test of definition and description. When we see the birds flying in formation we exclaim, how beautiful! We recognize the presence of beauty in a palace, in contrast to a tenement. We speak of a beautiful sunrise or sunset, a beautiful dress or piece of jewelry. Studies on beauty will show that there is commonality in people’s perception of beauty. Our vocabulary admits it also, putting at our disposal words such as beautiful, lovely, pleasing, attractive, satisfying, as well as ugly, homely, and hideous. We seem to know when we are in its presence, but is it possible to analyze it critically.
The earliest definition we have of beauty is found in Gen. 1:31 where God pronounced everything that He had created to be “very good.” The Creator took great pleasure in all that He had made, and when He called it very good, He pronounced it beautiful! Beauty is rooted in the creation, and therefore, those who do not acknowledge the Creator, may not be able to give an accurate definition of beauty. This is ultimately why all men, irrespective of their response to the truth of God and belief in God as Creator, acknowledge beauty in the form of created things like sunrises, sunsets, mountain peaks, rivers and streams, clouds, birds flying, and animals leaping.
Scripture speaks of beautiful trees (Lev. 23:40), Moses as a beautiful child (Ex. 2:2), Rachel as beautiful of form and face (Gen. 29:17), Jerusalem as the perfection of beauty (Ps. 48:2), and wisdom as a crown of beauty (Prov. 4:9). “The Lord called your name, ‘A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form’” (Jer. 11:16). Yes, trees are beautiful, and the fruit is especially so. We might say that here are two very important elements in our understanding (and experience) of beauty, the beautiful form which captures our attention and elicits immediate pleasure leading to the exclamation how beautiful! and the enjoyment of the fruit excites our appetites and ultimately brings pleasure. There is fruit in the enjoyment of everything that is truly beautiful in God’s world. True beauty satisfies in the same way as a ripe melon does.
The Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Fruit of the Spirit each have a beautiful form to be sure. And when we see them together, presenting one great ethical mandate and vision for redeemed humanity, the beauty is greater than we ever imagined. Look for our next study when we will begin to admire this beauty more carefully.
Sin is ugly. Immorality is unclean. A Godless life and lifestyle is unworthy of creatures made in God’s image, and offensive to the God who created us. So what are we to do? Follow Christ, the only ethical Leader ever given to the world of men. And if you are so inclined and have the time, follow our sermon series on ethics entitled “Our Moral GPS.”
Who would deny that morality is changing faster than we ever expected? Mega-shifts are appearing in the cultural landscape where the fault lines of opposing ethical systems ultimately create moral upheavals and earthquakes. Here at Covenant we want not only to identify these ethical fault lines, but help Christians navigate the erupting landscape on their journey to the celestial city!
If I were beginning this series of messages in the early 70s I would have called it “Our Moral Compass.” But the GPS has practically replaced the compass in our society, and that is not something to be lamented. Just remember that if you are hiking through the forest the GPS may not do you any good when your batteries run out!
I like the analogy of the GPS for the moral life because the GPS not only tells you your orientation, it gives your position and direction. And the direction comes from above – from the satellites placed in the heavens. So it is with our moral GPS. It comes from divine revelation. This, of course, is the reason for the moral tectonic plates which come into conflict and cause earthquakes. Christian ethics is fundamentally in opposition to natural, human, ethical systems. This is not to say that righteous ethics are nonexistent among non-Christians. There is a long history of common grace in man’s ethics so that we find good in this world of sin.
How will we approach such a vast subject? There is so much territory to cover on the GPS. We will start with 1 Corinthians 15:33 (Feb. 23), a text which, seems to me, to be a great introductory text: “Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals.” It contains four of the major elements of our study. It identifies “ethics” (translated ‘morals’ in most English Bibles) by the Greek word sounding the same. It speaks of good and bad which are the two main categories of the world of ethical issues. It deals with the reality of corruption or decay in morality and ethics which we see more patently in the society today of course. And finally, since Paul is quoting a saying common in his day from the Greek writer Menander in his work Thais, it shows that even men of the world have an ethical awareness and consciousness.
Come and join us for our Sunday morning studies on Christian ethics for a moral GPS to guide you. And pray that God will bless His people to strengthen and equip them to navigate the moral morass that is out there today so that we can travel on the highway of holiness. You can hear these sermons on our Sermon Audio link as well.
Our one and only child, Ken, was born in 1975 and we decided that in order to raise him up to being a good and moral person we would start going to a little Methodist Church near our home. There we learned stories and bits and pieces of the Bible but no real Gospel. The church had a special evangelical weekend where a group of people came in and gave their testimony of Christ in their lives. We both decided we wanted Christ in our lives but didn’t yet know what that really meant.
Soon we realized that we were in a dead church and started seeking out where God wanted us. We tried every kind of “church” in the area and looked up information even as far as reading about Mormons. We got a good education! God, however, put us in a reformed church and we got our first real blast of the book of Romans.
As we grew and matured and learned more about Jesus He became more than our Savior. He IS the Lord of our lives. We became Reformed Baptists before we knew that there was a distinct denomination. Calvin and the acronym of TULIP only served as conformation of what we already knew as true.
As we have move around from New Jersey to Florida to Delaware to Pennsylvania and back to New Jersey we have learned many truths from God’s word (and many things from some churches that we have been convicted are not true!)
One of the most important things we have learned is to be “dazzled” with God. He is everything to us. His word is ultimately not about the Jew or the Church but about who He is and His-Story. Every book is a revelation of Him and His glory, and we are here to reveal that to the world.
Romans 11:33-36 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out. “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
We are honored to be a part of the body of Covenant Baptist Church and have grown to love each member there. We pray that God will reveal the ways He wants us to serve His people there.
Psalm 119:33-40 – “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared. Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good. How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness.”
Felix and Kathryn
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If you own a home, your deed is the legal declaration of your ownership. Genesis 1:1 is God’s deed of ownership. It is also a doctrinal foundation and confession of faith. Finally, it is a short statement of methodology – He created it.
An Introductory Statement
One must look into the sentence construction in order to understand the meaning of Gen. 1:1. Is it a dependent or an independent clause? If it were a dependent clause, it would read: “When God began to create the heaven and the earth, the earth was without form and empty.” Translating it this way would mean that the world existed as described in verse 2 before God created. This would mean that God did not create ex nihilo – out of nothing. So we insist on solid exegetical ground that Gen. 1:1 is an independent clause; it stands alone as a grand summary statement introducing the creation account of Genesis 1 and the Bible.
Formless & Empty
Gen. 1:2 is a description of the world as God initially created it. “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Gen. 1:3 then begins to describe the activity of God in fashioning and filling the earth on the creation days to receive God’s image bearer – man. Verse 2 is an important description of the initial creation under the care of the Spirit of God.
Basic Creation Theology
Gen. 1:1 teaches us four foundational facts of faith. The first is that everything that we are and have had a beginning. This means that things are temporal and people are mortal. The second is that God had no beginning, He is eternal. The very thought of eternity is staggering. Whether eternity if timelessness or unending time makes little difference. This makes theology the “Queen of the sciences!” Nothing is more important than the study of theology, reading and understanding the Bible. The third is that God brought the heavens and the earth into existence out of nothing. This is the foundational and essential doctrine of creation in the Bible. Christians may discuss and disagree about certain creation issues, but this one is essential, otherwise God is not God. Finally, Gen. 1:1 teaches us that the earth is the exclusive and distinct object of God’s purpose. The earth looks just like any other celestial body from outer space, but the Lord looks down from heaven (Ps. 33:13) and sees all the sons of men.
Living in the Light of Creation
Since everything had a beginning, then everything has a purpose. Every person must live his life here learning the purpose for every thing, institution, and relationship in human existence. The Creator shows us the purpose of life, of time, man, woman, children, things, work, leisure, marriage, government, worship, and everything else that occupies us in life.
Since everything had a beginning, then everything will have an end. We all know this about ourselves, though men try to suppress it in denial of God. But on a much bigger scale, we must know that the world will end. The Creator tells us so in His word. He will destroy sin and its curse on the creation, and create all things new.
Since God created everything, we are stewards of His creation. Gen. 1:1 is God’s statement of ownership, and the gift of life on this earth is our summons to stewardship. God lets us enjoy and use His world. Since we are created in His image, we re-create, design and develop, and employ ourselves in God’s world. And as stewards we will give an account of our stewardship.
In Christ, we are sons, not just stewards. The Gospel makes me an “heir of God and fellow-heir with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Christ is the Creator and Owner of the universe (Jn. 1:3); “All things were made through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16); “all things belong to you” (1 Cor. 3:22). We are children of the God who owns the universe. “For God, who said, light be, is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Creation & Christ – Have you had this new beginning in Christ? This is the only way to live in God’s creation now and be prepared for the end when God makes all things new for HIs glory and those who are His sons and daughters in Christ.
Sometimes I ask myself this question. I know how I feel and I don’t like what I feel. I see the need to work on my feelings. You remember that the Psalmist asked himself this question – “Why are you in despair, O my soul, and why have you become disturbed within me?” (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5). But I ask myself this question not only when feeling blue, but when I begin to fear, when I have an unsettled sense about things, when something is bothering me, if I begin to think ill of someone, or other things.
Asking the question is the first step to managing our feelings. No one doubts the power of how we feel. With some people, the world turns on how they feel, but this is the ultimate in subjective living. Yet, as Borgman points out: “The emotions play a critical role in each person’s thinking and behavior.” But we cannot be controlled by subjectivity and how we feel, rather, we must bring our feelings and emotions into the realm of objectivity and life’s realities which are explained by God in His word.
The words feel and feeling(s) are only found 23 times in the Bible. But many other passages apply to our feelings, such as Proverbs 14:10. “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.” Proverbs is our resource for wisdom-living, and yet it does speak about how we feel. Prov. 14:10 is actually a strong affirmation of the broad range of feeling and human emotion which we regularly experience. But the point of 14:10 is that “the full gamut of emotions are known by the concerned person alone.” Two extremes are presented in this verse: bitterness and joy, in parallel: the heart knows and the stranger does not know. Sometimes, no one can know or share how we feel. They may not understand what we feel. Hence, they may not see, or they may see and say nothing. Furthermore, Prov. 14:13 indicates that feelings can be deceptive. One may laugh, but be in pain; one may be living merrily, but be headed for grief. So the ability to deal with our feelings is a great grace which God gives His people.
God alone ultimately knows the human heart. “One’s emotional-intellectual-religious-moral motions are too complex, too inward, and too individualistic to be experienced by others or even to represent them adequately to others (1 Cor. 2:11). The proverb infers the dignity and significance of each individual and, to accept being misunderstood, cautions against evaluating others by outward appearances and to be true to one’s own heart.”
Ask yourself why you feel angry, anxious, envious, jealous, intimidated, discouraged, depressed, hopeless, frustrated, or, proud of yourself, in complete control, to name a few. Then consider what God says and prayerfully ask God to help you with that feeling. Remember that “The manifestations of fallen emotions are nearly limitless. However, like many things in the Bible, not every emotion is either black or white……There are also issues of physiology, personality, and temperament that may not be inherently sinful….[but] allowing our emotions to cloud reality, to restrict what we believe or determine how we respond to truth, are…forms of emotional corruption.”
Sometimes, after I ask myself the question why I feel the way I do, I conclude that I should not feel that way. I shift my focus away from my feeling to the work at hand and take the attention off myself by concentrating on others. Proverbs 3:5b: “Do not lean on your own understanding.” This directly impacts our feelings, and often I find myself saying – Self, you shouldn’t be feeling this way since you claim to trust in God. I tell myself not to base so much on how I feel but on who God is. I remind myself that a life of wisdom in Christ (Col. 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:15) will help me not to be tyrannized by oft-troubling feelings.
 Brian S. Borgman, Faith & Feelings: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 20
 Bruce K. Waltke, Proverbs 1-15 NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 590.
 Ibid., 590.
 Borgman, Faith & Feelings, 53.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”
This great depression prescription has three parts to it. The first part speaks about the painful condition of a broken spirit. The spirit within man is the animating part of man. When the spirit departs life comes to an end. Broken means stricken, crushed, or defeated in Hebrew (Ps. 106:19). The broken spirit is contrasted in Prov. 18:14 with the spirit that gives the power to endure physical sickness. The bones in Hebrew refer to our strength being lost; the marrow dries up and the life is weakened. It is a form of early death because the animating spirit in man is depressed and defeated. All forms of depression in our human spirit, with any accompanying weakening of our physical frame, are painful. It hurts the spirit and the body.
God has much to teach us about our physical and spiritual constitution. This is biblical psychology, a division of the doctrine of anthropology. Man is created in the image of God and that image is reflected in man’s body and spirit. But the spirit as the animating part of man gives movement and strength to our lives. When this spirit is adversely affected, the body is weakened. Waltke says that “This verse asserts the psychosomatic effects of 17:21….grief and joy are matters of life and death” – “He who sires a fool does so to his own sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy” (17:21). This is a reminder that life’s troubles and our sinful actions do take our joy away and cause countless troubles in spirit and body.
The second part of 17:22 refers to the healing agent which is a joyful heart. It should not surprise us that the top prescription medication for maladies of the spirit is joy that fills the heart. Joy transforms our facial expressions (Prov. 15:13). Joy stays with us and is contagious (Prov. 15:15). It can be fostered and fed by the good words of others (Prov. 12:25), and in the timely, well-thought-out responses of others (Prov. 15:23). This is a needed reminder to us that we can do much to help the joy of others. These are some of the main verses in Proverbs about the healing medicine of joy. But joy is a theme found throughout the Bible and calls for our careful study. I encourage you to do a concordance study sometime on joy, joyful, rejoice, etc., in the Bible. If it is the most effective medicine, then we should be ingesting that medicine regularly.
Psalms of joy are a specific genre in the songbook of Israel and the church. They are happy songs of the people of God. Even Psalms of lament have happy endings! Psalms of joy teach us that we are to sing hymns of joy (Eph. 5:18-20, Col. 3:16-17). Singing Psalms and songs of the Christian faith both express and enrich our joy. Sing with your mind (1 Cor. 14:15); it will increase your joy!
Joy is given to us through the Gospel. Only sinners saved by grace have true, lasting, effectual, overcoming, eternal, joy (Lk. 2:10, Lk. 10:20, Mt. 13:44, Lk. 6:23, Acts 13:52, 1 Th. 1:6, 1 Jn. 1:4, etc.).
The third part of 17:22 is the healing process. This is indicated by the form of the Hebrew grammar. The joyful heart causes healing. We take medicine for fast relief. The Bible and Christian doctrine, however, present the healing of man’s spirit (and all consequent benefit to his body) as a progressive work of grace. If I am sad, I want to be happy immediately, and sometimes a good word will do that (12:25). But deep-seated joy that overcomes all maladies of the spirit comes through the exercise of the means of God’s grace which are: repentance and faith in Christ for salvation; daily Bible study, meditation, and prayer; confession of sin and humility in the presence of God; living in the fear of God and acquiring wisdom; being properly attached to a local church; attendance on the preaching and ordinances of the church; Christian fellowship; Christian service and hospitality; loving the brethren and all people with Gospel love. Keep up these disciplines; your joy will increase; your depression and discouragement will decrease.
See Depression Medication Part I below, and other Depression and Proverbs studies on this website.
 Animation – the quality of being lively, energetic, vigorous, spirited, necessary for living.
 See the earlier article on “Sickness & Spiritual Depression” ~ Prov. 18:14.
 Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs 15-31 (NICOT – Eerdmans 2005), 60.
 See the earlier article on 12:25 entitled “Anxiety & Spiritual Depression.”
 See Mark D. Futato, Joy Comes in the Morning (Phillipsburg, NJ, P & R, 2004).
 Hebrew hiphil form of the verb.