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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

The Season of Isolation

May 18th, 2018

You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness. (Psalm 88:18)

We prefer those psalms that speak of the overcoming love of God, such as Psalm 23 that proclaims “The Lord is my shepherd,” and “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” We rejoice with the psalmist who explains his feelings of weakness and poverty but then breaks through with faith in God, such as Psalm 40:17 that says, “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinks about me.”

But Psalm 88 is also inspired of God for the upbuilding of our souls. In this psalm the psalmist feels isolated, but there is no break through of victorious faith in the midst of his aloneness. There is only the isolation. What should be our thoughts in the days of isolation, when friends avoid us, when even God seems to have deserted us, and our faith is feeble and weak? Rest assured that such days come to us in life, when, due to sickness, or perhaps a shameful thing in our life, or perhaps for no reason at all except that we are falsely accused, that those who should befriend us and comfort us desert us. And in such circumstances our faith is so weak we can no longer feel God’s presence – even though He is certainly there. He will never forsake us (Matt. 28:20).

A Cry to God

The first thing that recommends this psalmist to our hearts is that despite his circumstances and his feelings of aloneness he had the faith to cry out to God. Often that is the first key that brings us out of depression – not the faith to claim the victory, we are not ready for that, but the faith to complain to God. To claim is better than to complain, but at least the complaining prayer leads us to speak to the Author of Life.

An Acknowledgement of God’s Steadfast Love

The second positive attribute we notice is that the psalmist knew that God’s love was steadfast, reliable, steady and dependable. God loves us because of who He is, and He relates to us in His grace. The psalmist did not change his definition of God’s love. He retained it in his mind for what it was and what it shall always be – strong, eternal, gracious, and steady.

Many a person in isolation will let his soul’s doubts pollute his mind. He’ll say to himself, “I guess God is not loving as I thought Him to be,” or words to that effect. But this isolated psalmist retained the knowledge and the expectation of biblical faith. He said: “Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?” (Psalm 88:11) He did not say to God that His love was not steadfast. He used the word chesed that is also translated as God’s “loving kindness.”

He Identifies the Heart of the Matter

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. He does not accept that any type of life worth living can be achieved away from God. The psalmist did not complain merely because men had rejected him, but because he felt that God had also rejected him. It was not the absence of God’s hand that hurt him, so much as the absence of God’s face. He said to God:

But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me? (Psalm 88:13-14)

An element of faith is found in that expression. If life was not what he wanted it to be, he still did not cast away the definition that God had given him. He continued in prayer and in calling on the Lord. His prayer was a duty, but not merely so. It was not a dead action that he thought would reap some results. Prayer was for him communion with God, as one speaks with his dear friend.

He Left the Matter with God

Even in the abruptness of its ending this psalm teaches us something. The author does not break through to praise and faith. He ends his prayer as he began it, in a sense of isolation. And there is how we often end our prayers. We must let God answer in His way and in His time.

I recall a man in a church where we had previously served experiencing a severe isolation like this, after we had gone to serve oversees. He was falsely accused of a sexual crime against a minor. Of course, the matter needed to be investigated, but during the police investigation the man and his entire family felt overwhelmed with isolation. The church people did not know what to believe. The mother had formerly sang in the middle of the adult worship choir, and she had a lovely face that was expressive and encouraging. Suddenly, due to this false accusation, she felt rejected, alone, isolated, and shamed, as did their teenagers and especially the husband himself.

It took most of a year before the matter was legally resolved and the man was pronounced innocent, but how many sleepless nights did they experience during that time? How many times did they pray such a prayer as Psalm 88 to the Lord? Some supported them through it all, but even then, people wondered if the accusation was true. During this painful process the family found out who their true friends were, and they were not who they had thought they were.

The reasons we may feel isolated are too many to name. But in such times, and I believe we shall experience them at least once in our journey of life on this earth, take the matter to God. If you do not have the faith to claim, then at least have the faith to complain to Him. And as long as we are still talking to Him, God can guide us through it all. Remember, it was Job’s complaints and accusations against God that sparked God’s response. And though God rebuked him, He used it to also comfort and restore him.

Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties, Psalms