Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:
None of us find hardship or suffering enjoyable. But the pain of living in a fallen world is a reality of our daily lives. We must remain on guard not to allow our difficulties to lead us to think that God has forgotten us or is not being good to us. Indeed the Bible repeatedly tells us to consider hardship, opposition, and even persecution as a cause for joy rather than anger or despair. Jesus said that when we are persecuted or falsely accused we should, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:12).
Jesus suffered for us, and if we mean to follow Him, we should not expect the path to be easy and painless. When things go wrong, for whatever reason, we still have a faithful and loving Father to help us. Our attitude toward suffering in large measure determines the effect it will have on our lives. A. W. Tozer wrote, “What then are we to do about our problems? We must learn to live with them until such time as God delivers us from them. We must pray for grace to endure them without murmuring. Problems patiently endured will work for our spiritual perfecting. They harm us only when we resist them or endure them unwillingly.”
There are crowns and rewards waiting for those who faithfully serve God regardless of hardship, opposition, and suffering. We should never expect or ask for God to make our lives painless. Instead we should seek His help and His grace to work our suffering for His glory. Paul wrote, ”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 12:10).
Our suffering does not take God by surprise, but He promises to give us grace to endure while He uses it to work for our good.
For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;
The Apostle Paul started a number of churches across the Roman empire. He did not just start them and leave, but instead even after he was gone, Paul had a deep burden for those Christians he had left behind. He wrote, “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). This care even extended to churches in places Paul had never personally been, like the Colossians. He wrote to them of the internal wrestling—great conflict—that he had on their behalf. Alexander MacLaren wrote, “How could Paul, in Rome, wage conflict on behalf of the Church at Colossæ? No external conflict can be meant. He could strike no blows on their behalf. What he could do in that way, he did, and he was now taking part in their battle by this letter. If he could not fight by their side, he could send them ammunition, as he does in this great Epistle, which was, no doubt, to the eager combatants for the truth at Colossæ, what it has been ever since, a magazine and arsenal in all their warfare. But the real struggle was in his own heart. It meant anxiety, sympathy, an agony of solicitude, a passion of intercession.”
We are meant to care passionately and deeply about the needs of others. We are called to invest ourselves into their lives. We are commanded to bear their burdens. If those around us hurt, we should hurt. If those around us are celebrating, it should make us glad. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:5). We will not make the kind of positive impact God wants us to make on others unless we are willing to invest ourselves wholeheartedly in the cause.
If we do not care enough to invest ourselves in others, we will have little impact on their lives.
And the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.
The world we live in is filled with battles and conflicts. The devil is actively involved in opposing those who are committed to following God. As long as we live, we will fight the sinful nature with which we were born, which is constantly in conflict with our new nature in Christ. We should not think that these struggles are an indication of spiritual failure. Rather, they are an indication that we are engaged in spiritual battle. We also should not think that we cannot win these battles. The power and promises of God provide everything we need for total victory. Paul wrote, “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).
The path that we are on not only leads to victory in this life, but it leads us to a place of eternal rest. There will come a day when we set aside our armor and lay down our weapons and enjoy the presence of God. There will come a day when every enemy has been defeated and every battle has ceased forever. The ancient Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision” says:
Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise;
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always.
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heav'n's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whate'er befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
No matter how severe the battles of life may be, we can have complete confidence in the victory God has promised.
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
1 Corinthians 1:18-21
There are many different ideas about what makes an effective ministry in the world. Every year a number of books are published, articles are written, seminars are held, and courses are developed with an eye toward finding ways to reach those around us. While it is certainly not wrong to serve God as effectively as we can, we must not fall into the trap of rejecting the core message of the gospel in an effort to attract more people to ourselves. God's plan in the first century was to reach the lost through the message of the cross, and that is still His plan today.
Whether it is in a church service or revival meeting, or in a personal conversation with a friend, neighbor, family member or co-worker, when the gospel is presented—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ to provide the only hope of atonement for sin—God's plan is at work. God does not need our creativity to replace His message. He does not need us to change the message to make it more acceptable. He simply needs us to be faithful to proclaim the truth, and He will do the rest. Of course there will be people who reject and even mock the message of the cross. That is not our responsibility. Our job is to be courageous and consistent witnesses of the truth. That is the duty we have, and when we do God's work in God's way, He provides the harvest.
God is pleased when we faithfully do His work in the way He has directed.
Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
The training process for the elite Navy SEAL units is brutal. Those who make it through the course are not necessarily just the strongest, but those who have the mental capacity to endure the pain for the sake of reaching their goal. Navy SEAL Kaj Larsen who was considered the best swimmer in his class said, “The adaptability of the human condition never ceases to amaze me. The fact is, if you put yourself in cold water scenarios often you are going to be better at tolerating it. I don’t think that it’s only about increasing your ability to withstand cold water mentally, but there are also significant benefits physiologically.”
God not only saves us, but He calls us to serve Him in the spiritual warfare that is raging in our world. If we go through our lives unprepared for and unaware of the reality of the spiritual warfare in which we are living, we will eventually fall by the wayside on the road of spiritual growth. We should not be surprised or taken off guard when struggles come, but instead expect to both have them and overcome them. In his final letter, Paul wrote to Timothy, “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). Each trial, each battle is an opportunity to grow stronger and be prepared to serve God more effectively. Though the struggles are not pleasant, they come to us for a purpose. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Only those who are willing to keep going no matter what comes will reap the harvest and win the prize.
So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
1 Corinthians 14:9-12
When people stand out in any endeavor, it draws attention. Whether in business or sports or education or anything else, those who excel are looked up to by others who want to do the same. The book In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, Jr. was a publishing success story. It sold three million copies in just four years, and remains one of the better selling business books of all time. People wanted to know the traits and procedures that made excellent companies stand out. Yet when it comes to God's work, sometimes that drive for excellence is missing.
God is looking for people who are excellent, not to win fame and applause or financial rewards, but to serve Him and build up His church. God gives gifts to every believer to be used, not for ourselves, but for others. A gift that is casually treated or poorly exercised is not likely to make any positive impact. But a gift that is used in the power of the Holy Spirit to build and strengthen the work of God will change lives. It should be the desire of our hearts to be excellent in building up God's church by building up those around us. Not everyone has gifts for preaching or teaching or singing, but anyone can be an encouragement to others. The strongest churches are filled with people who are excellent in edifying.
God deserves our very best as we use what He has given us for the benefit of others.
According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness. Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments. Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.
During his lifetime, Charles Wesley wrote more than three thousand hymns, many of which are still being sung today. He served God faithfully for more than fifty years. While he was on his deathbed, Wesley dictated one final poem to his wife Sally:
In age and feebleness extreme,
Who shall a helpless worm redeem?
Jesus, my only hope Thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart,
Oh, could I catch a smile from Thee,
And drop into eternity.
God is not a part-time, fickle, changing deity. He is our salvation, our defense, and our guide—not just for a day or two, but as long as we live, and then into eternity. In Him we have a loving Father who never fails, who never turns away from His children. We can trust Him when things are going well, and we can trust Him when we do not see any hope for the future. We can rely on His faithfulness to keep all of His promises.
People we trust can let us down. People we believed in can fail to keep their promises. People we love can get sick and die. God is eternal. His presence with us all the days of our lives is our strength, our hope and our confidence. Even when we reach the end of this life, we will still find Him faithful. Paul described death as our last enemy, but then he rejoiced that Christ has already conquered death. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
We can safely trust in God every day of our lives, secure in the knowledge that we will spend eternity with Him.
So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
Solomon had a unique combination of wealth and power. There was nothing that was beyond his ability to get. Merchants came from far away bringing exotic animals, spices, clothing, and treasures. He ruled over a kingdom at peace, without having to fear any attacks or invasions. Solomon was given great wisdom by God when he was a young man, and because he asked for wisdom, God gave him a great deal more. But Solomon did not spend his life wisely. He became focused only on what is “under the sun” rather than what is eternal and lasting. Despite all that he had, Solomon was miserable. He came to view life as empty and worthless. "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
In truth, the best that this world has to offer will never provide lasting peace and contentment. All of its pleasures are temporary. But we are not meant just for this life. This is not where we are meant to focus our efforts and energy. Paul reminds us, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We need to keep eternity in view in all that we do. That will determine what we do, what we value, and how we live. Our hearts belong to God first and foremost. Rather than looking for hope and happiness in this world, we should look to Him for all we need both in this life and the next.
Only the eternal things really matter, and only the pursuit of eternal things will give our lives purpose and meaning.
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
Ever since Adam tried to shift the blame for his sin to Eve, people have been looking for ways to feel superior to others. Sometimes that takes the form of downplaying our own contributions to problems. Sometimes it takes the form of judging others for what they are doing or not doing. It's always possible to find something about even the greatest people to criticize if we choose to live that way, but it is a foolish approach to life. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
There were people in the church in Colosse who were observing the commandments of the Mosaic law in respect to diet, holidays, and observances. There were also people there who were not. Neither position was a valid cause for judgment or condemnation. It's important for us not to judge others unfairly, but it is also important for us not to accept false judgments from others. We can and should learn from criticism if it is valid, but we should not allow improper judgments from others to make us feel like we have fallen short. “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Romans 14:22).
We are one day going to give an account to God for our service to Him, and how we used the talents and abilities He gave to us. His evaluation will not be based on what anyone else thinks, but on what He has said. We do not need to fear that the judgments of others will persuade Him to adopt their views. We should be more concerned about obeying and honoring God than we are about anything else.
God is looking for people who are more concerned with doing what He says than they are with impressing others.
And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers. And he said unto them, Look on me, and do likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall be that, as I do, so shall ye do. When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.
In the days before modern communication, soldiers on the battlefield faced huge challenges with knowing what to do as conditions changed. Gideon faced this dilemma as his tiny army prepared to go up against the massive host of the Midianites. He resolved the problem by telling his men to watch him, and then copy his actions. We all know the story of how the sudden burst of light and noise in the darkness confused the Midianites, and they were defeated by an army a fraction of their size. The audacious plan worked because it was done at the direction of God, and He worked a miracle. But the mechanics of all three hundred soldiers doing it in unison worked because Gideon set the example, and others were able to follow it.
The Lord's plan is for those of us who have been saved longer and have grown in grace to be examples for others that they can copy. This process only works if we are diligent about setting the right kind of example. Paul was able to tell the Corinthian believers to follow his pattern, not because he was something special in and of himself, but because he too was following a pattern that had been set for him. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). If we live in such a way that those who copy our attitudes and actions are becoming more like Jesus, we are fulfilling one of God's main missions for our lives. If, on the other hand, those who emulate us are drawn away, we are failing.
We can only influence others to do right by copying us to the extent that we ourselves are copying Jesus.
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
In the 1800s, people began referring to those who were unconscious or in a coma as being “dead to the world.” Over the next hundred years the usage changed until it became a synonym for sleeping very soundly. But the original purpose of the expression had nothing to do with a person's psychical condition, but rather with his spiritual condition. Once we have trusted Christ as Savior, we are called to leave the things of the world behind—to treat them with no more interest than a dead person shows toward anything earthly.
Like his pastor father before him, William Jenkyn refused to support the official Church of England. He was a powerful and effective preacher, but he frequently aroused the ire of the authorities. He was imprisoned in 1651 and at one point even sentenced to be executed, but his life was spared. He resumed his ministry but found himself in trouble again ten years later when he refused to follow the Uniformity Act which dictated prayers and sermons to church leaders. Jenkyn died in Newgate Prison, where he had been sent after again refusing to stop preaching. William Jenkyn wrote, “To forsake Christ for the world, is to leave a treasure for a trifle, eternity for a moment, reality for a shadow.”
Death to the world and self and our own interests and desires is not a one time thing, but something that must happen again and again if we are to love God as we should and value what matters to Him. Paul wrote, “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). Only when we are dead to the world can we truly be alive to the things of God. Only when we are dead to the world can we truly make the difference in our world that God calls us to make.
We cannot value the things of God as we should unless we have first died to the things of the world.
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
God delights in supplying what we lack. When Paul was struggling with his thorn in the flesh, his prayers for it to be removed were not granted. Instead, God told Paul to rely on Him and He would provide. There are people who tell us that loving and serving God means nothing should ever go wrong. That sounds nice, but it isn't what the Bible teaches. Things do go wrong. We get sick. We get tired. We get discouraged. We get let down by people we counted on. We face challenges that are too big for us to handle. But in every situation and in every difficulty, God's grace is more than enough for everything we may need. And He invites us to turn to Him and rely on Him rather than on ourselves. When we take matters into our own hands rather than seeking God's grace, we are headed down the wrong path.
The prophet Hanani told Asa, king of Judah, that his response to enemy aggression—seeking to hire heathen armies to fight for him—had kept him from experiencing God's deliverance. “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars” (2 Chronicles 16:9). The problem is not that God is reluctant to help, but that we are reluctant to admit our complete dependence on Him. When we rely fully on what His grace provides, we will always find that we have more than enough.
Rejecting the lie that we can do things on our own is the first step toward receiving God's help to accomplish His purposes.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
President Harry Truman was noted for his outspoken bluntness. One of his most famous sayings was issued to those who were complaining about difficulties: “If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” While that is a clever and memorable turn of phrase, it, in some ways, misses the point. The real question is not whether we can stand the heat, but whether what we are cooking is worth standing in the heat for. If our cause is light and trifling, we will not want to endure hardship, opposition, and persecution. But if our cause is weighty and important, we will not be deterred from continuing no matter how hot the “kitchen” gets.
Paul suffered far more than most of us can even imagine, yet he called that “light affliction” not because it was not painful and difficult, but because his driving purpose and motivation made that suffering immaterial. Paul regarded his ministry as a vital necessity, worthy of sacrifice. He wrote, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
The center of our focus determines how we evaluate and respond to the events of life. At the time Paul lived, some people might have thought that facing so much opposition was a sign that Paul was not doing what was right. He viewed it as a sign that the devil was trying to stop him. With the goal of eternity in mind, none of the things that endured kept him from continuing his work and ministry.
If we keep our eyes on Jesus, our work for Him will never cease because of opposition or suffering.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:12-14
I learned a lot of things during the years we spent on the mission field in Korea when I was growing up. One of them was the difficulty of communicating with people who don't speak your language. No matter how much you may want to get a message across, if they don't understand what you are saying, they won't get it. Even a conversation about the simplest things is fruitless when your words have no meaning to the person who hears them. If you don't speak their language, you need an interpreter to get them to understand what you are saying. Otherwise no matter how eloquent or persuasive your words may be, they will not produce understanding or response.
In a similar way, when we try to share biblical truths with those who do not know Christ, they cannot understand the spiritual realities behind those truths. In fact, the unsaved person ("natural man" in 1 Corinthians 2) will never understand spiritual truths until he is saved. And even to be saved, he needs the Holy Spirit to convict him of his need for a Savior. In a very real sense, when we share the gospel with unsaved people, the Holy Spirit works as an "interpreter," convicting the hearts of those with whom we speak of the realities of what we are telling them. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, "And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).
The way we can effectively witness to those around us is through the filling and power of the Holy Spirit.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:14-16
Though the idea of organ transplants go back to ancient times, it was not until relatively-recent times that medical science advanced far enough to allow it to become reality. Skin grafts began to be performed around 1900, but internal organs posed a great challenge. The first successful kidney transplant took place in the 1950s. The next decade saw successful liver and pancreas transplants as well as the first successful heart transplant. In the 1980s lungs were able to be transplanted as well. Thousands of people are living today because of an organ they received from a donor. None of these people have a transplanted brain.
A brain transplant is far beyond the reach of man's ability. Yet God changes everything about us at salvation. He gives us a heart transplant. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). But He also changes our mind as well. The way we thought as lost people was completely in opposition to the way God thinks. He views everything differently than we do, and unless we come to view things His way, we cannot live as He commands. So when we are saved, God gives us a new mind—a new way to look at the world. It is a mind which is available to us, but we must exercise it and use it and allow it to control our lives. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
If we have the mind of Christ, then our words, attitudes and actions will reflect His priorities and purpose.
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
There are all kinds of ways that people identify themselves. I am a husband, a father, and a grandfather. I am a pastor and a college president. I am a friend, author, Californian, and an American. But none of these identities, or any of the hundreds of others that people rely on as part of the way they view themselves, should be the primary one. Instead, the first and foremost identification in our lives should be that we are Christians. Nothing else comes close to being as important as our position in Jesus Christ. It is this position in Christ that is my most precious identity, and it is what gives me the most in common with any other person. .
The Colossian Christians were a mixture of cultures, languages, social statuses, and backgrounds. It would be easy for divisions to grow in the church that would hinder the work of Christ. This is what was allowed to happen in the church at Corinth. Paul wrote to reprove them: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it” (1 Corinthians 11:18).The importance of unity within the body of Christ cannot be overstated. It is critical to His mission for us and His plan for us to reach the world.
There is no class or group of people who are superior to others, and there is no justification for anyone to look down on others. None of us can stand before God in our own righteousness. Nothing that we have done is accomplished through our own power. No talent or gift that we have is a result of our merit. It is all God's grace. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Our position in Christ overrides any temptation we have to think ourselves better than others.
I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
1 Corinthians 10:15-17
In 1795, near the end of George Washington's second term as President, the Great Seal of the United States with the motto e pluribus unum—out of many, one—was struck on the $5 gold coin known as the half eagle. The motto was added to silver coins starting in 1798, and it remained in use until the 1830s. After the motto had been dropped, a movement arose to have it returned to the coins, and the Coinage Act of 1873 (which remains in effect to this day) required that it once again be included.
The motto of our country is also a good description of God's plan for His church. Though people come from all different backgrounds, races, economic statuses, education levels, and life experiences, they find unity in Jesus Christ. The night before He would be crucified, Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:21-22).
The one central thing that unites us is far greater than anything that might divide us. There is no reason for God's people not to be united in fellowship, in worship, and in working for the Lord. Indeed this unity of God's children is one of the key evidences meant to convince the world that we are truly following Jesus Christ. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
God unites our hearts with other believers so that we can show and reflect His love to the world.
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
D. L. Moody was noted in the city of Chicago for his efforts to reach children. He organized special classes for those in whom others were not interested. Many of his pupils traveled past a number of other churches to arrive at Moody's. Moody told the story of a little boy who traveled a number of blocks across the city in the cold of winter for Sunday school. Someone stopped him and asked, “Where are you going?” “To Mr. Moody's Sunday school,” the boy answered. Then he was asked if he would not prefer going to a church that was closer, but he continued to insist on heading for Moody's. When he was asked the reason he replied, “Because they love a fellow over there!”
The thing that should be the distinguishing mark of our lives and service for God should be that we are reflecting His love. We should be treating others with the compassion and love that Jesus showed to them. It is not a question of programs or ideas or methods, but a question of the heart. Good methods and even great sacrifice will not produce any lasting benefits unless they are motivated by and saturated in love. 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).
Love motivates us to keep going when we feel like giving up. Love encourages us to try again when someone rejects the gospel. Love lightens the load that we carry when we are investing in the lives of others. Love indicates that we are walking under the control of the Holy Spirit for it is the first of the fruit that He produces. Love shows that we are like Jesus, Who extended an invitation to all who would come to Him, meeting them with open arms.
The love of God is not just something we receive, but something we are to display to those around us.
And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
The first promise of the coming Savior was announced even before Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden after sin entered the world. God laid out His plan for victory in the battle against Satan. Sin brought death into the world, but Jesus would come with the promise of eternal life. Satan would not be able to overcome His power. Even death and the grave would not be able to hold Him. Paul wrote, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
The story of Christmas is the story of the fulfillment of God's promise. Even those who followed Jesus most closely during His lifetime on earth were not always clear on His purpose. Their primary interest in the promised Messiah was to gain freedom from Rome and see Israel become an independent nation once more. Their secondary interest was jockeying for position in what they expected to be an earthly kingdom. They heard what Jesus said about the heavenly kingdom and God's salvation, but they didn't focus on that. Jesus never lost focus on the real purpose for His life. He said, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are proof that we can confidently rely on every promise God makes to us.
For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.
2 Corinthians 9:12-15
We often think of presents when we think of Christmas. Or perhaps as we focus on the true reason for the season, our thoughts are focused on Jesus as the baby in the manger. But the birth of Jesus Christ was not really the end gift God gave the world. Rather, Jesus' birth was the beginning of God's larger gift. It is Jesus' sacrificial death and glorious resurrection that represent the fullness of God's gift of salvation. Our sin had hopelessly separated us from God, but Jesus took on our sin and made a way for us to be reconciled to God. Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus always said, “Father” when He spoke to God. The only exception to that was on the cross. “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
On the cross, the full guilt of our sin was placed on Christ, and He—on our behalf—experienced the separation from God that would otherwise be our eternal destiny. The horrible physical suffering Jesus endured on the cross was nothing compared to the pain of bearing our sin and having His perfect union with the Father ruptured as a result. Yet all of this was according to God's plan. Isaiah wrote, “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10). The true gift of Christmas is found not in a manger, but in a rugged cross and a borrowed tomb left empty.
God's gracious gift of salvation is beyond our ability to fully describe, but should be the theme of our continual thanks and praise to Him.
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. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God. Insomuch that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also finish in you the same grace also.
2 Corinthians 8:3-6
God is the ultimate owner of all the resources that exist. He could provide for the needs of His work in any number of ways. He could send birds to fly into the church building and drop money in the offering plates, like the ravens feeding Elijah. He could drop money on the church grounds every morning like the manna that fell to feed the Israelites. He chooses instead for His work to be funded and supported by the gifts of His children. Giving is a touchy subject in some churches, but it is God's plan.
A. W. Tozer, said, “Before the judgment seat of Christ my service will be judged not by how much I have done but by how much I could have done! In God’s sight, my giving is measured not by how much I have given but how much I have left after I made my gift. Not by its size is my gift judged, but by how much of me there is in it. No man gives at all until he has given all! No man gives anything acceptable to God until he has first given himself in love and sacrifice.” No amount of money someone puts into an offering will make up for a heart that is not fully devoted to God. We do not buy His favor. Though there are blessings promised for those who give generously, the primary motivation for our obedience is our love for the Lord Who has given us so much.
Giving God our hearts and our lives must precede any acceptable gift we could bring to Him.
But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.
On April 15, 2012 a memorial garden was opened in Belfast to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The massive ship had been built in Belfast, and made her first and only voyage from those shipyards and then to England before setting out across the Atlantic. Though there are memorials to the Titanic in countries around the world because there were passengers from so many nations, the memorial in Belfast is believed to be the only one that lists the name of every passenger and crew member who perished on that trip—more than 1500 people. Rather than separating them by what class tickets they had purchased or what their role on the ship was, the memorial lists them in alphabetical order, every one given equal listing.
The world often favors those who are powerful or rich or well-connected. Sometimes people get away with serious crimes simply because of who they are or the resources they can bring to their defense. But God does not judge as man judges. No amount of money will impress the God Who paved the streets of Heaven with gold. No amount of fame will impress the God Whose glory fills the heavens. He judges us righteously and fairly. No one will be exempt from His evaluation. “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).
If we have trusted Christ as our Savior, we have no need to fear God's eternal judgment—Jesus paid for our sins. But we will stand before God, on equal and level ground, to have what we have done for Him weighed. No one will be exempt, and no one will receive special treatment. “Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:15). May we live today for that day!
God sees and will reward every act of service we do for Him—regardless of how obscure or well known we are or if anybody else ever knows we did it.
Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;
One of the most important facets of our prayer lives should be consistency. If we pray once or twice about something and then stop, it is unlikely that we will see great answers to prayer. Most of the big things in our lives, the things that we want or need God to do that are vitally important, require ongoing and repeated praying on our part. When we get tired, we should continue in prayer. When we get discouraged, we should continue in prayer. When we feel like there is no hope, we should continue in prayer.
The truth is that God is always good and faithful. His timing sometimes does not match with ours, but He is the one with perfect and infinite knowledge, not us. So we express our trust in Him by continuing to pray until the answer comes. C. A. Gabriel wrote the following lines:
Pray when the storm clouds gather o’erhead
Hiding the light from you,
Filling your soul with darkness and dread,
Pray till the light breaks through.
Just keep on praying till light breaks through
The Lord will answer (will answer) you,
God keeps His promise; His word is true.
Just keep on praying till light breaks through.
The only time we should stop praying before the answer comes is if God steps in and points us in a different direction. Paul prayed repeatedly for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, but once God closed the door, he changed his praying. “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 12:8-9). Unless that happens, we should just keep praying, no matter how long it takes. Faith does not allow delay to destroy its hope for the future.
Prayers that are quickly abandoned will not produce powerful answers.
All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord:
We know almost nothing about Tychicus. Though he is mentioned five times by Paul in various epistles, we are not given his background, his conversion story, or anything else in the way of personal details. We don't know where he was born, where he spent most of his life, or where he died. What we are told is that he was faithful. Tychicus never became famous like Paul. His letters, if he wrote any, were not inspired and kept for future generations. But Tychicus was faithful. We have no record of him being the pastor of a major church like Timothy at Ephesus or Titus in Crete. But he was faithful. Through all of the difficulties in being a part of the ministry of Paul, he remained faithful.
Our world values fame and notoriety above almost everything else. People who are famous are often asked for their opinions on subjects they know little or nothing about, and their words are given weight simply because they are well known. God places value on those who are diligent and consistent and keep on doing what they can for Him. This is not something optional, but rather a requirement for being an obedient Christian. Paul wrote, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
God values this trait because those who are faithful are not swayed by hardship, fame or any of the other tools the devil uses to hinder their work. The great missionary Hudson Taylor wrote, “A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in the little things is a great thing.” Whether the world ever notices or not, God is watching. “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).
God values faithfulness far more than talent or fame, and He will reward those who are faithful stewards.