Archive

Archive for the ‘Authenticity in the Faith’ Category

Commending Ourselves

June 26th, 2018

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10 NIV)

To the title of this devotional someone would object: “But should we even be concerned with commending ourselves to others?” After all, Paul wrote, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor.10:18). First, we should notice that this verse comes from the same letter of Paul – 2 Corinthians – as the passage above, and, in fact, uses the same Greek word: sunistemi, meaning “commend” or “approve” or “demonstrate.” It is the same word as used in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrated his love to us in this, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

We should not seek to commend ourselves to others in a way that we appear to be something that we are not, or something that we are not by the grace of God. As Paul also wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). Even though much of what he had become was through his own hard work, he was quick to explain this: “I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 cor. 15:10). God had supplied the motivation, the daily power and strength in his life, and the capacity for learning and knowledge. This was so clear to Paul that he could not take any credit for anything in his life – it was all by the grace and unearned favor of God.

But as Christians we still need to know who is who, what level of maturity is someone at in his life, how committed is he, and so on. We need to know this not to judge one another, or to compete with one another, but to see who is sincere and who is not, who we should entrust with leadership and who is not yet ready for it.

Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, gave us a set of simple standards to use, the same standards that he used. Look at the list above: endurance, hardships, beatings and imprisonments, hard work, purity, going without, yet maintaining truthful speech. Though he was misunderstood, he responded in love and grace, letting God commend him. We see in these words a beautiful picture of a mature and loving man of God. And this is how we commend ourselves to one another, also. Not by boastings, or posturing, or by putting others down, but by sincere commitment to God and love for people, and by letting God commend us.

As a first year missionary, I was asked to lead in the scripture reading for our annual mission meeting in the Philippines, just before our main speakers shared from their hearts. That year we had Dr Baker james Cauthen and his wife, Eloise, as our speakers. Dr Cauthen was the Executive Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board (that became the International Mission Board) of Southern Baptists from 1954 to 1979. At that time they had already begun formal retirement but continued to serve as God gave them strength and opportunities to do so. Dr Cauthen passed away just a few years later.

They had served long overseas in China in the 1930’s and 40’s, and had faced many hardships. Under his leadership, the missionary force increased from 908 to also 3,000. They were great souls. As a young missionary, just thirty years old, I knew my job was to read the scripture and just sit down. What could I possibly say that would be on the same level as what they had shared? I managed to say that I had appreciated greatly their teaching, and then got out of the way quickly.

They commended themselves to us as deep, mature, sacrificial, loving, and mature believers. They had great gifts fo leadership, but they would say like Paul, “By the grace of God we are what we are.” They impressed us with their humility and dependence on the Lord, with their compassion for us, and with a lifetime of service. Have you been in the presence of people like this? Can you become someone like this?

Of course, shallow people will always admire the least important things about us. They will be impressed by positions, talents, knowledge, and power. Though we should love all and let God do with them what he wills, it is also true that the shallow people are not always worth our time or energy. But the people worth investing in will be impressed not by the surface things, but by commitment and endurance of hardship, by humility and genuine love. This is how we are to commend ourselves to one another – for then surely it is God who had sustained us.

Authenticity in the Faith, Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties

Testing our Motives

May 7th, 2018

[Jesus] said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)

Our faith is qualified by our motives, and not only by our expectations. If I believe God will do what He promises, then, well enough, I have faith. But still behind that thought may be simply a desire for a personal reward, that God will bless me as He has promised. It may not be driven by an unselfish desire for God and for others.

For example, the Bible says:”Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). If I give with the expectation that I shall get, and that is the only motivation in my heart, then my faith is still lacking an essential element. It is still all about me and what I shall receive.

God is gracious and often we receive some element of blessing because of our faith, even when that faith is imperfect. But Christ still put the emphasis on our motive. Our faith is not merely belief in God and in His promises. It must reveal a change of heart, a new attitude, genuine love for God and compassion for others. If we give only so that we will receive, then we have not ventured out into the realm of real faith.

Christ emphasized motive even over the amount that is given. He said, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42). The motive of rewarding another person’s faith in Christ brought the promise of a reward even if the gift was merely a cup of cold water. This is not to discount the fact that, generally speaking, the more loving and unselfish we are the further we will go for Christ, the more we shall endure for Him and others, and the more we will give for His cause.

So Christ always goes to the heart of the matter, and that is the condition of our hearts.  Moses interceded so deeply and personally for the people of Israel, asking God to forgive their sins, to the point that he prayed for his name to be blotted out of the book of God :”If you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exod. 32:32).*

Paul echoed the same sentiment as he prayed for his people Israel: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Rom. 9:3). God did not allow such sacrifices by Moses and Paul for their people. The Bible says, “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them, for the redemption of his soul is costly…” (Psalm 49:7-8). Only Christ could die for the sins of others, and He died for the sins of the whole world, for the sins of all those who will trust in Him.

But still the sentiment is admirable and most Christ-like. People often expect great fan-fare and attention paid to them for giving that which cost them very little in personal discomfort or inconvenience. But the greater love is the one that is expressed toward those who cannot or will not say thank you, who cannot repay. Truly it is said that until we have such love for another person we have not truly lived.

And the greatest love is the love that Christ plants in our hearts for God by His Spirit, that wishes to do all we can, whatever we can, for Christ and for His cause in this world. Truly this is genuine life. Never feel sorry for someone who has a cause worth living and sacrificing for, and worth dying for. These are the only ones among us who truly live.

 

________________________________

*”The book that you have written” – some skeptics point out that this word is out of historical context for in the days of Moses books as we know them today had not yet been invented. But this original word sepher means a scroll or certificate, or a title deed. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians compiled books of writings on clay tablets in the third millennium B.C., long before the appearance of Abraham on the scene of history. The precise date of the invention of writing is unknown simply because the more common writing materials are of perishable material.

Authenticity in the Faith, Prayer