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Archive for September, 2017

To Spend and Be Spent

September 29th, 2017

And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you… (2 Cor. 12:15 KJV)

There is more than one currency in this world.

There are the currencies of time, effort, energies, opportunities, power, influence, praise and reputation, and we could name a thousand more that, along with money, we will spend on this earth for some purpose. The purpose of Christ, however, redirects all of our currencies to serve Him and not ourselves. Christ, who “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7) calls us also to go out into the world to serve and not to be served.

There are obligations we have to care for those of our household, and we are taught that the neglect to fulfill that obligation makes one “worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8), even if this neglect is done in the “name of God.” So none of us can use the excuse, whether pastor or layperson, that we’re too busy serving God and are unable to fulfill our family obligations. Yet all of this can be placed in the hands of God, under the Lordship of Christ, in faith that He will lead and guide and remain faithful to His promises. We should model for our children not the fear of the greedy man but the confident generosity of the man of faith, who trusts that goodness and mercy shall follow him all the days of his life (Psalm 23:6).

And there are also obligations we have to protect our health, as Paul wrote to Timothy instructing him about both diet and exercise (1 Tim. 5:23 and 1 Tim. 4:8). Jesus often led His disciples on mini-retreats to recharge them spiritually and emotionally.

Risk is inherent in this matter of service, for no one can be spent for other lives and know always for certain that those lives will be terribly fruitful. Most of us have a mixed record in that regard, that we have done just a little in some areas and the people were very fruitful with our sacrifice and investment in them, and we have done a great deal of work for those who are less fruitful. The parable of the Good Samaritan never reveals to us what became of the Israelite that the Samaritan rescued, and most often on this earth we are left in a similar fog with regard to the future value to the lives we save and serve.

So service and sacrifice, spending and being spent for others, is a value in itself alone. Just as Christ loved this fallen world and emptied Himself and was obedient to the cross, so He calls us to serve out of His love for others.

But let us take heart and remember that no service for Christ among His people is ever wasted. He has promised that He will complete the work of salvation in every believer’s life (Phil. 1:6). “Faithful is he who calls you and he will do it” (1 Thes. 5:24). This is why Paul said that his calling was for building up and not tearing down (2 Cor. 13:10). God is at work in every believer’s life and each is precious and worthy of our investment and sacrifice. Certainly some are growing more slowly than others, and some will enter heaven as those escaping through the flames (1 Cor. 3:15). Yet God is working in each life, and who, other than God, can say that the effort invested in one generation that seems almost wasted will not pay off in great dividends for the kingdom in future generations, as the younger ones in the family, or even those not yet born, rise up from those seeds of truth planted in that family and become more for Christ than we could ever imagine.

There is only one direction of call of God in each life and that is upward, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14 ESV).

Are you willing to spend and be spent for Christ?

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Paul’s Victory over His Thorn

September 28th, 2017

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:8-10 NIV)

Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” that led him to the sustaining grace of God. All believers relate to this reality in Paul’s life.

What was his thorn in the flesh? We do not know for sure and there have been many suggestions - recurring malarial fever, a strange birth defect, endless speculations. The lead favorite from what we can glean from scripture was some sort of eye disease which left him with poor vision, an unsightly appearance, and painful discomfort. That is based on two statements of Paul:

I am sure you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible. (Gal. 4:15 NLT)

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! (Gal. 6:11 NIV)

The second verse above suggests that the letter to the Galatians had been written by a secretary of sort, an amanuensis who wrote legibly. This was a common custom of that day before word processors and printers. But at the end of the letter Paul took the pen in hand himself and due to his poor eyesight his writing was large.

But this is still mere conjecture and we do not know for sure. The lack of certainty about what it was specifically has allowed people with a variety of physical problems to identify with Paul.

What had he done about it? Three times he had pleaded with God to remove it, suggesting three separate seasons of prayer for the problem to be healed. We may also assume that he had sought some medical attention, for Dr Luke, the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14), traveled with him. But despite prayer and medical attention it was unhealed.

His breakthrough came through faith. God spoke to him in this instance that His grace was sufficient for him. Paul gained victory over his condition not by its removal but by his faith in the power and purposes of God. The spiritual always transcends the earthly and physical with God, and He is willing to sacrifice the physical to enrich the spiritual in our lives. God used this physical weakness to teach Paul to depend on God constantly, and not upon himself.

Using our imaginations we can catch a glimpse of the power of this act of God. Paul would never have become the man of God that he did become without this thorn in the flesh, for it brought him to regularly depend on God. It helped him rise up in faith and in the power of God, and not in the power of Paul. He found constant spiritual strength in his weaknesses.

How are you weak? What ways of weakness has God entrusted to you that you might stand in His strength? There is nothing wrong with asking for healing and deliverance - even Christ prayed that the cup of suffering on the cross be removed from His life. But when God gives His answer then we are to accept that this problem comes by God’s permissive will and through it we will learn more about the grace and power of God than we would ever learn on our own.

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.(1 John 5:4b NIV)

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