Distress and Comfort

The Christian rests in his relationship to God through Christ and finds comfort when the spiritual state of those he loves distresses him.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 56-58; 1 Thessalonians 3

Selected Verses

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8

Reflections

Paul was anxious about the Thessalonians. Twice he uses the phrase “[we or I] could bear it no longer” (3:1, 5). He wanted to know how those new believers were doing. He finally sent Timothy to them and learned that they were not only standing firm in the gospel but were impacting the whole region.

Isaiah describes how God who is high and lifted up also dwells with the one who is “of a contrite and lowly spirit.” If God is with us, assuming we qualify as having “a contrite and lowly spirit,” do we need anything more? No, not really. God is enough. The psalmist said, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).

Yet Paul could not bear the distress of not knowing if the young Thessalonian disciples were doing well, not reverting to idol worship. Did Paul lack faith? Did he focus too much on being successful? No. We can see that Paul had a tender heart toward those he taught. It was natural, not sinful. He made the sacrifice of sending Timothy to inquire about them. There was nothing wrong with doing that. We would not expect a sincere minister or missionary to be cold and uncaring about those he has served in the gospel.

Think about it

So we are right to be concerned, even worried, about those whose spiritual lives could be in jeopardy. We are right to do what we can to care for them and to keep up with their circumstances and progress. In the final analysis, however, our greatest comfort and joy will be that “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” dwells with us and revives our hearts. Don’t be unfeeling toward others, but let God’s presence be the bedrock of your spirit to comfort you in distress.

The God of Peace and the Peace of God

Deep disappointment, alienation, pride, and disagreement occur in relationships, but the God of peace is glorified with reconciliation.

Today’s Reading

Song of Solomon 4-5; Second Corinthians 13

Selected Verses

 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

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.

Second Corinthians 13:11

Reflections

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). With all the benefits and risks involved, we feel these are risks worth taking, because God said on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). 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.  Phony “super apostles” drew them away from the true faith. They were tolerant of gross sin in their midst. All this was unacceptable, but not fatal, to the fellowship. Paul 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.

Think about it

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.

Poverty, Joy, and Generosity: the Macedonians

Here we meet a group who did not let their desperate need stop their generosity. How God is glorified by such people who give despite their circumstances!

Today’s reading

Proverbs 30-31; Second Corinthians 8

Selected Verses

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

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 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.

Second Corinthians 8:1-2

Reflections

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 and 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.

Think about it

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.

The Sniffable Christian

Christians are called to shoulder a heavy responsibility, one that even the Apostle Paul found daunting. Did you know you emit a distinct fragrance?

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 17-18; Second Corinthians 2

Selected Verses

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts.  Proverbs 17:3

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?   Second Corinthians 2:14-16

Reflections

One of the themes in Proverbs is the dichotomy between fools and wise people, between the faithful and the slothful, between those who receive instruction and those who are wise in their own eyes. While it is not always evident to the observer the true state of another person’s heart, God is able to test hearts and He does. Precious metal is purified by fire. The hearts of people are tested by God. So God’s judgment will never be unjust. He is a Judge who truly has all the information. [See Romans 2:15-16]

Paul bares his thoughts and feelings about his ministry. He finds it painful to confront people on hard issues and when he does, he does it because he loves them. This does not mean that the responses he gets are always positive. He gets strong reactions to his mere presence because wherever he goes God “through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

That fragrance will be either the scent of life or the stench of death depending on the heart condition of the one doing the sniffing. So God who tests hearts uses His people to reveal the state of hearts. This is not the only way God tests hearts, but it is certainly one way. And Paul exclaims, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Think about it

Indeed, who wants to carry such a burden? Who wants to be the person who, when entering the room, causes the crowd to either flee from him or flock to him? But that is the role of the believer and, if we are such, we should assume this role with humility and submission.

No, we are not sufficient for these things. But it is not us. It is Christ in us. He “always leads us in triumphal procession.” Trust Him. Follow Him. Expect to be sniffed.

By the way, if you find Christians abhorrent, be forewarned. You are probably perishing. May God give you grace to repent, believe, and find life in Him.

No Exceptions

The rules in Proverbs have exceptions, but there are no exceptions to the rule that God is with His people in their deepest trials fulfilling His purposes.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 15-16; Second Corinthians 1

Selected Verses

Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.  Proverbs 16:20

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.  Second Corinthians 1:8b-10

Reflections

There are several Proverbs here that seem to emphatically state that if one does right he will be blessed, and, if he does evil, he will suffer (Proverbs 15:6, 10, 22, 24; 16:3, 4, 7, 20).  Yet both in our personal experience and in other parts of the Bible, we see the wicked enjoying success, at least temporarily.  Conversely, godly people may go through unspeakable trials.  Paul himself was in this second category.   So was our Lord Jesus Christ as we already noted two days ago here.

The Apostle describes his suffering in terms of being on the verge of death.  He had no hope in this world, but his trust in God was strengthened.  God raises the dead.  Maybe that was His plan.  So Paul kept trusting God and was delivered.  He could look back on what he went through as a means of growing his faith and trust.

Think about it

Who doesn’t need to grow in trust in God?  I’m sure I do.

If trust in God, such that He is glorified in whatever situation we are in, is our goal (and it should be), what might He use to bring about the purifying of our faith?  In Job’s case, it was bereavement, financial devastation, chronic sickness and constant pain.   His insensitive wife and badly misinformed friends further compounded the problem.  In Paul’s case, it was some kind of near-death experience.

I do not wish for you or me to go through anything remotely resembling Job’s or Paul’s crises, but I am sure that the end result for us, like them, would be wonderful.  Pray for those who suffer today.  Pray that you will be faithful and that, whatever God chooses to send you, He will be with you and ultimately use it for great good and for a ministry of comfort to others.

The Importance of Giving to the Poor

Giving to the needy honors God, their Creator. It should be done in an orderly way so as to minimize the danger of misappropriation of funds.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 13-14; First Corinthians 16

Selected Verses

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

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.  And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.   First Corinthians 16:1-3

Reflections

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 (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 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 the sacrificial efforts made to collect it.

Think about 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.

Choose your Preacher

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

Today’s reading

Proverbs 9-10; First Corinthians 15:1-32

Selected Verses

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

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.  First Corinthians 15:1-2

Reflections

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. Someone (or more than one)  told them there was no resurrection. The Apostle quickly lists many 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.

Think about it

How do you assess the wisdom of those to whom you listen?  Set your heart 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 Practice of Love

Biblical love is not a matter of mere words but expresses itself in practical ways both in what it does and what it avoids.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 3-4; First Corinthians 13

Selected Verses

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

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

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 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. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.  First Corinthians 13:4-8a

Reflections

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.  Loving people 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 it 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 essential virtue 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.

Think about it

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

Wisdom and understanding which leads to the true knowledge of God and a proper fear of the Lord are keys to a blessed life. But can we attain this?

Today’s reading

Proverbs 1-2; First Corinthians 12

Selected Verses

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

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. First Corinthians 12:3

Reflections

The book of Proverbs instructs God’s people in wise living, but it is not a self-help book.  Many self-help books assume that we are alone in the universe, answerable to no one but ourselves, and without any God to guide or assist us.  But the Proverbs continually tell 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.  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.

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 to help them in their lives and fractured relationships.  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 (First 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 (First Corinthians 1:30).

Think about it

Wisdom and understanding which leads to the true knowledge of God and a proper fear of the Lord are keys to a blessed life.  But we are not left to raise ourselves by our own bootstraps.    It is the Holy Spirit who gives us this understanding and the ability to love and praise the Lord Jesus Christ.  Seek Him and His wisdom, the One in Whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:1-3).

The Christian’s Identity: God’s Lowly Farmhand

God gives you a role in His work of growing disciples. But do you know your identity in the spiritual harvest? Are you taking yourself too seriously?

Today’s reading

Psalm 119:1-48; I Corinthians 3

Selected Verses

Lead me in the path of your commandments,
    for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
    and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
    and give me life in your ways.. Psalm 119:35-37

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.  1 Corinthians 3:7–9

Reflections

All progress in our personal lives and our ministry to others depends on God.  He commands us to be diligent in our use of the means of grace and in our proclaiming the gospel to the world, but He is the One who ultimately changes hearts and brings about growth.

The Psalmist proclaims his delight in God’s law, but, at the same time, prays to God for help in following that law.  As committed as he is to God’s word, his pleas to the Lord reveal an awareness of his dependence on God.  Of course, delight in God’s law is a good, admirable trait.  It is just not constant enough to be a reliable basis for one’s spiritual life.  God will have to work because there are innumerable other distractions, like selfish gain and worthless things.

The writer of the longest chapter in the Bible knew his own heart.  There were good moments when he could focus on the Lord and His Word with great exuberance.  He is not being deceptive when he professes to love the law, but he also knows the weaknesses of his flesh.  He can be drawn away by money and entertainment.  Jesus warned His disciples against these sorts of things in His parable about the sower.  He told them the good seed of the Word can be “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14)

Paul, too, understands his dependence on God for fruitful ministry.  The Corinthians needed to learn that they are indebted to God for their responsiveness to the gospel, not to Paul or Apollos.  Their divisiveness was partly a result of their misplaced adulation of their mentors.

Think about it

Give all praise to God, if you are walking in His ways, maturing as a disciple and bearing fruit.  He alone causes the growth.  At most, our identity is that of unprofitable servants and God’s lowly farmhands.