When He Had Given Thanks, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: Giving Thanks Publicly

During this Thanksgiving week, we learn how to render thanks to the Lord through the prayers of thanksgiving from Jesus himself.

Scripture: Matthew 14:19

On this Thanksgiving Day, we continue our look at Jesus’ example to us in so small a matter as thanking God for his food.

4. We should give thanks publicly before other men and women. My fourth point is that we should give thanks publicly. Obviously Jesus did. That is why the disciples were able to observe it and why the gospel writers were able to record his thanksgiving in the books that bear their names. In the gospel of Matthew, from which our text is taken, Jesus thanked God publicly before 5,000 men as well as many additional women and children. “Ah,” you say, “but prayer is a private thing. I thank God privately.” That is good. You should. But you should also thank him publicly, as Jesus did. What does public thanksgiving accomplish?

First, it honors God. When we thank God before other men and women we are pointing out to them that God is a good God and well worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. That is an important testimony to give before the watching world, which thinks that God is indifferent at best and probably hostile. We should remember that one characteristic of the unbelieving world, according to Paul’s analysis in Romans, is that it is not thankful. Paul wrote, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). There is no heart so dark as one that is unable to thank God for anything.

Second, public thanksgiving identifies us with God. It is a way of saying that whatever happens in this unbelieving and sinful world, whatever we may suffer either for our own sins or for the sins of others, we nevertheless stand with God. We acknowledge him as God. We confess, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). We need to be witnesses of the grace of that most gracious and giving God to others.

5. We should give thanks to God. The last point is so obvious it almost goes without saying. But I should say it anyhow: We should give thanks to God. I mean by this not merely that we should be thankful, which is the point I have been making all along. I mean that we should be thankful to God. We express thanks to other people. We thank people who help us in the supermarket, who do work for us in the home, who smile or say a kind word. We are formally thankful to those who give us presents. It is rude not to be thankful or to fail to express thanks properly. But how reluctant we are to thank the great Almighty God from whom, in one way or another, all our other causes for thanksgiving come! How negligent! How embarrassing! How sinful!

Study Questions:

  1. What does public thanksgiving accomplish?
  2. How would you respond to someone who claims that prayer is a private thing, and thus he or she only prays privately and not publicly?

Reflection: For what are you most thankful this Thanksgiving?

Application: Send a note of encouragement to someone you know who shows a thankful spirit even in tough times. Also, find ways to thank God publicly in your speech. Pray for God to use that.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

When He Had Given Thanks, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: Imitating Jesus in Our Prayers

During this Thanksgiving week, we learn how to render thanks to the Lord through the prayers of thanksgiving from Jesus himself.

Scripture: Matthew 14:19

In so small a matter of thanking God for his food, Jesus becomes an example to us. What is it that we can learn from his behavior? As we saw yesterday, we should give thanks for even the smallest things. Today we examine three more points.

2. We should give thanks at all times. The second lesson we have from Jesus’ example is that we should give thanks at all times, since Jesus certainly did himself. We have already seen how he gave thanks on every occasion in which we are told he presided at a meal. But he gave thanks at other times too. For example, at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, when he was about to raise him from the dead, he stopped to pray, saying, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41b, 42).

As far as we are concerned, we tend to give thanks on special occasions, if at all. Like Thanksgiving Day. But actually our whole lives should be a perpetual thanksgiving. Many well-known New Testament texts stress this.

Philippians 4:6, 7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Colossians 2:6, 7: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Colossians 3:15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

Some Christians begin the day with thanksgiving, expressing gratitude that God has given them a good night’s rest and brought them to a new day of labor for him. They thank him for the food that is served at breakfast and for the one who serves it. Throughout the day they thank God for those they work with and for the help he gives at each step of the way. They thank him for the talents they can use for him, for every opportunity to speak a kind or helpful word to others, and for the help and encouragement others give to them. Then when they lie down at night, they go to sleep thanking God that he has been with them and blessed them one more day, and they commit their lives and those of their loved ones to him. Don’t you think Christ did that? Of course, he did! Shouldn’t you do it too?

3. We should give thanks in all circumstances. My third point is taken from Jesus’ giving thanks before instituting what we call the Lord’s Supper: We should give thanks in all circumstances. That is an obvious point in this case, for the elements of the Lord’s Supper stood for Christ’s broken body and shed blood. As he broke the bread and distributed the wine, he knew that he was soon to die and he knew how he was to die. Yet Jesus was just as ready to thank God in that situation as he was in the less dangerous, happier times that occurred earlier in his life.

Are you able to thank God in all circumstances? This is harder than thanking him when things go well, though when things go well we often forget to thank God at all. But it is not impossible. In yesterday’s study I mentioned Brother Lawrence. This humble man wrote on another occasion, “God… requires no great matters of us: a little remembrance of him from time to time; a little adoration; sometimes to pray for his grace, sometimes to offer him your sufferings, and sometimes to return him thanks for the favors he has given you, and still gives you, in the midst of your troubles, and to console yourself with him the oftenest you can…. You need not cry very loud; he is nearer to us than we are aware of.”1

The Apostle Paul knew how to thank God even in the midst of his terrible sufferings for the gospel’s sake, and he gave us this teaching: “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

1Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell/Spire, 1958), p. 48.

Study Questions:

  1. How often did Jesus give thanks? How can we imitate that attitude?
  2. Why did Jesus give thanks at the tomb of Lazarus?
  3. What is the significance of Jesus giving thanks before the Last Supper?

Reflection: Do you live your day as the prototype Christian Dr. Boice describes? Examine your current circumstances. Even if they are difficult, begin to thank God now. Do you know someone like Brother Lawrence? Thank God for his/her example.

Application: Write out the four passages of thanks on index cards. Place the passages where you can see them throughout the day. Memorize one of them.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

When He Had Given Thanks, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: What We Learn about Jesus from His Prayers

During this Thanksgiving week, we learn how to render thanks to the Lord through the prayers of thanksgiving from Jesus himself.

Scripture: Matthew 14:19

The accounts of Jesus offering a prayer of thanks at meals where he is presiding enables us to reflect on who Jesus is.

1. Jesus is the Creator God. It would be important that Jesus prayed if he were only a man. It would be an example of a piety worth copying. But Jesus was more than a mere man, of course. He is the very Son of God who is therefore also the Creator of everything that is. John wrote of Jesus, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). When Jesus gave thanks for food, it is an example of a person giving thanks to God for what he had himself created.

2. Jesus was able to provide anything he needed by himself. Even in his human form during his days on earth, Jesus retained the ability to provide everything he could ever possibly have needed miraculously. The devil appealed to this on the occasion of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness when he said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matt. 4:3). Jesus could have done it. In fact, he showed his miraculous power not only to turn stones to bread, but which is even more wonderful—to make bread out of nothing, when he multiplied the fish and loaves on the occasion of the miracle we are considering. It was nothing for him to perform such a miracle, and he could do others like it at any time simply because of who he was.

Yet in spite of the fact that Jesus had made all things originally and was able even in his human form to make all that he needed from nothing by his miraculous power, Jesus still gave thanks for his food.

Why was this? Was Jesus simply acting for the benefit of his disciples so that they, who really did have cause to give thanks, could learn to say grace before meals? Of course not. Jesus was no actor. He was the most authentic person who has ever lived.

Therefore, if Jesus gave thanks, as he did, it was because he truly was thankful. So here is a first lesson: If Jesus, who did not need to give thanks (at least if we look at this in a purely human way) nevertheless did give thanks, how much more should we who depend upon God for the very oxygen we breathe as well as the food we eat—how much more should we be thankful?

And here is a second lesson: We should learn how to give thanks from the Lord’s example. Jesus never did anything from which we cannot learn. Therefore, even in so small a matter as thanking God for his food, Jesus becomes an example to us. What is it that we can learn from his behavior? There are many things, I am sure. Let me list just five of them, which we will look at throughout the week.

1. We should give thanks for even the smallest things. One of the strange corruptions of our thinking as sinful men and women it that we regard big things as important and small things as unimportant, when actually it should be the other way around. If we are thinking of people, we consider the man or woman at the top of the organization pyramid to be the important person and the worker at the bottom to be unimportant. But it is the worker who is actually important. I remember a man who had been trained at the world-renowned restaurant school at Cornell University, telling me that he had been taught that in the restaurant business the dishwasher is the most important person. He has to have a future and be encouraged to believe that he can move up the business ladder. Because if he doesn’t, if he is unhappy and resentful, he will break the dishes and the restaurant will lose money.

The same principle applies in our personal lives. We think that the important things are our expensive possessions: our big house (or second home), our expensive car, our wide-screen television. But those are next to nothing. We can lose them and be no worse off than before. We may even be better off if the loss gives us more time for our families and draws us closer to God. The really important things are the intangible things—the informal times we have with other people, our friends, yes, and even the food we set upon the table—however simple it may be.

Jesus’ food was simple. We never hear of him eating anything other than bread and fish or drinking anything but wine, which would have been a very simple, diluted drink. Jesus was poor, as were his disciples. His food was the simplest kind. Yet Jesus was thankful, and he was an example to us of being thankful for even the smallest things.

I think here of Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth-century French monk who recorded his spiritual experience in the little devotional classic The Practice of the Presence of God. He had been a footman and soldier, but he served out most of his long life in the kitchen of the Carmelite monastery in Paris where he learned to praise God among the pots and pans. He thanked God for this menial work and often prayed, “Lord of all pots and pans and things… Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the dishes!”

That might be a good prayer for the many faithful men and women who will be working in the kitchens to provide our much more sumptuous meals this Thanksgiving weekend.

Study Questions:

  1. What two characteristics of Jesus are revealed through his prayers?
  2. For what reason did Jesus give thanks for the bread he created?
  3. Why should we be thankful for small and intangible things?

Reflection: Might you be better off without some of your larger possessions?

Application: What have you done to help those in need, particularly as we think about this season of Thanksgiving?

Key Point: If Jesus, who did not need to give thanks nevertheless did give thanks, how much more should we—who depend upon God for the very oxygen we breathe as well as the food we eat—how much more should we be thankful?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

When He Had Given Thanks, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: When Jesus Gave Thanks

During this Thanksgiving week, we learn how to render thanks to the Lord through the prayers of thanksgiving from Jesus himself.

Scripture: Matthew 14:19

One of the unusual behavior patterns most Christians have is that they give thanks before meals. We do it in our homes, and when we are eating out in public too. In fact, we are often encouraged when we notice other people or families bowing their heads before plunging in to eat their dinner, and we immediately assume, no doubt with real justification, that these people are Christians.

How did this practice come about? There is nothing like it in the ancient pagan world, except in the formal and superstitious practice of pouring out a drink libation to the gods before drinking. There were some thanksgiving prayers in Judaism, of course, especially on festive occasions like a Seder. But that is not why Christians give thanks before meals. The real reason Christians give thanks when they sit down to eat is that Jesus, their Lord and Savior, did so regularly. As far as we can tell, he did this on all occasions. This seems to have been so unusual in respect to the practices of his day that the writers of the gospels reported it as a thing both unexpected and significant.

The best known example of this is Jesus’ giving thanks for the bread and wine at the institution of the Lord’s Supper. We have an account of it in Matthew 26:26-29 (parallels in Mark 14:22-26 and Luke 22:14-23), and it is the basis for Paul’s well-known words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper recorded in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, which we use at our communion services: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

A less familiar but equally instructive example is Jesus’ prayer before multiplying the fish and loaves to feed the 5,000, recorded in Matthew 14:13–21 (parallels in Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-15). I have chosen verse 19 from the Matthew passage as a representative text for this sermon: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” Jesus did the same thing when feeding the 4,000, recorded in Matthew 15:29-39 (parallels in Mark 8:1-13).

There is one more very significant example. It occurred on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus after the resurrection when Jesus presented himself to the Emmaus disciples and was invited to stay and eat with them in their home that evening. On that occasion, we are told, Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” (Luke 24:30).

These four settings are the only stories in the New Testament in which Jesus presided at a meal. But in every case it is recorded of him that he gave thanks to God before he distributed the food and ate it.

Since these are the only accounts of Jesus presiding at a meal and since in each case the writer of the gospel recorded the fact that Jesus first gave thanks for the food, it must be a point worth noting. It must mean that the thanksgiving of Jesus struck the writers (as well as the other disciples) as important.

Why? The novelty would be part of it, if it was actually the case that few in Christ’s day prayed before meals. But what is most remarkable is not the novelty. It is what follows when we reflect on who Jesus is in tomorrow’s study.

Study Questions:

  1. What other religions practice giving thanks before a meal? Why do Christians practice this?
  2. What are we saying when we give thanks? What is the significance of this? What is remarkable about Jesus giving thanks?
  3. On what four occasions does the Bible report Jesus giving thanks?

Reflection: Do you practice any other “unusual behavior patterns” that signal you are a Christian?

Observation: Note that the multiple accounts of Jesus’ prayer of thanks indicates the novelty and importance of this act.

Application: Practice ways to keep your thanksgiving before a meal from becoming routine.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Not to Worry: Part 2, Day 5

By James Boice

Theme: Taking the Long View

In this week’s lessons we see how the wicked and righteous are contrasted, and learn how the mature Christian approaches all of life to the glory of Christ.

Scripture: Psalm 37:21-40

Part five of Psalm 37 encourages us to take the long view (vv. 34-40). This is not a new theme in the psalm. We have seen it earlier, but it seems to dominate this last section. The ground for this teaching is that in the long run the righteous will be exalted and protected, and the wicked will be brought down. Therefore, the psalmist commands us to “wait for the LORD and keep his way” (v. 34).

In Psalm 1 the author used an attractive metaphor for the life of the person who lives by God’s word. He said he will be “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season” (v. 3). In Psalm 37 the same metaphor reappears. But here it is used in reverse, the wicked being compared to a green tree which flourishes for a time but soon passes away and is seen no more (vv. 35,36). This is not what we would naturally expect. Earlier in the psalm the wicked were compared to pretty flowers of the field, which do not last long. That seems right. But it is hard to think of a great tree suddenly passing away, unless perhaps it is cut down, which may be what the psalmist is thinking. Still, the flower image seems better.

Nothing in the Bible is a mistake, of course. So in this case I imagine the image of the tree to be teaching that there are times when the wicked do so well that they seem indistinguishable from the righteous. Their security seems equally assured. They flourish. But we are taught not to judge by appearances but by the word of God. Proverbs 3:5, 6 says: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

That is what Psalm 37 has been encouraging us to do and what the child of God will experience if he or she 1) trusts in the Lord; 2) delights in the Lord; 3) commits his or her way to the Lord; 4) is still before the Lord; and 5) refrains from doing evil. The one who does that will end as the psalm itself does, with meek objectivity, reiterating that the Lord helps, delivers and saves those who trust him.

“But I can never become like that,” someone protests. “It is not my nature to be meek.” It is not any of our natures to be meek. But we can become meek if we will commit our way to God and learn from him, as the psalm advises. We are to learn from Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle [meek] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28, 29).

Study Questions:

  1. What does Dr. Boice mean by taking “the long view”?
  2. Compare the use of the image of the tree in Psalm 1 and here in Psalm 37. How is the image being used differently?

Application: Are there any specific areas in which you need to take the long view?

For Further Study: To see how the Lord’s will was at work in the changing relationship between Jacob and Laban, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message from Genesis 31, “The Long Way Home.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Not to Worry: Part 2, Day 4

By James Boice

Theme: An Old Man’s Testimony and Counsel

In this week’s lessons we see how the wicked and righteous are contrasted, and learn how the mature Christian approaches all of life to the glory of Christ.

Scripture: Psalm 37:21-40

At the end of these two sections, which contain seven contrasts, most between the righteous and the wicked (vv. 12-26), David appends an old man’s testimony to the truth of what he has said (vv. 25, 26). He tells us that he has never seen these truths contradicted: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (v. 25).

Would it be possible for us to say that? The first part is alright. We can be sure that God himself never abandons the righteous. Besides, Jesus said, “I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:20). But can we say that we have never seen the children of the righteous begging bread? That we have never seen the righteous without life’s necessities? That question troubled Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who solved it by distinguishing between David’s testimony and his own. He did not fault David, but he acknowledged that verse 23 was not his personal observation, at least as it stands. He had seen the children of the righteous begging. “I have relieved the children of undoubtedly good men, who have appealed to me as common mendicants,” he reported.4

I suppose my testimony is somewhere in between. I have never seen the children of believers actually begging food, though I know poor Christians and do not doubt that there are places where living is so poor that the offspring of believers beg, as do others.

But the observation is still a good one even if it needs to be taken in less than an absolute sense. God does provide for the righteous and their children. Millions will testify to that. Indeed, they will testify to all that has been said here. Derek Kidner, one of the most interesting and useful commentators on the Psalms, was so impressed with this that he joined phrases the Apostle Paul used of his experience of God’s provision (in 2 Corinthians 4:9 and 6:10) with David’s words in Psalm 37 to provide the following outline for verses 12-26: 1) “persecuted but not forsaken” (vv. 12-15); 2) “as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (vv. 16-20, 25); 3) “making many rich” (vv. 21, 22, 26); and 4) “cast down, but not destroyed” (vv. 23, 24).

In other words, David’s testimony was Paul’s testimony too. And so it has been with millions of God’s people.

I have called the fourth part of Psalm 37 “an old man’s counsel to the young” (vv. 27-33), because having spoken of himself as an old man, David then goes on to give advice to people who have not lived as long or seen as much of God’s workings as he has.

The section begins with a command, just as the next section also does. Here David says, “Turn from evil and do good” (v. 27). This is a combination similar to the words “trust in the LORD and do good” in verse 3. It is an affirmation about faith leading to good works. We studied it earlier. Here, however, the verses go on to speak of good words, since verse 30 elaborates the earlier teaching by adding: “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.” Why is this? The answer is in verse 31. It is because “the law of God is in his heart.” Spurgeon calls this “the best thing in the best place, producing the best results.”5 And Alexander Maclaren writes wisely, “That is the foundation on which all permanence is built. From that as center there issue wise and just words on the one hand and stable deeds on the other…. Therefore he who orders his footsteps by God’s known will is saved from much hesitancy, vacillation and stumbling, and plants a firm foot even on slippery places.”6

Study Questions:

  1. What is the principle behind verse 25?
  2. How do we turn from evil, especially in those times when it is appealing?

Reflection: Can you say that the law of God is in your heart (v. 31)?

4C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 176.
5Ibid., p. 177.
6Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 1, Psalms 1-38 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), pp. 371, 372.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Not to Worry: Part 2, Day 3

By James Boice

Theme: The Righteous Blessed and the Wicked Cut Off

In this week’s lessons we see how the wicked and righteous are contrasted, and learn how the mature Christian approaches all of life to the glory of Christ.

Scripture: Psalm 37:21-40

The first contrast between the wicked and the righteous is that the wicked borrow and do not pay their debts, while the righteous give generously.

2. The righteous will inherit the land, but the wicked will be cut off (v. 22). This second contrast is meant to be taken of the land of Israel literally, since inheritance of the land is one of the great Old Testament promises. It is not the same for us, since there are no promises that New Testament believers are to possess or inherit portions of the Promised (or any other) Land. Yet, there is the third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). That is a New Testament promise, spoken to Christians. What does it mean?

There are three things it can mean. First, it can be speaking of a future day in which believers will reign with Christ on earth. Not all views of eschatology allow this, but if it is a permissible interpretation, it is significant that Jesus changes the words “inherit the land,” meaning the land of Israel, to “inherit the earth,” which is broader. Second, the beatitude can be speaking of prosperity in general, which would be a fair contemporary application of the psalm’s teaching. It would mean that God will care for those who seek him and live for him. They will have their share of good things. Most Christians can testify to that, even those whom the world would regard as not being very well off. Riches are relative, and the little the righteous have is better than the abundance of the wicked, as the psalm has already said (v. 16). The third possible meaning of the beatitude is that the entire earth is given to the righteous to enjoy, and they can enjoy it as the wicked cannot, since they see it and receive it as a gift of their gracious heavenly Father.

The meek can inherit all things in this way because they do not have to possess them exclusively or selfishly. Paul was such a man. He owned little yet could describe himself as “possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). Likewise he reminded the Corinthians that “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor. 3:21).

3. The wicked will be cut off, but although the righteous may stumble they will not fall since the Lord upholds them (vv. 23, 24). The last of these contrasts picks up from the end of the one preceding and does not use the word “but,” as the others do. Yet it is still a clear contrast. The wicked will be cut off, but the Lord will sustain the righteous, even though they may stumble along the way or experience hardships for a time.

Verse 23 is better known (and may even be better translated) in the King James Version of the Bible, which says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” In his commentary on this psalm Harry Ironside tells a story about George Mueller, the founder of the great faith orphanages in England in the nineteenth century. Mueller was a man of great prayer and faith. He spent a lifetime placing the needs of his orphanages before God and saw many wonderful answers to his prayers. Ironside’s story is about someone who once picked up George Mueller’s Bible and was thumbing through it when he came to Psalm 37:23 and saw that next to the words “the steps” Mueller had written into the margin “and the stops.” Apparently, Mueller had been meditating on this verse, and it had occurred to him that it is not only forward motion that is ordered by the Lord but also times of enforced inactivity. For the righteous even these times have a gracious design.3

Study Questions:

  1. How can verse 22 be understood? Which view do you prefer?
  2. What are some ways the Lord sustains us when we stumble?

Application: It is easier to trace the Lord’s hand in our life when things are happening, particularly when they are things we desire. But it is harder when nothing seems to be happening and God appears to be silent. What might God be intending to teach us during those periods of apparent inactivity?

3H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1952), p. 220.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Not to Worry: Part 2, Day 2

By James Boice

Theme: The Christian and Money

In this week’s lessons we see how the wicked and righteous are contrasted, and learn how the mature Christian approaches all of life to the glory of Christ.

Scripture: Psalm 37:21-40

Yesterday we said that in the second part of this psalm there are four contrasts concerning the wicked, the Lord, and, for the last two, the righteous. In this third section the psalmist continues with three more contrasts, dealing directly with the wicked and the righteous.

1. “The wicked borrow and do not pay their debts, but the righteous give generously” (v. 21). There are two ways of looking at this contrast. Since the psalm is speaking of the overthrow of the wicked as opposed to the blessing on the righteous, who will inherit the land, some writers think of this not as a moral failure on the part of the wicked but rather as a failure to pay debts because they have not prospered and so cannot repay them. H. C. Leupold writes: “The one borrows and has not the wherewithal to repay, but the other is so well blessed by God that he can always repay his honest debts.”1

The trouble with this view is that the specific words of the verse do not seem to stress ability and non-ability, but rather what we would call the difference between a selfish and a generous spirit. This has inclined other commentators, including myself, to a second view, namely, that the contrast is between what Peter C. Craigie calls “perpetual takers” and “constant givers.”2 The wicked are always out for themselves. They borrow because they want to get ahead quickly and see this as a short road to success. They are slow to repay because they want to keep their capital as long as possible, and often do not repay, either because they think they can get away with not repaying or not paying all that is due or because they overextend themselves and are unable to meet their obligations.

With the righteous it is not a question of getting ahead or borrowing or repaying at all. For them money is a gift of God to be used to help others. Therefore, they are essentially generous rather than being essentially selfish and acquisitive. They are for others, rather than being only for themselves.

I need to say something very practical about our own culture at this point—and about Christians who are caught up in it. Our current economic system is trying to achieve short-term prosperity at the cost of long-term debt. The government is doing it by borrowing against the future. Government debt is astronomical. But the really frightening and corrupting thing is that individuals are also doing it and are being encouraged to do it more and more.

If you have any regular job or any credit at all, you know what I mean. You receive mailings from your credit card company assuring you that your credit is so good that they have raised your borrowing limit from $3,000 to $5,000, or higher. And companies you have not even heard of try to get you to apply for their cards, having given you a “pre-approved” line of credit. When you put these limits together you find that it is possible for you to borrow tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps getting as much as $100,000 or even more in debt.

You don’t have to be a Christian to realize what is happening. Who is foolish enough to think that he or she is so select a customer that the credit card companies have carefully sought him out or are courting her because the credit is deserved? The banks want you to borrow on time because they can make more money lending to you than they can commercially. The commercial prime rate is now about 9½ percent, but they can double that to 18 or 20 percent or more by getting you to buy on credit. As I say, you don’t have to be a Christian to understand that for what it is and to know that consumer debt is a very foolish bargain.

There is only one reason why anyone ever gets caught up in our credit-debt system besides stupidity, and that is greed. It is a desire to have what we covet immediately and unwillingness to wait and work for it.

But that is where the difference between the unbeliever and the Christian comes, or should come. Christians must not be covetous. Greed breaks the tenth commandment, which tells us not to covet (Exod. 20:17). More than that, the believer must be generous, first by being content with what he or she has, and then showing generosity to others. I am not saying that it is wrong for Christians to use credit cards, since it is obviously impossible to carry around the large sums of money that are necessary to do business in our culture. But here are the guidelines. I call them the first and second great economic commandments.

First, never charge more than you are able to pay off immediately when the monthly bill comes, avoiding interest entirely. Second, never charge so much that you are unable to meet your Christian obligations first, and always have some additional money left over to be able to help others.

Remember that Paul praised the poor churches of Macedonia because “their overwhelming joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Cor. 8:2). The reason they were so generous is that “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (v. 5). That is the character of the righteous. The spirit of our age, which is trying to catch us and keep us in an ever escalating cycle of debt, is the spirit, not of Jesus, but of the wicked.

Study Questions:

  1. From the lesson, how is verse 21 explained?
  2. What does Dr. Boice recommend for a Christian’s use of credit cards?

Reflection:  Are there any ways in which the culture’s materialism poses a temptation for you? Can you change your buying practices in order to give generously to others in need? 

1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 303.
2Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 298.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Not to Worry: Part 2, Day 1

By James Boice

Theme: Two Ways and Two Destinies

In this week’s lessons we see how the wicked and righteous are contrasted, and learn how the mature Christian approaches all of life to the glory of Christ.

Scripture: Psalm 37:21-40

At the beginning of the last chapter I pointed out that Psalm 37 is a good exposition of the third of Jesus’ eight beatitudes, from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Jesus does not explain the meaning of meekness in that sermon, but Psalm 37 does.

This does not mean that the idea of meekness is neglected in the New Testament, of course. On the contrary, it is found in several places, though in the New International Version the word “meekness” is usually translated by the words “gentleness” or “humility.” Paul lists meekness as one of the fruits of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [meekness] and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23). Likewise in Colossians: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness [meekness] and patience” (Col. 3:12). Peter writes that Christians are to witness to others in a spirit of meekness: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness [meekness] and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). James says, “Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly [meekly] accept the word planted in you” (James 1:21).

These verses say that meekness comes into our lives by the work of the Holy Spirit and is intended to bring blessing, not only to us but to others. Still, not one of these texts really explains what meekness is or elaborates the steps by which we may attain it. In all the Bible the place where that is best done is Psalm 37, which is where Jesus found the third beatitude since he seems to quote it from verse 11: “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace (cf. Matt. 5:5).

In the last chapter I also acknowledged how difficult it is to outline this psalm, probably because it is an acrostic psalm and the flow of thought merely follows the alphabetical structure. My outline (or any other outline) will therefore be somewhat arbitrary. Still, there is some development of thought in the psalm, and I have highlighted it by the following five sections: 1) the quiet spirit (vv. 1-11); 2) the way of the wicked (vv. 12-20); 3) the ways of the righteous and the wicked contrasted (vv. 21-26); 4) an old man’s counsel to the young (vv. 27-33); and 5) taking the long view (vv. 34-40).

We looked at the first two of those sections in last week’s study. We need to look at the last three sections in this one.

The third part of the psalm contrasts the ways of the righteous and the wicked (vv. 21-26), but we had already begun to move in this direction in the preceding section. I called that section “the way of the wicked” (vv. 12-20). It expressed four contrasts showing how the wicked plan one thing but that God causes the opposite to happen. However, the last two of those contrasts also brought the righteous into the picture, showing how 1) the wealth of the wicked will be taken away and their power will be broken, but that God will sustain the righteous (vv. 16, 17); and 2) the righteous will survive days of deprivation, but the wicked will perish (vv. 18-20).

Study Questions:

  1. What does the Bible teach about meekness?
  2. Read through Psalm 37 and note how the wicked and righteous are contrasted, and what the Lord will do for those who trust in him.

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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Not to Worry: Part 1, Day 5

By James Boice

Theme: The Way of the Wicked

In this week’s lessons we look at a psalm that contains some of the best-loved verses in the Old Testament, and learn what mature Christian living looks like.

Scripture: Psalm 37:1-20

The second section of this psalm (vv. 12-20) describes the way of the wicked, much like Psalms 1, 36 and others do. In fact, from here to the end of the psalm nearly every verse mentions either the wicked or the righteous or both. Later, in section three, there are a series of contrasts between the righteous and the wicked. In this section there are also contrasts, but they concern the wicked more directly. Here are four of them.

1. The wicked plot against the righteous, but the Lord laughs at them (vv. 12, 13). We do not often think of the Lord laughing, especially at wickedness, and it is right we do not since to us laughter usually means that someone is taking a matter lightly. This laughter is like that of Psalm 2, which says that the Lord “scoffs” at those who think they are able to overthrow him and so determine their own rebellious destinies. God laughs at the wicked scornfully, because he knows their appointed ends. He knows they will be brought low and in the end be judged by him.

If God can laugh at the wicked, shouldn’t we be able at least to refrain from getting agitated by them? Shouldn’t we be able to trust God and commit our ways to him in quiet confidence?

2. The wicked draw weapons against the righteous, but they will fall by their own weapons (vv. 14, 15). The principle expressed here is that sin carries the seeds of its destruction in itself. An evil empire can endure for a time by its own brute strength, but if it is corrupt, the corruption will weaken it from within and it will eventually fall. It is the same with individuals. People can cheat, use or intimidate others for a time, but eventually their character will become known and others will either refuse to deal with them or destroy them by the same tactics.

3. The wealth and power of the wicked will be taken away, but God will sustain the righteous (vv. 16, 17). This point and the next require special faith on the part of God’s people, since the fulfillment of this promise often takes considerable time. Yet those who have trusted God over a lifetime will testify to its truth. The wicked do fall, and the righteous are preserved even in the times of their persecution by the wicked.6 In the next section of the psalm David expresses this as his own observation and testimony: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (v. 25).

4. The righteous will survive days of deprivation, but the wicked will perish (vv. 18-20). The text says that although the wicked flourish like “the beauty of the fields, they will vanish—vanish like smoke.” We speak of “the beautiful people,” meaning Hollywood entertainers, high fashion models, those with exceptional wealth or influence, and other celebrities. These people seem to flourish like pretty field flowers after spring rains. But like flowers they soon vanish. Beauty fades, popularity wanes, wealth overextends itself and is lost, and influence passes to other hands.

Those who do the will of God endure—and not just for this life. They endure for eternity. As Psalm 1 says, the righteous are “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (v. 3). “The LORD watches over the way of the righteous” (v. 6).

These themes are going to be pursued again in the psalm’s second half, concluding with a section on “taking the long view.” But that is already the psalm’s answer to present wickedness. Peter C. Craigie gives this summary: “Why should morality be adopted, when it is self-evident that wicked persons seem to get along fine in this world? … In the short run, the wicked seem to prosper, whereas the righteous very often seem to suffer at their hands. But it is the longer run that counts, and in the long run the only true satisfaction is to be found in the righteousness which is the hallmark of the one who lives in relationship with the living God.”7

Study Questions:

  1. What does the Bible mean when it says that the Lord “laughs” at the wicked?
  2. What is the contrast in verses 14 and 15? Can you think of any examples that demonstrate this truth?

Reflection: How have you seen the Lord sustain the righteous? How has he sustained you? Praise him for his providential care.

Key Point: Those who do the will of God endure—and not just for this life. They endure for eternity. As Psalm 1 says, the righteous are “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (v. 3). “The LORD watches over the way of the righteous” (v. 6).

6This is the theme of H. Butterfield’s classic study, Christianity and History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), written shortly after the Second World War. See especially the chapter “Judgment in History.”
7Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), pp. 299-300.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.