The Importance of Giving to the Poor

Giving to the needy is an act of worship toward God, their creator, and should be done in an orderly way and with great care to minimize the danger of misappropriation of funds.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 13-14; 1 Corinthians 16

31 Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31

1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.           1 Corinthians 16:1-3

Proverbs frequently commends the practice of giving to those who are poor. Here we see that one of the reasons, perhaps the most important reason, is the poor man was made by God. All who know their Bibles will recall that God made man in His own image and according to His likeness, male and female alike (Genesis 1:26-27) . This teaching about the nature of all humans, that we are made in God’s likeness, is a great equalizer. We vary in many ways: looks, intelligence, personalities, talents, preferences, etc., but none of these differences, much less one’s socioeconomic status, changes the reality of the image of God in us. Therefore, the writer of the proverb says, our response to the needy either insults God or honors Him. Being generous to the needy is an act of worship to the Lord.

In Paul’s day, there was significant poverty among the believers in Jerusalem. The Apostle organized a collection, an offering from several churches to assist these needy brothers and sisters. We learn a bit about some of Paul’s administrative skills and convictions as we read today’s passage. First, Paul wanted the people to save on a weekly basis, as they were able, for this collection. Second, Paul wanted them to select trustworthy representatives to take the fund to Jerusalem. Paul would write a letter commending the envoys to the church in Jerusalem and, possibly, accompany them himself. This seems to have been in order that the Corinthians would rest assured that the money would get to its intended destination and so that the people in Jerusalem would appreciate the intention of this action and sacrificial efforts made to collect it.

God’s people are to be known for their care of the poor and needy. We, of all people, should be generous with those who are less fortunate. But we ought to be wise in the distribution of our resources, limited as they are. Become well-informed both about the identity of those who are truly in need and about reputable agencies through which you may assist them. It is an act that honors God as well as helps others. Make it count.

The Man of Dust; the Man of Heaven

Today’s reading: Proverbs 11-12; 1 Corinthians 15:33-58

28 In the path of righteousness is life,
and in its pathway there is no death.                                        Proverbs 12:28

47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.    1 Corinthians 15:47-49

Thoughts of life and death are never far from the minds of mortal men. In Scripture, we are instructed in how to have not only the best possible life now, but, more importantly, how to have eternal life through “the second man,” Jesus Christ.

Proverbs talks about life, but life in this world, for the most part. There are numerous keys to a joyful, peaceful, prosperous life. All things being equal, these maxims hold true, but all things are not equal. So the Proverbs will not “work” 100% of the time. There are exceptions. Sometimes good, industrious people suffer setbacks despite their best efforts. Righteousness leads to life rather than death, but, in the short run, the only perfectly righteous Man who ever lived died a horrible death. More about that in a minute.

So Proverbs tell us how we ought to seek to live, being diligent in our work, kind toward others, speaking well of our neighbor, etc. These are good and right ways to live whether we get all the benefits promised or not.

But in the gospel we learn that our good deeds are not sufficient to save us from eternal death. Jesus taught that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of many, because there was no other way (Matthew 26:26-28).

Paul emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ, the second man, the One who, unlike the first man, did not come from the dust, but came down from heaven. He died and rose again. We now, by faith, are promised a future in which we will bear the image of the Man of heaven. His resurrection gives us assurance that we too will be raised to have new spiritual bodies.

Christ’s disciples certainly seek to be righteous in this world, but they do so knowing they are not earning life but demonstrating that they have it, by the grace of the Lord and faith in Him. If you know this hope of life, live righteously, but trust in the only Righteous One, Jesus. He will see us home and give us new spiritual bodies that cannot sin nor die. We will lose the image of the man of dust and bear the image of the Man of heaven.

Picking your Preacher

Today’s reading: Proverbs 9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:1-32

9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:9-10

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

The character of a man or woman is revealed in their response to wise instruction.  The wise listen to wisdom and act.  Fools reject wisdom and listen to foolishness.

The writer of Proverbs addresses the wise and the foolish. Like the sower in Jesus’ parable, he puts out the truth and it falls on good soil and bears fruit or on rocky, thorny soil and produces nothing (Luke 8:4-15). The difference is not in the message taught, but in the receptivity of the hearer.

But are we to be receptive to every self-appointed expert, every professor of “truth”? How will we know who to trust? We will know if we fear the Lord. The true teacher fears the Lord and teaches the fear of the Lord. Anyone who teaches otherwise is certainly not from God.

Paul was a faithful teacher and apostle of Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Corinthians, he reminds them that he passed on to them what he had received, the gospel of Jesus Christ who died for our sins, was buried, rose again the third day, and was seen by Peter, the twelve, and five hundred more. Paul was a reliable preacher of the truth. The Corinthians had been listening to fools masquerading as wise. They were being influenced by someone (or more than one) who told them there was no resurrection. The Apostle quickly lists many and strong arguments against this false doctrine.  The historical reality of the resurrection of Christ is foundational to the gospel which is the basis for their faith and salvation.

Will Paul’s readers respond positively to his corrections? They will if they are wise. They will if they fear the Lord.

How do you assess the wisdom of those to whom you listen? Be sure your heart is set to fear God and to gain the knowledge of the Holy One. Choose your teachers and preachers carefully. Be sure they themselves qualify as wise, God-fearers before paying them any attention.

The Paths to Life and Death

Today’s reading: Proverbs 7-8; 1 Corinthians 14:21-40

34 Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,
36 but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who hate me love death.”                                                        Proverbs 8:34-36

37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.                                                                        1 Corinthians 14:37-38

God’s Word bears the force of His authority. To ignore it is death. Those who do not submit to its authority have no standing in the Church, but to those who study and obey, it brings wisdom for blessing and life.

The warnings of Proverbs are as needed and relevant today as they were thousands of years ago when they were penned. People of all ages are seduced by easily accessible online pornography. They assume anonymity, but, recently,  millions learned otherwise when they signed up for a web service to facilitate relationships intended to lead to adultery. Fittingly, many of them were “busted” when the site was hacked and their identities were published openly for the world to see. Once again, the Scriptures prove true that ignoring the wisdom that leads to righteousness will end in death, either literally or figuratively.

This biblical wisdom does not merely lead us away from sin, but it also leads to a path of life and blessing only known to those who trust God. What can be more glorious and fulfilling than “favor from the Lord”? How is this obtained? By daily listening, watching, and waiting for it. That is why we read the Bible every day. We never outgrow our need for His wise guidance.

Paul tells the Corinthians that what he is writing to them is not mere personal opinion. He writes them commands from the Lord. If anyone disregards God’s commands they are to be disregarded. Jesus promised to send His Spirit to reveal all the truth to His apostles and, certainly, what Paul and the others wrote in our New Testament is the result of that promise (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15).

Diligently seek God’s wisdom in His word. You may have no idea how it will save you from the path to death, but it will.

The Mature Thinker

Today’s reading: Proverbs 5-6; 1 Corinthians 14:1-20

16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.                     Proverbs 6:16-19

20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.                                                                             1 Corinthians 14:20

Christians are called to be unsophisticated in their personal experience of sin, but not to be ignorant of what God hates and calls evil. On the contrary, we should be clear that extensive experience with wickedness contributes nothing to mature thinking.

In today’s reading, we come across the first of the numerical sayings in Proverbs. [See also Proverbs 30:15-31.] This list includes seven things that God hates. The first six are related to body parts, if you include breath which would imply the participation of the lungs. Certainly, the Scriptures leave no doubt about what is evil. Each of these vices has to do with relationships with others. Haughty eyes look down on other people. Lying may occur in our speech to others or in the formal setting of a false witness. Hands can murder after the heart has concocted the scheme. Feet and legs can carry one to do the wicked deed. God hates the creation of animosity between family members. How God’s gift of life and healthy bodies can be abused for purposes which are an abomination to Him!

Paul calls the Corinthians to live in ways that build up, encourage, and console one another in the church (vs. 3). They seem to be concerned about themselves rather than one another. They use their gifts selfishly. The Apostle wants them to strengthen their ministry to one another. As it is, they show childish thinking and advanced levels of evil. This needs to be reversed.

Hollywood offers entertainment for “mature audiences,” but if the executives in the cinematographic industry believed their Bibles they would change the designation to “immature audiences.” Generally, they do not hate what God hates. As we read in Romans 12:1-2, present your body (eyes, tongue, hands, heart, feet) as a living sacrifice to Him. Be renewed in your mind so that you will be mature in thinking rather than experienced in evil. You will be likely to build up, encourage, and console those around you.

 

The Practice of Love

Today’s reading: Proverbs 3-4; 1 Corinthians 13

27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.

28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
29 Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
who dwells trustingly beside you.                                                   Proverbs 3:27-29

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.                                                                 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Biblical love expresses itself in practical ways both in what it does and what it avoids.

The wisdom literature of the Bible has a recurring theme of the wicked man versus the godly man (e.g. Psalm 1, Proverbs 1, etc). In Proverbs we see that the godly man is wise and that wisdom grows out of the fear of the Lord. This godly wisdom has both a vertical (God-ward) and horizontal (man-ward) dimension. In relationship to others, wise people are kind and loving. They are not stingy or selfish. They give to others in need without delay or excuse. They never seek to trick their neighbor or take advantage of others.

Paul in his continuing instructions to the Corinthian church points them to the most important quality of a believer, love. He says that great accomplishments, even in the spiritual realm, have no importance if not accompanied by love. He describes love in terms of what it is not and what it is. The positive qualities include “patient and kind” and “rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Love is unselfish and enduring. This is the love that only Christ showed perfectly, but it is the love that He calls us to show to others if we would be known as His disciples (John 13:34, 35). The believers in Corinth needed to commit themselves to this kind of love, and so do I.

How are you doing in showing Christlike love to others? Today is a good day to take stock. Make needed changes, either in attitudes, or in actions, or both.

The Importance of Seeking Wisdom

Today’s reading: Proverbs 1-2; 1 Corinthians 12

if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.                                                        Proverbs 2:4-5

3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.                                                                                              1 Corinthians 12:3

Wisdom and understanding which leads to the true knowledge of God and a proper fear of the Lord are keys to a life of blessing. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us this understanding and the ability to love and praise the Lord Jesus Christ.

The book of Proverbs is given to instruct God’s people in wise living, but it is not a self-help book. This book continually tells us to fear God as the key to wisdom and understanding (1:7). So fearing God leads to understanding, but understanding leads us back to the fear of God. Yes, this is circular reasoning, but it proves itself true in life. It is said that all reasoning is ultimately circular because one must presuppose one or more assumptions that cannot be proven. We assume that there is a God, the Eternal One who created all things and that He has revealed Himself in Scripture and in creation.

But Proverbs, unlike many self-help books, does not assume that we are alone in the universe, answerable to no one but ourselves, and without any God to guide or assist us. Proverbs reminds us that God controls all things and that He is just. His holiness is reflected here in a clear distinction between good and evil and right and wrong which shows the application of the moral law or Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5) to everyday life and relationships.

Paul urges the Corinthians to get informed and to gain understanding that will help them in their lives and relationships which are evidently quite fractured. He teaches them how to view themselves as a body with many members. Thus, they need to accept their own diverse gifts and to accept one another. They are members of the body of Christ called to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). He has also taught them that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit given to them by God. By the Spirit, they cannot but confess, “Jesus is Lord!” To curse Christ is clear evidence of not having that Spirit. On the contrary, all who have the Spirit of God will confess that Jesus is our wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Co. 1:30).

We are not left to attempt to raise ourselves by our own bootstraps. Seek Him and His wisdom, the One in Whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:1-3).

The Grand Finale

God is worthy of all praise from all people, whether rich or poor, old or young, men or women, for His Son died to redeem sinners and is coming again to reign forever.

Today’s reading: Psalms 148-150; I Corinthians 11:16-34

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.  Psalm 148:11-13

26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.    1 Corinthians 11:26

The Book of Psalms ends with a grand finale of praise to God. The writers have taken us through the valley of the shadow of death, described unimaginable agonies of body and soul, and cried out to God, “How long?” But now in this last section of five psalms, we break through all the darkness and emerge into the unclouded day of God’s majesty, power, and glory.

In this sense, the Psalter reflects our present life as well as our expectant hope for the joy that we will know when the Kingdom of God comes in all its fullness. Meanwhile, we walk by faith with our fellow believers in the Church Militant, that is, the Church here on earth awaiting the return of our Lord and King.

Paul guides the Corinthians who struggle with a number of problems while waiting for the Lord’s coming. They practice the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but fail to observe it in reverence. They desecrate it, making it a food fight. He rebukes them for their behavior and warns them that if they turn it into a gluttonous, drunken party they incur the judgment of God. In fact, he says, some have died already as a judgment of God on their sacrilege. There is a place for satisfying our legitimate need for food and drink, but it is not in the worship of God through the supper which Jesus gave to His disciples.

There are limitless ways in which we may praise God every day, in the mundane responsibilities of domestic life, in our work, in our driving, in our kindness and courtesy to others. Praise Him today whether you are in formal, corporate worship with His people, or in the trenches of every day existence. Praise Him for the cross of Jesus Christ, and praise Him for His promised coming in glory. It could be today, so be warmed up to sing His praise in the grand finale of victory.

To My Dying Breath

Today’s reading: Psalms 145-147; I Corinthians 11:1-15

1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Psalm 146:1-2

And all things are from God. 1 Corinthians 11:12b

Those who know God well, never lose their focus on Him whether in the pressures of life at its prime or the pain of life at its ebb. God is always foremost in the hearts and minds of His people.

The psalmist praises God for a host of reasons, but, besides that, he commits himself to keep praising God as long as he lives, as long as he has being. He could say, “to my dying breath.”   Even in a lifetime, one could never exhaust the things for which God deserves praise and adoration. There is no end to His works of creation and providence which reflect His glory. The psalms help us put words to our thoughts and thoughts to our observations. God in the psalms helps us see His hand in more things and proclaim His praise more clearly.

Paul deals with many difficult questions in his letter to the Corinthians. Now he turns to issues related to corporate worship in the church and the proper and distinct roles of men and women in the church. The passage raises as many questions as answers, but one thing is clear, “And all things are from God.” Paul has already set this idea before his readers earlier in the letter (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). It is the principle around which he orients his thinking and instruction on the matters they are dealing with.

The fact is that the purpose of our existence, as creatures made in God’s image whether male or female, is His glory. We fulfill that purpose in our actions, attitudes, thoughts, and speech.  I have been privileged to know a few fervent disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who were using their final breath to give Him praise. That is my goal and desire, to praise Him while I have being, to my dying breath. How about you? This is our calling in Christ. Be sure it’s your own.

Guidance for Complex Decisions

Today’s reading: Psalms 142-144; I Corinthians 10:14-33

Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.                                                                  Psalm 143:7-8

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.                                                                                             1 Corinthians 10:31-33

The Christian is called to glorify God, to make sacrifices to build up others, and to avoid being offensive or selfish so that many may be saved. With those purposes in view, even complex ethical decisions become more obvious.

We aren’t given the specific historical setting of Psalm 143, but it is clear that David is desperate. There is much honesty expressed in these Psalms.   No room for denial here. The author feels he needs direction from God and he needs it fast. Apparently he had to make a decision by morning. This could be a prayer in the evening and David is praying that it will be clear to him by then as to which direction he should go.

The Corinthian believers are also faced with a dilemma. They wonder how to handle the touchy situation of food offered to idols. Some see it as a non-issue and have freedom to eat that food with no qualms. Others are troubled by the idea of eating this food that was offered to demons. Paul is clear that there is really no problem in eating the food, but there is a problem of causing a brother to stumble. He gives the readers of his letter some very simple, clear and practical guidelines as to when to eat and when not to eat. Let’s put these guidelines into the form of questions to ask when making complex, ethical decisions: How can I best glorify God? How can I be helpful and build others up? How can I avoid offending so that an unbeliever is more able to find his way to salvation?

Consider how you can apply these questions to the difficult decisions you must make.