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Lesson 2 January 7-13
Read for This Week’s Study: Matt. 10:22, John 6:29, Deut. 28:1-14, Prov. 3:1-10, Mal. 3:7-11, Matt. 6:25-33.
Memory Text: “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1, 2, NKJV).
Amazingly enough, God has made contracts (or covenants) with us. Most are bilateral, which means that both parties (God and humans) have a part to perform. An example of a bilateral covenant is “If you will do this, then I will do that.” Or “I will do this if you will do that.”
A rarer type of covenant is unilateral. “I will do this whether you do anything or not.” A few of God’s covenants with humanity are unilateral. For example,
“He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45, NKJV). Whatever we do or don’t do, we can count on God for sunshine and rain. Following the Flood, God promised humanity and “every beast of the earth” that there would never be another flood to cover all the earth (see Gen. 9:9-16), regardless of our actions. He also promised: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22, NKJV). The seasons will come and go, regardless of what we do.
This week we will study some very significant bilateral covenants between God and His children. Let’s pray that, by the grace of God, we shall “uphold our end of the bargain.”
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, January 14.
Sunday ↥ January 8
The death of Christ on Calvary made salvation possible for every person who has ever lived or who will ever live. Unlike the promise of the seasons, salvation is not unilateral — it is not given to everyone, regardless of what they do. The belief that everyone will be saved is called “universalism.”
Instead, Jesus clearly taught that, though He died for all humanity, many people travel the broad way to destruction and eternal death (Matt. 7:13, 14).
What do the following texts have to say about how people receive the gift of salvation in Jesus?
1 John 5:13
2 Pet. 1:10, 11
Paul understood the bilateral nature of the salvation covenant. Knowing that he was soon to be executed, and in spite of the fact that many of his companions had forsaken him, Paul confidently told his dear friend Timothy that he had upheld his end of the bargain. “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Paul says, “I am ready [because] I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” Paul, though, was always very clear that salvation is by faith alone, not the deeds of the law, and so here he is not somehow looking at his works or achievements as earning him merit with God. The “crown of righteousness” awaiting him is the righteousness of Jesus, which Paul, by faith, has claimed for himself and has held on to until the end of his life.
Though salvation is an unmerited gift, what’s the difference between those who accept the gift and those who don’t? What does accepting this gift require that we do?
Monday ↥ January 9
The book of Deuteronomy is the printed version of Moses’ farewell messages to the second generation of Israelites following the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. These messages were given on the plains of Moab just east of Jericho. Deuteronomy has been appropriately called “The Book of Remembrance.”
In this book, Moses reviews God’s faithful dealings with Israel. He recounts the travels from Mount Sinai to Kadesh Barnea on the edge of the Promised Land, as well as the rebellion and the 40 years of wilderness wandering. He restated the Ten Commandments, the requirements of the tithe and the central storehouse. But the primary focus of Deuteronomy is the counsel to obey God and receive His blessings. Moses portrays God as One who has the ability, and the desire, to care for His people.
Read Deuteronomy 28:1-14. What great blessings are promised the people? But what must they do to receive them?
Moses was very eager for the people to understand that God had wonderful, even miraculous, blessings in mind for them. His words, “If thou shalt hearken diligently,” let them know that their eternal destiny was at stake here. What a powerful manifestation of the reality of free choice. They were His chosen nation, recipients of great blessings and great promises, but those blessings and promises were not unconditional. They needed to be accepted, received, and acted upon.
And nothing God had asked them was too hard for them to do, either. “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it” (Deut. 30:11-14, NKJV).
Of course, besides the blessings, there were the warnings of the curses, what would come upon them if they were to disobey (Deut. 28:15-68), that is, what consequences their sin and rebellion would bring.
What does it mean for us, today, to “hearken diligently” to what God tells us to do?
Tuesday ↥ January 10
The book of Proverbs is not so much about right and wrong as it is about wisdom and foolishness. As one reads through the book, one will see the benefits of wisdom and the pitfalls of foolishness.
Read Proverbs 3:1-10. What wonderful promises are given here? Also, what does “firstfruits of all your increase” mean?
God asks us to put Him first in the management of our possessions as an acknowledgment of His ownership of all things, and as a demonstration of our faith in Him to provide for us. But even more than this, He says that if we will put Him first, then He will bless what’s left. For us to do this — that is, to put Him first — is an act of faith, an act of trust, a manifestation of trusting in the Lord with all your heart and, indeed, not leaning on your own understanding (which is especially important, because so often things happen that we cannot understand and cannot make sense of).
Nothing, though, should spur us on more in trusting God and His love than does the cross. When you realize what each one of us has been given in Jesus, not just as our Creator (John 1:1-4) and our Sustainer (Heb. 1:3), but also as our Redeemer (Rev. 5:9), returning to God the firstfruits of whatever we have is, indeed, the least we could do.
“Not only does the Lord claim the tithe as His own, but He tells us how it should be reserved for Him. He says, ‘Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase.’ This does not teach that we are to spend our means on ourselves, and bring to the Lord the remnant, even though it should be otherwise an honest tithe. Let God’s portion be first set apart.” — Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 81.
God says that if we put Him first, our “barns will be filled with plenty” (NKJV). Yet this is not going to happen by miracle; that is, you are not going to wake up one day and find your barns and vats suddenly full.
Instead, the Bible is filled with principles about good stewardship, careful planning, and financial responsibility, of which faithfulness to what God calls us to do is our first and foremost responsibility.
How, though, do we learn to trust God and in His promises during hard financial times when, even while we are seeking to be faithful, the barns and vats are not full?
Wednesday ↥ January 11
There is a close spiritual connection between the practice of tithing and our relationship to God. The Israelites prospered when they obeyed God and were faithful in tithing. In contrast, they fell on hard times when they didn’t. They seemed to follow a cycle of obedience and prosperity, and then disobedience and problems. It was during one of these periods of unfaithfulness that God, through the prophet Malachi, proposed a bilateral contract with His people.
Read Malachi 3:7-11. What are the promises and the obligations found in these verses?
God promised the people that if they would return to Him, He would return to them. When they asked what He meant by returning to Him, He explicitly said, “Stop robbing Me of tithe and offerings.” Their robbery was the reason they were being cursed. Here is God’s solution to the problem of the curse: “Bring all the tithes [the whole tithe] into the storehouse” (Mal. 3:10, NKJV). And if you do this, then “I will … open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (NKJV). If we don’t have room enough to receive it, we have a surplus with which we can help others and help to advance the cause of God.
“He who gave His only-begotten Son to die for you, has made a covenant with you. He gives you His blessings, and in return He requires you to bring Him your tithes and offerings. No one will ever dare to say that there was no way in which he could understand in regard to this matter. God’s plan regarding tithes and offerings is definitely stated in the third chapter of Malachi. God calls upon His human agents to be true to the contract He has made with them.” — Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship, p. 75.
One of the positive cycles of obedience is recorded during the reign of good King Hezekiah of Judah. There was a genuine revival in Judah, and the people started faithfully returning their tithes and offerings to the temple storehouse. So much came in that it was piled in heaps at the temple. Second Chronicles 31:5 tells what happened when the people “brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything” (NKJV).
What does your tithing (or lack thereof) say about your own spirituality and relationship to God?
Thursday ↥ January 12
It was said of Jesus that “the common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37). Most of the people in the large crowds who followed and listened to Jesus were members of this class, the common people. They were the ones who were fed on the mountainside, and who heard the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said to them, basically, I know you are concerned about providing for your families. You worry about the food and drink that you will need daily and the clothing that you need for warmth and protection. But here is what I propose . . .
Read Matthew 6:25-33. What was promised here, and what were the people to do in order to receive those promises?
Many of the promises of God have elements of a bilateral covenant. That is, in order to receive the blessing, we need to do our part as well.
Read Isaiah 26:3. What are we asked to do in order to have the peace of God?
Read 1 John 1:9. What will Jesus do if we confess our sins?
Read 2 Chronicles 7:14. What are the “ifs” and “thens” of God’s proposal here?
All these verses and many others deal with the important fact that although God is sovereign, although God is our Creator and Sustainer, and although salvation is a gift of grace and unmerited on our part, we still have a part to play in the great controversy drama here on earth. Using the sacred gift of free will, free choice, we must choose to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit and obey what God calls us to do. Though God offers us blessings and life, we can choose cursing and death instead. No wonder God says, “[T]herefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19, NKJV).
Friday ↥ January 13
Further Thought: “Whenever God’s people, in any period of the world, have cheerfully and willingly carried out His plan in systematic benevolence [tithing] and in gifts and offerings, they have realized the standing promise that prosperity should attend all their labors just in proportion as they obeyed His requirements. When they acknowledged the claims of God and complied with His requirements, honoring Him with their substance, their barns were filled with plenty. But when they robbed God in tithes and in offerings they were made to realize that they were not only robbing Him but themselves, for He limited His blessings to them just in proportion as they limited their offerings to Him.” — Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 395.
The Bible is very clear that we are saved through faith alone, a gift of God’s grace. Our obedience to God’s commands is a response to God’s grace; it doesn’t earn it (after all, if it were earned, it wouldn’t be grace: see Rom. 4:1-4).
Indeed, when we look at God’s bilateral covenant with us, we can see both our blessings and our responsibilities. By our responses to what God offers to us, we establish our relationship with Him and, to a great degree, determine our own destiny. Obedience — the service and allegiance of love — is the true sign of discipleship. Instead of releasing us from obedience, it is faith, and faith only, that makes us partakers of the grace of Christ, which enables us to render the obedience that God asks from us.
Dmitry Bagal, a student from Russia, ran out of money several months after enrolling in the master’s in theology program at Friedensau Adventist University in Germany. His options seemed limited. He could work on-campus or in a nearby retirement home, but the income would only partially cover his tuition. As a foreigner, he could not take out a state loan like the German students. But he could apply for a scholarship, which was smaller than the loan but did not require repayment.
As Dmitry prayed over the dilemma, he felt impressed to make a deal with God. “Lord,” he prayed, “if you bless me with this scholarship, I promise to set aside a second tithe to support mission work.”
Dmitry applied for the scholarship and, to his joy, it was approved. He began setting aside a second 10 percent of his gross income for mission work. As the semesters rolled by, he was approved for the scholarship again and again, and he kept giving a second tithe to mission work. Despite the second tithe, he still somehow always had enough money to cover tuition and other expenses. He even was able to set money aside for an emergency.
Then Dmitry’s five-year-old laptop began to act up as he worked on his master’s thesis. Twice he had to buy spare parts to self-repair it. One day, he found that he could no longer close the laptop’s screen. The hinges refused to budge. A new laptop was needed if he hoped to finish his thesis, and he was glad to have the small emergency fund.
But as he prayed about the situation, he remembered a friend, also from the former Soviet Union, who was serving with his family of five as missionaries in the South American jungle. High humidity had ruined his friend’s tablet, and a robust device was desperately needed to continue his work. Dmitry couldn’t understand why he was thinking about his friend in South America when he was the one in need of a laptop to graduate. But he bought a waterproof, dustproof laptop and mailed it to his friend.
Shortly after sending the package, an online advertisement popped up on Dmitry’s laptop screen that offered the very hinges that he needed for the laptop. He ordered the hinges and, after installing them, the screen opened and closed like new. Amazingly, the laptop still works today, eight years later.
Dmitry has no doubt that God blesses those who put mission first. “The Lord has prolonged the life of the laptop,” Dmitry says. “Truly it is written in the Bible, ‘Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done’ [Proverbs 19:17, NIV].”
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