Reflections of God’s Love

Human love is a reflection of the love of Christ for His Church.  For that reason, we can learn a little about Christ’s love from human love stories.

Today’s Reading

Song of Solomon 6-8; Galatians 1

Selected Verses

 I am my beloved’s,
and his desire is for me. Song of Solomon 7:10

 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,  was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;  nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.  Galatians 1:15-17

Reflections

In Solomon’s Song, he tells us of a beautiful and passionate love between a man and a woman.  They describe each other with tenderness and awe.  Each has found in the other all they could ever want in a spouse.  No one or nothing could draw them away.  They long to be together.  They revel in being desired by each other.

In officiating weddings, I frequently use a famous prayer by Dr. Lewis Evans, the same one our pastor prayed for Mary and me.  The next to last paragraph says, “May they never take each other for granted, but always experience that breathless wonder that exclaims, ‘Out of all this world you have chosen me!’”  Amen.

But there is an even greater love.  It is the love of God–love which existed before time. It is love which planned our existence and, if God is pleased, chose us to be His own and to do His will.  Paul marveled at the wonder of God’s grace–His undeserved, unmerited favor.  Paul never stopped exclaiming with breathless wonder, “Out of all this world, God has chosen me!”

Think about it

It is wonderful to know that the one you love so much, loves you just as much.  How much more to know that the Eternal God knows, loves, and has set you apart for Himself before you were born!

Do you marvel that it pleased God to reveal His Son to you?  No lack or longing obligated God to do it.  He chose to do so because it pleased Him.  Like the bride in the Song, never stop exclaiming, “I am My Beloved’s and His desire is for me.”

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 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 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 Care and Feeding of Recovering Idolaters

Idol worshipers are not beyond the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. So how should we welcome them into the fellowship of His Church?

Today’s reading

Psalms 132-135; First Corinthians 8

Selected Verses

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see;
 they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.
Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.  Psalm 135:15-18

We know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”      First Corinthians 8:4

Reflections

Scripture tells us that there is One God, the Creator of all things, who made mankind in His own image and after His likeness (Genesis 1:26-27).  But what happens when people reject their God? They replace Him with some other “god,” one of their own imagination. The psalmist tells us that the impact on these idolaters is very negative. Worshipers start looking like the thing they worship.  The worship of a non-existent god of one’s own fabrication diminishes that worshiper to the level of that god.

Despite the apparent hopeless state of those reduced to less than humans, God’s grace and sovereign election to salvation overcomes and redeems those sub-humans. Paul reports that this happened in the city of Corinth (First Corinthians 6:9-11).  Praise God!

On the other hand, many new believers recovering from a vast host of sins populated the Corinthian church. More mature believers might inadvertently cause offense to these young disciples. Paul gives them some urgent advice about the care and feeding of recovering idolaters. Of course, idols don’t exist but former idol worshipers could easily be offended by seeing their fellow Christians eating at pagan feasts or enjoying food previously offered to idols. The point is, “don’t make your brother stumble even if what you are doing is not technically wrong.”

Think about it

Although idol worshipers are reduced to less than human, they are not beyond the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. When converted idolaters enter the church, more mature members must be sensitive to them as they grow in the knowledge of the Lord.

Do you need to limit your freedom in order to keep a brother or sister from stumbling? Do you need to grow in the conviction that there is but One God, so that you progress in your sanctification, fleeing the baggage of your sinful past?  Let those who are mature lead the way in the care and feeding of recovering idolaters.

The Best Encouragers

A friend who knows how to encourage is always a wonderful thing.  But do you know what kind of person makes the best encourager?

Today’s reading

Psalms 22-24; Acts 20:1-16

Selected Verses

 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him. Psalm 22:22-24

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. Acts 20:1-2

Reflections

Sufferers make the best encouragers because they are more in touch with the realities of both earth and heaven than others whose lives are more comfortable and secure.

The writer of Psalm 22 expresses great agony and great trust in the Lord through all of his sufferings. He never loses sight of either his pain or his God but shows that godly perspective which sees the here and now and the “there and then.” The words of this Psalm were on Jesus’ lips on the cross and, no doubt, comforted Him as He suffered and died.

Paul was certainly a suffering encourager. He had just endured jail time in Philippi,  ridicule in Athens, and the riot in Ephesus. The Jews were working on a plot to assassinate him (Acts 20:3), yet he went about encouraging the believers. What could stop the progress of the gospel ministry through Asia and Europe? Not riots; nor assassination plots; nor beatings and imprisonments. Nothing. Paul was in a unique position, as the lightning rod for the gospel, to reassure the saints that the preaching of the gospel could not be stopped. Adverse circumstances would not change the truth of the gospel nor the mandate of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19,20).

Think about it

If you would be an encourager, learn God’s word and be ready to suffer. God is able to strengthen you for that ministry which is always in great demand.

The Danger of Forsaking the Fear of the Almighty

When people lose their reverent fear of God, they are capable of all manner of atrocities toward other human beings made in His image.

Today’s Reading

Job 4-6; Acts 7:20-43

Selected Verses

He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.  Job 6:14

This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.”  Acts 7:37

Reflections

Job’s friends sat quietly with him. They listened when he finally broke his silence. Then Eliphaz spoke. He lectured about God’s discipline of His children assuming that Job deserved to be corrected. He missed the truth and failed to comfort his suffering friend. Job responded with continued lament for his condition but then complained about the lack of support from his friends. He considered that Eliphaz had withheld kindness from a friend.

How can anyone cold-heartedly turn his back on a loved one in his moment of extreme anguish? Why wouldn’t common decency make a person feel sympathy towards even a complete stranger in dire straits? Job says these attitudes are proof of having forsaken the fear of the Almighty. It takes extreme arrogance to think that the Omnipotent God of Creation and Providence could never bring him to the same condition. One has to be overly self-assured and proud to feel immune from God’s powerful hand.

The authorities that examined Stephen in Acts 7 seem to have a similar problem. They accuse him falsely and demand an explanation, but they are about to get more than they bargained for. Stephen is giving them a summary of the history of Israel, tracing the theme of their rebellion against Moses, God’s chosen leader.  Moses, whom they accuse Stephen of blaspheming, foretold that a prophet like himself would be sent to them. But these leaders continue the policies of their forefathers, rejecting the ones whom God sends to deliver them. They, like Eliphaz, have forsaken the fear of God.

Think about it

What part does the fear of God play in your life? Does fear of God drive you to confession of sin, of eager obedience, and of love for others? Fear of God is not an outdated, Old Testament concept, but is part of the mindset that has been renewed by God. Peter wrote, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:16-17).  Practice those things and never forsake the fear of the Almighty.

Generosity and Contentment: How we know we’re saved

Faith alone saves but since it is invisible how do we know we are saved? Here are two concrete evidences.

Today’s Reading

Nehemiah 4-6; Acts 2:14-47

Selected Verses

Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.  I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.  Nehemiah 5:12-13

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. Acts 2:44-45

Reflections

The Reformation restored focus on justification by faith alone—faith that expresses itself in good works and good attitudes. In today’s reading we have examples from Nehemiah’s day and from the times of the early Church.

The Jews had suffered greatly through the captivity. When the exiles returned to Judah, some were destitute. Others had managed to accumulate some wealth. The poor had to sell their children into slavery to other Jews just to pay their taxes.

When Nehemiah learned about this he was furious. He called the people together and immediately rebuked those who had engaged in this abusive practice. The response was good because the loan sharks recognized that they had violated God’s law and they stood in fear of Him. Nehemiah’s bold and swift leadership averted the crisis. The wall building resumed amidst joy and unity.

In the early Church, members differed widely in their material wealth. Yet the power of the gospel and presence of the Holy Spirit so moved them that they voluntarily looked out for one another. There seemed to be no need to exhort them to share with one another, at least not at this point.

Think about it

John Calvin wrote that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone, i.e. it is accompanied by good works like generosity and good attitudes, like contentment.  Does your use of material resources reflect trust in God and love for others? Are you generous with what you have? If you have less than others, do you resent your lack or are you content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:6-10)? Flee from the love of money. Be as generous as you are able. Learn contentment. Saving faith bears fruit in generosity and contentment.

A Humble King

Fools seek power that is not theirs through conspiracy and murder, but there is a humble king who did not grasp the power that was rightfully His.

Today’s reading

Second Kings 15-17; John 6:1-21

 Selected Verses

Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place. 2 Kings 15:10

 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6:14-15

Reflections

Shallum held one in a line of short-lived reigns on the throne of Israel. He came to the throne through conspiracy and the assassination of Zechariah. But his reign lasted only a month before he, too, was assassinated. The prophet Hosea would later indict Israel for their failure to seek God’s direction for their kingdom which contributed to all that instability (Hosea 8:4).

What a contrast to Jesus! He relinquished the glories of His heavenly status and came to earth. He began announcing the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. The fickle crowds wanted to make Him king, but they had the wrong reasons and the wrong methods.  So Jesus disappeared to avoid that happening. He knew their hearts. They were only responding to the signs He did and wanted a king who could take care of their health and their hunger (John 2:23-25; 6:2). They thought of an earthly kingdom, but His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).

Although Jesus was the rightful king of all Creation, His goal was not to be merely a king in this world. He would redeem  His people and be established as the Lord of lords and King of kings at the right hand of God the Father in His eternal kingdom (Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 19:16).

Think about it

See how glorious and worthy is our King, the Lord Jesus Christ whose every action and decision showed love, grace, humility, and justice! Give Him, the humble King, the praise He deserves and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength today.

The Cost of Loving Your Neighbor

It’s easy to say, “I will love my neighbor as myself,” but it is quite another thing to do that. Read on to meet two contrasting examples.

Today’s reading

Judges 18-19; Luke 10:25-42

Selected Verses

But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. Judges 19:25

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37

Reflections

The value of human life is emphasized throughout the Bible.  When asked about how to obtain eternal life, Jesus showed that loving God and loving our neighbor are the two key elements of a righteous life.  The first two chapters of the Bible show that humanity was specially created by God, male and female, in His image and according to His likeness and given life by His Spirit.

The fall soon introduced alienation from God and between the first humans.  Their son was the first murderer, his victim being his own brother (Genesis 3,4).

God in the Bible holds all people responsible for how they treat one another.  The command is simple, but it is not easy.  Alas!  Loving your neighbor as yourself can mean standing up against some serious opposition in society.

The old man in Judges 19 tried to protect the traveler in his village from the abusive men, but his neighbors stormed his house.  He foolishly tried to placate their evil desires by offering them his daughter and the visitor’s concubine.  In the end, it cost a woman’s life and started a civil war in Israel.  The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable reached across a huge racial divide to care for a wounded man.  It’s fairly easy in theory to say, “We should all love our neighbors as ourselves,” but it is quite another thing to actually act consistently with that concept.

Think about it

Those who read the Bible and profess belief in it should be among the most caring of all people, willing and ready to pay a price, if necessary, to preserve and value life.

Look for opportunities to show mercy and kindness toward others today, but know that you may not be appreciated for it.  It could even cost you more than you thought.