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.

Escape the Vain Life

Are you exhausted from trying to meet everyone’s expectations? There is freedom not to live our lives in vain controlled by the fear of man.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 10-12; Second Corinthians 11:16-32

Selected Verses

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

For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 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. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

Second Corinthians 11:19-21

Reflections

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. Hard work may not be fully rewarded and crime may pay in the short run.   But all is not really vanity, because, God is going to judge every deed, not only those which are easily observable but the secret ones, too.  When we meet God, He will apply full justice.

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 rejection 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.

Think about it

Do you suffer fools gladly?  Turn away from this through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He 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 God will approve them. He is the only One whose opinion matters.  Escape the vain life.

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; Second Corinthians 11:1-15

Selected Verses

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.   Second Corinthians 11:2-3

Reflections

Solomon, in reflecting on how wisdom works in the real world, relates a story of a small city 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! No one remembered him. The presumptuous populace didn’t bother to find out his identity or didn’t care about the poor, wise man. How did the wise man respond to the slight?   He was wise enough to create a successful strategy for victory in war, so he was probably wise enough to forgive the oversight and trust God for ultimate recognition. The city fathers failed 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. False teachers came to them. They attempted to draw the church away from “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”   The Corinthians failed to see them for what they were–emissaries of Satan 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.

Think about it

Aim to be well-informed of biblical truth and to never be drawn away from love for Jesus Christ. He is the Man who by His eternal wisdom delivered the city of His people from the army of Satan. Reject all counterfeit messengers and their phony gospel. Distinguish true wisdom from false. Things are not always the way they seem.

Faithfulness Pleases God

Beware of a common saying which we hear today that implies that God doesn’t care about our faithfulness but only our faith.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 4-6; Second Corinthians 10

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

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 change Him 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 ultimately 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.

Think about it

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 the faithfulness that pleases God.

Why Life is Not Vain

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

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 1-3; Second Corinthians 9

Selected Verses

All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?  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

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. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. Second Corinthians 9:10-12

Reflections

Solomon (who, we believe, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes) invested the time, money, and effort to pursue the meaning of life. But he came up with a rather bleak picture. After all his study and experimentation, he concluded that “All is vanity.” The best humans can hope for, he wrote, 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” (3:12-13).  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.

Think about it

When God’s people use the resources He supplies to serve others, this action produces win-win results for all. Blessing flows to the generous and to the needy. 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! Life is not vain and neither are good works done for Him.

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.

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.

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.