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.

Two Sides of Godliness

Godliness has both negative and positive sides. When we turn from sin; we turn to righteousness. Likewise when we turn to righteousness, we turn from sin.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 28-29; Second Corinthians 7

Selected Verses

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

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.

Second Corinthians 7:1

Reflections

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.

Think about it

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? Seek to glorify God in both those ways.

Dangerous Alliances

Beware of forming alliances 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; Second Corinthians 6

Selected Verses

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

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

Second Corinthians 6:14-16

Reflections

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, intensive 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.  Nevertheless, 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 (Second 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 (First 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 a binding partnership in marriage, business, or in the church with that non-Christian.

Think about it

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.  Give him the good news of salvation for even he is not too lost for Christ to save.

Aiming to Please God

Life has meaning because we will all stand before an Omniscient Judge from whom we will receive our due. We must aim to please Him.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 23-24; Second Corinthians 5

Selected Verses

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
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. 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.  Second Corinthians 5:9-10

Reflections

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 (verse 21).

Think about it

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. Begin by trusting in Christ alone for your righteousness.

The Best Is Yet to Be

All this world offers pales in comparison to the glory awaiting those who know God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The best is yet to be.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 21-22; Second Corinthians 4

Selected Verses

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4

Knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.  For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Second Corinthians 4:14-15

Reflections

In Old Testament times, much of the focus of God’s commands and promises was on the way of wisdom and blessing in this life.  Proverbs holds out much hope for reward for those who are humble and reverent before God.  He has made a covenant with Israel to be their God, to keep them as His special people, to forgive their sins as they repent before Him and keep His law.

But behind these great covenant promises was an even greater ultimate end.  God would send the Messiah.  He would be the King in the lineage of David.  He would also be the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God, who would be pierced and crushed so that we might be healed and have peace (Isaiah 53).

All this was still in the future at the time of Proverbs.  Meanwhile, the faithful would heed the call to humility and the fear of the Lord.  Many would see a reward in this life, but not all.

Then, came the Lord Jesus Christ proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).   Alas, the old covenant kingdom of Israel was a mere shadow of the Kingdom of God.

Paul resisted it until he could resist no more, confronted as he was on the road to Damascus by Christ Himself (Acts 9:1-31).   Now Paul tells the good news of the resurrection.  God’s grace was going out to more and more people.  Thanksgiving shouts went up everywhere that grace went and God was being glorified in places like Corinth, where darkness had ruled with an iron hand.

Think about it

Down through the centuries the gospel that promises life through the resurrected Christ has been proclaimed to the ends of the earth.  Do not lose heart!  Jesus told us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come”  (Matthew 6:10).  He is answering that prayer as the gospel goes forth and grace is received by millions in the most unlikely places.  Most of all, God is glorified.  If you are blessed with riches and honor and life in this world, rejoice!  But remember, the best is yet to be when we enter into His kingdom and glory forever.

Slow Growth

Spiritual growth is a gradual process, like a great tree, it will not reach maturity quickly. Gather wisdom and truth and be patient. Time is a factor.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 19-20; Second Corinthians 3

Selected Verses

Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom in the future.  Proverbs 19:20

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  Second Corinthians 3:18

Reflections

Many proverbs urge us to heed sound advice, to seek wisdom, to accept correction.  Many promises are made to the one who is teachable and receptive.   In vs. 20 above, there is an orientation toward the future.  Various English translations differ as to whether the idea here is that instruction received now will result in your gaining wisdom in the future or gaining wisdom for the future.   The difference is minor, and, either way, there is a certain dynamic going on.   Time is a factor.

“Why do I need to learn this?” Teachers hear this question frequently. But children must learn information and skills for which they see no immediate or long-term purpose.  Parents and other educators impart what they know will be useful to the child in later years.  Children can whine and complain, but the failure to learn today’s lessons is likely to turn into regret in future years.  Growth is gradual, but God tells us to store up knowledge and wisdom for the time when we will need it.

Paul gives a defense of his ministry here.  He calls the Corinthian believers his “letter of recommendation” to any who might require proof of the authenticity of his apostleship. From that thought he launches into some paragraphs showing the superior glory of the ministry of the new covenant over the old.  Moses would veil his face after meeting with God to hide the fading glory, but in the new covenant our faces are unveiled and the glory grows stronger rather than weaker.  Again time is a factor.

Think about it

Perhaps you find your spiritual growth imperceptible, like watching an oak tree grow.  Seek wisdom today.  Be receptive to instruction, even when it seems irrelevant.  Praise God for sending His Spirit to write on our hearts His truth.  He is at work in you, believing friend, but the distance between one degree of glory and the next may not be immediately evident.

 

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.

The Man of Dust; the Man of Heaven

Thoughts of life and death are never far from our mortal minds. We have death through the man of dust but life through the man of heaven.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 11-12; First Corinthians 15:33-58

Selected Verses

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

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  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.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  First Corinthians 15:47-49

Reflections

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, yet the only perfectly righteous Man who ever lived died a horrible death.

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. Now we, 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.

Think about it

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 already 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.