DAY 1: Wisdom Worth FollowingProverbs 2:1–22 A proverb is a short saying that sums up in a “folksy” way a valuable life lesson. You will find proverbs throughout the Bible, but there is a concentrated collection of proverbs in the Bible. That collection is the Book of Proverbs, which is part of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. I regularly read through parts of the Book of Proverbs. At some point, you should read this entire book. One chapter a day and you can cover the whole book in one month. In the New International Version of the Bible, today’s passage is titled Moral Benefits of Wisdom. The theme for this week is Morality Matters. Morality makes a difference. A life of virtue will make the world, your family, your place of work, and our society a better place to live. Morality has its benefits, just like bad character has its liabilities. Morality matters and the one who orders her or his life according to the moral wisdom of the Scriptures will discover a life worth living. As you become a better, healthier, more virtuous person, you discover you are making an enormous (good) difference in people around you. As you read through Proverbs 2, highlight or underline every word that has some moral dynamic. Make a list of what a biblically moral life consists of. How closely do these descriptions describe your life?
DAY 2: What Does it Mean to Be Good?Isaiah 5:20 We have already started to define important words we need to know. When we lose moral words, we begin to lose touch with the realities those words point to. A culture finds words to talk about what matters most. If moral words are in decline, then a culture is in trouble. We need to know what it means to be good or to be evil. As you see in Isaiah 5:20, this is not automatic. What is needed for something or someone to be morally good? There are four aspects: 1. The act itself is good. 2. The motive or reason for doing the act is good. 3. The results of the action are good. 4. The action is repeated and consistent, not intermittent or isolated. For example, generosity and charitable giving are good acts. The first standard is met. Selfishness and greed are not good. That was the lesson Ebenezer Scrooge had to learn in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. It was a lesson that Gordon Gekko, in the movie Wall Street, didn’t learn. If you make charitable contributions to be known as a generous person, then your motives are suspect. They are actually egoistic in nature. But if you give out of love and compassion for those in need, and out of grateful obedience to God, the second standard is met. If your gift goes to a reputable and worthy organization that uses the money in the way it was solicited, then the results are good. If your gift is misappropriated and goes into the pockets of the CEO and not to the target audience, according to ethicists, your charity was wasted and ultimately not good. Finally, if you are generous once in your life and that is it, while that act was good, you are not a generous person. Generosity is a way of living in the world—so is kindness and patience and all other virtues. Their occasional practice does not a good person make. Your constant prayer should be for the grace of God to empower you for persistent and sustained goodness of character, deed, and words.
DAY 3: Jesus Displays and Teaches About GoodnessMatthew 12:15–37 Today’s passage has three parts to it. The first part of the passage (vv. 15–21) describes Jesus. Notice the strong moral characteristics that are attributed to Jesus. What is the moral focus of this passage? What is most important to Jesus’ ministry? The second part of the passage (vv. 22–32) is the conflict of Jesus and the Pharisees. They accuse Jesus of using demonic power. Don’t get bogged down about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit or on the unforgivable sin. Instead, focus on the main idea of the passage. Jesus is crystal clear that you do not accomplish good results by using bad power. Demons are not cast out by demons, demons are cast out by the Spirit of God. Jesus has the Spirit. Dark demons are defeated by that Spirit. The third part of the passage (vv. 33–37) is Jesus teaching on the nature of goodness. Goodness is internal. It is a matter of the heart. Focus on this section most fully. Read it two times. Write down four or five lessons on goodness from verses 33–37. You may have more lessons than that. This passage is loaded with profound insights about character. One thing that is not explicitly taught in verses 33–37 is how you become good, or how you make the tree good. For a clue to that, what do verses 18 and 28 have in common? What do they clue you into about how you become a good person? Pray for the good Spirit of God to fill you with the goodness of God.
DAY 4: Nuggets of GoldProverbs 4:23 (4:10–27); Galatians 4:19 Proverbs 4:23 is a verse you should memorize. It clearly sets forth a distinctive characteristic of Christian moral formation. It starts from the inside out. External behaviors are certainly important, but the formation of the heart is supremely important. We cannot be good without God renewing the heart (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). You need a new heart. A heart of gold is needed to truly follow and live out the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12. You can’t turn a bad heart into a good heart. You can’t make a bad tree good. It requires a work of God—a work that God loves to do and is ready to do right now. This is the message of Jeremiah 17:9–10, another nugget of gold text! Galatians 4:19 gives us an even deeper insight into the moral formation of your heart. Your heart is remade when Christ is formed in you. That is the goal of spiritual formation—that Jesus Christ be formed in you. We are not talking about the abstract pursuit of theoretical qualities like love, generosity, humility, and so on. We are talking about the pursuit of Jesus, the imitation of Christ, and the life of participation with Jesus. This is the distinct message of the Christian faith. Christ is our life. Christ is our life because Christ is God with us and God in us. God the Father through Jesus the Son, by means of the Spirit of God, is how we become good. Skim over yesterday’s key passage (Matthew 12:33–37) where Jesus talks about “the heart of the matter.” Use the language of Proverbs, Galatians, and 2 Corinthians to shape your prayers today. Finally, be on guard for your heart. The surrounding culture will seek to tempt, compromise, and corrupt your heart at every step. Be vigilant. Stand firm.
DAY 5: The Role Models Who Inspire Us2 Timothy 3:10–14; 1 Thessalonians 1:1–10 Morality matters. Morality is the way to a life of flourishing. Morality makes the world a better place. Morality makes your relationships stronger, healthier, and happier. Morality will help you avoid many painful consequences. You will reap what you sow. It is a constant lie and temptation of our world that says you can get away without any consequences of being bad. Morality matters—and we need all the help we can get. Fortunately, one source of help is to be inspired by the moral example of people who are (and have been) in our lives. The Apostle Paul frequently talks about the imitation of Christ and offers himself as an example of imitating Christ and, therefore, says that his own life is worth imitating. (See 1 Corinthians 4:14–17 and 1 Thessalonians 1:6–7.) We have all been hurt by bad people. We have all been helped by good people. Let’s focus on the powerful and positive influence of good people. Think about three or four of the people you admire most. While there are many things you admire about them, what are the qualities of character they demonstrate? How do they act and speak that reveals the good heart inside them? Make a list of the moral characteristics of the people you admire. Take a few moments and be grateful to God for their influence. Now, think about this. Who is looking to you for example and inspiration? What are you revealing and displaying to others? Pray for the transforming grace to be worthy of emulation.
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