Wednesday, 30 April 2008

To spy out our liberty

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), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. - Galatians 2v4-5

Paul wrote to the Galatian believers to deal with a specific problem. There were false brethren there who were trying to bring the churches into bondage of the law by requiring that they keep the law to truly be saved. If they were not keeping the law it was all the proof they needed to say that they were not Christians.

To be honest, it is the mindset there that bothers me. These Galatian Judaizers were trying to say that if Titus would not get circumcised he was not saved. They were judging him based on what he did, instead of the Christ who saved him. They sought, by “spying out” their liberty to bring him back into the same bondage that held them. They equated actions with salvation.

There are grace robbers today who do the same. They may not go so far as to say, “If you do this or don’t do that you are not saved,” but they come mighty close. Any time we judge others by our own set of rules we, in essence, try to bind them.

If it was wrong for these men spy out Paul’s liberty, are we really any better when we spy out liberty today in others to make sure they measure up to our rules?

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

If I still pleased men

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 1v10

One could almost be forgiven for thinking that he was still reading 2 Corinthians once he starts reading Galatians. The first thing that Paul addresses after his greetings and introductions is the tendency of the people to be drawn back to the law and those who demanded conformity to it. “I am surprised,” he said,” that you are so quick to desert Christ for these men.” The Judaizers taught that the gospel and the law were inextricably linked. They taught that one had to keep the law to be saved, and that keeping the law was the only proof that one really was saved.

The Galatians were being moved to please and satisfy these men instead of Christ Himself. Christ preached a gospel of grace and liberty. Notice He did not preach a gospel of licence and licentiousness, but of grace and liberty. He also did not preach a gospel of legalism. He preached a gospel of grace and liberty.

How does this play out? Paul makes it clear; I cannot be a bondservant of Christ if I am constantly striving to please men and their rules and regulations. I would not love my brethren if I purposefully caused them to stumble or flaunted my liberty to serve my flesh, but at the same time pleasing men cannot be my motivator.

Seek peace where we can. Do not purposefully offend. Do not do things to throw liberty in the face of others. Be sensitive to others. But do not seek to please men. Seek to please Him and trust Him with the results.

Monday, 28 April 2008

And the God of peace will be with you

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. – 2 Corinthians 13v11

One can almost sense Paul’s spirit as we come to the end of this amazing letter. He knew that many in the church were holding on to their sins because he had a reputation of being tough in his letters, but gentle and compassionate when he was with them. Some of their sins were the wicked subtle sins of the heart; like gossip, backbiting, and backbiting. Some were still holding on to their perverse sexual sins. But all sins needed to be dealt with.

Paul wanted to come to them in peace and enjoy their fellowship. He wanted them to get theirs hearts and lives sorted out before he got there. He still warned them that if they did he would come and deal with them in the power of Christ. From what I am learning about Paul I don’t think I would have wanted to on the receiving end of his “sharpness.”

At the very end he appeals to them with tenderness (please pardon the parrowphrase) – “Farewell, get your act together, comfort each other, forget your petty differences, and live in peace.” Paul tells his friends at Corinth that if they do that – “The God of love and peace will be with you.”

I know that we are called on to contend for the faith. I know we are called on to expose error, but I think sometimes we are so fervent in those pursuits that we can forget to deal with our own sins, to comfort each other, and live in peace.

While we are doing what is right and proper in standing for truth, let’s just be sure that we don’t leave the other undone.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

For your edification

Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you? We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification. – 2 Corinthians 12v19

Ouch! Heart check time on this couch in Naas.

Paul has written page after page of papyrus (or vellum, I’m not quite sure) to the believers in Corinth who had seemingly become so sanctimonious after they dealt with the sinning man in the first letter that they had become harsh and judgemental, Not even Paul met up to their new standards and they flung all kinds of false accusation at him and his ministry.

I read what he wrote and wonder how I have responded in the past. I normally have one response in mind – to exonerate myself and sort them out for being critical of me. I have done the right thing, many times, by contacting them. But most of the time the purpose in my heart of hearts has been to clear my name and let them know that what they said was false.

How did Paul handle it? He did contact his accusers, but his motive was not to clear his name, but to edify them. I think I get a glimpse this by one situation that came up recently. A supporting pastor wrote me to tell me that they were dropping my support, but his reasoning was full of lies and false charges. My first response was my normal one; I wanted to get back at him. But God worked on my heart and I can say that honestly my last contact with him was a letter written out of concern for him. I don’t know how a man can stand in his pulpit and preach after bearing such false witness. My motivation in writing my last letter was not to exonerate myself; I knew the truth in my heart, but I wanted to help him see his error. I wanted him to realise what he had done so that he will be able to minister to his people.

Does that make me a spiritual giant? By no means. My natural response is to attack when attacked. My job however is to seek to edify when attacked.

May I always seek to edify others, not exonerate my name when these things arise.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Walking in the same steps

I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps? – 2 Corinthians 12v18

As the letter continues we continue to see the heartache and the hurt in Paul’s letter. I wondered what the Corinthians had against Paul, why did he have to write the words to him. It appears from the context of the whole letter that there was a rumour going around Corinth that Paul have kept some of the money intended for the work in Jerusalem for himself. He mentioned earlier that when they had a chance to commend him against the false charges they instead commended themselves to each other. He loved them and they responded with rejection. They believed the lies that he had tricked and deceived them.

So he sent Titus and another brother and they were then accused of being in cahoots with him. Paul couldn’t win and he was heartbroken. Paul said they has all walked in the same steps, they all shared the same spirit.

Paul’s words say a lot to us in the church today. We can be so quick to rush to judgement of others based on what we hear. Instead of commending others we use this as an opportunity to make ourselves look better. Men who we have walked the same road with are dismissed with a thought. Believers are written off because they are falsely accused.

I am not a deep theologian, and these thoughts are my own devotional thoughts, but it seems to me that Paul is saying something like, “Why are you turning against me, we are all on the same side?” My heart breaks when I think of the number of times that I have rejected a brother, if not in my actions, then by my thoughts, because I believed that he no longer measured up. Why is that? Because I have been caught in the trap of measuring men by my standards and compared them to by rules.

My God forgive me, and all those who act based on stories and rumours.

Friday, 25 April 2008

The more I love the less I am loved

And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. – 2 Corinthians 12v15

I have a very, very dear friend who, read he reads this, is going to be sure that I wrote it for him alone. Let’s just say that Gods timing is perfect.

The more I read Paul’s letters this time though the more I am learning to love and identify with him. He, as he prepares to close his letter to the church his heart is clearly seen. He says that he is anxious to go see them, and he does not want their money, he wants to see them. He says that as his spiritual children he needs to be the one caring for them.

Then he shares some heart wrenching words – “I will gladly wear myself out for your souls, even though the more I love you, the less you love.” One of the harsh realities of the ministry is that we are dealing with people and sadly, people are going to hurt us. There are going to be times when we pour our hearts and souls into people because we love them. The result of which, sometimes, is that they are not going to love us in return.

I think we all know the reality of this situation without me going into any more detail about my own personal experiences. Paul’s words may not make it any easier, but isn’t it nice to know that our brother Paul went through the same thing we go through?

May we be able to give of ourselves and keep loving, even when that love is not reciprocated.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Weakness in strength

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12v10

I take pleasure when I am sick. I take pleasure when I am attacked by others. I take pleasure in having needs. I take pleasure in being persecuted. I take pleasure in being in distress. What was Paul, some kind of sick masochist? How can he say this kind of stuff? When I look at this and think about how I respond in illness, reproach, needs, etc I realise that either Paul or I have something wrong here. I don’t take pleasure in these things. I don’t like them.

What makes Paul and me different? A couple of things do. One, Paul took pleasure that these things were for Christ’s sake. Paul’s opponents in Corinth and other places surely though they could crush him by their opposition. But Paul refused to give in to the flesh that would give his opponents their victory. Paul was able to turn things around in his head and heart so that the more “junk” that came against him the more he rejoiced. He know longer saw these things as something to be feared and hated, but something to be enjoyed, because he was sharing them with His Saviour!

Paul grasped something that I don’t know if I ever will – true strength comes in weakness. I can’t find my true strength in Christ until I am weak, until all the props are knocked out, and all the supports gone. When Christ hung on the cross everything was gone. He hung in naked shame for all the world to see. It was the ultimate picture of weakness. But it was then that He proved Himself strong. I hate the thought of it, but maybe I will have to be like him, everything stripped bare and all my strength ripped from me before I can find my true strength in Him. It may take that before I can truly say with my heart of hearts, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

That the power of Christ may rest upon me

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 Corinthians 12v9

We often look at a ministry that is, to our eyes at least, thriving. We see a preacher who is well known, always sees results, and has a full schedule. We see a church that meets in a beautiful building with marvellous facilities, and has every kind of resource available to its people. The bank account is full and the pockets are deep. We are tempted to say, “Wow, the power of God is sure on that ministry.”

I would be the last to doubt that God’s power could be on those ministries, but I do know that those things are not a valid indicator of God’s power. Paul writes that the power of Christ rested on him when he bore his infirmities.

When we are able to succeed on our own and a ministry thrives because of our resources, who power is seen? Far too often it is the power of the men involved. The power of God on a man and his ministry is most clearly seen in trials and affliction. God’s power is seen when all else fails.

Everything going well is no indication that the power of God is on a man or ministry. In Paul’s case it was just the opposite.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

My strength is sufficient for you

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 Corinthians 12v9

I don’t know what Paul’s affliction was. Paul had, humanly speaking, a lot to brag about. In order to remind his of who he was and keep humble God allowed him to have something that Paul called his, “thorn in the flesh.” He asked God three times to take it away, but God chose not to take it a way.

Instead, God gave him these amazing words of comfort, “My grace is sufficient for you, my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” I am only going to look at the first half of the verse today, that part that deal with this marvellous answer by God.

We don’t always feel like God’s grace is sufficient do we? Sometimes it seems like things are so bad that we can’t breathe. The pressures are so bad and the trial so strong that we just want to give up. From this verse it is clear is that is just where we need to be in order for God to show us His strength. His strength is only made perfect when we are so weak that we can’t do anything about it. This in when God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

This promise is just as real as John 3v16. If I believe that I was saved the day that Christ saved me than I can believe that His strength is sufficient for me in my day of weakness. God shows His power when we are at the end of our ropes and can’t do anything else.

What are you facing? At the end of your rope? Don’t see any way? No human answer? His grace is sufficient – now is the time for Him to show His strength.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Corrupted from simplicity

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. – 2 Corinthians 11v3

How have we drifted so far from what the church was when Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth? I think we have a clue in these few words of warning. Paul goes back to an illustration everyone could understand. Life was simple in the Garden of Eden. The relationship with God was sweet and uncomplicated. All that was ruined when Satan came along to deceive her by complicating what God said. He tricked her with his craftiness and his wiles so that that simple walk with God was destroyed.

How does this apply to the church? Paul is going to go into more detail later, but the context is clear. These same men that he has been talking about are a danger because their teaching has the danger of corrupting the church from the simplicity that is in Christ. The Christian life is really quite simple if we limit ourselves to the word of God. Love God. Love you neighbour as yourself. You have liberty in Christ, but don’t use that liberty as an opportunity to satisfy your lust, Use it as a chance to prefer each other. If we ever copped on to that kind of simplicity we would have it made.

The problem is that religion has come along and really complicated things. Some try to make “do this and don’t do that” requirements for salvation, but that is not my point here. There are those as well who take simplicity in Christ and complicate it by a whole lists of do’s and don’ts, go heres and don’t go theres, listen to this and don’t listen to that, associate with this person and not that person, or any number of similar complications.

Of for the simplicity in Christ!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Whom the Lord commends

But "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.." For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends. – 2 Corinthians 10v17-18

There is never a lack of self commendation. It happens all the time, especially when our standard for commendation is a list that we draw up ourselves. We tick off the items, see that we have done okay, and think that we are doing alright. There is no profit in this, the only approval for one who commends himself is self approval, and that is really no approval at all.

Spending most of my Christian in one circle of churches I saw plenty of this, but I don’t think my circle holds any kind of monopoly. People convince themselves that we they fit a certain behavioural standard than things are grand. Somehow we become the setters of standards for commendation so we always pass muster.

But what about God’s standards? Could I commend myself, if before I went to bed at night, I checked out God’s standards? Did I treat people with love and respect today? Did I reach out a hand to the poor and needy? Did I love my wife as Christ loves the church? Did I provoke my children to wrath? Did I linger on a lustful thought? Did I covet? Did I use my liberty in Christ to serve my flesh? Did I honour and prefer others? Did I prove my love by my actions?

How may of us could commend ourselves with that kind of list?

We only have one source in which to glory. We can only glory in the Lord. In the Lord is my holiness, my righteousness, my purity, and my hope. I can only glory in Him for there is certainly nothing in me in which to glory.

May I daily seek only one commendation.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Measuring themselves by themselves

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 10v12

There is one sure fire way to measure up – set your standards low. The criticism levelled against Paul was that he did not measure up the standards and expectations of some of the leaders in Corinth. Paul would not fall into their trap – their only standard was each other. When you measure yourself by your own standards and compare yourself to other men you are sure to look good.

There are many today who have fallen into the same trap. Going far beyond the word of God men create their own standards, the count themselves spiritual when they meet those standards. Those who don’t meet some specific list of standards a counted as either not saved or not spiritual. Those who do match up are considered spiritual giants. Whole movements have sprung up around this kind of thinking. What some are portraying as godly is actually no more than men setting human standards then congratulating themselves for measuring up to them.

What is Paul’s response? “Those who do this kind of thing are not wise.” When we see it in this light the whole idea really seems silly. Anybody can obey a list of rules. You can go to bed at night happy that you have ticked all the boxes and everyone praises you for how spiritual you are.

But what happens when you raise the bar? What happens when we start comparing ourselves to God? What happens when we don’t measure spirituality by our standards, but His?

Friday, 18 April 2008

The outward appearance

Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ's, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ's, even so we are Christ's. – 2 Corinthians 10v7

There are not a lot of times where you sense Paul’s anger. Here is one of them. His critics at Corinth could not be critical of the work God was doing, that was obvious to all. Instead, they were critical of the way things “looked” and the fact that Paul did not do things the exact way that they would. Paul saw this as an attack not only on him, but on God’s work. All they looked at was the outward appearance. In the context we learn that Paul is going to deal with them personally, and with the same boldness he uses in his letters.

I have a very good friend who is a pastor in Poland. He pastors and runs kid’s clubs, He reaches drug dealers and alcoholics. He has seen people saved out of unbelievable situations. Some of the results of ministry have been in our church. There is no doubt that God is working through this young man. Now, there are many who would meet him and immediately think that his work cannot be of God. He wears long dreadlocks, his music choice and worship style would not be accepted by many. I know that many would say that his ministry only succeeds because it is “fleshly.”

Paul makes a point here – “You guys say that you are Christians. Fine. But know this, just as you are of Christ, so are we.”

Where has the focus on the outward appearance some from? I am not sure – but I do know it is nothing new. We are dealing with the same problems that he did. And they are no more right today then they were then.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Not carnal, but mighty in God

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, - 2 Corinthians 10v4

Paul’s opponents at Corinth were constantly looking for reasons to be critical of him. Apparently, here they were accusing him of being carnal in his methods and his ministries. He mentioned to them that they should not mistake his meek and gentle spirit for weakness. It is clear that Paul did not want to deal with this in an angry and “bold” manner.

I will get to the later verses in the next couple of days, but it is obvious here that his critics had a huge problem. They we so focused on the outward that they saw everything Paul did for the Lord as being carnal and flesh. Paul let them know straight up that he was fleshly – “Of course I walk after the flesh. As long as I am alive I will have to live in the flesh.’ But then he drove the point home – the tools of warfare that we use are nor carnal, but mighty in God to pull down the strongholds of opposition.

There is a lot more I want to address here, but for today I was encouraged to know that Paul faced the same troubles that we face today as we seek to serve the Lord. People are not going to always like it. They are going to find fault, nit-pick, and criticise all that we do because too often they are only focused on the fleshly. People are going to refuse to see that God is tearing down strongholds because they are so worried about what they perceive as fleshly.

Praise the Lord for Paul’s perception and for the Holy Spirit recording these truth for us.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

His indescribable gift

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! – 2 Corinthians 9v15

I love the way Paul closes his discourse on giving. Paul reminds us all of the ultimate standard of giving. Our standard is this: God’s gift of His Son on the cross.

We can be tempted to think that we do pretty well when it comes to giving. We give our tithe, we give God our few hours a week, we sue the abilities that God gives us, and we think that we are doing a good job. We talk a lot about sacrifice and “doing without” for the Lord. To listen to some well meaning preacher you would think that missionaries who leave “home” to go to a foreign field are some kind of great givers for giving it all up to serve the Lord. We may be burdened for a particular need and stretch ourselves financially to meet that need. We may pick up our weary bodies in order to serve the body of Christ. When we do this we may be in danger of thinking that our a doing our part.

But what is the standard? “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” God loved the world so much that He gave His Son – Jesus, the Perfect, Spotless, Lamb of God to die in my place. What can I possible do that measure up to that? There isn’t enough, as one songwriter put it “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, and my all.”

Francis Havergal comes close to capturing the basis for our giving in the light of His gift with her “Take My Life”

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days;
Let them flow in ceaseless 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 power 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.

In the light of His indescribable gift, dare we say any less in our own lives?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Sowing and reaping

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. – 2 Corinthians 9v6

One of the things a farmer will do if he wants to increase his harvest is to increase what he plants. It only makes sense; if you want a better crop you need sow more seed.

Some have taken this verse as a sure fire way to increase their gain. “Say if I give more than I will get more!” But is doesn’t always work that way – it doesn’t mean that giving to others is a get rich quick scheme. Some of the most blessed people I have known have nothing in the world’s eyes.

I think it is pretty simple. The key to all of this, like so much else in the scriptures, is our hearts. If my focus is being a blessing to others and I sow in that regard than I am going to see things differently. If I find my blessing in sowing and giving than it only makes sense that the more I give and sow the more blessed I am when I see the results.

My blessing should not be in how I benefit. I should reap the benefit of seeing what my sowing does for others and for the Lord.

Monday, 14 April 2008

The first gave themselves to the Lord

And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. – 2 Corinthians 8v5

What makes a giver? Yesterday we saw the Macedonians commended for their giving, which they did in the middle of affliction. How does one get the heart of a giver? How do we get to the point where we give beyond what we are able to give?

The key is in verse 5 – they first gave themselves to the Lord. Once we have truly given ourselves to Him the rest will come. Romans 12v1-2 implores us to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. The problem we face in giving, be it our time, our talents, or our tithes, is that far too often we try to do that without first giving ourselves to the Lord.

If we have a hard time giving, maybe we need to examine our hearts and see if we have given ourselves to Him first.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Liberality in affliction

that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. – 2 Corinthians 8v2

I don’t think a whole lot about giving. I should probably think about it a lot more. Giving is just part of the Christian life, but far too often I have, and I think others, are happy enough to drop our 10% in the offering plate.

The Macedonian Christians had a whole different view of giving. The dear people had really had nothing of their own. There were being persecuted for their faith and were living in poverty.

Yet they were excited about giving to spread the gospel. They had great joy in giving, they abounded in the riches of their liberality, they give beyond what they could give, and they begged Paul to take their money.

I fear that this kind of giving is not the norm in my life. Might I learn how to give from the Macedonian believers.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Conflicts on the outside, fears on the inside

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, - 2 Corinthians 7v5-6

I really like Paul. He says it like it is and in a way that we can all identify with. We can certainly understand what this feels like – “no rest…troubled in every side, outside were conflicts, inside were fears.”

Often, especially those who are in the vocational ministry, think when these times happen we can just tough it out and depend on God. After all if we are really spiritual and if we really men all we need is God to comfort us, right?

But look how God comforted Paul. When Paul was without rest, when trouble came from every side, when he had conflicts on the outside, and fears on the inside, God did comfort him.

But how did He do it? The God of all comfort, who comforts the downcast, sent Titus, Paul’s brother in Christ to comfort him.

We must never forget the fact that God uses His people to comfort each other. We need to ever be aware that God may want us to be a Titus to that one who is troubles and in despair. On the other hand, there may be times when we need to recognise the Titus God has sent to comfort us.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Perfecting 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 7v1

Holiness is a word much mentioned and talked about. It is a word which is used and misused. We all know that God is holy and that he calls us to holiness. Holiness is used in an interesting way here – Paul writes to the church at Corinth, and to all of us together, that we should be “perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.”

We were all declared holy at our salvation. The holiness of Jesus Christ was imparted to each believer. Positionally we are as holy as we will ever be. One day, when we are in His presence our holiness will be complete. Our proclivity to sin will be done away with and our sin nature eradicated. What about in the meantime, here the here and now? What does holiness mean for us now?

Here Paul writes that we are to be in the process of perfecting our holiness in the fear of the Lord. Our present perfecting is a constant ongoing thing. Every single day we are to be moulding and shaping our present holiness. We are to becoming more holy practically as the years go by. A mature Christian should be more holy in his daily walk than a baby Christian. It is something that must keep going because we are not going to become totally holy until we see our Saviour face to face.

How do we do this? We cleanse ourselves from sins of the flesh and spirit. It is obvious that we have a part in this. It is only by His power and strength, but we are to do the cleansing. We need to ask ourselves what sins of the flesh and spirit are still active in our lives. We do pretty well with the sins of the flesh, which everyone can see, but what about the sins of the spirit, which no one else sees? What about those secret sins that we keep in our minds? What about sins like envy, covetousness, bitterness, lust, and unforgiveness?

If we are going to obey God and be perfecting our holiness we must deal with the sins of the flesh and those sins of the spirit. What do you and I want more – to obey God or hold on to those sins?

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Be separate

Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate…” - 2 Corinthians 6v17

Separation is one of those areas that I have been working through in my own life and ministry. Too much separation and you have grace robbing pharisaic galatianism. Too little separation and you have liberal worldly antinomianism.

How do we find the Bible balance on separation? How do we live in an unclean, sin cursed, and defiled world without being a part of it? How do we separate and “touch not” while we live in the middle of it? Do we do what some have done and go off into some kind of Christian compound so that we are not defiled? Do we refuse to have lost friends or refuse go to their functions? Do we crawl in a corner with other believers so that we don’t touch the “unclean thing?”

No, we can’t do that, because we are told to “go in to all the world and preach the gospel.” How can we be a witness if we are not amongst people? The answer is - we can’t.

Some things are clear here. We cannot be linked to the world’s ways and the world’s methods. One aspect is clear – a Christian is not to marry a non-believer. I can’t be dogmatic, but I think there are dangers is Christians being a business partnership with a non-believer. In the historical setting Christians were not to be taking part in pagan religious practices, and that of course is still true today.

Even with all of this, how do we know what to and what not to separate from? John partially answers the question when he says, “Love not the world, neither the things of the world…for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.” We are to separate from that which stirs up these lusts.

We are to separate from false teachers and expose their teaching – that is clear in many passages.

All this is great, but how do we do it in day to day living. Part of it is being open to God’s direction when we are in situations where we don’t know what to do. Will God help us then? Well. Jesus prayed that He would – “I don’t pray that you would take them out of the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one.”

What do we do? We certainly don’t subscribe to some man-made separation list. We certainly don’t ignore separation. We compare our options with the word of God. We avoid that which stirs up the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life in us. And we depend on Jesus’ prayer for us.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

How do we do it?

… by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness… - 2 Corinthians 6v6-7

Here Paul gives a long litany of what he and his team have gone through. Trials, persecution, jailings, and more were a part of his ministry. Yet he did these things with patience, and honour. He says that they stuck with it when things were going well and when things were not going well, when they were sad and when they were happy. When they had nothing they knew they really had everything. How did they function with this kind of mindset? What kept them going no matter what they faced?

I think the key is right in the middle of this passage. What kept them going?

The Holy Spirit

Sincere love

The word of truth

The power of God

The armour of righteousness

Too often I base my attitude and feelings about the ministry based n what is going on around me. When things are happening and numbers are up I am excited and thrilled at being able to serve Him. When things are slow and numbers are down I can get discouraged and downhearted. Why is that? I think I am beginning to get a glimpse. It is because those things change all the time. They are never consistent. But Paul had something in his heart and mind that kept him going. There are some things that don’t change with circumstances.

The Holy Spirit never changes

Sincere love does not change

The word of truth doesn’t change

The power of God doesn’t change

The armour of righteousness that He provides does not change

My problem is that I tend to look at the changeable because it is so obvious. In those times I must call to mind these unchangeable things that are always there. May my motivation to service be these five unchangeable influences instead of the roller coaster that is life and ministry.

Monday, 7 April 2008

No offence

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. – 2 Corinthians 6v3

“No offence.” I have to ask myself how often, or maybe how seldom, those words have characterised my ministry. It is possible for believers to be so fervent and so motivated in their ministry that they can replace boldness with rudeness, offence, and obnoxiousness. I was once visiting with a Christian who, when a lady home alone tried to close the door, literally stick his foot in the door so he could keep witnessing! I have seen preachers who were grossly overweight preach against smoking and social drinking. I have preacher and other believers reject or ignore lost people who came to church because they did not look right or dress properly. I have known many folks who were so offended by these actions and others that they have rejected Christ and His word.

Does “no offence” mean that we never take a stand for anything? Does it mean that we adopt an “anything goes” attitude that never deals with sin? Of course not. It does mean that we should never be the ones to cause offence by our actions, spirits, or attitudes. If the gospel, clearly and lovingly presented, causes offence that is one thing and is to be expected. But if I cause offence then my ministry can be blamed for turning others from Christ instead of to Him.

Be fervent, be bold, be forward, content for the faith, stand for Christ – but do so without offending those we strive to reach with our actions and attitudes.

Now is the day of salvation

… Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6v2

I really don’t know how to approach this, but know that my spirit was challenged and convicted this morning as I read it. I have heard this verse used to promote high pressured, man-centred “soul winning” but that often results in man trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit in forcing people to make an on the spot decision for or against Christ.

Yet, now is the accepted time and now is the day when the offer of salvation is here. It will not always be here. One day our chance to introduce men to Christ will be over. We don’t know how long the “now”: will last. So we as we see men, not in the flesh, but with the mind of Christ we need to ask ourselves if we understand the importance of “now is the day.”

I think there is a balance. On the one hand we can become high pressure gospel salesmen striving to force a man-made decision. On the other hand we can forget our focus and the shortness of the time. I think the balance is something like this. As we live, serve, and minister we must see others in the light of the shortness of the day. Everything we do and every word we say must be weighed to see the impact it will have on those around us. We need to see men as in need of the Saviour and the time as being short. Now is the day. We must take advantage of it while we can. .

Maybe a couple of honest questions will drive this home. What did you (and I) do the last time that the Lord gave us an opportunity to sit and share the glorious gospel. What did we do with that moment? What did we do the last time we had a chance to show someone the love of Christ? How did we respond the last time a dirty, rotten sinner acted like a dirty rotten sinner?

Did we miss our chance? Or did we grab the chance to show them the love of Christ and maybe even share with them the marvellous gospel of Christ?

Sunday, 6 April 2008

God is my co-worker

We then, as workers together with Him … - 2 Corinthians 6v1

A few years ago, well I guess it has been decades now, there was a popular bumper sticker that boldly proclaimed – “God is my co-pilot.” Some, I am sure well minded, Christians had that remade into a sticker that said the same thing with “co” crossed out so that it read “God is my pilot.” If I were designing a new bumper sticker today I think I would use the phrase – “God is my co-worker.”

I had seen this phrase before, but I was stopped cold when I saw it this morning. Paul is preparing to talk about our Christian service and he almost seems to throw in this little phrase- “We are workers together with God.” In some kind of miraculous partnership we are permitted to work side by side with God who is still over and above all. I can’t get my head around that, but there it is – God is my co-worker, or maybe – “I am God’s co-worker.”

In the vast majority of jobs I have had one of the benefits was going to work to spend time with my co-workers. I like the people I teach with at Youthreach. I like being around them. We were tremendously blessed two years ago when God sent co-workers for the ministry here. The Bandy family have changed the entire perspective of the work here. I would never demean the importance of human co-workers. Yet, they are times when all of us let our co-workers down. Sometimes they have to cover for us or do part of our job.

The wonderful thing about having God as a co-worker is that though many times He covers for me when I fail; I never have to cover for Him because He never fails! He never leaves a task undone.

Praise God that I am a co-worker with Him!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

The righteousness of God

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Corinthians 5v21

Things are starting to really click for Paul now. He has really been though it. For a time he could not make any sense of it all. We have seen a transition in his thinking in chapters 2-5. He reasons that that there really is a purpose in it all. What conclusion does he come to? “We are ambassadors for Christ.” God has made us His ambassage with a purpose and a ministry. Because of that we should expect that things are not going to be normal.

We are living in a place that is not our home. In a world of people who are enemies of God we have been reconciled. In a sense were are like emissaries of a hostile nation in a war zone. Though we have the protection of our home country, we are still enemies in a foreign land. Therefore it is only natural to expect that we are going to have difficulties and struggles. It is not going to feel at home.

Why? What is the purpose? Is it really worth it? Our goal is to strive to bring men over to our side. We were His enemy. We were lost in our sin. But now we have been reconciled to Him. That alone is an amazing fact, but the next is, if possible, even more astounding. “We have become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Wait a minute – did I really read that right? I have become the righteousness of God? We have all the righteousness He requires. He requires absolute perfection, total righteousness, how can I possibly have achieved that? Two words – “Through Him.” Christ is the One who can reconcile me to God and provide His righteousness for me.

I am reconciled to God. I am declared righteous in His righteousness alone. God has given me a ministry of reconciling others to Him.

That’s why things get tough at times. We don’t get to keep our own agenda. But after all He has done for us, should we not be willing to go through just a little for Him as His ambassadors?

Friday, 4 April 2008

If any man be in Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. – 2 Corinthians 5v17

There has been a lot packed in to the last few verses. In the light of all that Paul lays out a very clear statement about believers. He says “If any man be in Christ…” I could probably stop there for today and pick up the rest of the verse tomorrow but I want to cover the whole verse. What does it mean to be “in Christ?” It means that I am no longer in myself. I am covered by His blood, seen in the light of His righteousness, and forgiven by His sacrifice. “In Christ” means that my eternally security is just as safe as His.

Those who are truly in Christ are totally new creations. The old things have already passed away. I am a new man in Him. The old me has been crucified with Him. Because the old man is dead I am raised to walk in newness of life and this newness of life is reflected in my life daily.

In Christ means not only the blessedness of being safe in Him, but also that my new life reflects Him. If I truly am in Him I begin to see things from His perspective, no longer my own. I begin to see other through His eyes. I begin to view the world through His perspective.

I was heard someone use the phrase “Seeing the world through Jesus’ eyes” to describe the last few verses and this has stuck in my mind.

As His love constrains me, does it affect how I see men? As a new man Christ does the world see Jesus in me?

Just a note from “The Valley of Vision”

“Let thy unexampled love constrain me into holy obedience, and render my duty my delight.”

Thursday, 3 April 2008

According to the flesh

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 2 Corinthians 5v16

Something happened yesterday that really made this passage come to light for me. We were in Dublin with a visiting youth group from Minnesota. We had been there for a few hours, I was getting hungry, and my broken toe was hurting. As we stopped for one last shop before lunch a man walked up into us and began asking for something. He was so drunk he could hardly stand, much less walk. I am ashamed at my first response. I was put off that this drunk would bother us and possibly disturb our visitors. I tried to scare him off and was very mean to him.

Suddenly, God spoke to my heart. What was compelling my actions? Sadly it was hunger, tiredness, my sore toe, and even embarrassment before our visitors. I certainly was not being constrained by the love of Christ. I could not do much for this poor chap, I got him safely across the quays and over the Ha’penny bridge, but he was so drunk I could never talk to him, I just gave him my card and asked him to ring me when he was sober.

I knew today’s verse was coming while all this was going on. I realised that far too often in my life I still regard people according to the flesh. What did my eyes see - my eyes of flesh? I saw a dirty, smelly, stumbling drunk with hands and fingers stained with tobacco. I did not even want to touch him when he reached out to thank me and shake my hand.

But how did Jesus see him? I think Jesus saw a sin scarred soul that He gave His life for. I think Jesus saw a man who needed Him desperately. I think Jesus saw a man that He alone could help.

I want to see men the way Jesus did. I don’t want to regard them according to the flesh, but according to the invisible things that count for eternity.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The love of Christ constrains us

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; - 2 Corinthians 5v14

What compels us to serve the Lord and live godly lives? This is something of a wake up call. There is a list of things that might pressure us to serve Him. It might be the pay cheque if we are in the vocational ministry. It might be peer pressure. It might be some type of high pressure motivational speech. It might be some type of pressure to perform from inside ourselves. It might be a human desire to succeed. Maybe we want to impress someone. For missionaries with foreign support it might be fear of loss of support. There are all kinds of possible reasons.

Paul says that the love of Christ should be the one thing that compels and motivates us. This is one of those cases where the good old traditional AV translation really nails it – “The love of Christ constrains us.” That is an amazing little word, even in English. It speaks of pressure, constraint, and even binding. When my sister was a baby her feet were slightly turned in. The doctors did not design a fancy brace to correct them. They told my parents to buy a good, sturdy set of baby shoes and attach them to a board with the shoes facing in opposite direction. Wearing this device constrained, compelled, and pressure my sister’s feet to turn outwards and solve the problem. Her feet were bound to the will of that simple little brace.

If nothing constrains is to serve the Lord we will fail in an instant. If we are constrained by our own selves or other men we may last a bit longer, but eventually we will break down. But if we are truly bound by our Saviour’s marvellous love we can keep on serving and keep on going for Him. If we can ever truly grasp His love, we will always be compelled to move onward.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Our aim

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. – 2 Corinthians 5v9

We have a notion sometime that our lives in the here and now somehow have a different goal or purpose then the there and then. What we see and experience may differ, but our aim and our purpose are the same.

Paul points out the transitory nature of the here and now. We are dwelling in tents, travelling tents in fact. These tents are weak, frail, and subject to the weather. They flap in the wind, they tear, and sometimes they even leak.

One day however we are going to move from theses tents into God’s presence. We can’t live in both of them at the same time. If we are absent from the body we are present with the Lord. If we are absent from the Lord we are present in these bodies.

So what do we do while we cannot physically see Him with our eyes? We walk by faith, not by sight. We decide to look at Him instead of the circumstances.

With that knowledge we should have one aim whether in the here and now or the there and then – our purpose is to be well pleasing to Him. Not a word about what I deserve or want or about what will please me, but all about pleasing Him.

Why do we focus so much on us, here, and now? Maybe because we are walking by sight, and not by faith.