Giving God’s Way–2 Corinthians 8

Here we have a poor church, but not in grace, and a rich church. The poor church was so sold out to the Lord that they gave liberally out of their poverty. Above and beyond. They begged for the chance to pitch in to help the church In Jerusalem. The rich church had verbally expressed a desire to participate but needed to be goaded by this letter and Paul’s emissary Titus to fulfill that intent. I imagine Paul was baffled that a church so poor would rally of their own accord, yet the rich church was hesitating on the sidelines. This entreaty to the Corinthians was apparently necessary to teach the rich to share. And Paul had to send his team in to make sure the church followed through.

Yes, it is possible for a body of believers to be stingy, miserly or more concerned about its own budget to meet the needs of others. Giving under these conditions, I submit, would not be joyful but possibly tinged with guilt and resentment. There is a role for leadership in the process, and that’s to bring the need forward. We read that the Macedonians gave themselves first to God and their leaders (v. 5), responding to the dire predicament of the Jerusalem church as described by Paul. Truth is, the Macedonians qualified for a gracious gift themselves!

Here’s how gracious giving should work:

1. It should be without fanfare.

2. It should be without delay.

3. It should be instigated by God not man.

4. It should be irrespective of circumstances.

5. It should be joyfully done.

6. It should be marked by liberality.

It surely should not take place after being “called up on the carpet!”

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The Right Thing to Do–1 Samuel 25:2-44

This is a story about a strong and resourceful woman. This is a tale of a foolish and worthless man. And this is about a wise young man who’d soon be king. But underneath, it’s a study on what discernment is and how it should be employed. In other words, it’s a lesson on knowing the right thing to do and doing it.

Nabal was filthy rich, as they say. He had his three thousand sheep in Carmel to be sheared. These sheep grazed in the nearby wilderness of Maon where David and his 600 mighty men were in hiding from King Saul. While there, Nabal’s shepherds and David’s men coexisted, with David’s soldiers informally protecting his valuable assets. As described, they were “like a wall” (v. 16) or hedge around the herds. Parenthetically, we learn that the “harsh and evil” Nabal was married to the “intelligent and beautiful” Abigail.

Now, it was a time when the people feasted, so David, thinking of his men, sent ten representatives to Carmel to ask Nabal for some provisions in return for his protection services, but Nabal rebuffed them. In fact, he insulted God’s anointed.  When told, the future king sought vengeance, like most future kings would. He commanded 400 of his band to strap on their swords and vowed that not a male would be left in Nabal’s household when he was through with him.

Abigail caught wind of this ominous plan and hastily put together a bountiful banquet meal—including wine, roasted grain, raisin clusters, and date cakes—and shipped it via donkey to Maon. She followed on their heels on her own mount. It’s important to note that all Nabal had in mind was water, bread and meat, at the most.

On this journey she encountered David and his men. In the ensuing exchange are huge lessons on discernment.

Abigail knew that her husband lived up to he his name (could be translated “fool”), and that he was “worthless.” (v. 17) Nonetheless, she still had to afford him respect or David would find her unbecoming. So she accepted blame for his actions and deeds.

While Nabal probably knew something about David, he considered him only a runaway servant. Abigail on the other hand was astute. She knew David’s future national role, and was aware of his eschatological importance. As such, she looked forward to see the ramifications of David’s intentions and appealed to him on that basis.

She closed her case by appealing to David’s conscience. The king would not want to carry the weight of this massacre in his mind going forward. In the end, David was prohibited from constructing the temple because he had blood on his hands, but not on her watch. (1 Chronicles 28:3)

Finally, Abigail had the good sense to wait until Nabal sobered up to tell him of her encounter with David when she got back. He needed to be sitting down when his heart went to “stone.”

So God exacted David’s revenge for him by stopping Nabal’s heart, and David received a classy, courageous, beautiful, resourceful, intelligent and God-fearing wife in return.

May her tribe increase.

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Difficult Times Will Come

3 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. 2 Timothy 1-5

It’s important to understand the gravity of what Paul is telling his disciple Timothy here. It was obvious to Paul that his time was near, and that Timothy would carry on in his footsteps in the years to come. These were Paul’s final instructions. You hang on a dying man’s last words and Paul was uttering them. He’d just finished urging Timothy to be cleansed and useful for service, to be patient and kind and focused and persistent in persuading the lost to follow the Lord.

But then came a dire warning. You could just sense a deep sigh, a foreboding finger, and moist eyes. “But realize this, that in the last days difficult days will come.” Now Paul’s days had been perilous, and they were about to get worse. “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” So Timothy could expect much harder times than what he saw his mentor suffer through, if you could believe it. That must have been sobering. And Paul felt these days were imminent, likely within Timothy’s lifetime.

Times did change with emperor Nero fixating on Christians, but looking back, a couple of thousand years have elapsed since that time. Some would exclaim its always been terrible for believers! Others might still be seeing darkest days around the corner. What we learn for sure from this dire prediction is that there has to be a noticeable uptick in difficulty in the last days and that there will be last days.

The last days before what? Since Paul was “pre-trib” he was talking about the rapture. As an aside, they’ll be no one but the bad people Paul describes in the 7-year tribulation, outside of those who convert under those harsh circumstances. The restraining influence of millions of spirit-filled believers will be gone. The “restrictor plate” on evil will be removed.

In the Greek, you can make the meaning of a word opposite with an “alpha.” In Paul’s litany in verses 2-5, you have all the bad actors, and many alphas. Today with social media so pervasive we clearly see the evil in people’s souls (in this case, due to a lack of self “without self-control”). It’s an ugly window in. And seeing all the “selfies” taken and all the self-indulgences, is there any doubt that the love of self is preeminent in today’s society. And that’s just two of this cast of characters.

It’s in this context Paul commissions his son, with the prescience of a prophet to sense it will not end well. But for us it does.

The one admonition that’s apparently counter to our Christian calling is “avoid such men as these,” or keep shunning people like these. Are we to be in the world but not of it? Are we to stiff arm the unsavory sorts, or like Christ dine with them? Since Paul tells Timothy to avoid these kinds of people, I’ll err on the side of avoidance. Nevertheless, life throws us into inescapable encounters with these kinds, just like Daniel in the lion’s den.

Our objective in these interactions is to handle them as Christ did. He was a compelling magnetic figure. So should we be!

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He Can’t Touch Us!

On a global scale, evil seems to be winning out. That’s because we now get news of its triumphs instantly from every corner of the globe. Actually, evil’s always been able to run up the score. This is because power has not yet been taken from the evil one. You wonder why evil has not fully overtaken the world since it holds such power. It’s because the one true God left us here, and evil cannot touch us. Really!

18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:18-21

We may be still capable of sinning, but our new man is impervious to sin and unaffected by evil’s power. Therefore, we stand in Satan’s way, and we’re a formidable foe in his eyes. As such, God gives us the resilience to stand firm against his schemes, and the understanding to know his strategy and tactics (2 Corinthians 2:11). In the true God, we’re more than conquerors. (Romans 8:37)

But there is one thing. We are vulnerable when we’re sinning. That’s when we take our eyes off the true God, like Peter when he looked down at the waves. No wonder John ends his letter with a warning to us to guard against idols as if they’re storming the gates. These idols would be anything and everything Satan would send our way to, even momentarily, occupy our hearts.

I think of Paul’s mindset in the face of this onslaught.

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:5

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Why Do You Ask?

Seems these days we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. We anxiously await the rest of the story, the results of the investigation. But in our salvation, we can rest assured.

John’s whole purpose for writing this letter was to assure his audience of their grasp on eternal life by virtue of their belief.

13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13

Based on this assurance, they could ask whatever was in sync with God’s will and he’d grant it. But there lies the rub. The only way I get my way is if I ask for exactly what God wants!

14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 1 John 5:14-15

What kind of incentive is that? How do I know?

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9

Well, Jesus operated in such a fashion. He said, not my will but his. (Matthew 26:39) The question is, would there be a better way? It’s not a matter of hitting the bullseye but couching every prayer with that caveat. What he’s going to do is answer the prayer, not according to our will, but his, and we’ll see his wisdom, maybe, at some point. One thing we know for sure is that he hears us. In this, we can be confident. And if we ask him to align our thinking with his, he’ll most assuredly do that too!

That’s where we want to be. Many times we look back and see that our requests would have resulted in disaster. We prayed fervently and didn’t get it and we were upset and disappointed, but he knew better.

…we ask to be overridden…

When we pray “Father, take this cup from me,” always follow-up with, “But not my will but yours.” We ask for what we think we want, but we ask to be overridden. So we’re not only confident he hears us, but we know he’ll right the situation according to his perfect will.

It is also important to point out that he may very well have answered your prayer but on a different timetable. I was wanting the perfect wife at 22 but got her at 28. Don’t throw up your hands. He’s got this under control.

One final note. Hezekiah asked to be healed from his sickness and got 15 extra years on earth. The thief on the cross asked to be saved and was that very moment. We can’t give up on prayer out of frustration that God will do whatever he wants anyway. There are two sides to this coin.

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It’s Just That Simple

My professor used to say all the time after pronouncing some truth, “It’s just that simple.” Well, salvation and eternal life and the assurance thereof boils down to whether or not you have the Son. Now you may wonder if you’ve got the Son. John has been trying throughout this letter to provide convincing proof to the children of God that indeed they have him. Mostly this comes from the desire to do God’s will, as evidenced by keeping his commandments.

2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 1 John 5:2

Who would desire to do them without possessing the spirit of God? This desire to please God is why God proclaimed his pleasure in his son upon his baptism on earth.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” Luke 3:21-22

Practically, we can testify to all that we believe through our baptism, and remember why our salvation is possible by taking the sacraments. But apart from these the spirit continually breathes into us the assurance that we are his, and tells us regularly that we have the Son, and therefore we have the life. He has convincing proof in pointing to our spirit-motivated actions. But even more so our deep-down desire to please God.

It’s just that simple.

6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 1 John 5:6-12

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Hanging Hat on Faith

I like to apply logic when reading and studying God’s word. Not that I dispense with taking it on faith, but as a tool to a keener understanding. There are certainly paradoxes in the Bible, but that only means that two lines of reasoning are equally true. That’s where the faith comes in.

Paul was a master logician. If-then was his hat tree always. John takes a page from that book here.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God and observe His commandments.For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.4  For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:1-5 (NASB)

He starts with “whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ [or Messiah] is born of God.” That’s a declarative statement on its own, certainly one you can hang your hat on. But then here comes another, “Whoever loves the Father loves the child born of him.” So if I love the Father, I love Jesus. Then we read “whatever [and I change this to whoever, since a whatever can’t be born of God] born of God overcomes the world.” Then we read, “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? Circular reasoning I would say, but absolutely true. Further, the overcomer is victorious, and that victory is described as “faith,” which is obtained by faith.

By the way, logic is an upper-level course.

As a corollary to all this, John discusses the outcome of our familial relationship to God, and that’s our love for the children of God, which is compelled by our love of God and exhibited practically by our obedience to his commandments. That begs the question that shouldn’t our new love life be unshackled from commandment keeping? Well, by God’s definition, keeping his commandments is love, and by the way, his commandments aren’t hard to keep.

I set out attempting to make some logical sense out of this passage. It’s logical for sure, but faith is the victory, and I’ll have to hang my hat on that!

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