Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. 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 8:7-9
In Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church, he spent a great deal of time talking about giving. There are very few subjects that create as much tension as the topic of money. And our attitude toward our financial resources is indicative of what is happening in our hearts and minds. When Paul talked about giving to God's work, he put it in the context of the sacrifice that Jesus made to provide for our salvation.
David Livingstone spent decades on the mission field and lost a great deal according to the calculation of the world. But he wrote, “Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own best reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It was emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege.”
If we view what we give to God, whether that be our talents, our time, or our money, as a sacrifice we are making, we are not looking at it correctly. Everything we have belongs to God. Everything we have is a gift from God. And we must be cheerful rather than grudging in our giving. "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).
A proper appreciation of what God did for us makes it easy for us to give back what He has given to us.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
When Jesus was asked what mattered most in terms of the law—which commandment was the most important—He answered that it was love for God and love for our neighbors. The way that we respond both to God and to others is determined by who or what we love the most. Without love, we will not do what we should. And even when we do things that others may view as being generous and sacrificial, without love, those actions do not matter. Paul wrote, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
It can be hard to love people. They don't always treat us properly. They don't always do what they should. But if we're honest, we don't always do what is right either. So we must extend the forgiveness and grace to others that we need ourselves. For any group, whether a family, a company, a church, or some other organization, to function properly, there must be love and forgiveness. There will be problems because imperfect people will do things they shouldn't and fail to do things they should. When this happens, choosing to love can make the difference.
The hallmark of the church in Jerusalem was their unity. Yet even among those Spirit-filled, committed believers, there were problems. “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1). Rather than allowing this problem to continue, however, this church found a solution. When we love others as we should, we will do whatever is right and necessary to keep unity and harmony intact.
Love for God and others is the most important responsibility given to us.
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
2 Corinthians 5:1-4
The story is told of an old Scottish preacher who, late in his life and unable to live alone anymore, was facing a move to a new home where he could be cared for. But his home held many memories for him as his children had been born there, he had studied for his sermons there, and it had been a place of hospitality and outreach to others for many years. He was reluctant to leave, but then one of the men who was helping with the move came to him and said, “Sir, everything's gone; and the new house is better than this one. Come away.” Hearing that, he went gladly to his new home.
Every child of God has the hope of Heaven and the perfection that awaits us. The aches and pains of our bodies, the sins and temptations that beset us, and the sorrows and griefs we endure will all be wiped away forever. Instead, we will eternally dwell in the presence of God in splendor and beauty. The things of this world on which we place such great importance should not be allowed to draw our desire and attention away from our eternal home. The perfect place, “not made with hands,” should be our desire. If we are more attached to earthly things than heavenly ones, we are not living as we should. If we are to live here as we should, our hearts must be fixed above, rather than on things of this world.
Our focus must be more on the next world than this one if we are to live as God directs.
Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia. And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go. For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.
1 Corinthians 16:5-9
Though there were times when God told Paul where and when he would be going next, there were also times when Paul had to wait and see what lay in store for him. This uncertainty is on display at the end of his first letter to the church at Corinth. He told them what he was hoping to do, but he recognized that God's plans would take precedence. Many times when people try to discern God's will for their lives, they allow hardship and opposition to influence their decision. Yet rather than being a sign that we are going in the wrong direction, opposition is often the best sign that we are headed in the right direction. G. Campbell Morgan said, “If you have no opposition in the place you serve, you’re serving in the wrong place.”
We should be living in such a way and having such an impact for God that our lives are not being ignored. When the sons of Sceva tried to cast out a demon without God's power, it ended in disaster for them. They had neither the power or the standing to do so, and their power proved inadequate to the task. “And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” (Acts 19:15). There is no reason for Satan to focus his attacks on Christians who are doing nothing for God. Adversaries provide evidence that we are having an impact.
We must never let obstacles or opposition deter us from doing what we know is right.
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
2 Corinthians 11:24-28
The life of the Apostle Paul was anything but easy. Being faithful to God's calling put his life in danger over and over. He suffered intense persecution, dire hardships, lack, and danger—not for doing wrong, but for doing right. There were many reasons for Paul to quit, but he never did. The hardships made some of his companions turn back. Mark quit the first missionary journey. Demas decided the things of the world were more to be desired than the suffering of following Christ. Yet despite all that Paul endured and the fact that others were turning back, he continued. He refused to allow anything to deter him from serving God.
Paul declared, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). There are times when difficulty comes as a result of something we have done wrong. But many times the opposition and hardship we experience are because we are doing right, and the devil is trying to get us to stop serving God. Whatever the source, we must not allow anything to stop our service to God. Edgar Guest wrote, “It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.”
Our love for Christ should be so great that nothing can deter us from serving Him.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
We live in a day when many people utterly reject the truth of God. They mock the Bible and those who believe it as being hopelessly out of date. They scorn the church and refuse to listen when the gospel is presented to them. In the face of this rejection, some churches have chosen to change their message, hoping for more acceptance. As a result, they are no longer proclaiming the truth. But the response to the message is not our responsibility. Our task is to faithfully declare what God has said, speaking not our message, but the one He has entrusted us to deliver. We are not responsible for the way people receive God's truth, but rather responsible for offering the message of salvation.
When the Israelites came to Samuel and insisted on having a king, the prophet was distraught. He warned them that they were going against God's plan. He pleaded with them to reconsider, but they refused. So he went to God in prayer, feeling like he had failed. “And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them (1 Samuel 8:7). Whether or not anyone believes the gospel, our job is to speak it clearly and call the world to repentance. The results of that are totally in God's hands. As long as we are faithful, compassionate witnesses of the truth, we have done our job.
As faithful ambassadors for Christ, our responsibility is to present His message to the world and then to trust Him with the results.
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
One of the key members of the great church at Philippi was Lydia. She used the resources that God had provided to help the church get established. But she was not looking for fame, praise, or attention. She was instead concerned that her life be evaluated by—and that she indeed would pass the test—her faithfulness to the Lord. We live in a day when many people hunger to be recognized as talented, gifted, or successful, but God has never been impressed with such things. He is looking for those who are committed, dedicated, and consistent in His work. Paul wrote, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
The faithful life requires humility and obedience. That is why so many people would prefer other measures of success. It is not easy, but it is right. Oswald Chambers wrote, “The goal of faithfulness is not that we will do work for God, but that He will be free to do His work through us. God calls us to His service and places tremendous responsibilities on us. He expects no complaining on our part and offers no explanation on His part. God wants to use us as He used His own Son.” Faithfulness shows up day after day. It does not concern itself with whether it is noticed or popular, but whether it is diligent. Faithfulness is the persistence to keep going, even when we do not see immediate results. Faithfulness is a dedication to the process, not the results. And faithfulness makes our lives pleasing unto God.
If we are faithful to God, our lives are a success—no matter what the world may think.
And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
2 Corinthians 8:18-21
Charles Spurgeon was in the public eye in England from the time he became a pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (later named the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London at the age of nineteen through the rest of his life. He quickly became one of the best known men in the entire country. His sermons were printed in newspapers, and so many people wanted to hear him preach that they gave out tickets to control the size of the crowds. His firm stands for the truth and his willingness to apply what the Bible said to the issues of the day regardless of whether it was popular or not aroused a good deal of opposition. At one point, he was even threatened that if he did not tone down his preaching, disparaging information about him would be made public. Spurgeon responded, “Write all you know about me across the heavens.”
Spurgeon was not claiming to be perfect. In fact, a reading of his sermons and articles reveals that Spurgeon was painfully aware of his own failings. But he also knew that he had led an honest and honorable life, and there was nothing about his personal or pastoral work that he would be ashamed to have revealed to the world. We know that God sees everything that we do, and nothing is hidden from His eyes. But we should be willing to have our work and lives examined by others. There should not be anything we do that we would be embarrassed or ashamed to have known by others.
If we do not want others to know about something we do, that is a warning sign that we should not be doing it.
And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
As the Reformation and the teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone began to spread, Martin Luther became the target of a campaign of persecution and slander. He faced enormous pressure from both political and religious authorities to recant his teaching. Eventually he was summoned to Worms, Germany, in 1521 to answer charges of heresy. Luther refused to relent and deny what he believed to be true. Fearlessly he said, “Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scriptures or…by manifest reasoning I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s Word, I cannot and will not recant anything. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
Though we should not be arrogant or unwilling to listen to instruction and correction, when we know that we are standing firm on what the Word of God says, nothing should shake our confidence or cause us to abandon our commitment to the truth. Many people treat uncertainty as a virtue, but it is not. God wants us to know what is right and to clearly and firmly present it to those around us. There is an urgent need in our day for a clear and consistent declaration of what God has said. Paul wrote, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). The more the darkness grows around us, the more vital it is to have clarity about the truth. God is looking for people who are unwilling to allow anything to deter them from speaking the truth to the world.
Nothing should be allowed to shake our commitment to stand for the truth.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3-5
Barbara Hutton lost her mother when she was just six years old, and her workaholic father had little time for his daughter. On her twenty-first birthday, the heir to the Woolworth fortune received an inheritance of $50 million—worth nearly $1 billion in today's money. She spent freely, hosting lavish parties and buying expensive jewelry and clothes. In her search for happiness, she married seven times. By the time of her death, the woman the newspapers dubbed “the poor little rich girl” was almost bankrupt. She received a huge inheritance, but it did not bring her joy, nor did it last.
By contrast, the inheritance we have been given as children of God is one that never fades away. When God places us into His family, we not only receive access to the abundant riches of His grace, but we are kept safe and secure, knowing that we will never lose the treasure He has imparted to us. Just as we do not save ourselves, we do not keep ourselves saved. It is His power that guarantees our security in Him. We go through trials and tribulations in this life, but nothing can shake the surety of what is to come.
The great fortunes of this world frequently do not last. They can be dissipated by poor decisions or exhausted by economic reversals. Those who seek to find happiness or security in wealth can never be truly secure. But in Christ we have truly durable riches. “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).
Earthly treasure may vanish and fade, but the treasure we have in Heaven will never pass away.
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
2 Corinthians 8:1-4
In 1994, Alvin Straight got the news that his older brother Henry had suffered a stroke. Unable to drive a car because of his poor health and failing eyesight, Alvin set out on his John Deere riding lawnmower from his home in Iowa toward his brother's home in Wisconsin. He took along camping supplies and traveled at five miles per hour. After breaking down twice and having to wait for his Social Security check to come in so he could continue his trip, Alvin Straight finally arrived in Blue River, Wisconsin six weeks after he left home. He was willing to do whatever it took to see his brother. Eventually, his nephew packed up the riding lawnmower in the back of his truck and took Alvin back to his home.
When the Apostle Paul was in need, the churches in Macedonia into which he had poured so much responded with a gift of incredible sacrificial generosity. It was far beyond what they could have been expected to do. Yet they gave that gift joyfully, even begging Paul to take it because they wanted to be part of his ministry. A person's willingness to give and sacrifice is never determined by their resources, but by their love. The more that we love God, the less attached we are to the things of this world. There are always reasons for us not to give—to hold on to everything we have for the future. But if our hearts belong to God, our possessions will be His as well.
Our true loves and priorities are most clearly seen by where we invest our time and resources.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
As Paul traveled from place to place on his missionary trips, he often was in a town for only a few days or weeks. But in other places, he was able to stay for a longer period, investing more and more of himself. Nowhere was that more evident than in the city of Ephesus. The great city was a center of culture and trade, first in the Greek empire and later the Roman empire. Paul did not have an easy time there. He faced much opposition from the worshipers of Diana, and had to fight for his life. “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
Paul stayed in Ephesus for three years, in spite of the obstacles he faced. He committed much of his life to reaching those people. He did not allow anything to deter him from doing what God had called him to do. Horatius Bonar wrote, “The road to the Kingdom is not so pleasant, and comfortable, and easy, and flowery, as many dream. It is not a bright sunny avenue of palms. It is not paved with triumph, though it is to end in victory. Rest later; but weariness here! Joy and security later; but here endurance and watchfulness – the race, the battle, the burden, the stumbling block, and oftentimes the heavy heart.” We can be faithful through each challenge as we keep our eyes on Christ and on the priorities which He has placed before us.
Regardless of the results we see or opposition we face, we must remain faithful to serve and follow Jesus Christ.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 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 15:55-58
For forty-five years, Queen Elizabeth I ruled over England, navigating the religious and political wars that were raging and guiding her nation to a period of success and prosperity. It is said that when Elizabeth I was dying, her final words were, “All my possessions for a moment of time.” Her power and her wealth and her fame could not extend her life. It is futile to seek purpose and meaning in human endeavors. Solomon wrote, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
Yet as Christians we do not live “under the sun” without a hope for eternity. That is why Paul ties together our confidence that our work for Christ has a lasting value with the victory of Jesus over death. This world is not all there is. Those around us who are living only for what they can see will one day realize that it has all been for nothing. For them, death represents an ending which takes away everything they have. That is not true for believers, and we must not forget it.
If we lose the hope that our work for the Lord has lasting meaning and value, we will be weak and wavering in our commitment to Him. Death came into the world because of sin, and it is the natural end of human life. Yet because the Jesus rose from the dead, we can face the future with certainty rather than fear.
The things of this life quickly vanish, but the things which are eternal are worthy of our love and work.
I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
The Christians of Corinth were surrounded by an immoral culture and society. The problem that we face of living in the midst of a sinful world is not new. These Christians had been saved out of all kinds of wicked habits, yet grace transformed them. After Paul listed a number of evil lifestyles that characterized the inhabitants of Corinth, he wrote: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
We have a responsibility to God to live holy and pure lives, behaving in a way that brings honor and glory to Him. This requires a balancing act. We are not supposed to completely withdraw from the world around us because then we could have no impact on their lives. However, we are greatly influenced by those with whom we spend a great deal of time, so we must make sure we are spending much more time with those who not only claim to love God but who are living in obedience to Him.
We must carefully guard against allowing ungodly influences that will corrupt our behavior or turn our hearts from God.
Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia. And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go. For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.
1 Corinthians 16:5-9
We would certainly understand if Paul had been discouraged by the constant opposition, oppression, and persecution that he faced. If anyone had a reason to quit, it was Paul. Yet despite all the suffering, he remained undaunted. Paul was fully committed to serving God no matter what the cost and no matter what the results would be. He recognized that the cause was worthy of the sacrifice. He also recognized that most of the time the greatest opportunities to serve God come in the face of the greatest opposition. J. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.”
The devil does not need to focus his attacks and attention on a believer who is doing nothing. But someone who is walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, being an effective witness of the gospel, demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit, and being a help and encouragement to others should expect to face opposition. Knowing that it is coming does not make it more pleasant, but it does help us to not be discouraged by problems. There are no promises that service to God will be painless and easy. Rather we are promised the opposite. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The presence of opposition and obstacles can be a good indicator that we are on the right track.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
God is gracious and merciful, giving us far more blessings than we deserve. He not only gives eternal salvation to those who call out to Him for it, but He meets our needs, hears and answers our prayers, and blesses us in more ways than we can count. All of these blessings should point us to God and to His incredible goodness and glory. Too often, however, we start to take credit for the gifts God has given us.
It is God's gift of grace that enables us to be used, and we should never take credit. God will not give His glory to anyone else. “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8). God will not allow us or anyone to claim the credit and glory that belong to Him alone. That is why He commanded Gideon to send home most of the soldiers who came to fight against the Midianites. That is why He told Jehoshaphat to send the army into battle led by singers and musicians who were praising the Lord. That is why He sent a chariot of fire to take Elijah to Heaven. God wants there to be no doubt that He is the one who is to be worshiped and glorified.
Our lives should be a display that reflects God's greatness, and His glory should be our joy. Jonathan Edwards wrote, “God is glorified not only by His glory being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.”
No achievement in the Christian life can be considered truly successful unless it brings honor and glory to God.
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
2 Corinthians 11:24-27
Isaac Watts was born while his father was in jail for refusing to join the official Anglican church, which at the time was considered an act of treason against the king. Thus, Isaac understood from a very early age the cost of following Jesus no matter what others may do. It is reflected in many of his nearly six hundred hymns, including one of the most famous, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” which begins:
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follow’r of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Though it would be nice if serving God were easy and never provoked a response from the world, that is not the case. Our faithfulness to God will at times cause conflict with those who do not love Him. It was from a prison cell in Rome that Paul wrote to Timothy, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Our task is not to take the easy way or attempt to avoid conflict by silencing the truth. Instead it is to be faithful regardless of the consequences. Most of us have never and hopefully will never have to endure such great suffering as Paul did, but if that day comes, that is a price we must be willing to pay.
We must not allow anything to deter us from faithful service to the God who saved us.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
The price of our salvation was far higher than we are able to understand. We know that Jesus gave up the glory of Heaven, took on the limitations of being fully human, and died a painful and agonizing death on the cross. Yet none of that compared to the “contradiction of sinners” as the perfect and holy Son of God took on our sins in opposition to everything that was part of His character and nature. There was no other way for us to be saved, because sin demands a penalty. To pay it, Jesus submitted Himself to the worst thing imaginable. “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).
There should never be a day when we do not stop to be grateful for the completely undeserved gift of salvation we have received. It was purchased at a very high cost, and only the love and grace and mercy of God can explain why we received it. There is great strength for us in remembering what Jesus paid for our sins, and in viewing how much He endured voluntarily, we are reminded that we must be faithful and dedicated in His service. No matter what we experience or face, all of our suffering and sacrifices pale in comparison to the death of Christ on the cross.
The great price paid for our salvation should inspire us to keep going for God no matter what.
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:16-21
The world around us is filled with doubt and fear, but as children of God we do not need to face the future with uncertainty. God has told us the end of the story, and though we do not know all that will happen as we go through life, we know that we are secure in Him. This is our hope when things go wrong and times are hard. And that hope is based on the certainty of the resurrection.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Let me beg you to remember that Jesus Christ is still alive. Simple as that truth is, you need to be reminded of it. We very often estimate the power of the church by looking to her ministers, her ordinances, and her members; but the power of the church does not lie here, it lies in the Holy Ghost, and in an ever-living Saviour. Jesus Christ died, it is true; but he lives, and we may truly come to Him today.”
We are not bound to despair like those who have no hope. We are not limited to our own resources or plans. We have the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the resurrected and living Jesus, who hears our prayers and keeps His promises. We have a certain and unshakable hope no matter what is happening around us. This world is not all there is. There is eternity with God in Heaven waiting for us when this life ends. Nothing will ever change that.
We never face a problem for which God does not already know the answer.
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. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
1 Timothy 1:12-15
I read about a family who were planning to go on an extended vacation. They asked the nine year old neighbor to take care of the dog while they were gone. They carefully explained all that would be involved—feeding, watering, grooming, walking, and lots of play—and what their expectations were. After all of that, they asked the boy what the job would be worth to him. He replied, “I'll give you ten bucks.” Instead of getting paid for doing something he very much wanted to do, he was willing to pay to do it.
Service for God is often costly, difficult, and sometimes even brings suffering. And yet it is a privilege, not just a duty. Getting to be part of His work is an honor rather than a burden. If we view it as such, then we will not be deterred by the cost of serving God, but instead will gladly pay it. Paul told the Christians at Corinth, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
God does not need our help to accomplish His purposes. We are not doing Him a favor when we serve Him, we are accepting a very high privilege He has given us. When the Queen of Sheba met Solomon she said, “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom” (1 Kings 10:8). We serve One much greater than Solomon.
We should serve God with an attitude of cheerful joy, recognizing the privilege He has given us to do so.
For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
2 Corinthians 7:8-10
Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth was filled with correction and rebuke. They needed it. The church was tolerating false doctrine and immorality, confused about how to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit and much more. When Paul wrote them again, he noted the change that had occurred. When they were confronted with their sin, they were sorry. Rather than trying to justify or excuse it, they repented and changed their conduct. Matthew Henry said, “Some people do not like to hear much of repentance; but I think it is so necessary that if I should die in the pulpit, I would desire to die preaching repentance, and if out of the pulpit, I would desire to die practicing it.”
The natural tendency when someone points out something we are doing wrong is to become defensive. Rather than carefully considering whether the person has a point, we may become bitter against them, and blame them for the problem. Paul asked, “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16). A person who holds us accountable is not our enemy, but a greatly needed friend. We must repent. We must not reject the rebuke, or attack the rebuker. We must not justify or excuse or lessen the sin. If we view it in light of the price of that sin to Jesus, it should break our hearts, and that sorrow should lead us to confess and forsake it quickly.
A godly sorrow followed by repentance is the only correct response to sin.
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
For centuries, poets and novelists and songwriters have used the story of a lost love as one of their main literary tools. The tragedy of a lost love is not just a fictional device. When her husband Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria went into mourning. It was almost three years before she appeared again in public, and for the forty years she outlived her husband, she wore black every day as a sign of her grief over the loss.
Yet while a lost love may be sad and painful, there is something far worse, and that is a love that is left behind. This was the complaint the Lord had against the church at Ephesus. They had many admirable qualities and did many good things. But all of that was undermined by the fact that they did not love God as they once had. They were still going through the motions, but they were no longer motivated and driven by their love for the Lord.
Even the greatest of sacrifices are meaningless without love: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). If we want to please God, and we should, the first thing we should look at is not our actions, but our motivations. Have we allowed our love for Him to cool? Have we replaced intimate fellowship with Him with busyness? Do we love Him more now than we did before, or has that love been overtaken in the passage of time?
We must not allow anything to take the place of our fervent love for God.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross
It is impossible for us to fully understand what it meant for Jesus to give up the glory and majesty and praise of Heaven and come as a baby with all the limitations of a human body, but the part we do understand should fill our hearts and mouths with praise and gratitude. Jesus willingly gave up what was rightfully His so that He could become our Savior. “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). He did not cling to His rights and prerogatives but instead obeyed His Heavenly Father in all that He did.
John Owen wrote, “There is an infinite distance between God and His creatures, and it is an act of sheer grace for Him to take notice of earthly things. Christ, as God, is completely self-sufficient in His own eternal blessedness. How great, then, is the glory of His self-humiliation in taking our nature that He might bring us to God! Such humiliation was not forced on Him; He freely chose to do it.” There are many wonderful things about Christmas, but the voluntary submission and humility of the Lord should be a constant challenge to us to be more like Him. If we have His mind, we will not be proud or selfish, but rather humble and obedient. We will not focus on what we can get, but rather what we can give. We will not seek to be served, but rather to serve others.
There is no place for pride in the life of anyone who loves Christ and wants to follow in His steps.
Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
1 Peter 1:9-11
Even before the Scriptures began to be written, people were looking forward to the coming of Jesus Christ. The Lord told the Pharisees, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). Through long centuries, as the Holy Spirit inspired prophecies that were recorded in Scripture, there were times when the authors didn't understand how what they were writing would come to pass. God's plans are not dependent on us understanding how He intends to work. Our task is to act in faithful obedience to what we know, and to trust Him for the rest.
Isaac Newton, a man of deep faith as well as scientific ability, wrote, “God gave the prophecies, not to gratify men’s curiosity by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and His own providence, not the interpreters, be thereby manifested to the world.” Every time we look back on how God has worked, not just in our own lives but throughout history, it reminds us of His faithfulness and strengthens our faith to trust Him more. The story of Christmas is not a fairy tale or a myth; it is a powerful demonstration of God's reliability.
The world around us values uncertainty and many today reject the idea that there even is such a thing as truth. God calls us to a different way of living—a way that believes His truth and His promises without wavering. We trust God, not because we understand all that He is doing, but because we believe that He does. Paul wrote, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Every promise of God is certain and sure, and we can fully rely on Him to do all He has spoken.
Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. 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 8:7-9
On December 10, 1905, The New York Sunday World published a short story by William Porter, better known by his pen name, O. Henry. “The Gift of the Magi” tells of a poor couple named Jim and Della Young and their desire to show their love for each other at Christmas. Della cut off and sold her long hair, not knowing Jim had purchased a special set of combs for her. Jim sold his prized watch, not knowing Della had purchased a watch chain for him. Henry's story concludes: “I have told you the story of two children who were not wise. Each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for the other. But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days: Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise.”
The value of a gift is not measured in the cost of the gift, but in the sacrifice required to get it and in the love that motivates that sacrifice. There has never been a greater sacrifice than the one made by the Lord when He gave up the riches and glory of Heaven for our sake. We did not love God. There was nothing in us that was of value or worth to Him. It was only His love and grace and mercy that made such an amazing sacrifice worth making. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The value God places on us is measured by the sacrificial gift of His Son.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
The overwhelming news that the shepherds received from the angels took them out of the fields into Bethlehem. There they looked until they found the Savior, lying in a manger because Joseph and Mary had nowhere else to go. After the shepherds verified what they had heard, they could not contain the news. They told everyone about the amazing thing that had happened. That is the way we are supposed to be. Rather than being silent followers of Jesus Christ, we are to be witnesses for Him. If we love Him as we should, this will not be a difficult chore; it will be a happy privilege. J. C. Ryle said, “Love to the Lord Jesus Christ is no hidden, secret, impalpable thing. It is like the light—it will be seen. It is like sound—it will be heard. It is like heat—it will be felt. Where it exists, it cannot be hid. Where it cannot be seen, you may be sure there is none.”
The good news that we have to share with the world is the same message that the angels gave to the shepherds. There is hope for salvation in Jesus Christ. Every person we meet needs to hear that message. Every day we have opportunities to share the good news with others. This is God's plan for reaching the world—that our overflowing love will cause us to speak. “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
A proper love for Christ is so strong that it compels us to tell others of His salvation.
The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
One of the reasons people had a hard time believing that Jesus really was the promised Messiah is that He did not conform to their expectations. In their minds, the Messiah would be a conquering hero who would triumph over Rome and lead Israel to freedom and independence as a nation. Even after the crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples still expected that. The last question they asked Jesus was, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). He answered simply, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:7).
God often works in ways we do not expect to accomplish His purposes. In fact it pleases Him to do so. For instance, when Gideon gathered a large army, God had him send most of them home. God wanted there to be no doubt that the victory was His. Paul wrote, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Our responsibility is to conform our expectations to what God says rather than expecting Him to conform to us. He is the eternal and unchanging standard of truth and holiness. If He chooses to have good things come from Nazareth, it is not our place to refuse to believe. The Bible gives us everything God knows we need for life, and we should guide both our thinking and our conduct by it, regardless of what others expect or think.
We must always be open to God working in our lives in unexpected ways.
But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Paul Harvey told the story of an eight-year-old boy named Ben who was the winner of a contest sponsored by a local McDonald's. The prize was a new bike, but since Ben already had a bike, he asked his parents if he could give the bike to a friend of his who didn't have one and couldn't afford one. After Ben gave his new bike away, the manager at McDonald's heard about it. She invited Ben and his family to the restaurant for a free meal and then presented him with a gift certificate for $100. The next day Ben asked his parents to take him to the store, and used some of that money to buy a bike helmet for his friend.
God's people are supposed to be generous and giving people, just as God is generous and giving to us. Giving should not be a burden to us or something we resent. Everything that we have is a gift from God, and if He did not give to us we would have nothing. Since everything belongs to Him, we should have no problem parting with anything God asks us to give. If we begrudge giving, it is a clear sign that our hearts are not set on the right things. Do we love God, or do we love the things His grace has provided to us? God loves it when we give cheerfully, not because He needs our help or our resources, but because it shows that He has first place in our hearts.
Since all we have belongs to God, we should never begrudge what He asks us to give away.
But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:10-13
The town of Nags' Head, North Carolina on the Atlantic Coast got its strange name from a deceitful practice. There were a local group of people called wreckers, or sometimes bankers, who would tie a lantern to the neck of a mule—known by locals as a nag—and attempt to lure sailing ships passing by to come closer. The bobbing lights were meant to mimic the motion of a ship at anchor, sending the message that the water was calm and safe. Their hope was that the passing ship would be wrecked on the rocks of the coast and that they could then salvage whatever contents were on it.
Not every light that we see is a light of truth. There are deceivers at work in our world, intentionally putting out a false message in a way designed to disguise the trap until it is too late. We cannot simply accept anything that looks like truth without first examining it—not if we want to be spiritually sound. Paul warned, “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The fact that someone is from a church with a name we recognize, or that they have a large following, or that they are saying something that sounds good does not automatically mean that it is true. Many times Satan has more success luring us away from the truth by mixing it with just a small amount of error than he does by offering us a complete lie. The “light” he provides may look like the real thing, but it leads to disaster and destruction.
The best way to recognize Satan's deception is to hold every teaching to the light of Scripture.
And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them. And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them.
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God commanded them to drive out all of those who lived there. As news of Israel's military victories over Jericho and other powerful nations of the land of Canaan spread, others who lived there feared they would be next. The people of Gibeon devised a strategy. They sent men with badly worn clothing and scraps of moldy food. They told the Israelites that they had come from a great distance, having started out with new clothes and freshly made food. When they asked for a treaty, Joshua and the Israelites quickly agreed to it, not realizing that they were being deceived. They did not stop to ask God's counsel, and only three days passed before they recognized how they had been tricked.
There are many in our world today who are using deception as a tool to achieve their goals. This is not a new thing, nor should it take us by surprise, as those who are doing the devil's work are simply using a method he already perfected. Paul warned, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Rather than judging solely by how things look to us, we need to take the time to examine them thoroughly before we make commitments. We have the Word of God and wise people in our lives who can give us good advice; we need to use these resources in order to make good choices.
Our decisions and choices are only as good as the amount of wisdom with which they are made.
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
2 Corinthians 12:12-15
Though Adam Clarke had only a limited formal education, John Wesley saw something in the young man and invited him to enroll in seminary at fourteen years of age. Clarke proved to be an apt pupil. He graduated from seminary at nineteen and began his ministry. Clarke would serve as an itinerant preacher for decades to come, traveling across England, Scotland, and Ireland to preach the gospel. His commentary on the entire Bible, written over a period of forty years was one of the most influential ever published. On his tombstone in London, there is carved an empty socket which would have once held a candle. Underneath are these words: “In giving light to others, I myself have been consumed.”
There is no such thing as an easy or painless way to serve God. Following Jesus requires sacrifice, just as His coming to provide our salvation required a great sacrifice of Him. “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). If we are not willing to make the sacrifices—to give up our rights and preferences for the sake of others—we are not walking as Jesus did, and our work for Him will not be fruitful. Only those who are willing to pay the price reap the harvest of obedience.
Serving God is not easy, but it is worth every sacrifice that we make.
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
There are times when God does not work in our lives in the way we would prefer. Perhaps an illness does not respond to treatment. Sometimes an economic hardship is persistent. Paul prayed fervently and repeatedly for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed, but God refused. There are times when God's plan for us involves things that are painful or difficult for us to experience. Yet when that is the case, He never forsakes us, but instead gives us the grace we need to keep going.
The English pastor and hymn writer John Fawcett said, “How many, how suitable, how sovereign are the supports our heavenly Father affords to His afflicted children! They make the affliction, which in itself would seem heavy and tedious appear to be light, and but for a moment. It is happier to be in the furnace of affliction with these supports than to be in the highest prosperity without them! Blessed with the hopes and comforts of Christ!”
When we don't get what we would prefer, we must be willing to accept God's grace and trust Him to sustain us. Sometimes people become bitter against God for the very things He has brought into their lives to make them more like His Son. Though difficulty can be the result of sin in our lives, it can also be a pruning tool God is using so that we will be more fruitful in our lives for Him. Taking up the cross is never easy, but it is an essential requirement to following Jesus Christ.
God never fails to provide comfort to those who seek His face in times of trouble.
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4
At a time when travel was fraught with dangers and foreign places were regarded more as myth than reality, Marco Polo spent nearly twenty-five years on an epic journey through China. He met the famous emperor Kublai Khan and saw the wonders of the Chinese court. After he returned to Venice, Marco Polo wrote a book to recount all that he had seen. Some people thought The Travels of Marco Polo contained too many amazing things to be fact. It is said that on his deathbed someone told him he should recant of making up such stories. Marco Polo replied, “I have not told half of what I saw.”
The wonders and glories that wait for us in Heaven are beyond our ability to describe or even imagine. The glimpses of our eternal home that we see in Scripture are only hints at what is in store for us as God's children. The glad tomorrow that waits for us is a source of hope and comfort and strength when we endure hardship in this life. On the night before the crucifixion, when He was telling the disciples not to be troubled despite what was about to happen, Jesus focused on the promise of eternity. He said, “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” (John 14:3).
When we are pressed down by the trials of life we can always look up to the promise of Heaven.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
In 1925, a number of prominent French companies in the metal recovery and scrap business received a solicitation to submit a bid for the purchase of the Eiffel Tower. The official-looking document, complete with government seals said, “Because of engineering faults, costly repairs, and political problems I cannot discuss, the tearing down of the Eiffel Tower has become mandatory.” The scam was the brainchild of Victor Lustig who one Secret Service agent described as the “smoothest con man who ever lived.” Lustig actually managed to “sell” the Eiffel Tower twice before his scheme was revealed. Those who trusted him lost everything that they paid.
Our faith and confidence is not the result of a clever scheme devised to defraud us, but the result of our belief in an unfailing, reliable, unchanging, and completely trustworthy God. He never fails His children. He never breaks His promises. Every time we trust in Him our faith is rewarded. David wrote, “Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause” (Psalm 25:3). If our faith depended on the abilities or intelligence of man, we would be completely at the mercy of the individual we chose to believe. When our faith rests on God, it cannot be destroyed. The tool God has given us to build faith in our own lives and to encourage it in the lives of others is His Word, and we must use it.
Men can fail us in many ways, but God never will.
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. And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.
2 Samuel 24:24-25
When David sinned by numbering the people of Israel, God sent a great plague on the land. David was determined to seek God's forgiveness, so he went to a new location to make an altar. When the owner of the land offered to donate both it and the sacrificial animals, David refused. He recognized that an offering that cost nothing is also worth nothing. David wanted to give his best to the Lord.
God demonstrated His love for us by giving His best as well. In fact, He gave Himself. "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). God didn't give us that which cost Him nothing. He gave everything.
As recipients of the amazing grace of God, how much more should we willingly give ourselves to Him? Someone said, “God's business is the greatest business in the world, and it deserves our very best.” It should not take a crisis to remind us that God is worthy of our best; rather it should be a part of our daily lives. The question of a grateful heart is not, “How little can I get by with doing?” but, “Is there any way I can do more?”
Sacrificial service to God flows naturally from a heart that understands and appreciates the magnitude of His grace.
And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12
Most of us know the feeling of wishing that we could do more about a situation. Perhaps it was pictures of children starving in a foreign country or of homeless people living in cardboard boxes. Maybe it was a missionary who needed help reaching a group of people who had never heard the gospel before or a needed church building program. The greatest tragedy, however, is not that we can't do more; it is if we do nothing with what we have been given. We may not be able to fully meet the needs God brings to our attention, but we can sacrificially do something toward meeting them.
God does not measure our giving by the amount, but by the heart that gives it. When Jesus watched people giving at the Temple, He was not impressed by rich people who gave a lot, but by a widow who gave very little. “And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:43-44).
The philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke said, “No one ever made a greater mistake than he who, since he could only do a little, did nothing.” Rather than hoping for some time in the future when we will have more to start giving, God wants us to start right where we are. He sees our heart and knows the motive for our actions. If those are right, He will be pleased no matter what the world may think.
God not only knows our actions but also our motives, and both must be right to please Him.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
The foundation of right living is found on the inside, not the outside. Our behavior is determined by the thinking which proceeds it. J. C. Ryle said, “Imagination is the hotbed where sin is too often hatched. Guard your thoughts, and there will be little fear about your actions.” We have control over our thinking if we choose to exercise it. Neither the devil nor the world can force us to think the wrong things. We only do that when we choose to do so. Because there is frequently a delay between the wrong thinking and the wrong actions that follow, we are tempted to feel like what we think does not matter. But what we continually think in our minds will certainly eventually show up in our actions.
There are temptations and thoughts that are hard for us to resist. While those vary according to our personality and experience, we share in common the need to control what we are allowing to fill our minds. There is victory available over wrong thinking for those who will claim it. Paul wrote, “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” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We have a responsibility to take control of our thinking instead of allowing anything to linger in our minds that will lead us away from God. To please Him with our conduct, we must first make sure that our thoughts are filled with truth and right. Temptation will come, but we do not have to allow it to take root.
The key to godly living begins with biblical thinking.
So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
1 Corinthians 3:7-9
The Chicago Bulls dominated the NBA in the 1990s, winning six championships in an eight-year span. The leader of the team was Michael Jordan, but he could not win games by himself. The Bulls assembled a supporting cast of players one of whom was Stacey King. In a 1990 game against the Cavaliers, Jordan scored a career high sixty-nine points in a game the Bulls won in overtime. King, then a rookie, came off the bench late in the game and scored one point on a free throw. As the reporters crowded around Jordan in the post-game to talk about his offensive outburst, King walked by. He told the reporters, “I will always remember this as the night that Michael Jordan and I combined to score seventy points.”
God does not need our help. Our “one point” doesn't add enough to His achievements to even notice, let alone brag about. Yet He graciously calls us to work together with Him to accomplish His purposes in our world. Not only that, but He also strengthens us for the labor and gives the harvest that follows. Then He promises rewards to us for our work for Him. Even the smallest things are not overlooked by God. Jesus said, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41). There is no room for pride in anything that we do for God because it is His grace and strength that makes it possible. We cannot produce anything of good or lasting value apart from Him.
Our work for God must be done in His power and in His way if that work is to please Him.
The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding. The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility.
When the RMS Lusitania docked in New York City on April 24, 1915, she completed her 201st crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The First World War was in its second year, and although America was not yet involved in the war, the ship was believed to be planning to carry military equipment and munitions back to England on the return voyage. For more than a week, the German Embassy ran an advertisement that appeared in fifty papers warning those intending to sail on the Lusitania that they were heading into grave danger. The ad warned, “A state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; and travelers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.” On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was hit by a torpedo from a German submarine and sank off the coast of Ireland. More than half of the passengers and crew aboard perished in an attack they had been warned was coming.
When we do not heed the warnings we receive, we place ourselves in danger. God has given us guidelines and instructions in His Word that mark the “war zone” between Him and the devil. We should not be taken by surprise by the ways in which Satan tries to tempt us. He does not publish ads warning of the danger, but God has pointed them out. Paul reminds us that we are supposed to understand how the devil works, writing, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). When we decide we know better than God and can afford to reject His warnings, we are heading for disaster.
We need to take every warning and instruction of God seriously and heed them.
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
Perhaps the most famous of Aesop's fables is the story of "The Tortoise and the Hare." No one expected a slow tortoise to be able to compete with a speedy rabbit in a footrace. But the arrogance and overconfidence of the hare led him to stop for a nap before the race was finished. By the time he woke up and started running again, it was too late. There are some powerful lessons in that ancient story, and they are lessons we need to apply in our spiritual lives.
There is no place for arrogance and self-confidence when it comes to dealing with sin and temptation. Every one of us is capable of committing awful sin. Often the thing Satan uses against us is that assumption that we do not need to be on guard. When Jesus warned that after His arrest the disciples would turn away, one of them was certain that it would never be him. “Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended” (Matthew 26:33).
When we are convinced that we cannot or will not fall, that is when we are most in danger. Just as Jesus told him, Peter denied the Lord three times—even cursing to make his point that he didn't know Jesus. Satan is patient, and he is willing to probe our defenses. Because he knows that pride undermines us, he often attacks at the point we think we are strongest.
We need to rely on God rather than on ourselves for the strength to overcome temptation.
Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
Though the sin nature remains with us even after we are saved and will as long as we live in this world, it no longer has the power it once did. Just as Jesus returned to life after three days and nights in the grave, we have a new life once we trust Him as Savior. But living up to the calling that is placed on us requires more than life. It also requires death. Dr. Curtis Hutson used the illustration of going to a funeral home. If you walk by the people in the caskets, it doesn't matter what you say to them, they won't respond. You can criticize or praise, it makes no difference. No matter what temptation or provocation you might offer, they will not react. That's because they are dead.
As Christians we are to count that we are dead to the old life and choose to live in the new life. The things that once appealed to us will have no impact on us if we are dead to them. This death to sin and self is not a one-time event. It is something that we have to do on purpose on a regular basis. Paul wrote, “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). While we will never succeed perfectly, we must constantly be choosing to die to self and live to God.
It is as we remember that we are dead to sin that we will be free to enjoy living for God.
And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.
We have no reason to expect anything good in this life to come easily. We will almost always face obstacles, and the more we are doing for God, the more we should expect Satan to oppose us. Paul knew that opportunity and opposition often go hand in hand. He wrote, “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9). The good news is that we do not live and fight our battles in our own strength. We have the power and resources of God available to us; and if we rely on those, we will not be defeated.
When Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh with the demand to let the Israelites go from their bondage, they were met by the magicians of Egypt. These men, either through illusion or demonic power were able to duplicate in some fashion what happened when Aaron threw down his rod and it became a snake. But even then God's power was shown as Aaron's rod devoured all of the others. No obstacle that Satan places before us can overcome the power of God.
It should not come as a shock or surprise when doing God's work and living for Him creates opposition. Our task is to remember that He fights for us, and trust in Him for the ultimate victory. We can only be defeated if we give up. The poet Edgar Guest wrote:
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.
No matter what difficulties we face, God is always faithful and always able to overcome.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He gave Moses the law to govern the way in which they were to live. They did not keep that law because their hearts were not fully following after the Lord. In a very real sense, the sin nature all of us are born with is incapable of consistently walking in God's way. And we see this so clearly through the Israelites. Whether under the judges, the prophets, or the kings, the people of Israel still went astray. The problem was not their surroundings, although they lived in the midst of heathen and godless cultures. The problem was with their hearts which were not fully devoted to God.
No human problem can be fixed from the outside in. The only solution is for the heart to change first, and the behavior will reflect that change. Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matthew 15:19-20). When we trust Christ as our Savior, He gives us a new heart. "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). We now have the ability to follow Him from a pure heart of love.
The victorious Christian life is lived from the inside out, not the outside in.
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
When Walter Orthmann was still a teenager, he had to leave school to get a job to help support his family. He was hired as a shipping assistant for a textile company in his native Brazil. He was moved to the sales side of the organization, and eventually became a sales manager. That was in in 1938. He never stopped working. In January of 2022, Orthmann, who is now 100 years old, was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for having worked for the same company for eighty-four years, longer than anyone else they could find. In an interview Orthamnn said, “Tomorrow will be another day in which I will wake up, get up, exercise and go to work. You need to get busy with the present, not the past or the future. Here and now is what counts.”
Not everyone has great talents. Not everyone has incredible gifts. But everyone can be faithful. Each one of us can do whatever task God sets before us. Sometimes He places us in situations where what we do is very visible to others. Sometimes He places us in situations where it seems like no one is even aware of what we are doing. Whatever our situation or circumstance, we can and must be faithful. Our purpose in working is not to bring glory and attention to ourselves, but to glorify God. He is always faithful. And to please Him and reflect well on Him, we must be as well. Faithfulness is not optional. Paul reminds us of this truth: “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). God never fails to see our work, and He never fails to reward faithfulness.
People can do much to discourage or hinder us, but no one can make us stop being faithful except us.
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We live in a world where peace is hard to come by. Whether it is war between nations, conflict between individuals, or unrest within our own hearts, there is much trouble and little peace. It is not surprising that medications to change people's mood and attitude sell so well. Nor is it surprising that many people turn to things like alcohol or illicit drugs to try to cover up the turmoil in their hearts. When the angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds the message was “peace on earth” but that peace can never come apart from an acceptance of the Savior. The peace of God only rests in the hearts and minds of the children of God.
There are all sorts of substitutes being offered for real peace, but none of them can work. This is not unique to our day. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah encountered this problem thousands of years ago. There were people proclaiming peace without it being real. “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). The figure of speech the ancient prophet used is that these false declarations and pronouncements of peace are like putting a bandaid on a broken arm. It just doesn't help.
Yet God does not want His children to live in fear and uncertainty. He offers us His peace, not as a temporary or fleeting condition, but a way of life. “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” (2 Corinthians 13:11). This kind of peace comes as we walk in the Spirit, knowing that peace is a fruit of His presence and control, and as we trust God regardless of circumstances.
Our peace is not dependent on our circumstances, but on our standing with Christ.
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
1 Corinthians 15:9-11
Paul never lost sight of the cost that had been paid for his salvation. He knew that he was saved freely by grace through faith alone, but he also knew that grace came at a great cost to Christ. So Paul was determined to make sure he availed himself of the grace God had given him, and he invested his life in sharing the gospel with others. Even when Paul faced false accusations, was put in prison, was beaten, and even was stoned and left for dead, he refused to be deterred. He wanted his life to count for God, and he determined that he would not turn back.
The only way to have a life that counts for eternity is to make sure the days count for eternity. Each day we are given is an irreplaceable treasure filled with opportunities we may well never have again. Adoniram Judson said, “A life once spent is irrevocable. The same may be said of each day. When it is once past, it is gone forever. All the marks which we put upon it, it will exhibit forever. How shall we then wish to see each day marked with usefulness! It is too late to mend the days that are past. The future is in our power. Let us, then, each morning, resolve to send the day into eternity in such a garb as we shall wish it to wear forever. And at night let us reflect that one more day is irrevocably gone, indelibly marked.”
Each day we have the choice to live for God by availing ourselves of the matchless grace He has bestowed on us.
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 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.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
God never needs our help to accomplish His purposes, but we need His. And unless we humble ourselves before Him, we will be unable to receive the grace we need from Him to grow in Him and to serve Him. God's work simply cannot be accomplished with human power. We must have what only He can supply. The only way to get that help is to put away pride and rely on God's grace and goodness. James wrote, “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6).
When Gideon summoned an army at God's direction and the people assembled, they were outnumbered more than four to one by the Midianites. God said there were too many, so after two rounds of dismissing soldiers, Gideon was outnumbered 450 to one. There would be no question of the source of the victory. It was all God and nothing else. The size of our burdens, our problems, our opponents and our obstacles is irrelevant in light of the power of God.
That power however only comes to those who are willing to admit that they are weak and seek God's grace to supply what they need. When we view our inability as an opportunity to see God's ability on display, we are in line to see wonderful things. The world around us preaches a gospel of self-reliance and glorifies those who do things on their own. God honors and helps those who are completely reliant on Him, showing His strength when they are weak.
God has bountiful grace for those who humbly come to Him and seek His help for the battles they face.
Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 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 4:1-4
We live in a world filled with darkness. But that is certainly not unique to our generation. When sin entered the world, darkness came with it. In every era of history, the devil has been actively at work, trying to keep people in the dark regarding the way to salvation. God calls us to be lights in that darkness. We are not called to blend in or be invisible, but rather to live in a way that clearly shows we are God's children and brings honor to His name. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
We must never forget that we do not live for ourselves alone. We are God's plan to reach the lost with the good news of the gospel. We are God's plan to create a positive influence and impact on those around us. There were many other things God could have done to accomplish His purposes, but He chose to make us part of His work. That is both a great privilege and a great responsibility, and we must not fail to do our best to be bright lights in a dark world. The devil will do all he can to keep people from seeing the light of the truth, but he cannot stop our witness—only we can do that.
If our light is hidden from view, those in darkness have no place to turn for help and hope.
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:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
2 Corinthians 5:6-9
One of the most precious things we have as believers is the confidence of our eternal destiny. All around us there are people who fear death because they do not know what comes next, but we do. When D. L. Moody wrote his autobiography, he began with these words: “Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”
Our future in Heaven is already secure. It is not something that will be weighed or judged at the end of our lives, for it is not something that depends on us. The moment we place our faith in Christ alone for salvation, the future is settled. Once we leave this life, no matter when that may be, we will be in the presence of God in Heaven. The proper Christian attitude toward the future is confidence, not fear. We did not save ourselves, and we do not keep ourselves saved. We work not to gain salvation and secure our place in Heaven, but to express our gratitude and gain God's approval for our work.
The Christian has no reason to fear the future, for we know God will keep His promises.
As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:10-11
Every Christian is called to work for God. We are not called to sit back and coast our way into Heaven. Instead we are called to labor diligently as long as we live. Yet there is a danger that comes when we are actively involved in God's work, and that is that we are tempted to focus on ourselves, forgetting that it is only God's strength and grace that makes anything we do for Him possible. 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). Our work is all about God, not about us.
Any time that we preach or teach or witness or disciple, we must remember that we are doing it for the Lord, not for our own glory. We must continually and completely rely on God, or nothing that we do will amount to anything of lasting value. Jesus made this abundantly clear. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). If we can do nothing without Him, then there is no basis for pride or self-focus. When we are focused on what God wants and using all that He has given us to accomplish His work, He will receive the glory that only He deserves.
Our work for God must be done in complete reliance on Him, and for His glory alone.