Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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“And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon’s house. And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them. Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.”
In the time of Jesus they did not have the advanced medical care that we are blessed with in our day. As a result, even relatively simple diseases and infections could easily become life-threatening. The arrival of Jesus in a town meant that there was hope for people, no matter how sick they might have been or what their problems were. Peter’s mother-in-law had such a serious fever that she had been completely incapacitated. A few words from Jesus, however, took away the fever and restored her strength.
It’s not always God’s will to heal. (For instance, God did not give healing to the Apostle Paul, although 2 Corinthians 12:8 tells us that Paul prayed earnestly for it.) But as Jesus went about healing people, He revealed the power of God that is able to heal. His was not the healing of “professionals” who go into town and a hold a meeting but never go to a hospital to heal the people there. Instead, it was the supernatural healing of God.
Sometimes God does choose to supernaturally heal His people, and He encourages us to pray for healing: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). But whether or not it is God’s will to give physical healing, the spiritual healing He has given through salvation is the greatest miracle ever.
The miraculous physical healing Jesus sometimes gave proved His power as God; the miraculous spiritual healing He always gives proves the power of His gospel.
“And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
In all the times I have been fishing, I have never caught so many fish that their combined weight threatened to sink the boat I was in—let alone so many that it was too much for two boats to handle. But that was the position that Peter found himself in when he launched out into the deep at Jesus’ command. When he saw the power of God on display in this unique way, Peter’s response is instructive. He did not cheer and congratulate himself—he knelt and repented. Peter realized just how far short he had come of God’s purpose.
Too many Christians are self-satisfied and somewhat proud of what God has done in their lives. It is easy for us to start thinking that we deserve His blessings and even think that the success we may experience is due to us rather than to Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul asked the members of the church at Corinth who were tempted to be lifted up in pride: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
We realize that we are saved by grace through faith alone apart from any merit we have, but sometimes we forget that our work for God must be done the same way. The more we see God at work, the more we should bow down in grateful humility, recognizing that it is His power rather than ours that brings results.
When we humble ourselves, God is able to work powerfully to bring glory to Himself in our lives.
“And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.”
We understand the process of growing up physically pretty well. Every parent knows what it is like to teach their children to walk, talk, and feed themselves. As they grow older, the natural process should be that they learn and develop to the point where they can live on their own. If parents are still cutting food into little bites and “flying” them on a fork into the mouth of a healthy twenty-five year old child, something is wrong. When a physical or mental disability hinders the process of development, we rightly regard it as a tragedy.
Just as it is normal for us to develop physically, we are called to grow up spiritually. The work that God has for us to do for His Kingdom requires that we develop and mature. Paul highlighted the tragedy of Christians who do not grow up when he wrote to the church at Corinth, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1).
If we are to grow, we are going to have to put in the effort to develop our spiritual “muscles.” I read that the great cellist Pablo Casals was still practicing six hours per day even when he was ninety-five years old. When asked why he did that he replied, “I think I’m making progress.” Rather than settling down and thinking that we have arrived, we should be continuing to work and grow throughout our Christian lives. The lazy approach does not build either physical, mental or spiritual strength.
One of the greatest needs of our day is for God’s people to grow up to spiritual maturity.
“No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light.”
The great missionary David Livingstone spent much of his life on the mission field in Africa. He heard a challenge from missionary Robert Moffat and dedicated his life to taking the gospel to those who had never heard it before. Livingstone wrote, “I am a missionary heart and soul. God had only one Son, and He was a missionary and a physician. In His service I hope to live. In it I wish to die.” Livingstone did die in Africa. Before his body was returned to England to be buried with honors, the African people who had been reached by his ministry cut his heart out of his body and buried it there—because they said that is where it belonged.
The calling of God on our lives is to be lights in the darkness of the world around us. This requires a commitment on our part to be willing to be mocked, ridiculed, and perhaps even persecuted as we stand for the light of the truth in the growing darkness. Paul wrote, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:3–4).
When we think of ourselves as lights to the world, we realize the responsibility of not doing anything that will keep the light from shining brightly or hide it from those who most need to see it. There may be consequences for sharing the gospel, but the reality of eternity should motivate us to be bright lights in the world.
There are few tragedies greater than that of a Christian who is hiding his light from the world.
“For nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.”
Though D. L. Moody was a greatly used evangelist, he had little formal education, and it frequently showed in his preaching. It is said that after he finished a sermon in London, a critic came and said, “You made several grammatical errors in your sermon today.” Moody admitted with regret that his language was often faulty. Then looking the man in the eye he said, “I am using all the grammar I know for God. What are you doing with the grammar you know?”
The Lord has given every one of us differing talents and spiritual gifts for use in His work. His plan is that as each of us use those gifts together, the church will be built and strengthened. “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18–20). Without each one doing what he can for the work, it will suffer and be hindered.
If we refuse to put what we have been given to work, God is under no obligation to give us gifts in the first place, and if we refuse to use what He has entrusted to us, we run the risk of it being taken away. The knowledge that we only have our gifts and talents as a result of His grace should make us even more willing to use them in any way that we can for His glory.
Every day look for an opportunity to use the gifts and talents God has given you for His work.
“And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.”
The popular conception of the life and ministry of Jesus in the world today is of a kind teacher who set a good moral example for people. While He certainly was that, this view only captures a small part of His purpose and ministry. Jesus clearly and repeatedly proclaimed that judgment was coming. Jonah was sent to the city of Nineveh with the message that God’s judgment was about to fall. For Jesus to use Jonah as a sign was a warning to the people who refused to believe what He preached of impending judgment.
The fact that God has not yet brought destruction on the world is not evidence that judgment is not warranted, but that He is gracious and merciful. The reality that so many in our day are trying to avoid is that one day each person will give account of himself to God. There will be no excuses, no passing of responsibility, or shifting of blame. The God who sees and knows everything will sit in judgment, and all will be brought before Him.
The reality of coming judgment should inspire and motivate us to be diligent in our efforts to reach people while there is still time. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (2 Corinthians 5:11). The only hope the people of Nineveh had was in the warning that Jonah reluctantly delivered to them. Our world today needs to hear from us before it is too late.
Like Jonah, we are tasked to sound the alarm regarding the coming judgment of God on sin.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
George Müller was a man of great faith. For many years, he operated orphanages that cared for thousands of children. The work was completely supported by prayer. Müller did not believe in asking people to give money—so much so that on more than one occasion when people asked him what needs the orphanage had, he would tell them, “I told God what we need. Ask Him what you should do.” Müller carried a great weight of responsibility, but he did not bear it alone. On his desk Müller kept a frame with this declaration: It matters to Him about you.
The devil lies and tells us that God does not care about our situation. When we stop and think that there are some seven billion people living on earth, it is easy to feel like our lives may not attract God’s attention. But in reality, He knows exactly where we are and everything about us—even the number of hairs on our heads. This is the God whose knowledge and wisdom is so infinite that He even keeps track of the most insignificant birds, and He loves us far more than the sparrows.
God never loses sight of us, or forgets what we are experiencing in our lives. When He does allow things to come into our lives that are painful and difficult, He measures carefully what we are able to bear. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Rejoice today in God’s knowledge and love for you right where you are.
“Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it. And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”
In the 1600s, Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, took his father’s hunting lodge at Versailles and began remodeling it into a massive palace. In 1682, Louis XIV moved the court there, and it became the official seat of government. Nothing but the best would do for the king and his court. No expense was spared as artisans from around the world were brought in to create sculptures and ornamentation for the royal family to enjoy. Thousands of pounds of gold and silver were used to trim fixtures and furniture throughout the massive building. Today millions of guests each year visit Versailles to marvel at the opulent splendor created by a king with virtually unlimited resources and power on display.
But all of those glories, and everything created by man, pales in comparison to the splendor of Heaven. God does not use gold for decoration—He uses it like we use asphalt. His kingdom is not limited in any way, but rather reaches through time and space. Our limited minds cannot fully grasp the vast wonders of God and His kingdom, but we know it is far beyond anything we know, and He has made us part of it. “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
We must be faithful to share the Good News of God’s kingdom with those around us.
“Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”
Many people like to cite Bible “verses” that aren’t actually in the Bible. According to several surveys, ones of the most often quoted of these “verses” is this: “God helps those who help themselves.” But while the Bible does teach individual responsibility and the importance of our effort and hard work in whatever we do, it does not teach that God is impressed with our work on our own behalf. Instead, it repeatedly teaches, as Jesus does in the above passage, that God is looking for those who are committed to helping and meeting the needs of others.
The Christian life is not meant to be self-focused. Our natural sinful tendency is to worry only about what we can get for ourselves, but the Divine tendency is to sacrifice for the needs of others. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The example that Jesus left for us was of compassion and ministry to those who were without value in the eyes of the world. The Lord could have chosen to be born in a palace, but instead was born in a stable. Rather than living among the elite of Jerusalem, he grew up in the despised town of Nazareth. And his ministry—like our lives should be—was focused on others.
If we are to truly live as Jesus did, then we must care about those that others overlook and discount.
“And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”
William Cushing had a successful pastorate, but then one day he lost his voice. Determined that he still wanted to do something for God, Cushing began writing poems. He worked with Ira Sankey on a number of hymns that were greatly used in D. L. Moody’s revivals. One day when he heard a report of those who had been saved in a meeting, Cushing rejoiced. He later said, “It seemed like such a glad day with the very bells of Heaven ringing in my soul. Then the words, ‘Ring the Bells of Heaven,’ at once flowed down into this waiting melody.”
Ring the bells of heaven! there is joy today
For a soul, returning from the wild!
See! the Father meets him out upon the way,
Welcoming His weary, wand’ring child.
Ring the bells of heaven! spread the feast today!
Angels, swell the glad, triumphant strain!
Tell the joyful tidings; bear it far away,
For a precious soul is born again.
Glory! glory! how the angels sing!
Glory! glory! how the voices ring!
‘Tis the ransomed army, like a mighty sea,
Pealing forth the anthem of the free.
When the lost are saved, all of Heaven rejoices. The salvation of a sinner is the culmination of the work and sacrifice of Jesus, and we have the privilege of being part of this most important effort. “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Nothing we can do on Earth brings more joy to Heaven than reaching the lost with the gospel.
“And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”
It is easy for us to look around and think that we are better than those around us, and not as much in need of God’s grace as they are. But while such proud thoughts are satisfying to our fallen nature, they are not in line with reality. Near the end of one of his best known poems, “To a Louse—On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church,” the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
If we truly saw ourselves as God sees us (for while we may deceive others He always knows not only our actions but our thoughts), we would abandon any pretense of pride.
The problem we have is that rather than measuring ourselves against the standard of God’s perfect holiness, we look to those around us and measure ourselves against them. It is easy to find areas in which we are superior (or at least can convince ourselves we are) and focus on those. The problem with this approach is that it is flawed and foolish. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Instead of thinking that we are better than others by looking horizontally, we need to look up and realize that we are just as much in need of God’s grace and mercy as those around us.
Having a high view of ourselves keeps us from having a proper view of God.
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Every one of the more than seven billion people living on earth today has an eternal destiny that awaits them. This life is just a brief interlude that passes by very quickly. And it is only during this life that the choice can be made that determines whether eternity will be spent in Heaven or Hell. The culture surrounding us treats truth as relative, and does everything it can to ignore the truth of the coming judgment. But refusal to believe it does not change the truth. Lazarus was immediately taken up, and the rich man was immediately sent down. Those are the only two options—there is no intermediate state or Purgatory. There is no “soul sleep” or annihilation. Every person will consciously either endure torment or enjoy blessing for eternity.
That truth should be constantly on our minds. Each person we meet is headed toward eternity, and since life tomorrow is not promised to any of us, we need to be serious in our efforts to sound the warning while there is still time. Heaven and Hell are real places, and if we grasp the severity of the consequences of failing to accept Christ as Saviour, we will be diligent in our efforts to win the lost. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (2 Corinthians 5:11). There are many things that are good and valuable and even important, but salvation is the one critical decision that every person needs to make before it is too late.
Do not let today end without speaking to someone about their salvation and the truth of eternity.
“Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
Given the rapidly changing society in which we live, there are many people suggesting new ways to reach people for the Lord. And while not everything that is new is wrong—I’m thankful for the enlarged opportunities to reach people with the gospel through new tools—there is a danger that we will become so enamored with techniques and programs that we forget the true source of the power of our message. What we most need in our day is not a new method of reaching people, but faithfulness to the method God has given us to reach the world—the proclamation of the Word of God.
“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). It is not through our clever techniques or manipulation that people are reached. It is not through amazing demonstrations of power that conviction comes. Even miracles would not be enough to persuade those who will not believe what the Bible says is true.
The responsibility for results does not rest on us. It is not our job to bring conviction of sin. That is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
We can trust the Word of God to have its effect on others if we are faithful to proclaim it.
“Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”
I read a wonderful story that took place during the massive German bombing of England during World War II. The Blitz took a terrible toll, not just on military targets, but on civilians as well. The unguided bombs often fell in residential neighborhoods. One night when their building was struck by a bomb, a father and his young son ran outside for fear the building would collapse. Seeing a bomb crater nearby, the father jumped in seeking shelter from the continuing attack. He called for his son to follow, but the terrified boy said, “I can’t see you.” The father responded, “But I can see you. Jump!” and the boy leaped to safety.
Faith is not based on our strength, our wisdom, or anything about us. Like little children, we must place our faith in God alone and depend on Him completely. We are often so focused on what we can see that we fail to receive what God offers to those who trust His resources rather than their own. The Christian life cannot be lived as God intends apart from faith. “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)” (2 Corinthians 5:6–7).
There are times when we are not able to do everything we would like to do for our children, but there is no limit to what God is able to do for us. Yet we find it difficult to rely on Him, because we forget that we are His children, and as such have the right to claim all that He has promised. It is simple faith that opens the storerooms of Heaven and unleashes the power of God in our lives.
When we think our faith is based on us rather than on God, we are headed for trouble.
“And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
Though we are told almost nothing about Zacchaeus and his life, what we know from history and the culture of the time tells us that he was a man to whom money was very important. The Romans often used local citizens to collect the taxes they imposed on conquered nations. This made those who chose to be publicans hated by their countrymen who saw them as collaborators with the enemy. Even worse, because they worked on what was basically a quota system and were allowed to keep all that they collected above that amount, many of them were corrupt and extremely wealthy. Money mattered to them more than loyalty to their country or fairness to their people.
Yet when Zacchaeus met Jesus, he immediately underwent a remarkable transformation. He did not, of course, get saved by giving away money. But, as an expression of his gratitude for what he recognized Jesus was offering him and an indication of his new priorities, he publicly declared a very generous offering to meet the needs of the poor. Further he was willing to go the extra mile in making things right with anyone he had taken advantage of in his office as publican. Meeting Jesus truly changed the life of Zacchaeus.
When a person trusts Christ as Saviour, things change in their life. The change is not always as obvious as it was with Zacchaeus, but change is always the result of salvation. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Our lives should give clear evidence to the fact that we have truly experienced God’s transforming salvation.
“But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.”
George Bernard Shaw is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of the English language. His dozens of plays and books made a huge impact on society. But Shaw had no use for God or religion, choosing instead to go his own way. It is said that near the end of his life, he was interviewed by a reporter who asked, “Mr. Shaw, if you could live your life over and be anybody you’ve known, or any person from history, who would you be?” “I would choose,” replied Shaw “to be the man George Bernard Shaw could have been, but never was.”
All of us will one day stand before God to give an account of our lives. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). We will be measured not by comparing our lives to what others have done, but by how fully we have lived up to the potential that God entrusted to us to use in His work.
God does not give us talents and abilities solely for our own benefit. Each of us have different levels of gifts and resources, and there is coming a day when we will answer to God for how we have used the time and treasure that are His gifts. We are not free agents but servants and stewards.
If you live today in light of the coming accounting to God, you will not be ashamed when you stand before Him.
“And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him.”
Though British monarchs had been entertained by performers and musicians for centuries, the tradition of a formal performance before the head of state is agreed to have begun in 1848 when Queen Victoria attended “The Merchant of Venice” at Windsor Castle. The Royal Command Performance became a tradition carried on by successive monarchs through the years. The invitation to perform for a king or queen is not really a request—it is a command.
God does not ask us to do things, but rather tells us what He expects. He is the great King, and has every right to command us to do whatever He chooses. We do not have the right to refuse, because we do not belong to ourselves but to Him. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
Everything that God commands is our responsibility to perform. God is high and lifted up, beyond our ability to understand. It is not ours to reason or bargain with Him, but rather to obey completely.
We cannot say “No” to Jesus and rightly claim that He is Lord of our lives.
“So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.”
The most famous sermon ever preached in America is undoubtedly Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards had preached the sermon in his own church with little effect, but on July 8, 1741, he delivered the message again at a church in nearby Enfield, Connecticut. The impact was immediate. Though Edwards read his message in a nearly monotone voice, the audience was gripped by such intense conviction that people began to openly weep and cry out to God for salvation even as Edwards preached.
He said, “Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards Hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of Hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.”
God’s people in our day need another awakening to the reality and awfulness of the place called Hell. This truth is not popular in our day, but in reality it never has been. Lost and dying men do not want to be confronted with the fact that they will give an account to the God who created them. This certain coming judgment should motivate us to diligently work to reach the lost. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (2 Corinthians 5:11).
Take time today to warn someone of the eternal judgment that faces all those who reject Jesus Christ.
“Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him, Saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.”
In September of 1862, General Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland hoping that victories in the north would encourage other nations to recognize the Confederacy and put pressure on the Union to end the war. Lee laid out an ambitious and risky strategy, dividing his army into three units and sending them different directions in hope of catching the Union Army, under General McClellan, off guard.
Lee’s detailed battle plan, Special Order 191, told exactly what he planned to do. Mistakenly, one copy was left behind and discovered by a Union corporal. Yet despite receiving full details of the Rebel plans, General McClellan delayed his response, waiting almost a full day before responding. He had all the information he needed, but because of McClellan’s delay the Battle of Antietam failed to be the smashing victory it could have been. Historians still debate the reasons for McClellan’s failure to act on the information he was given, but there is no question about the negative result.
The Lord has given us all that we need for the Christian life in His Word. When we fail to believe and act on the truth of the Bible, we always go astray. We forfeit the possibility of victory when we fail to take advantage of the wealth of information provided for us. God has given us knowledge of the enemy’s plan of attack and how we can defeat him: “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
If we do not take seriously what God has told us in His Word, our lives will be filled with error.
“Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”
By some counts, there are almost one thousand names and titles used for God in the Bible. Each of these descriptions tell us more about His nature and character. The expression Jesus used in Luke 20, calling Him “God...of the living” is a powerful one. There have been many deities worshiped by men throughout the years. But all of the worshipers of those false gods have perished. Only Christians have the assurance that because He is God not only of the past, but also of the present and future, we can look forward to eternal life.
God is the God of the living because He is also the God who conquered death. It was not enough for Jesus to die for us, but He also had to rise from the dead, proving His victory over the grave. It is the resurrection of Jesus that promises us eternal life. And without that resurrection, which ensures His promise that we too will be victorious over death, we have no basis for hope in either this life or the next. Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
I read about a young preacher who was facing his first funeral service. Trying to be sure he would say what he should, he began searching the Bible to find what Jesus said at funerals. What he found was not a message of comfort, but triumph. Three times Jesus came in contact with dead people—and He brought all three back to life! The future may be unknown, but it is nothing to fear.
The triumph of Jesus over the grave allows us the blessing of certainty about the future.
“And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass? And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.”
In December of 1985, thousands of people living in and around Washington DC received exciting news in the mail from a company called Flagship International Sports Television. They were told that they had been selected to receive free tickets to the upcoming Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals football game. All they had to do was show up at the Washington Convention Center where after a free brunch they would not only receive their tickets but also be entered into a drawing for free tickets to that year’s Super Bowl as well. Roughly one hundred people responded to the offer, but when they arrived at the convention center they were arrested by U.S. Marshals and Washington D.C. police officers. The notices had been sent to criminals with outstanding warrants whom the police had been unable to find.
Satan has been using deception against God’s children and lost people alike ever since the Garden of Eden. He does it because it works. “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He presents offers that look tempting on the surface but conceal death and destruction within. As Dr. John R. Rice used to say, “All Satan’s apples have worms.” God gives us the duty and responsibility to be alert to what is going on around us so that we are not deceived and led into sin.
God wants His children to be wise and discerning so that they are not ensnared by deception.
“Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the Light of the World was confronted under the cover of darkness. The contrast could not be greater. At the very beginning of creation God brought light into the world, and created a distinction between light and darkness: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3–4). The division was present at the beginning, and it became even more pronounced with the entry of sin into the world.
God wants His children to be separated from the darkness. It is an indication of the power of our sin nature that we find the darkness so attractive. It appeals to us to think that what we are doing can be concealed from others, yet we must remember that nothing is concealed from God. His eyes are not shaded by the dark, and He sees not only our actions but our intentions and motives as well. The knowledge that God sees all that we do is a powerful motivator for us to walk in obedience.
As new creatures in Christ we have nothing in common with the darkness any more. Paul asked this rhetorical question in his teaching on separation from the world: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). If we are following Jesus, then we will have a desire for the things of the light instead of the things of the dark.
As children of light, we have a responsibility to stand firm against the power of darkness.
“And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. And he denied him, saying, Woman, I know him not.”
Jesse’s father, a Baptist preacher, died when Jesse was just three years old. Jesse grew up idolizing his older brother Frank, even following his brother into battle during the Civil War when Jesse was still just sixteen years old. They served in the notorious guerrilla force under William Quantrill, fighting more against civilians than soldiers on the other side. When the war ended, many of those who served together in the military formed a criminal gang and began robbing banks, trains, and stagecoaches. It was not long before Jesse, still in his twenties, became the leader of one of the most famous gangs in American history. His life of crime continued until he was killed by one of his own men who wanted the reward that had been placed on Jesse James.
The people with whom we spend most of our time have a powerful influence on us. If we are sitting by the enemy’s fire on a regular basis, it will not be long until we begin to seek their approval and acceptance more than God’s. We may have good motives and not want to be pulled down, but the power of influence cannot be overcome with good intentions. Paul warned, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Many good Christians have been led astray because they allowed the main influences in their lives to be those who were not friends of God. If Peter had not been warming himself at the fire of those who hated Jesus, he would not have been tempted to deny the Lord.
The most powerful influence in most people’s lives comes from those with whom they spend the most time.
“And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.”
As the enemies of Jesus were watching Him hang on the cross, they mocked Him, trying to add to His suffering and grief. Yet even in their hatred, they expressed a profound spiritual truth—Jesus Christ could not save both Himself and us. He made the choice, not being forced to the cross but willingly laying down His life as a sacrifice for our sins because of His love for us. There was no other way for salvation to be accomplished than through His sacrifice. It was essential to God’s plan: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Those of us who have benefited from the sacrifice of Jesus and received His grace have an obligation to live in the same manner. We must be willing to give up our rights, comforts, privileges, and possessions when called to do so by God if we are to be followers of Jesus. There is no service without sacrifice.
When David sinned by numbering the people and a great plague came, he wanted to offer a sacrifice to pray for God’s mercy. He was offered the land for his sacrifice for free but declined: “And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver” (2 Samuel 24:24).
If we are not willing to make sacrifices, we will never accomplish anything meaningful for God.
“And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.”
In his message “Ten Reasons I Believe the Bible is the Word of God” Dr. R. A. Torrey said, “You will sometimes meet a pious old lady, who tells you that she knows that the Bible is God’s Word, and when you ask her for a reason for believing that it is God’s Word she can give you none. She simply says: ‘I know it is God’s Word.’ You say: ‘That is mere superstition.’ Not at all. She is one of Christ’s sheep, and recognizes her Shepherd’s voice from every other voice. She is one of God’s children, and knows the voice which speaks to her from the Bible is the voice of God.”
The Bible contains more truth than could be learned in a thousand years of study. Yet it is not primarily through reason and research that we learn the things of God, but through faith. If we do not believe what the Holy Spirit has given us, we will never learn what God wants us to know. It is the combination of the Scriptures and the Spirit that open the truth of the Word to our hearts: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
When it comes to faith, the mind is vital; but it is not enough alone. It must be joined with the heart so that we apply what we know and have learned and put it into practice.
The Lord is searching the hearts of His children to find those who are willing to live and walk by faith.
“And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.”
Even after Jesus showed the disciples the scars from the crucifixion in His hands and feet, they were not fully convinced that He was in fact alive. Many of the Jewish people of that day believed in ghosts that could appear in human form, but were not really alive. To convince them that He was truly alive, Jesus sat and ate with them. His ability to eat food was a clear proof that He had been physically resurrected by the power of God.
The resurrection to which we look forward—whether the instant transformation of those who are alive at the Rapture or the rising from the dead of those who sleep in Jesus—is only possible because Jesus first was raised from the dead. If He had not been physically resurrected, there would be no hope for us. All of our hopes hinge on the reality of the resurrection, and without a living Saviour there can be no salvation. Thankfully, He is alive! Paul wrote, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15.20).
Because Jesus was raised with a physical, glorified body, we have the same future hope. The importance of the physical resurrection is not a new idea. We find this longing and hope expressed in the Old Testament book of Job. “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26).
The reality of death has been part of our world ever since the Fall of man, but the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus changed everything—past, present and future. Now we no longer need fear the grave for its power has been broken. Jesus is eternally alive, and His resurrection guarantees our eternal life.
Because of the physical resurrection of Jesus, we have confidence that we too will live again.
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”
Charles Spurgeon told of a veteran Welsh preacher who gave some advice to a new minister regarding the importance of preaching about Jesus. The old minister said, “Young man, from every town and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London. And so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business is when you go to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road to the great metropolis—Christ. And I have never yet found a text that has not got a road to Christ in it.”
The Jewish people divided what we now call the Old Testament into three sections—the law, prophets, and psalms. In His first appearance to the disciples following His resurrection, Jesus declared to them that all of the sections of Scripture told of His coming—and that He had fulfilled the prophecies exactly as God had given them to the inspired prophets of old. They had spoken of His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection; and He had lived just as they said.
In addition to being a powerful statement about the complete reliability of Scripture, this is a pattern for us to follow in our lives and ministry. Jesus is to be at the center of everything we do. Paul said, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The focus of our efforts should not be anything other than our blessed and wonderful Saviour.
If we make much of Jesus and glorify Him, we have fulfilled our great duty as His children.
“And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:”
There are many times when we can substitute one thing for the original without much changing the result. For example, if you are baking something and are short one egg, you may be able to use a little applesauce and baking powder and the results will be about the same. If you break a taillight, you can cover the hole with red tape and the light will still shine through when you step on the brakes.
But there are other areas in which no substitute will work. When it comes to the matter of our redemption, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are absolutely essential. This is the very foundation of our faith. Paul wrote, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). The reason Paul started his preaching with this truth is that it is the core of all doctrine.
There were no alternatives to provide a way for our sins to be atoned and for us to be reconciled to God. No angel could die in the place of man. No man could live according to God’s law. No one can pay the debt for another because we each owe our own debt. The only hope of salvation was the substitutionary death of the sinless Son of God. If there had been another way, surely God would have chosen it. But there was not, and so Jesus died in our place. The cross is the true measure of God’s love for us, and it should fill our hearts with gratitude and joy for our salvation.
The thing we need the most—salvation—is only possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
“For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16–18
I think almost all of us who are parents or grandparents know the painful truth—sometimes the kids like playing with the box the toy came in more than playing with the toy. No matter how long we looked for the perfect gift, how carefully we planned the order in which the packages would be opened to lead up to the big moment, no matter how popular the toy is supposed to be, the child looks at it for a moment, and then picks up the box and goes to town. The child may be having a great time, but it just doesn’t feel right to us when we wanted the focus to be on the gift we provided.
Christmas is the celebration of the greatest gift in all of human history—God Himself coming to earth. But too many times we lose sight of that gift with all of the other things taking place around us. Trees and lights and traditions and gatherings are all wonderful, unless they take our focus off what is truly important. Peter warned of the danger of forgetting what matters most. “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:9). Make sure your Christmas this year is filled with more than just the boxes—keep your eyes on the great gift of God’s Son, our Saviour.
If our hearts are set on what matters eternally, our Christmas will be focused on the things of God.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
No one who watched British runner Derek Redmond compete in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 will ever forget what happened. During the 400 meter semi-final, Redmond was running at top speed when a hamstring injury ended his dream of an Olympic gold medal. In great pain, he attempted to finish the race, though all hope of victory was gone. But the pain of his injury was so great, that he could not go on. Redmond’s father pushed past security and made his way onto the track. Placing his son’s arm around his shoulders, Jim Redmond supported Derek until they both reached the finish line. Though the official Olympic record lists Derek Redmond as “did not finish” because he had to have assistance, his father took him all the way to the end of the race.
Because of the power of sin over the lives of the lost, we have no ability to keep God’s perfectly righteous demands. The law cannot give us that power. All it can do is tell us what God requires—it cannot help us meet His holy standard. For that, we must have something better than the law. We must have Jesus. Because He perfectly fulfilled the law during His sinless life, we can have His righteousness applied to our account. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The gift of God’s Son offers what nothing else ever could—the promise of righteousness and acceptance by God to all who receive Christ by faith.
“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.”
1 Corinthians 6:12–14
The three-legged race is one of the most entertaining events at many picnics, reunions, and school outings. Two people stand next to each other with their inside legs tied together at the ankles, and then they try to run. Invariably, as they hurry, they will get tangled up. It is rare to see anyone go quickly through this kind of race without falling at least once. Trying to coordinate moving the legs together with tangled feet is extremely difficult.
This race is a picture of how many Christians attempt to live. Although they want to make progress in their spiritual life, they keep themselves so tied to the things of the world that they become entangled with them and invariably find that their spiritual progress is slow going.
The word expedient in the verse above comes from the Latin word for “having your feet free” and has come to refer to something that is helpful to our progress. The call of God is for us to be moving forward, not drifting in place; but we cannot do that unless our feet are free.
Jesus warned of the problem faced by those who allow themselves to be entangled by the things of the world as He told the parable of the Sower and the seed, which represented God’s Word. About the seed planted in thorny ground He said, “And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Our service and work for God are important enough to be worthy of setting aside the things of the world so that we are not caught in the entanglements that would keep us from accomplishing His work.
Keeping your feet free from the entanglements of the world allows you to move forward freely for God.
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:”
1 Corinthians 9:24–26
Frank Shorter’s gift for running became apparent at a young age. He was a standout college athlete, winning NCAA and US National Titles in distance races while still in school. He won repeatedly at distances varying from the five thousand meters up to the marathon. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Shorter focused on the grueling twenty-six miles of the marathon. By tradition, the Olympic marathon concludes inside the Olympic stadium. Shorter was preceded into the arena by a German named Norbert Sudhaus—not a fellow competitor, but an impostor who had not run the whole race. Though Shorter crossed the finish line second, he won the gold medal because he had completed the entire race according to the rules of the event.
There are no prizes for those who do not follow the way God has laid out for us in Scripture. Yet often we are tempted to take matters into our own hands and do things our way rather than God’s way. Satan tempted Jesus to do exactly that: “And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3). Jesus refused, because even though the act was not sinful in itself, it would still have been wrong to do because it was not according to God’s design for His life. Ever since the Garden of Eden, people have been falling for the temptation to decide for themselves what is acceptable rather than trusting and obeying what God has said.
Avoid the “shortcuts” that tempt you to break the rules in order to win the race.
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:8–10
Someone said that the three hardest words to say in the English language are, “I need help.” We don’t like to say those words because we don’t like having to admit that we don’t have everything under control. The world (and sadly sometimes the church) places a great premium on having everything together. As the old commercial put it, the prevailing attitude is, “Never let them see you sweat.” Yet in truth, all of us face trials and troubles that are beyond our ability to resolve. We must have Divine help—and that requires an admission that we need help in the first place.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He gave them what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. Then He illustrated what our attitude in prayer should be with the story of a man who unexpectedly had company arrive late at night and was forced to ask his neighbor for help: “For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?” (Luke 11:6).
How hard is it for us to say to God “I have nothing”? But unless and until we reach that point, we will not receive His help. God had Gideon send home more than thirty thousand soldiers until only three hundred remained. With that small group, God worked a miracle of deliverance and victory (Judges 7). When we reach the end of ourselves and God is involved, nothing is impossible.
When we reach the point where we have only God to rely on, we can begin to see Him work.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
1 Corinthians 2:14–16
Every two years, following the Summer or Winter Olympic Games, there is another competition for those who suffer from physical disabilities. The Paralympic Games feature many of the same sporting events as the regular games despite the difficulties they pose. During the 2014 Winter Paralympics, Kelly Gallagher from Great Britain won the gold medal in the Super-G downhill skiing competition. The demanding course sees skiers reach speeds of close to sixty miles an hour. Gallagher, who is almost completely blind, cannot see the twists and turns of the snowy course. A sighted guide skis the race in front of her, calling out the turns and jumps over a wireless headset. It is the guide's voice that enables Gallagher to safely complete the race.
The Christian life is filled with many obstacles and challenges—and often we cannot see them coming. We need to have a reliable and trustworthy guide to help us stay on course. Jesus described the ministry of the Holy Spirit this way: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13). No difficulty we face presents a surprise to Him, and no decision we must make confuses Him. We have been given this amazing resource as part of our inheritance as children of God, and we need to use it every day.
When we listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, we will not go off track.
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
1 Timothy 1:12–14
One of the great privileges of my life was spending some time with Dr. Lee Roberson in his later years. When Dr. Roberson gave his life to God, he meant it! As a young man, he turned down a lucrative recording contract to preach the gospel. Then after more than fifty years of ministry as a pastor, he became an evangelist, traveling across the country well into his nineties, reaching the lost and challenging Christians to be active in their service for Christ. He was greatly talented, but the most important characteristic of his life was that Dr. Roberson was faithful in using his talents for God.
The importance of faithful, diligent, consistent service for the Lord cannot be overstated. The greatest need of our day is not more talent, but more faithfulness. The world measures success by how much is accomplished in things that can be measured. God measures success by how much is accomplished in things that truly matter. “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
God needs nothing from us. His abilities and resources are not improved by the contributions that we can offer. He graciously allows us to be part of His work despite our inability to do anything at all for Him apart from His power. What He wants from us is consistent, dedicated, devoted, faithful service. Whatever gifts and talents God has given you will mean nothing if you are not faithful to use them for Him. As Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. used to say, “The greatest ability is dependability.”
Acceptable service to God is not measured by talent and ability, but by faithfulness.
“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 15:57–58
The Christian life is not meant to be a life of ease where nothing ever goes wrong. It is a life of work, labor, sacrifice, and effort. We constantly face challenges and are tempted to indulge in discouragement and complaining. There are days when we may wonder, like Elijah, if we are the only ones left who are being faithful. There are days when we may feel, like Gideon, that we have been given an impossible task. There are days when we weep like Hannah when it seems our greatest desires will never be realized.
But on every day, regardless of our circumstances, we should be faithful in our service. And God calls us to be abounding—overflowing—not just doing the bare minimum required to get by. Many times we are tempted to complain and gripe about the obstacles we face. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Christ does not say, ‘Murmur at your cross.’ That is the very reverse of taking it up. As long as a man is alive, and out of hell, he cannot have any cause to complain. Be he where he may,—be he placed in the most abject position conceivable,—the man is better off than he deserves to be. Let not a single murmur, then, ever escape our lips.”
When we complain, we reveal a lack of faith in the rewards that God has promised. The writer of Hebrews, after listing many great men and women of faith concludes, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise” (Hebrews 11:39). The fact that we may never in this life receive rewards does not mean God will fail to see our work bear fruit.
The knowledge that God sees and rewards our faithful service keeps us going strong for Him.
“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen”
2 Corinthians 13:11–14
Professional athletes have all kinds of support—nutritional, financial, and medical, as well as trainers for every aspect of their on and off field lives. Recently, the Houston Astros hired their former All-Star third baseman Morgan Ensberg to their minor league staff as a “mindset coach.” His assignment to make sure that coaches, staff, and players throughout the organization are all on the same page. The fact that a massive organization dedicated to winning baseball games thinks this is an important investment, highlights the importance of the way we think.
The work of God is greatly hindered by unnecessary divisions among God’s people. While there are certainly times when we must take a stand and even break with someone over a doctrinal issue, we should never be eager for divisions. In pleading with two members of the church at Philippi to work together, Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). There are as many different opinions and ideas as there are people, but if each one of us puts what God thinks (which we find in the pages of His Word) ahead of what we think, we will find it easy to be in harmony with each other. This was one of the most important characteristics of the early church in Jerusalem. Over and over in Acts we read statements like this one: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).
When we think as God thinks, it will be easy for us to be unified with other Christians.
“Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.”
I read a wonderful story about a missionary to Zimbabwe who was trying diligently to witness to a man who had no interest in the gospel. When the man continued to refuse to listen to the message, the missionary offered to give him a New Testament. The uninterested man replied that he would just use the pages to roll his cigarettes and smoke them. The missionary said, “Well at least promise to read the pages before you smoke them!” The man agreed.
Fifteen years passed before the two men met again, and this time it was at a preaching conference. The once lost man who had declared his intention to smoke the pages of the Bible was now an effective evangelist. In his message, he gave his testimony and told the story of being given a New Testament. “I smoked Matthew and I smoked Mark and I smoked Luke. But when I got to John 3:16, I couldn’t smoke anymore. My life was changed from that moment.”
The power of the message God has given us to take to the world is not found in our ability, our personality, or our charisma. It is found in the story of the crucifixion, for the cross is the measure of God’s amazing love for the world. When we substitute that message with anything else, we are weakening the power of our witness to the lost. Paul reminded the Corinthians of his ministry in their city this way: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
If our lives and our message show God’s love to the world, He will draw the lost to salvation.
“I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.”
I heard about a preacher during the Great Depression who was walking down the street of a Midwest city. He saw a little boy with his face pressed up against the glass of a store, looking longingly at the candy displayed in the window. The preacher didn’t have a lot of money, but he wanted to do something for the boy so he took him inside and bought a small bag of candy. But when the preacher asked the boy for a piece, he shouted, “No! It’s mine!” and ran out of the store.
Too often we treat God similarly. Rather than acknowledging Him as both the source and rightful owner of everything we have, we insist that it is ours and regard the Bible commands on giving as an unfair imposition. What a tragedy! Our names may be on the house deed, the car title, or the bank account, but God is the owner. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Rather than clinging tightly to every dime and every possession, we should be generous and grateful that God has made it possible for us to contribute to His work. It is an amazing measure of His grace that He first provides us the ability to give and then rewards us with blessings when we give back to Him part of what He has already given us.
Giving is a way of acknowledging God’s ownership and provision of our resources.
“Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.”
1 Corinthians 4:8–10
I heard about an elderly concert pianist who had been touring and playing with leading orchestras around the world for decades. As he waited in the dressing room before a performance, another pianist who was sharing the program with him entered. He hurried over to the famed musician and said, “You probably don’t remember me, but some years ago I played for you and when I was finished, I asked if you thought I had what it took to become a concert pianist. You told me I didn’t, but I kept on anyway, and here I am.” The older man responded, “I told everyone who auditioned for me that they didn’t have what it took. I knew the ones who did have what it took wouldn’t stop!”
Although I don’t recommend discouragement as a great mentoring tool, it is true that anyone who has accomplished anything meaningful and lasting has had to face and overcome criticism and condemnation from others. This is true in the world, and it is true in God’s work as well. While it would be nice to think that others would recognize the effort and motivation in laboring for the Lord, often that is not the case. The reality is that criticism doesn’t matter. We should consider what critics have to say, and make any needed changes. But we should never allow critics to determine our direction or our attitude as we continue on God’s path.
We must not allow critics and naysayers to divert us from the path God has called us to walk.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
I read about a little girl who was taking a walk with her father on a night when there were no clouds and the stars were shining brightly. Looking up at the twinkling lights she exclaimed, “Oh Daddy, if the wrong side of Heaven is so beautiful, what must the right side be!” We are told perhaps less than we would like about Heaven in the Word of God, but we are assured that it is wonderful and perfect. And because of the salvation freely offered to us by God’s grace, it is our eternal destination.
The reality is that with our finite minds, we are incapable of understanding what the timeless perfection of Heaven will truly be like. It exceeds the scope of our imaginations. “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
However limited our ability to grasp the wonders of Heaven may be, there is this sure and certain thing that we are promised—we will be eternally in the very presence of God, free forever from sin, sickness, death, disease and tears. David said, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15). The promise of Heaven is given to us as a source of hope and comfort. God knows the challenges and burdens we face, so He offers us the hope of eternity with Him.
The certainty that Heaven is our eternal destination will keep our hearts from being troubled.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
1 Corinthians 2:14–16
In 1995 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which contains one of the most extensive art collections in the world, held a most unusual exhibit. More than forty paintings, all belonging to the museum, were placed on display in the Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt exhibition. Less than half of them were definitely attributed to the famous artist. The majority had once been thought to be painted by Rembrandt, but later proved through careful research to be either imitations by others or outright forgeries. The museum said, “The purpose of this exhibition is to demystify through educational displays the kind of research that goes on at a museum like the Metropolitan by demonstrating the different approaches art historian and conservators take.”
Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been offering counterfeits to God’s truth—and generation after generation, people continue to “buy” the fake rather than holding to and valuing what is real. The simple fact is that we cannot discern between God’s truth and Satan’s lies without the help of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who holds up the absolute standard of Scripture, calling to our remembrance what God has actually said. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us discernment and equips us to determine truth from falsehood. Often people will talk about being guided by their conscience or their heart, but those are untrustworthy guides. Instead we must rely on the Word of God as illuminated and applied to our thinking through the Spirit to make wise spiritual judgments.
We cannot follow Jesus as we should if we are not able to discern what is true from what is false.
“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
2 Corinthians 4:3–5
The highly lethal Ebola virus has been known for many years, but a major outbreak in 2014 created a global health scare. As hundreds of patients in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia contracted the deadly disease, the local health care facilities were quickly overrun. International groups like the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders set up emergency treatment in the effected areas. They did everything possible to let people know that help was available. Though thousands died, many tens of thousands were saved as the worst cases were isolated and treated. Nearly three years passed before the outbreak was finally considered to be fully controlled.
There has been a raging sin virus spreading throughout the world since the Garden of Eden. It is 100 percent deadly, and there is only one hope of a cure. Yet far too often God’s children, having received the cure of salvation for themselves, fail to do their part to shine the light of the gospel into the darkness of the world. It is a tragedy because we are God’s only plan for reaching the lost. He does not send angels to carry the message. Instead He commands us to do it. “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are the only hope for a lost and dying world.
We who have received God’s gift of salvation have the weighty responsibility of sharing the gospel with the world.
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”
Salvation is a completely transformative experience. Even those of us who were saved at a young age—before being deeply involved with the sinful habits of others who were saved later in life—are totally changed, because we received a new nature. Paul wrote, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation changes every part of our lives.
There has never been a more fervent enemy of the cause of Christ than the Apostle Paul. He did everything in his power to stamp out the new religion and to harm the followers of Jesus Christ. There were no limits to what Paul would do or where he would go to persecute Christians. When he saw Jesus, Paul was making a trip of more than one hundred miles to Damascus to keep Christianity from spreading there. From that moment on, he dedicated his life to a new cause.
When Paul gave his testimony before King Agrippa he said, “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come” (Acts 26:22). There is nothing more important than following the will and purpose of God—He saved us so that we can walk in His ways.
Our lives as God’s children should be spent pursuing His purposes rather than our own.
“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”
In his poem Aeneid, which details the mythical life of the founder of Rome, Virgil described a cruel and wicked tyrant named King Mezentius who opposed the hero Aeneas. Among the evidences given for his harshness was his practice of tying corpses to those whom he wished to execute but did not wish for them to die quickly. Mezentius’ victims were condemned to carry the dead body around with them until the decay spread and killed them as well.
That is something like the image that Paul uses in describing the old nature that remains with us even after we are saved. While we are given a new nature and a new father, the old remains. Paul described his own struggle with doing what was right: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19). The body of death, the sin nature, will never leave us until we reach Heaven.
The difference, however, between our experience and King Mezentius’ victims is that we are not doomed to continually fall into sin; in fact, we are destined to victory. God is our deliverer. Ultimately, we will be freed from sin when we are in His presence. In the meantime, He is always faithful when we seek His help: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
If we seek God’s way of escape and live in the power of His Spirit, we can defeat temptation.
“Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.”
Ed McCully had a wealth of talent and ability. He was a gifted college athlete and a powerful speaker. In fact, he won the Hearst Oratorical Contest in 1949 over ten thousand other student speakers. While studying law at Marquette University, Ed became convinced that God wanted him in ministry. He joined his friend Jim Elliot and began traveling and preaching across America. The two, along with three other friends eventually went to Ecuador, where they were martyred trying to reach a tribe then called the Auca Indians. Ed McCully died at just twenty-eight without the results of ministry that the world would judge successful. But by God’s standard, he did exactly what he should have done with his life and talents.
The Lord does not demand that we produce results, for that is His doing. Paul wrote, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). God demands that we faithfully deliver the message He has given us. That is the vital task we must not fail to perform. Every one of us is surrounded by people who are destined for Hell and need to be warned before it is too late.
If we are faithful to warn the lost of the coming judgment, God counts us as successful.
“Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
1 Corinthians 10:11–13
Heavyweight boxer James “Quick” Tillis grew up in a poor family in Oklahoma. When he began his professional boxing career, he decided to move to Chicago where he would have better training and publicity opportunities. In the personal account of his life, Tillis wrote, “I got off the bus with two suitcases under my arms in downtown Chicago and stopped in front of the Sears Tower. I put my suitcases down, and I looked up at the Tower and I said to myself, ‘I am going to conquer Chicago.’ When I looked down, the suitcases were gone!”
All of us are tempted to rely on ourselves—to think that we have things together and can make it on our own. That is never true. In fact, it is when we are most self-confident and self-reliant that we are in the greatest danger of failure. The battles we face cannot be won in our own strength. Even the archangel Michael relied on God’s strength rather than his own when confronting Satan. “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 1:9).
God calls us to be victorious, but it is His power that wins the battles, not ours. When our focus is on ourselves and what we can do, we are in a dangerous place.
The more thoroughly we humbly depend on God, the more protected we are from temptation and sin.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.”
2 Corinthians 10:3–6
What people think determines how they feel and how they act. In the 1970s, a Stanford professor named David Rosenhan conducted an experiment. He and several other healthy subjects checked themselves into mental institutions. They then tried to convince the staff that they were normal. They did not exhibit any characteristics of mental illness or abnormal behavior, but on average it took nearly three weeks for them to be released. Even then many of the facilities insisted on putting a continuing treatment plan in place before allowing them to leave. Why did they respond that way? Because they were convinced there was a problem and found evidence to support their belief.
The Christian life requires proper thinking if we are to live as God intends. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Victory does not begin on the outside, but on the inside with our thoughts. The way that we view every part of life—worship, work, family, others—is determined by how we think about those things. God has given us His Word, not to carry to church on Sundays and then set aside, but instead to guide, control, and fill our thinking. “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
Only when our minds are under control can we win victory over temptation and sin.
“Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD stood by.”
Edward Mote grew up in an ungodly home in England where the Bible was not read or the truth taught. But when he was a teenager, Mote heard the gospel and was saved. He worked for many years as a cabinetmaker before becoming a pastor later in his life. One day while he walked to work at the cabinet shop he owned, Mote began composing a hymn in his head. Throughout the day he added verses, and by the end of the day “The Solid Rock” was complete. The last stanza says:
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
There are multiplied benefits of our salvation, but none of them are greater than the fact that our sins are taken away, and we are clothed with a new nature that is righteous in the eyes of God. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The standing we have with God is not based in any way on our own merit, for even the best that we can do falls hopelessly short of God’s standard of perfection. But when we put on the perfect righteousness of Jesus in salvation, God views us as fit to enter into His presence.
Never forget that God sees you clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:8–10
Sometimes we think that if only our troubles would go away, we would be free from worry. Yet in reality, trouble is a normal part of life in a fallen world, and often the troubles we experience are given and guided by God as a necessary part of our spiritual growth. Hudson Taylor did a great work for God as a missionary in China, reaching tens of thousands with the gospel and challenging Christians around the world to do more for the cause of Christ. But his life was filled with difficulty and opposition. Rather than worrying, Taylor resolved to trust God in every situation.
Taylor wrote, “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize the Lord is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient.”
Nothing that happens to us takes God by surprise or causes Him to have to revise His plans for us. He has perfect knowledge of what is coming, and we can safely trust in His love and goodness to care for us no matter what comes. Most spiritual growth occurs in times of testing and trouble, so rather than worrying when there is trouble, we should look to God’s grace and rest in His care.
It is not abundant trouble but insufficient faith that causes us to live with constant worry.