Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Because I tell you the truth

Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? - Galatians 4.16

It's a hard thing to realise, but it is nontheless the truth. People do not always want to hear the truth. They act like it, they ask for help and advice, but too often when we give it people will reject it. 

But enough about others. How do you and I respond when people confront me with Bible truth? 

Paul asked the Galatians why they were upset with when all he was guilty of was telling the truth. The  Old Tesament prophets had the same problem. They were often dismissed when they preached things the people did not want to hear. 

I find a pair of challenges here for me as we wrap up yet another year. 

First, how do I respond when a friend lovingly confronts me with Bible truth that I don't really want to hear? Do I get my back up and dismiss it and get angry with them? Or do I see the truth of what they are saying and allow the Holy Spirit to work a change in my life? 

Secondly, what do I do when I have someone I love who needs to hear spiritual truth for their lives? Do I just ignore it because I don't want to deal with their response. Or maybe I get all haughty and arrogant and 'holier then thou' and come across as judgemental? Or maybe, just maybe, I do the right thing. Maybe, after prayer and preparation I go in love and with a humble spirit with the goal of helping my friend. 

The truth is the truth. It is not always easy to give or take, but we can make sure our spirit is right either way. 

Monday, 30 December 2013

Weak and beggarly

But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? Galatians 4.9

Here we go back to something we have read about a few times in the last few verses. We have been saved by grace. We have been delivered from the power of the Law and the power of sin. We are free from the power of our schoolmaster. Free, free, free. 

And yet the legalisers keep coming along and telling us that to be godly we must resubmit ourselves to all those rules and regulations. It is not enough to be delivered. We must go back under bondage to their ideas of what makes us spiritual. 

Paul makes it clear how he feels about these characters. He calls them 'weak and beggarly elements.' That may sound kind of harsh, but it really describes what that kind of attitude. It is weak and it is like a beggar looking for scraps. 

God has so much more for us than weakness and beggarliness. God has freed us from the system of legalism. Now we live in the liberty that us in Christ. Sure, it is a liberty that is not a license to sin, but it is freedom from the complicated systems the legalisers had dawn up and still draw up today. 

There is no spiritual strength to be found in following the weak and beggarly elements that seek to control us. Let us not go into bondage to those elements, but let us live in the liberty of grace that Jesus has provided. 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The fullness of time

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. - Galatians 4.4-7

Well, it’s not that far after Christmas to look at a Christmas verse. 

When the fullness of time was come... Everything was all set. The timing was perfect. Rome had built roads to travel on and spread the gospel. Greek was the common language of known world. The Jewish prophets had told of His coming. The time was right. The fullness of time had come for Messiah to arrive. 

But He didn't come in the way that many would have expected. God sent for His son, born of a woman. When the time was right. His son came to earth as a baby. He was born a Jew, under the. Law and in accordance with the Law. 

And He came with a purpose - to redeem all those under the Law. To pay the price to buy man back from the penalty of sin. 

And not only that. He sent His Son to adopt us as His sons so that we can cry our 'Abba, Father.' 

Now, because of all of all that God's spirit dwells in us so that we are no longer slaves of the Law. We are no longer slaves of sin. 

Now we are sons and because we are sons we are joint heirs with Christ of all that heaven holds. 

Hard to believe that all that was wrapped in that babe in a corn crib on that first Christmas morn! 

Praise God for His marvelous works. 

Sibling rivalry

 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3.26-28

No Jew. No Greek. No slave. No free. No male. No female. You are all one. 

Since the very start mankind has tried to be one. They built the tower of Babel so that they could all have a place to rally around and would not have to obey God's command to fill the earth. Alexander tried to unify the world under his control. The Roman Empire controlled most of the known world. After Napoleon Europe tried through the Congress of Vienna  to establish a European federation. The League of Nations was a short lived attempt to unify the world. The United Nations does the same. But they all fall short. 

While the world tries to unify it seems like the church does just the opposite. We seem to be able to divide over anything. We divide, not only over doctrine or teaching or fundamentals or vital truths. That kind of stand is understandable and right. Instead we fight over music or worship styles or Bible versions or standards or any manner of trivialities. 

Not only that we divide over race or nationality or social status or political opinions. 

Jesus promised that the gates of hell could not prevail against his church. I believe that, but it seems like we are bent on destroying the church ourselves through our petty, childish, and foolish divisions. 

We are all one in Christ. All of us. We may not like it a whole lot. We might prefer our prejudices and arrogance and divisions and superior feelings, but Jesus says we are all one. All of us who have put our faith in Christ are sons of God through that faith. Isn't it time to lay aside some of our sibling rivalry? 

Friday, 27 December 2013

Why the Law?

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. - Galatians 3.24-25

If indeed the Law was powerless to save us or to tell us how to live of what possible use was it? Was the whole Old Testament thing a big waste of time. Were Moses and Mt Sinai and the Ten Commandments and the legal system and Leviticus and Deuteronomy there for nothing? What was the use if we all now have liberty in Christ? 

But the Law was not a waste of time. It did have a purpose and Paul lays out the purpose for us here. 

The Law was our schoolmaster, or our tutor, or our teacher to bring us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith. The Law taught us that we could not keep it perfectly. It had to be perfect because even one little blip on the record would invalidate all of the keeping of the Law. To break one point was to break the whole thing. 

So the Law taught that we cannot reach Christ in our own efforts. It teaches us that Christ is our only hope of salvation. 

But once we have learned our lessons our teacher no longer has authority over us. It is like a real teacher in a classroom. None of my former students has to submit to my authority. They are free from the rules of my classroom. 

And so it is with us and the Law. It no longer has authority over us. It couldn't save us and it doesn't do us any good today. We are free from its authority. 

But just a thought here. When we have teachers we respect we don't despise them after we leave their classrooms. We look back with gratitude do the things they taught us. We are grateful for the lessons learnt. 

I think that is the proper attitude toward the Law. We praise God for what it taught us. We continue to respect it. We don't despise it. Wet ske things from it. But we are free from its authority and rules and regulations. 



Thursday, 26 December 2013

A curse

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. - Galatians 3.13-14

The Law was a curse because no one could keep it. To violate it, even in the finest point, was to break the whole Law. So instead of being a blessing it was indeed a curse for mankind. 

But Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law. How? He became a curse in our place. 

What? Did we read that right? God became a curse? Surely, that can't be the case? 

But He did - God became a curse. 

God becoming a curse is so seemingly absurd that it sounds like blasphemy - and it would be if man said it. But God does say it. Christ redeemed us by becoming a curse for us. The unspeakable happened so that I could be redeemed. 

What but love could move the God of the universe to become a curse for me? 

This is love, vast as the ocean. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

To all nations

just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. - Galatians 3.6-9

So it is Christmas Day again. This is my 59th Christmas. This is Mary and my 36th Christmas together. Those numbers are astounding. I have a hard time reading them and accepting that they are real. 

But anyway, a Happy and Blessed Christmas to everyone. Nollaig Shona agus Beannacht. 

Remember the message the angels proclaimed to the shepherds? 'Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.' 

That alone would have been a shock. Everybody knew that the Jews were God's people. This passage starts in a way that would seem to reinforce that. It starts with Abraham, the great patriarch of the Jewish people. Immediately though he moves from the Jews and the Law with 'only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham' to the famous phrase 'Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' 

Part of the great promise to Abraham, along with the promise of a multitude of children, was that 'in you all the nations shall be blessed.' Jesus was a 'son of Abraham' and only in Him could there be true blessing. Only the believing Jews were truly the children of Abraham and because of Christ the blessing is available to all.  

Faith was the key before Christ. In Christ that faith was fulfilled. And in Christ we have hope. The gospel that was preached to Abraham was the gospel we avail of through Christ.  

Indeed, Happy Christmas. 

How stupid can you be?

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you:Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? - Galatians 3.1-3

Can anything be more foolish than to find liberty, and then be drawn back into captivity? That's just crazy, you might say. And if you say that you would be right. 

The Galatians knew they were saved by grace. They knew they could to nothing to save themselves. They knew if they could do that Christ would have died in vain. They knew they had begun in the spirit. And yet now they had been beguiled into thinking that they could continue in the faith in the power of their flesh. 

What a mixup! No wonder Paul said ‘O foolish Galatians.’ I think today we might say something like 'how could you be so stupid?'

When we trust our salvation in what we do we belittle the work of Jesus on the cross. We demean His great work. We make it about us, not Him. 

How stupid indeed are we when we make our lives about trying to keep a whole list of man-made dos and don'ts. True faith produces good works. Work do not produce faith. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

Died in vain

I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” - Galatians 2.21

Why is the doctrine of salvation of grace alone through faith alone such an important teaching? Why is it so important that the New Testament drives it home again and again and again? 

The idea of any kinds of works for salvation is abysmal and blasphemous because it denies the very need of Christ. Paul has already mentioned that works can't save because if they could man could brag about his own salvation. 

But this reason goes much deeper. 

What does it mean if  a man can save himself? What does it mean if keeping the Law, or any other good work, can take someone to heaven? What happens if a religion bases it's tenets on being good enough to placate God? 

What does that do to the purpose for Jesus coming? 

Jesus came to die for sinful man. He came because no one was good enough to save himself. If man could save himself why did Jesus have to come? 

The answer is simple. If man could save himself Jesus did not need to come. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ were all a waste. Jesus died in vain. 

If man could do it himself Jesus wasted His time. 

To me that is the greatest evidence for salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Jesus didn't come to help man work his way to heaven. He didn't come to fill in the gaps. 

Who are we to think our works could ever be enough to do what Jesus did on the cross? 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christ liveth in me

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. - Galatians 2.20

When I was first saved in 1974 (ouch) I was at Widener College (now university) just south of. Philadelphia. Like most new believers I was super excited about my new found faith in Christ. I went to church every chance I could. I joined the campus Christian fellowship sponsored by InterVarsity. My first Christian friends still have a fond place in my memory. 

One year we entered a float in the homecoming parade. It was a simple float, and I don't even remember the theme. But I do remember the fellowship and the singing the night we worked on the float. 

I wish could remember how it went, but one of the songs I remember was based on this verse. As a result this eve has been a favourite through the many years since then. 

First of all is the wonderful truth of being crucified with Christ. Because I am crucified with Him the old man had been put to death. Though I must continue to dwell in this body of flesh, I have Christ dwelling in me in the power of His resurrection. Christ in me has replaced me in the Law. I still have to live my life, but as I live this life I put my faith in Christ and the fact that He loved me and gave himself for me. 

I couldn't survive apart from Christ in me. 

I can't remember the words to that chorus, but I do remember this great old hymn:

Once far from God and dead in sin,
No light my heart could see;
But in God’s Word the light I found,
Now Christ liveth in me.

Refrain

Christ liveth in me,
Christ liveth in me,
Oh! what a salvation this,
That Christ liveth in me.

As rays of light from yonder sun,
The flowers of earth set free,
So life and light and love came forth
From Christ living in me.


As lives the flower within the seed,
As in the cone the tree,
So, praise the God of truth and grace,
His Spirit dwelleth in me.


With longing all my heart is filled,
That like Him I may be,
As on the wondrous thought I dwell
That Christ liveth in me.


By faith

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. - Galatians 2.16

The judaising Galatianists could not get away from the necessity of the Law. They said that even if you were saved you were not really justified unless you kept the Law. 

The problem with justication is that to be justified to God's standard one must be perfect and the problem with perfection is that no one can achieve it. No matter how good the works of the Law are they will always fall short. James tells us that to neglect one point of the Law is the break the whole Law. 

Paul is laying the foundation here for a response to the judaisers. If we cannot be saved by works we can't be justified by works. Therefore works cannot be part of what is required of us. It is faith in Christ that saved us and faith in Christ that motivates us to good works. 

We can't let the grace robbers steal our joy in Christ by adding the burden of 'do this don't do that' to our Christian living. 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Remember the poor

They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do. - Galatians 2.10

Paul remembered back to when James, Peter, and John had sent he and Barnabas out to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. 

They could have given a lot of advice when they sent them out. They could have packed them with last minute instructions on the theology of missions. They could have given them a parchment with instructions on 'church planting among the pagans.' They could have told them any number of things. 

But they told them one thing - 'remember the poor.' 

Wait. Did I read that right? Remember the poor? 

We always remember to take care of our church facilities. We remember the fancy carpet and the expensive instruments. We remember to upgrade our cars. We remember to get our new gadgets. We remember the gold plating on the bathroom fixtures. We remember a whole lot of stuff. 

But remember the poor? The one thing that Peter, James, and John were concerned about? What has happened to 'remember the poor?' 

I know that I don't know all of the church. I realise that my knowledge of the church worldwide is limited. But I do know that 'remember the poor' has not been at the forefront of priorities in most of the churches that I know about. 

The fear that I hear about is the fact that we can't be involved in a social gospel and that if we focus too much on remembering the poor we might forget about sharing the gospel because we will be content with taking care of the poor. 

That certainly can be a danger. We can placate our conscience by feeding people physically and still neglect their spiritual needs. 

But that is our problem. It doesn't mean that we can neglect the needs of the poor and only give them the gospel. Rembering the poor should not be a tool to share the gospel, but it should go hand in hand with sharing the gospel. 

Remember the poor. Sure, that means that we need to remember those who are spiritually poor. They need to be made aware of the riches of Christ. 

However, it's hard to do that when their stomachs are empty and they are shivering in the streets. 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Somebodyism

But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. - Galatians 2.6

'The Danny Thomas Show' was an American comedy in the late 50s and early 60s. It featured the comedic adventures and misadventures of entertainer Danny Thomas and his family. 

In one episode Danny and his family are stopped in a small town in North Carolina by a young eager sheriff named Andy Griffeth. Andy stops Danny for not stopping at a stop sign, even though there was no crossroad. Danny is appalled and when Andy gets the numbe of his reg plate Danny yells at him 'you just check that out and you'll see that I am somebody.' Andy replies 'ya know, I knew that the first time I saw you. Yup, I never have seen a moving car that wasn't driven by somebody' 

The world is all about somebodies. They make the newspapers. When a somebody dies everybody cares. When a somebody says something everyone listens. When a somebody gets married or has a baby or gets divorced the whole world cares and it is all people talk about. 

There is definitely a cult of somebody in our culture. 

And, like so much else, the church is not immune to the cult of somebodyism. Even in the church the somebodies stand out as authorities. It doesn't hit the news or Facebook until a somebody says it. If a somebody says it it must matter. 

Paul wasn't at all impressed with somebodies. They meant nothing to him because in God's eyes they were of no importance than anyone else. 

That is comforting to all of us nobodies. God doesn't favour somebodies any more than the nobodies. 

Nobody is somebody more than anybody else in the church. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Of human bondage

And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), - Galatians 2.4

The Galatians believers had a problem. It is a problem that has cropped up all through the ages. There were false teachers who had snuck into the church with their false teachings. 

These particular teachers did not like the liberty by which the Galatians lived. These guys thought that the Law was still applicable and they tried to use the Law to squelch the new found freedom in Christ. Paul said that these false teachers were trying to bring the Christians in Galatia, who had found liberty in Christ, back into the bondage of the law. 

What a tragedy that is. Grace robbers have always try to make either salvation or godly living a set of rules and regulations. 

There is no doubt that God expects us to live godly lives that honour Him. There is no doubt that there are Bible standards of behaviour. The New Testament is full of wonderful teachings on how we are supposed to live. 

The problem is that, like these Galatian false teachers, sometimes people create rules and regulations that have nothing to do with the word of God. I remember being told that any facial hair on a man was ungodly. I remember being told that wire rimmed glasses were worldly. I have heard that women wearing denim was sin because denim was a man's material. 

Of course I could go on and on with the man made traditions and regulations which have nothing to do with the Bible pattern of godly living. 

I think the issue arises when we focus on externals. We seem to think that if we can get people to do our perception of what is right that they will somehow become more spiritual. 

Jesus of course nailed the whole issue when he talked about the Law. He pointed out that the Law said that a man sinned if he committed adultery or murder he violated the Law. Jesus said even to lust or hate was the equivalent to committing the sin. It was the heart that needed fixing. 

We don't need men to make up a list of does and don'ts. That is truly an attempt to bring us into bondage. 

Jesus summarised the Law simply. Let me parrowphrase what  he said. 'Love God and love others.' If we could see the New Testament teachings in the light of that we could enjoy our liberty in Christ while bringing glory to His name. We don't need the shackles of men's traditions. All we need is Spirit empowered obedience to His word. 

Monday, 16 December 2013

Grace to serve

For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, - Galatians 1.13-15

Sunday morning's service was focused in the theme of grace. I was teaching from Ephesians chapter 2. That is the famous passage where Paul clearly states 'for by grace you are saved through faith.'

And that salvation by grace along is the crux of the matter. 

But grace doesn't stop there. Not only are we saved by grace, we are called to service by grace as well. 

Paul speaks of how in his previous life he had been set apart to be a persecutor of the church. It was 'special calling' and Paul did a great job of it. His zeal exceeded those of the others. 

But God had a greater purpose for him. God, in His infinite grace called Paul to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. 

His calling was clear. God's purpose for him was obvious. 

I am not sure exactly how to apply this passage. I guess all I can say for sure is that God's purpose for us is far superior to any other calling. He calls us from any other calling to His higher calling by His infinite grace. 

As Paul wrote the Corinthians, 'by the grace of God I am what I am.' 

By God's grace his saved me. By His grace  he has given me a ministry to serve Him. May I live and serve in His grace. 

Please man or please God?

For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. - Galatians 1:10

I have been, falsly I assure you, accused in the past of being a contrarian. Some people seem to think that I delight in being different and in expressing a different view or an opinion than everyone else. I don't know where they get that idea. I always like to go along with the crowd and to make everyone happy. 

Okay, maybe it's not unjustified. But despite that I still think in a general sense well like to make people happy. We can be real people pleasers, and that's not always bad. 

But what about when pleasing others comes into conflict with pleasing God. What if pleasing God is going to displease man or pleasing man is going to displease God? 

When that happens we have no choice but to make the same decision Paul made. If I am bond to please men I cannot be Christ's bond servant. It only makes sense. I can't serve masters because eventually they are going to conflict. 

I do hate to disappoint people. I hate to hurt people. I want people to like me. I want people to think of me as a nice guy. I want people to like me. But there are going to be times when my choosing to please God is going to disappoint people. I don't have to be a jerk about it. I don't have to be pious and haughty and 'better than you' about it. But I do have to please God in all I say and do. I just need to do it in as caring and loving a way as I can. 

I can't always make everyone happy, but I can strive to please God in my life. I just want to love people even if I can't always pleae them. 

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Only one gospel

 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. - Galatians 1:6-9

We certainly live in day when there is no lack of false gospels. That's nothing new. False gospels have been around since the very start. As we are going to see later the false gospel that the Galatians were facing was one of involving works in salvation. They said that doing certain works kept them saved or made them spiritual. This false gospel was the false gospel of legalistic living - 'Touch not, taste not, handle not.'

But Paul taught the gospel of grace. He taught the true gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And that, in reality, is the only gospel. 

There are other 'gospels' that people talk about. There is the so called social gospel which says, in its strictest interpretation, that we can deliver man by doing good. Now I believe in doing good - but it is not the gospel. 

There is the wicked and insidious 'prosperity gospel' that wickedly proclaims that God wants to make everyone rich, especially the preachers. 

There is this gospel and that gospel. But the only gospel that counts is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. If anybody preaches anything else, let him be, as Paul so clearly states it, accursed. 

Delivered

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, - Galatians 1.3-4

'This present evil age' surely must be a description of the world we live in today. Certainly there has been no other time when things are as evil as they are today. This evil, wicked, ungodly, terrible, sinful world is as bad as it gets. Who would not want to escape from this terrible wicked age we live in? 

The thing is that we are pretty much stuck here. We can’t escape and the world is not going to get any better.  And it is nothing new. The church has always lived in this present evil age. 

The wonderful truth is that though we have to live in this present world there is a deliverance from it. It is not a deliverance that involves being physically removed from it. It is a deliverance from its influences and power and control and dominion. It is God's will that we not be controlled by this present evil age. 

And yet it too often does seem in control. 

But as Paul wrote to the Romans when we have died with Christ and been raised to walk in newness of life the present evil are has no power over us. Sin has no dominion. We have been delivered here on earth before our deliverance in heaven. 

Jesus not only paid the penalty for our sins, but He also delivered us from the power of this evil age. 

Why can't we cop on to that and live like we have been delivered? 

I think it's pretty simple. We just enjoy the evils of this present age too much to give them up. 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Final words to Corinth

Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. - 2 Corinthians 13.11-14

I think I have mentioned before how much I like looking at the closing words of the New Testament letters. 2 Corinthians is no exception. 

Be complete
Be of good comfort
Be of one mind
Live in peace

And if you do that the God of love and peace will be with you. 

Paul goes on to cover a couple of other things, but I want to focus on these last instructions on how believers can know the presence of the love and the peace of God. 

Paul gives four simple ways that the Christians in Corinth can find live for Christ and enjoy the blessings of living for Him. 

Paul says that we are to be complete, or perfect as the old King James translation put it. Our constant goal should be pushing on towards maturity and completeness in our spiritual lives, and our goal actually ought to be striving for perfection. 

We ought to find great comfort in our days of trial. We live, as the church has always lived, in troublesome times. It is easy to find ourselves in great discomfort in these days, but the God of peace is the source of all comfort. Instead of discomfort with the world we must live in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. 

Then we need unity. Instead of the division that corrupts the church we need to find our unity as we are all one in Christ. 

And finally we are to live in the peace that only Jesus Christ can provide. 

Isn't it amazing how so few words can say so much? Just think if we could take this four principals and make them a part of our life today. 

Be complete
Be of good comfort
Be of one mind
Live in peace

Examine yourselves

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you are disqualified. - 2 Corinthians 13.5

Isn’t it easy to examine others and make a determination about how spiritual they are?  It is easy for me to look out and be critical of other people. I can certainly see their sin when I examine them. 

Sometimes it seems that some people have taken on a full time job of examining and judging everyone else. There are some who seem to think that their middle name is 'Holy Spirit.' All they do is sit as judge. 

The bad thing is that can find myself in that same situation. It is much more comfortable to examine them instead of me. 

Our church observes the Lord's Table every week. As part of that observance we are reminded to examine ourselves and make sure that we are in a right relationship with God and with each other. Self examination and testing should be a regular part of our walk. 

I honestly am not sure whether 'to see if you are in the faith' refers to seeing if you are really a believer or whether you are living in the faith. I tend to lean toward the latter. 

Either way the principle is clear. Though we are called to point out error and to correct an erring brother that is not our first place of focus. Our first place of focus is ourselves. And I know that I, for one, have plenty of work there. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Serve in power

For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. - 2 Corinthians 13.4

Paul returns here to the theme of power and weakness. Lest there be any doubt he addresses the source of his power. 

It wasn't of himself. He had no power to say the things he did or to correct them in his own authority. He fully realised his weakness. From what it sounds like here Paul sounds like he sometimes felt totally unworthy to serve. 

I think anybody who serves the Lord in any capacity understands that. I think we all realise that we serve from a position of weakness. If any of us don't, we had better do a self heart examination. 

But that weakness is what allows us to serve. When we realise that we are weak in His service then we know that we must depend on the power of Christ. 

In a way we ought to rejoice when we realise just how unable we are. When we realise that we live with Christ in His resurrection. It takes a tremendous burden off of us. 

May I be constantly reminded to serve in His power and forget about serving in my weakness. 

Monday, 9 December 2013

Sufficient grace

And He said to me, “ My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. - 2 Corinthains 12.9

I have a really hard time understanding circumstances sometimes. Like right now, right this moment, at this instant. Our dear Michelle is back in Tallaght Hospital dealing with the third manifestation of leukaemia. Matt is scared. We all are scared. We don’t know how to handle this. We don’t know what to do. 

Perhaps this is the kind of thing that Paul wrote about when he talked about his thorn in the flesh. I know that this is challenge for all of us. 

It actually makes my heart hurt. My faith is being tried. I am weak. We are weak. 

But we have a difference in our weakness. People all over the world through situations like this. It is not just something Christians have face. Struggles and trial and not getting it are a part of life. But we have the promises of God and  his all sufficient grace to see us through. 

Its not always easy to have the faith to believe, but faith tells me that God's grace is sufficient for every situation. It is His grace that allows us to see His strength when we are weak. 

The times when I am at my weakest is when the power of God works in my life. The power of Christ is the power that raised Him from the dead. 

There are times of my weakness, like now, when I must step back and let His power rest on me. 

The problem is getting me out of the way. 

A thorn in the flesh

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure - 2 Corinthians 12.7

Paul had been through a lot. He had endured a lot. He had stuck with it through thick and thin. He had endured through all these struggles and stayed faithful. 

It looked like a super Christian. And he might have been tempted to believe it. 

But God knew that Paul, like any of us, was inclined to pride. He might think that because of his successes and his victories he might be ‘exalted above measure.’ 

So God allowed Paul to receive a  'thorn in the flesh.' Despite hundreds of years of conjecture and debate no one knows what that 'thorn' was. Some think it was his poor eyesight. Some think it was his battle with pride. Some think this and some think that, but no one knows. No one. 

But there was something that troubled him. Three times he asked God to deliver him from his thorn, but it continued. 

I don't know all the ways a thorn in flesh manifests itself. But I do know that sometimes God allows us to deal with areas in our lives that we just can't seem to get past. 

If God allows them to continue there are there for a purpose. We may not know it, but we can trust that God knows what he is doing. If we try to deal with our thorns and pray for God to deliver us and the thorns continue perhaps we need to look for what God is trying to allow us to learn. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Think you have it tough?

Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11.23-28

The believers in Corinth were critical of Paul and his ways. Plus, they thought they had it bad with all of their troubles. 

Here we get a rare insight into the character of Paul. We get to see his humanness. I really like looking at Paul and his life. The people at Corinth were complaining about how bad they had it. So Paul had to defend himself against their charges - and he did. 

I'm not going to go back through the list. Take a minute or two and look back at what he had been through. 

Done? 

That's quite a list. Paul could certainly speak about trials with authority because he had been there, and been through more than virtually anyone could have. My family has been through some struggles. Sometimes they seem a bit like Paul's struggles - just building day after day and struggle after struggle. 

And yet somehow he found the strength to keep on going. He wouldn't quit on God and His work. 

But look at the last little phrase. He went through all that 'besides the the other daily things - his deep concern for the churches.' 

God could have just simply told us to deal with our trials, but he didn't do that. He gave us the example of how Paul had two sets of burdens. He had to deal with all of his own struggles and he had to deal with the well being of the churches he had a part in. 

God tells us to trust Him in struggles and he gives us examples of those who have done it. Praise Him that he loves us enough to illustrate the lessons He wants us to learn. 

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Angel of light


For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. – 2 Corinthians 2.13-14

Its the Christmas season. There are lights and decorations and baubles and decorations everywhere. Every shop is doing all it can to get our attention. The world doesn't use ugly, dreary scenes to try and get us to buy their products. 

That attitude is not just for shops at Christmas. It permeates our culture and always has. 

Satan knew that and he has not changed his tactics a whole lot since the very start. At the very beginning Satan appeared to Eve in a way that would appeal to her. He hasn't changed today. Paul mentioned that back in chapter 11. He smooth talked her and acted like all he has was good for her. 

Satan doesn't appear with horns, red skin, and a pitchfork surrounded by flames. No one would be drawn to him if he did. That view of him is the way he would like us to think he looks. 

Instead he appears looking like an angel of light. 

And the hard part is, so do his false teachers. Rarely do they look like the bad guys. They look like the rest of us. They fit right in. And there is the danger. 

The old saying goes - 'All that glitters is not gold.'

We have to be careful. There is a lot out there to grab our attention and get us off the goal and it is not always ugly. Sometimes it looks good and we need all our vigilance to avoid his snares. His bait is attractive but bait leads to a trap. 

'Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.'

The hard part he doesn't always look like a lion. That doesn't change his nature. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

I must continue

Why? Because I do not love you? God knows! But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. – 2 Corinthians 11.11-12

Apparently Paul was saying some pretty unpopular things. It looks like he is having to defend himself for the things he had said and written. 

Paul's only defence was a simple. 'I have to keep doing what I am doing.' 

A lot of folks would not believe it, but I really hate confrontation. I mean I really, really hate it. It would be so much easier to just ignore error and let it go. 

But Paul had to continue on as he was. There were those in Corinth who were teaching and claiming apostolic authority. The word of God was not finished yet so Gid was speaking through the apostles and some teachers were teaching counter to them. 

Today we have the completed word of God. When someone is in clear Biblical error we need to be willing to confront them, not because we are great or perfect, but because we need to protect each other from going astray. 

Notice the key motivation here. This is the test whether we are giving or receiving a warning. It must be given and taken in love. 

As much as Paul hated confrontation and correction he loved the people too much to stop. So he had to continue on. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Keep it simple

But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! – 2 Corinthians 11.3-4

Why do we have to make everything so complicated? I am certainly no theologian so I have a really hard time figuring our where I stand on some of the great theological issues. I would not want to totally be critical of hard core theology, but I do think we can take things and complicate them far beyond what is necessary. We can, if we are not careful, be so caught up in our '-isms' that we get dragged away from the simplicity that is the gospel. It is that gospel that Jesus spoke of when we talked about becoming child like in our faith. 

Paul was worried about false teachers. He was afraid that the Corinthians would be confused and dissuaded from their simple faith. 

We need to understand what we know and why we know it. We need to be able to I defend our faith in the word of. God. 

But we need to make sure that we get don't get so caught up in arguing our petty differences and minor viewpoints that we forget the simplicity of the gospel that saved us. 

I think what Paul is saying here is that we need to make sure we are fully committed to the basic simple truths of the gospel. If we are not settled on that then it makes no difference how much fancy stuff we know, we will still pulled away from the truth and 'put up with' false teaching. 

We need to nail our colours to the simple gospel that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. Let's not be so preoccupied with all the extras that we are deceived away from the simple truth. 

Self praise is no praise

For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends. - 2 Corinthians 10.18

I remember a silly little poem from when I was quite young. 

'I am so great and you are so small
I am really amazed I talk to you at all.'

That may be kind of funny and we might get a chuckle, but that sadly represents the attitude that Christians can far too easily develop. It is easy to think that we are doing pretty well. Pride is a terrible thing and yet we let pride spring up and dominate our thinking. We can easily 'think we stand' but when we do that we had better 'take heed lest we fall.' 

I have found that God has a way of keeping us humble. When we get too haughty and sure of ourselves God loves us enough to remind us just who we really are. 

There is certainly no commendation in self approval. Self praise is indeed no praise. 

Really, when we think about it, isn't self praise pretty childish? It's like the grandchildren telling us how fast or how strong or how smart they are. It makes them feel good, but what they are really looking for is for us to agree with them. 

But we ought to know better. Just because we praise ourselves doesn't make it true. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Gloriers

But “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 10:17

I am not sure whether this term is popular around the world, but there is a term applied to athletes who always have to score the goal or be the star, or are not a team player. They are called gloriers. 

The world is full of gloriers. They are everywhere. Sadly the church is not immune to gloriers. 

And yet there is nothing for us to glory about. We are all that we are only by the grace of God. That is why He uses the weak and base and foolish things of this world to His work. Since God uses the useless things of the world and all of our best works, are, as Paul put it in the King James Version, as dung, there is nothing for us to glorify in. 

There is no room for gloriers in God's work and yet there is a lot of it going on. I find that the longer folks are saved and the closer the grow in Christ the more unfit they feel. 

Let him that glories glory in one thing and one thing alone. Let him, indeed let us, glory in the Lord. 

Jeremiah put it clearly: 

Thus says the Lord:
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
 But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the Lord.



God delights when we glory Him. Why do we persist in trying to glorify us? 

Captive thoughts.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, - 2 Corinthians 10.4-5 

Our natural thinking is always going to get us into trouble – always. Just think about where our thinking comes from. Think about the cesspool of thoughts that we have to live and deal with. 

I don’t know about everyone else, but I am amazed at the thoughts I can produce sometimes. I find myself thinking about stuff, start dwelling on it, then am shocked and disgusted when I realise where my thoughts are. 

How does that happen? 

And I actually trust that mind to guide my thinking?  

The scriptures tell us here how we deal with that corrupted concept of thinking. We are, as a part of our struggle with this world, to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. 

That mind battle is constantly ongoing. Our fleshly cries out 'PAY ATTENTION TO ME!! THINK ABOUT ME!!' All the while the still sweet voice of the Holy Spirit whispers to our spirit that we are the sons of God.

Every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. 

Which line of  thinking are we going to heed? Where are we going to allow thoughts to dwell? Where will our thoughts be held captive? 

Not wise

For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. 2 Corinthians 10:12

How do we set our standards of success or failure? How do we measure our spirituality? To what or whom do we compare ourselves? 

I know what my temptations are. I know I find myself constantly comparing myself to others when I try to measure success. I don't think I am not too bad when it comes to comparing my sin to others, I am  under no delusions there. I can't imagine a worse sinner than me. 

My problem comes in the area of being 'successful.' 

Like most people I want to be seen as a success. I want to feel like I have done something. My problem is that I tend to compare myself to others. 

Those who compare themselves to others are not wise. Whether we compare ourselves to how bad or how good we perceive someone else to be we are making a mistake. 

Our only wise comparison is to compare ourselves to the word of God and what Jesus expects out of us. Anything else is foolish. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Warfare

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, - 2 Corinthians 10:3-4


Paul changes tack a bit here. Here expands his instruction to the people a little bit as he addresses other issues they need to to deal with. 

But he don't want them to think that he is just being 'bossy' or abusing his apostolic authority. Paul clarifies the reason for his exhortation. Hera d to say these things because we are fighting a spiritual battle. While we live in and have to deal with a physical and material world, we are fighting a spiritual world. 

There are some who try to tell us that we don't have to fight. They say that if we just had the faith to accept victory by faith we wouldn't have to fight. We could just let go and Jesus would do it all for us. That sounds great, but I keep reading about this warfare that we are involved in. I read about battles warfare and about we are to endure hardness as good soldiers. 

So we fight. But I think we have a problem. 

We are in a war, but sometimes it seems that we think we have to fight this war the way the world fights a war. We think we can use the world's methods to fight. We think that if we could just change enough laws and impact the government and shout loudly enough and protest visibly enough and march in the streets and hate the politicians enough and own enough guns we are going to score some kind of victory. 

In other words we try to fight a spiritual war with carnal weapons. 

That's not how we are supposed to fight. We don't war according to the flesh. We war according to the mighty power of God which alone has the power to pull down the strongholds. 

In the book Holiness J.C. Ryle does an excellent job describing our warfare and the impact it should have. 

'The Christian's fight is a good fight, because it does good to the world. All other wars have a devastating, ravaging, and injurious effect. The march of an army through a land is an awful scourge to the inhabitants. Wherever it goes it impoverishes, wastes, and does harm. Injury to persons, property, feelings, and morals invariably accompanies it. Far different are the effects produced by Christian soldiers. Wherever they live they are a blessing.'

I wonder how the world sees us as a church and as individuals as we fight this war. What impact does the march of God's army have on the world today? How are we doing in pulling down strongholds using our current methods? 

The early church eventually defeated Rome, but they did it by loving and caring and blessing. What are we doing? 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

How does our giving measure up?

For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! - 2 Corinthians 9.12-15

It all comes down to this. There is a reason why we can give the way we are supposed to give. There is a motivation. There is a point  that allows us to be cheerful givers. 

All of our giving has a basis. There is an example that every gift we give can be compared to. 

'Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.'

If we could ever stop to think about what He gave we could get a proper perspective on our own giving.  He gave it all for me. What am I willing to give to see His work done today. 

How does my gift compare to His indescribable gift? 

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Cheerful

Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation. But this I say:He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. - 2 Corinthians 9:5-7

It is amazing how much time Paul spends on the topic of Biblical giving and how wrongly we have gotten it (I realise 'gotten it' is not great English, but I like how it sounded here). However we put it, we need to sort out our attitude about giving. 

Paul deals with attitude. He reminds the Corinthians that they have promised a generous gift. He has already reminded them of how important it was to carry through on their promise. But then he teaches them about how they are supposed to give. 

'Give out of your generosity. Don't give grudgingly and just because you have to. If you give sparingly that is all you are going to receive. If you give bountifully that is how you are going to reap. Give what's in your heart. God loves a cheerful giver.' 

That doesn't mean what I once heard a preacher say. 'God loves a cheerful giver, but He'll take your money even if you are grumpy about it.' 

From what I have read so far I think the real principle is pretty simple. If you aren't going to give in abounding grace, if you are going to give grudgingly, if you can't give cheerfully, you might as well not give at all. 

It is obvious here that what really matters to God is the giving heart. Is it a drudgery, or is it a joy? Believe it or not. God doesn't need our money to do His work. He is not dependent on us to meet the needs of His children. But we don't give we miss out on the joy of having a part of God's giving. We miss out on the ultimate cheerfulness. 

For the believer 'give till hurts' is nonsense. For us, we should start giving cheerfully and keep giving with the joy that we are having a part in God's promise to care for His people! 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Honourable Titus

 But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord. And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind, avoiding this:that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us— providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. - 2 Corinthians 8.16-21

The Judean Chrisitans were in trouble. I am not certain, but I think I remember reading that there was a famine. They were suffering from a natural disaster. Whenever that happens and unaffected Christians find out about it we are supposed to give to meet their needs. I can't help but think of the desperate needs of the Filipino Christians at the moment. There is no way there should be a lack there when we have such an excess here. I hate to wander (well, I sorta hate to wander) but I don't understand how churches can have multi-million dollar (or pound, or euro) facilities with caf├ęs and sports complexes and all the while the church in the Philippines is in such suffering. We, the church outside of the he Philippines should be giving to the point where they are saying 'stop, we have enough!'

Rant over and back to the direct topic. Someone had to take the relief to the suffering believers. They needed someone they could trust. That is something else we need to consider. We need to be wise in our giving and make sure that it is going to be administered properly. 

Titus was the man they could trust. Also, to make it easier for Titus they sent another brother with him. That way no one could make a false accusation. It is important that, no matter who it is, there is accountability in dealing with financial matters. 

Paul also mentions what happens when this kind of giving takes place. Such gives are a part of the God's glorification. Giving is far more than just throwing a few bob in the offering. 

Anyway, Titus was chosen because of his character. He was known for doing the honourable thing. Titus was honourable before God and man. 

I wonder sometimes if we have lost that smile concept of honour. Is honour important to us or have we adopted the pragmatic world view of 'do what works?' 

It's like the old saying goes. It is as simple as 'do right till the stars fall.' 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Nothing in excess - nothing lacking

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”- 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

I thought about trying to was eloquent and show of my limited Bible knowledge or how much I am discovering about giving on this read through of 2 Corinthians. Instead I think I am just going to share what a friend posted on Facebook the other day. 

This really exemplifies the passage and the principle of 'nothing left over - nothing lacking' better than I could hope to. Enjoy and be challenged. 

Charles Wesley's example of giving. 

He was one of the great evangelists of the 18th Century, born in 1703. In 1731 he began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. In the first year his income was 30 pounds and he found he could live on 28 and so gave away two. 

In the second year his income doubled but he held his expenses even, and so he had 32 pounds to give away (a comfortable year's income). In the third year his income jumped to 90 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In his long life Wesley's income advanced to as high as 1,400 pounds in a year. But he rarely let his expenses rise above 30 pounds. 

He said that he seldom had more than 100 pounds in his possession at a time. This so baffled the English Tax Commissioners that they investigated him in 1776 insisting that for a man of his income he must have silver dishes that he was not paying excise tax on. He wrote them, "I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread." 

When he died in 1791 at the age of 87 the only money mentioned in his will was the coins to be found in his pockets and dresser. Most of the 30,000 pounds he had earned in his life had been given away. He wrote, I cannot help leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors. In other words, I will put a control on my spending myself, and I will go beyond the tithe for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom."

Finish the job

Finish it

And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. – 2 Corinthians 8.10-11

It is a wonderful thing to plan on giving to meet someone's needs. It is easy to have our hearts stirred and think how nice it would be to give. It is good to be planning how we are going to do it and making preparations. But that is not enough - there must be a completion of the task.

The particular context here is for the folks at Corinth to carry through and give what they have promised to give. For a full year they had been planning on doing something. Now it was time to do it.

There is however a general principle here. In everything we do there needs to be a carrying through on what we start.

I think we need to ask ourselves if there are projects or tasks or anything else that we have been talking about and planning on doing for a long time but have never quite got around to it.

There is a song we used to sing with our kids that I haven’t thought about in years. I can’t even remember all of it, but part of it put this concept pretty simple – ‘When you have a job to do, stick with it until it's through. Finish the job, finish the job. get it done.’


Are there areas where we need to heed that charge? 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Christ our pattern

I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. - 2 Corinthians 8:8-9

Paul constantly tries to get away from the notion that giving is some kind of burdensome obligation. Here he tells a lesson about what giving really is. 

Christ is the ultimate pattern for giving. In case there is any doubt about giving Paul makes it clear what we have been given. 

Paul says he is testing how sincere the Corinthans are as givers. By the grace of God Jesus, who had all the riches and wealth of heaven and earth gave it all up to come to earht and die for us. He came to us in our spiritual poverty to make us spiritually rich. Jesus gave up all the splendour to lift us up to the gates of splendour. 

There then we have our pattern. We ought to give up what we have in order that others might be lifted up out of their poverty. 

How does my giving compare to Jesus' giving? 

Abound in the grace of giving

But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us— see that you abound in this grace also. - 2 Corinthians 8:7

Paul speaks of abundant living. He speaks of an abundance of faith and speech and diligence and love. He commends the Corinthians for all of that. 

But he goes on to say that they are missing a grace that they should not be missing. The context here is giving and he says 'see that you abound in this grace as well.' 

Giving as a grace is not something we often talk about. Too often giving is presented as an obligation or a standard or a requirement. We preach about a tithe with the idea that if a believer tithes they have done their giving duty. Some Christians even give because they feel like they are put on a guilt trip. we talk about the importance of cheerful giving, but we impose it by guilt. 

Here though, Paul uses an entirely different approach. He talks about the grace of giving. 

How often do we look at giving as a grace instead of a burden? When we do give, especially when we give to meet a need, this grace is obvious. We see the joy of the results of our giving. 

I think we lose out on the grace of giving when we see our giving going to the wrong kinds of stuff. We lose that grace when we see it used to expand materialism in the church. When we give to benefit ourselves we are not really giving so it is not longer grace. 

Why don't we see giving as a grace like all the other things described above? I don't know. I guess it just takes a step of faith to see giving as a grace. Faith and grace go hand in hand. Let's exercise the faith to abound in the grace of giving. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Gave themselves



And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. - 2 Corinthians 8:5-6

When we think or talk about giving the first thing that normally comes to mind is giving money or resources. We often preach or teach that giving is how many dollars or pounds or euro or yen we drop into the offering plate. 

Sure, that is a part of giving. It is an important part. It is a necessary part. 

But that is not where giving gets its start. 

They first gave themselves to the Lord. 

This is really pretty simple. It doesn't take a lot of exposition. Giving everything else doesn't mean a whole lot unless we give ourselves first. It's what. Paul wrote to the church in Rome when he said 'I beseech you brothers to submit your bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord.' 

I guess it's because of my age or background, but I miss the old hymns. It's nice to be in a church that still uses some them. In 1874 Frances Havergal wrote a beautiful hymn that fits the idea of 'gave themselves to the Lord.' If we could ever get this down we would have no problems giving our financial gifts. May God help me have a life that fits this spirit. 

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
*Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Macedonian giving

Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. - 2 Corinthians 8:1-4

Giving. Yuck. The subject nobody really likes to talk about. Somehow giving, which should be one of the joys of being a Christian, has become a negative. People tend to think that giving is an option to avoid. We don't like it because it affects the one area most of us don't like touched - our pocketbooks. 

Sadly, we preachers don't really like to approach the issue of giving.  And that is a shame. It is part of what God has for us and it is part of true worship. Others have needs, and God has a way of meeting them, and we miss a blessing when we don't. 

Giving is based on the 'grace of God.' Paul talks anout how that grace was being bestowed on the churches of Macedonia was manifested I n their giving. 

These people were givers. In the middle of their troubles and poverty their joy abounded because they gave. Not only did the give out of their ability, they gave beyond their ability. These believes really knew how to give. They were excited to give. It looks like Paul tried to refuse their gift, perhaps be use he knew they had so little. But they 'implored them with much urgency' to receive the gift. 

Far too often it is like pulling teeth to get people to give. I would love to be a Macedonian giver who knew how to give with their spirit. 

May He give each of us a Macedonian spirit in our giving. 

We recently had a special blessing from a small church of Macedonian givers in West Virginia. This little church  with only a handful of members sent us a cheque for $1500 for our children's and youth works. Can you imagine what it would be like if all of us were Macedonian givers? 

Godly sorrow

For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. - 2 Corinthians 7.8-10

One of the things we always worked on with our children was the importance of saying 'I'm sorry' when they had hurt someone or done something wrong. That's the way we tend to do it. I was watching a rugby match a few years ago. The referee had a mic so you could hear his comments. At one point two opposing players had been going at each other for a while. The official had enough and called them aside. The image was great. There was a relatively short and small official standing between two giants. After his lecture he said to them, 'tell him you're sorry' then he repears it to the other player. Both of there  meekly said 'I'm sorry.' 

In retrospect I am not so sure that making someone say 'I'm sorry' without dealing with the issue is such a smart idea. I'm not too sure, but I think we might just be cheapening the meaning of 'I'm sorry.' It may be a case of being sorry that they are caught, instead of sorry for their action or words. 

Paul dealt with being sorry here. He tells the Corinthians that they were 'sorry for a while' for the things he had addressed in his first letter. It's that 'sorry for a while' bit that is the problem. Far too often we can be sorry, but only for a bit. There is no real change as a result of being sorry. 

But godly sorrow does a work. Real sorrow makes a difference. That is the kind of sorrow the Corinthians had had. It worked. Their sorrow did what real sorrow does. It produced repentance. And that is what godly sorrow always does. 

And the world's false sorrow? It only produces death. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Titus the comforter



For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more. - 
2 Corinthians 7:5

I really like it when we read about individual Christans and what they do to help each other. 

Here Paul speaks of  a man named Titus. As far as I know, or can find our quickly, this is the same Titus who went to Crete to plant a church and to whom Paul wrote a letter. Titus had just come to pay a visit. He is mentioned a few times in the next little bit, but here is a summary of the blessing he was. 

Paul and his team were tired and troubled. There were conflicts on the outside and they were afraid. I am glad he admitted that they were afraid.  That is  a comfort to me because sometimes I am afraid. 

Then along came Titus. His very coming comforted them. Paul was also comforted by the way the church had treated Titus. He was also comforted by their concern for him. 

I would love to be a comforter like Titus and Barnabas. I would love it if people could say that my coming was a comfort to them. 

May God remind me daily and strengthen me to be a comfort to others. 



Joy in trials

Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one. I do not say this to condemn; for I have said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. - 2 Corinthians 7.2-4

A theme of 2 Corinthians is the trouble that Paul and his missionary team were experiencing. Paul makes it clear they the struggles were earlier and how at times had driven them almost to the point of giving up, but they kept going. 

What keeps people like that going? How do people keep on keeping on no matter what comes up? 

For Paul it was pretty simple. He was doing the work God wanted Him to do and he was faithful in doing it. 

Paul's opening words on this verse touch my heart 'open your hearts to us.' Paul wanted them to hear and apply what God had for them. 

'I have been faithful in my preaching. I have been bragging about you. I am full of comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in our trials.'

Paul knew what James wrote about when he said, 'my brethren count it as all joy when you experience all kind of trials.' He knew that trials were a step on the road to maturity. Trials are a part of life. The sooner we can learn to accept that and rejoice to see what God is doing the better off we will be. 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Growing in holiness



Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 7.1

It is interesting how often holiness comes up in Paul's letters to the churches. In Corinth, much like in our world today, the Christians were surrounded by all kinds of filth and ugliness. They needed to know about holiness as much as we do. 

Victor Hugo gives a great example of what is means to be really and truly surrounded by filth when he describes Jean Valjean’s rescue of Marius though the sewers of Paris. As they make their way through the filth the readers gets a real sense of what is is like to be really, really dirty. 

Sometimes I feel that way in this world. Even worse, there are times when I feel that way about my own behaviour. Sometimes I feel dirty because I have been walking in the sewers of this world. 

Considering all that Paul has been talking about in the previous verses there is something we should be doing about this. 

Cleanse yourselves from all the filth of the flesh and the spirit. 
Perfect holiness in the fear of God. 

Our cleansing from filth must be both inward and outward. We can't just clean up on the outside. That is never enough and that is where we can too often put our focus. We must also clean up the filth on the inside. We really can't live for Christ while covered with the filth of the world. 

And all the time we are are to be in the constant process of 'perfecting holiness in the fear of God.' 

This perfecting is a life-long process. It doesn't happen overnight. Tyndale puts it this way: “and grow up to full holiness in the fear, of God.” As we put off the filth we must be constantly growing up to full holiness. 

As I look over the last few years I need to ask myself if I am closer to practical everyday holiness now than I was then. 

Am I cleaning myself from the the filth? Am I growing toward holiness? 

What a challenge for this Sunday morning. 

Unequally yoked

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”
 Therefore
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
 “I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”  - 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

The doctrine of separation is one of those doctrines that is easy to abuse. It cannot be the be all and end all of associations. It can become the primary principle for some people and we can talk about primary, secondary, and tertiary separation. We can get to the point where we separate over every fine detail or preference. When separation rises that level we have gone too far.

On the other hand separation can become almost an optional thing where we drop all the barriers and think that the best way to reach the world is to become like the world. We can forget all about the importance to distance ourselves from the way of the world.

Paul lays the principle out clearly - do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. First notice that here at least, he is talking about unbelievers. That is the simple balance between the two extremes. This passage is most often used to explain why a believer should not marry an unbeliever, but that is just an example example of higher dangers of being yoked unequally. The Jewish readers here would have understood. The law said that you can't yoke an oxen with an ass. It's pretty simple. When you do that you couldn't plough is a straight line.

Many parts of the church seem think that acting like the world is the best was to God's work. Some churches and individuals think that the world's way is the best way. They actively get involved with the world and their activities and methods in order to try to reach out.

But we are not the world. We are the temple of God. The world is the temple of idols. We can't work as part of the world and its ways. We have to live in this world. There is no option about that.


But we need to live separate from the world. We can't withdraw completely. If we did that we would never reach them. But we need not take part in their ways while we are there.