The God of Peace and the Peace of God

In the best human relationships, there are moments of deep disappointment, alienation, pride, and disagreement, but the God of love and peace is glorified when these are overcome and restoration occurs.

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 4-5; 2 Corinthians 13

6 I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.                                              Song of Solomon 5:6

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

Romantic love has its ups and downs, and Solomon paints that picture in his Song. Anyone who has ever been in love can relate to this: the exhilaration of the first glimpse of the one who steals your heart completely (4:9) and the agony of possible loss of that relationship forever (5:6). We feel this is a risk worth taking, because God said on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone;” (Genesis 2:18a). So, most of us pursue a lifelong, loving relationship with a mate. Alas, it can be elusive.  When found, it is never without difficulties and setbacks. But it is pleasing to the God of love to find it, and to nurture it.

In the church, Christians are called to live in love demonstrating true discipleship through a level of sacrificial love faintly reflecting that of Jesus Christ (John 13:34, 35). The Corinthian church of Paul’s day had plenty of challenges. They were divided. They were drawn away from the true faith by “super apostles”. They were tolerant of gross sin in their midst. All this was lamentable, but not fatal, to the fellowship. Paul has instructed them in the two letters, which we still have, as to how to overcome these problems and be restored to a life of peace together. This is what God calls them to.

All of us, believers, need one another in the context of the local church. We are called out to be His body and to work together for His glory. He is not glorified when sin is overlooked and tolerated and when there is division and competition that negates the message of reconciliation with God. That reconciliation with Him is the foundation for our reconciliation with one another. For us who are married in Christ, we also are called to model, on a human level, the relationship of Christ and His Church. The same commands and promises Paul gave the church in Corinth apply to us who are married. Seek to be such that the God of peace and the peace of God are always with you.

Unstoppable Love

Love overcomes any obstacle and pays whatever price necessary for the beloved.

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 1-3; 2 Corinthians 12

8 The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills.                                                       Song of Solomon 2:8

15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.       2 Corinthians 12:15a

Over the centuries, there have been various allegorical interpretations set forth about the Song of Solomon which attempt to minimize the impact of the obvious sensual language here. It is widely held among evangelical scholars today that the poem clearly speaks of the beauty of sexual love between a man and woman in the context of marriage. While sex has been and is abused and misused by humanity the world over, nevertheless, when experienced within the boundaries set by God’s law, it is honorable and God-glorifying (Hebrews 13:4).   Paul’s comparison of the relationship of Christ and the Church to that of the relationship between a groom and bride does not denigrate the former relationship, but, rather, ennobles the latter (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Song of Solomon speaks poignantly to the intense attraction and desire between a man and a woman in love. Here this attraction is not degraded or sinful but exalted and celebrated. We ought never to jump to an allegory to hide the original message of the honor of human love and the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. The beloved revels in hearing her lover’s voice. Her joy is palpable as she anticipates his arrival. He leaps over mountains and bounds over hills to get to her. His love is unstoppable.

Paul looks at the Church with the same longing that a bridegroom has for his bride. He is jealous for the Corinthian congregation as she seems to be on the verge of being seduced away from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” by “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:2-5). He has been making his case against these usurpers showing his own devotion to the Lord and to them. Though Paul is merely a messenger of Christ, he loves the Church on behalf of Christ. He loves whom the Lord loves, His elect people. So in showing that his ministry is authentic and reliable, he enumerates how he has and will pay a price to serve them in the gospel. “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls,” he tells them. He pours himself out for them, and he does it joyfully, wholeheartedly.

If you are married, take time to consider how your marriage is reflecting the godly love and commitment of Christ to the Church. Whether you are a married or a single believer, think about the price Christ paid for your soul because of His unstoppable love for you.

Escape from Vanity

We can be free not to live our lives vainly controlled by the fear of man.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 10-12; 2 Corinthians 11:16-32

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.                                      Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!                                                                                   2 Corinthians 11:19-21

The book of Ecclesiastes closes with a final overarching statement about man’s duty. Fear God and keep His commandments because you will face Him in judgment. It seems to contradict the oft-repeated phrase, “All is vanity.” All does seem to be vain, at times. But all is not really vanity, because, while your hard work may not be fully rewarded and crime may pay in the short run, God is going to judge every deed, not only those which are easily observable but the secret ones, too. Justice will be done, when we meet God after this life is over.

Paul continues to admonish the Corinthians about their gullible trust in fools, those phony apostles who were doing Satan’s work. He stoops to their level, in a sense, by defending himself and showing that his suffering demonstrates the authenticity of his calling by God.

The main reason people “gladly bear with fools” is that they desire to please them. They fear being rejected by others, even those whose opinion clearly is of no consequence. They do not fear God, but fear man so they are easily manipulated, coerced, and led to foolishness. Proverbs 29:25 shows that the way to freedom from this malady is by replacing it with the trust in God.

Do you suffer fools gladly? Turn away from this through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died for this sin and gives His forgiven, Spirit-empowered disciples a proper fear of God. This is the duty we owe to Him, our Creator and Judge. Those who fear God may suffer for it in this world, but in the end they will be approved by God, the only One whose opinion matters. Your life will not be lived in vain.

Wisdom: True and False

One must beware of the distinction between deception which passes as true wisdom and true wisdom which can be imperceptible and overlooked.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 7-9; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15

16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.                                                        Ecclesiastes 9:16

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.                                                                                          2 Corinthians 11:2-3

Solomon in reflecting on how wisdom works in the real world relates a story of a small city that was attacked by a great army. Through the wisdom of an anonymous resident of the city, a poor man, the city overcame the attack. It is not hard to imagine the great party that the people held. But did they honor their benefactor? Did they erect a monument to the hero? No! He was forgotten. The presumptuous populace didn’t bother to find out his identity or didn’t care about the poor, wise man. We are not told how the wise man responded to the slight, but if he was wise enough to create such a successful strategy for victory in war, he was probably wise enough to forgive the colossal oversight and trust God for ultimate recognition. The city fathers should be faulted for their failure to recognize the presence of greatness in their midst.

The members of the church in the ancient city of Corinth, on the other hand, did recognize and honor deceivers in their midst. The false teachers that had come to them were attempting to draw them away from “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”   They impressed the Corinthians who failed to see them for what they were, emissaries of Satan, the one who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (vs. 11).  Foolishness never shows its hand. Satan never comes as a horned creature, dressed in red pajamas and carrying a pitch fork. He comes showing what seems to be superior knowledge and wisdom.

Make it your aim to be well-informed of biblical truth so that you are never drawn away from love for Jesus Christ, the Man who by His eternal wisdom delivered the city of His people from the imposing army of the evil one. Reject all counterfeit messengers and their phony gospel. Distinguish true wisdom from false. Things are not always the way they seem.

 

Pleasing God

God’s opinion of us is what matters.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 4-6; 2 Corinthians 10

4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.                                                                               Ecclesiastes 5:4

18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.                                                                         2 Corinthians 10:18

There is a common fallacy being foisted upon the unsuspecting public in our society today. It goes, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.” As with all fallacies, there is some truth, but along with it is a dangerous, unbiblical implication. It is true we cannot by our actions manipulate God, or make Him change in any way, but this mantra seems to say, “What you do doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about your personal behavior. Sin all you want. God still loves you. Neglect the means of grace. God still loves you. If you make an effort to serve Him, he won’t even notice. He loves you just the same.”

Solomon warned his readers about being casual in their relationship to God. The Lord “has no pleasure in fools,” he told them. It does matter if you make a vow to God and then delay to keep it. God is not pleased with such foolishness. “God is the one you must fear,” he declared (5:7).

Paul also was concerned about pleasing God. The Apostle had been denigrated by others who took pride in themselves. That gave him the context to propound his view of whose opinion matters. Clearly, all that matters is how the Lord views you. All the accolades or criticisms of the world do not affect God’s evaluation. The commendation we should seek is God’s and He knows what is really going on in our outward behavior and in our hearts.

Does God care whether we are faithful or not? Yes, absolutely. We do not earn our forgiveness, but we do show evidence of it by the level of seriousness we give to our vows and spiritual disciplines. God is not a cruel taskmaster. He is no demanding tyrant. Yes, His love is secure, but He calls us to grow in holiness and to be faithful to the means of grace which He has provided. Seek to please God.

Why Life is Not Vain

The gospel of Jesus Christ shows us why the earthly life of believers, while far from as complete as it will be in glory, is also not vain as Solomon thought.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 1-3; 2 Corinthians 9

20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?                    Ecclesiastes 3:20-22

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.                                  2 Corinthians 9:10-12

Solomon, who, I believe, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, had the time, money, and motivation to invest in the pursuit of the meaning of life. But he came up with a rather bleak picture. His conclusion, after all that study and experimentation, was that “All is vanity.” The best humans can hope for, he concluded, is   “…to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:12b-13).  Somehow it feels like something is missing, something that transcends this world. Certainly, Solomon grasps this too, as he says, “…[God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (3:11)

But God’s self-revelation continued with the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the announcement of the Kingdom of God. Paul writes to those in Corinth who have heard this message and who are trusting in God’s Son for salvation. He tells them that their faith expressed in generosity for the poor is actually sowing a harvest of righteousness that results in praise and thanksgiving to God.

When God’s people use the resources He supplies to serve others, this action produces win-win results for all. Genuine needs are met. Those who give are blessed. God is glorified. Far from being a vain, useless enterprise, generosity and good works produces lasting fruit. Take opportunities to give today. May the eternal, triune God be glorified and may you be blessed!

Poverty, Joy, and Generosity

God’s grace brings joy and generosity among those who have little.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 30-31; 2 Corinthians 8

20 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.                                  Proverbs 31:20

1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.                                                                                             2 Corinthians 8:1-2

Paul was concerned for the poor in Jerusalem. In an orderly way, he went about Macedonia and Achaia asking the churches to contribute to these needy brothers and sisters whom they had never met. [See The Importance of Giving to the Poor]. The Macedonian churches, those in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, were themselves suffering from affliction and extreme poverty.

There were two surprises here. One, Paul told them about the collection even though they were in need themselves. He did not want to rob them of the joy of doing what they could. Second, they gave far more than Paul expected. How were they able to do this? It was a result of the grace of God in their lives. Surely, they grasped “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (vs. 9).

Proverbs concludes with a picture of the godly woman, wife, and mother. We have met Lady Wisdom and her counterpart Ms. Folly in chapter 9. Now only the wise woman appears. One of her qualities is concern for the poor and needy. She gives to them. She reaches out to them. She gives them resources and assists them in practical ways. Diligence, as exemplified by this woman, generally results in abundance. Abundance should result in generosity. Sadly, this is often not the case (Luke 12:13-21). One might think that poverty would squelch joy and generosity. In the Macedonian churches, the opposite was true. God’s grace makes the difference.

There is no greater evidence of the presence of God’s grace than to have joy and generosity whether in need or in abundance. What glory that manifestation of grace brings to God! Look at Jesus, today, and learn joy and generosity whether you have much or little.

Two Sides of Holiness

Godliness has both a negative and a positive side.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 28-29; 2 Corinthians 7

7 A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.                            Proverbs 29:7

1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.    2 Corinthians 7:1

The Proverbs continues contrasting the wise and the fool, the righteous and the wicked, the rich and the poor. The stereotypes don’t always hold up, however. The poor are sometimes wise. The rich are sometimes foolish. But not always. [See “A Warning Against Stereotyping”].

The righteous man or woman “knows the rights of the poor.” One who does not grasp the dignity and worth of every human being, by virtue of their being made in God’s image, and thus entitled to rights is classified with the wicked. This does not mean that the sluggard should be enabled to continue in his indolence. It does mean that a godly person will seek to be discerning, and to promote the well being of the poor who have legitimate needs, perhaps because of health limitations, or the injustices of others, or “acts of God” like crop failures. The poor have rights, and the righteous will understand this. They will not ignore those in real need.

Paul urges the Corinthians to cleanse themselves from sin and to grow in holiness. This is God’s purpose for His own people, that they should be godly, awaiting the appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, and zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-13). They count this life as a transition period in which they can invest themselves in good works. One area of good works is care for the poor and suffering of this world. It is not enough to merely flee from sin, God’s people are also called to do good to others.

Sanctification, the process of growing in godliness, has both negative (don’t do that) and positive (do this) aspects. Do you seek to grow both in fleeing from sin and fleeing to good works? We glorify God in both those ways. Stop and think about that.

Dangerous Alliances

Beware of forming partnerships with fools and unbelievers. Your intention to “reach” them is likely to fail and result in your own downfall.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 25-27; 2 Corinthians 6

22 Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle
along with crushed grain,
yet his folly will not depart from him.                                                Proverbs 27:22

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God;                                                                                                                                    2 Corinthians 6:14-16a

The Proverbs sound many warnings about associating with fools. Here we see another reason why. You really cannot change a fool. You may take extreme measures similar to the process of crushing grain, but it will be futile. “His folly will not depart from him,” we are told.   Send him for advanced education, intense therapy, military boot camp, wilderness survival training, you name it. It won’t help. He is a fool and he remains a fool.

Are there no exceptions? Yes. We already saw that there are exceptions to the Proverbs, that these maxims are general principles, but not ironclad promises that never fail. But you should not expect someone who has demonstrated a track record of folly to change even through much rehabilitation.

Paul on the other hand, tells the Corinthians to never be yoked unequally with unbelievers. No exceptions. This verse is often quoted in reference to choosing a marriage partner. Believers don’t marry unbelievers. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul may have been intending for them to apply his command to those false prophets that had arisen among them or come to them (2 Corinthians 11:12-14). The principle has wide application. Beware with whom you link up.

This does not mean we are not to seek to win unbelievers to Jesus Christ. On the contrary, we do build bridges of communication (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). It is quite a different thing to seek to win a lost person, who, at some level, is going to be a fool for being an unbeliever, versus forming some kind of partnership in marriage, business, or in the church with a non-Christian.

Pray for the unbelieving fool, but beware that you do not form forbidden alliances with him or her.  He is, by virtue of rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ, the worst kind of fool, but even he is not too lost for Christ to save.

 

Judgment and the Meaning of Life

Life has meaning because we will all stand before an Omniscient Judge from whom we will receive our due.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 23-24; 2 Corinthians 5

11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?                        Proverbs 24:11-12

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.                2 Corinthians 5:9-10

Today’s reading in Proverbs points us to our responsibility for the lives of others who are dying, and we may assume, unjustly. Innocent people are killed by war, poverty, and abortion to name a few of the obvious causes. The media insures that we have a daily dose of the worst atrocities on the planet. We cannot say we know nothing about this. It is easy to be overwhelmed before breakfast seven days a week.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that this life is fleeting. Meanwhile, we should “make it our aim to please him.” To begin with, we please Him when we recognize our utter depravity. We are not able to be righteous before Him, not in ourselves. We please Him when we trust in the One who died for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Starting with Christ as our Redeemer, we may consider how we can further aim to please God. Clearly, no one of us can do everything to correct all the ills of our world and the culture of death. But we can do something. Edward Everett Hale, though a Unitarian, made this wise observation and resolution, “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”

So what can we do in our aim to please God?  We can pray. We can proclaim the good news of life in Jesus Christ. We can give to ministries that serve hurting and dying people.

Life matters because there is judgment to come. Aim to please God.