Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Resisting Fear

Resisting Fear

"Did Paul cleverly deceive us"?

That might have been the question that kept hounding the Thessalonians. The first chapter of Paul's letter to the Thessalonians was meant to encourage and praise their pursuit of God. But there is a hint of defensiveness in Paul's words.

For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with with much contention. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6)

That Paul defends his actions and motives suggests that there were some who doubted him. Some in the church at Thessalonica discounted his ministry, accusing Paul of deception, uncleanness, and trickery. The Thessalonian Christians may have been discouraged by the wave of persecution that resulted from their faith. They seem to have struck out against Paul.

That's what trouble will often do. It will cause us to forget or doubt what we once held strongly. Paul is reminding the Thessalonians of the truth: from the beginning, not only had they responded in faith to God's ministry, but Paul himself had been completely honest and faithful in bringing God's Word to them.

Fear of Emptiness

The first attitude that Paul addressed was the Thesslonians' fear that their faith, and Paul's ministry, was emptiness.

For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain... (1 Thessalonians 2:1)

"Vain" means empty. Bringing a cup empty of water to one who thirsts is vain. Promising to bring a cup of water, yet coming empty-handed renders the promise vain. The Thessalonians must have felt that Paul's preaching were just empty promises of peace and prosperity.

Paul experienced this lack of support during his ministry to the Corinthians. Some in the church doubted that Christ had physically been resurrected from the dead. Paul argued that our entire spiritual life depended upon the certainty of Christ's resurrection. Without faith in a living Christ, all faith is empty.

And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

Fear of deception

The Corinthians and the Thessalonians shared a common fear. They feared that the work, faith, and endurance that they had first experienced were based upon a clever lie of Paul...that Paul had come to them empty, devoid of truth. The overwhelming persecution surrounding them had caused them to lash out at the one they felt was at the center of their troubles. They blamed Paul for empty promises.

Paul recognized the stress the Thessalonians were under. also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men... (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15)

How does Paul respond to their fear? How does he reassure them? He reminds them of his own personal suffering on their behalf.

Responding to Fear with Boldness

But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. (1 Thessalonians 2:2)

Here, Paul refers to a previous incident. In Philippi, Paul and his companions were met by a slave girl who was controlled by a spirit who gave her the power to predict the future. Paul commanded the spirit to leave the girl, and her owners convinced the authorities to arrest Paul and Silas on charges of inciting riot and advocating unlawful customs. They were stripped, flogged, and imprisoned. Their very next destination after Philippi was Thessalonica. (Acts 16:16-40)

The word, "bold" means to speak freely, confidently. It means literally, "pouring forth all".

Paul had every reason to expect the Thessalonians to respond to the gospel as the Philippians had: with arrest and violence. Yet he boldly preached; he "poured forth" the gospel.

A part of encouraging those who are in the midst of trouble is to remind them of those who were bold on their behalf. The Thessalonian Christians were discouraged by the persecution they were encountering, and they were doubting the truth they had accepted when Paul first preached to them. So Paul is reminding them of his boldness and confidence, even in the midst of similar trouble.

Are you discouraged now? Are you struggling to remember why you became a Christian, what good it has done you? Think back now and see if there were any bold Christians in your past. Was there someone who took the trouble to speak to you in the beginning about your relationship with the God Who created and loves you? Did someone risk personal embarrassment, or even harm, to reach out to you?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Get Naked For God

Get Naked For God

My son was a gymnast when he was younger, and I came across a word in the Bible that comes directly from the sport of gymnastics. But more than just being an interesting word, it leads to what I think is the most important thing in life, and the key to enjoying life and feeling fulfilled.

Read the following verse and focus on the words “train” and “training”:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

“Train” and “training” are translated from a Greek word: gumnadzo. This is where we get our English word, “gymnast” and “gymnasium”. This Greek word literally means to get naked and practice. It comes from “gumnos”, which means nude.

Why is this important? Think about why an athlete would strip down to practice. A dedicated, serious athlete wants nothing to slow him or her down. Clothing can restrict you, hinder you, slow you down. This shows how much the athlete values his training.

Now, this verse says that godliness is so important that if it were an athletic sport, you'd want to strip down to nothing and practice it every day. It says that godliness is so important that it has value not only for every day living, but also for life after death. Where we end up after we die depends upon godliness.

So, what is “godliness”?

Godliness is translated from a Greek word that literally means, “good worship”. It was used to describe a person who loved to worship God and practiced doing what was important. It means to believe only what is true, and acting upon what you believe.

That finally leads to what I'm really trying to say:

What is important in life?

The Bible says that Jesus was God, that he took on the body and life of an ordinary person, that he lived absolutely without sin, that he died to pay the penalty for the sin of every other person who had ever lived or ever will live, and that he came back to life after three days in the grave. This is the one we call Saviour and Lord.

Godliness is believing this and acting like it is so important that we strip away everything that might hinder us so that we can love God and do good for those around us. Getting “naked” for God doesn't mean taking off our means getting rid of anything that distracts or hinders us from enjoying Him.

So what am I trying to tell you? Here is what's important in life:

1. You need to decide what you think about the Bible. Either it is a hodge-podge of stories, some good, some confusing, or it is the absolutely true Word of God. If it is absolutely true, then you've got to spend at least five minutes every day reading a part of it and asking God to help you understand it and make it real in your life. If it's not absolutely true, then you can't trust any of it, and you should ignore it. But you've got to make a decision, and if it is absolutely true, you can't take the chance of missing out on what it says.

2.You need to thank God every day for what He's doing for you. You need to honor Him in your heart and mind, thinking of Him as the greatest person who exists.

3.You need to find friends who think about God in the same way that you do. Spend time with them to encourage them, and learn from them, and work together with them to help other people.

I need to remember these things more than anyone else. I struggle with keeping the important things first in my life. We all have things we sometimes do that makes us feel badly because they don't honor God and they hurt us, either emotionally or physically. But if we don't have a relationship with God, everything else will be empty, and our problems will seem so unending that we'd eventually become grouchy, depressed, cynical, old people with no hope.

I don't want to feel overwhelmed by life and think that what I see is all I get. A daily, living, sincere relationship with the God who created me is absolutely necessary to get me through the stress.

But more than just helping us have a better life here on earth, a right relationship with God is absolutely necessary for eternity. The Bible says that our sin separates us from God, and if we die separated from God, we die as strangers to Him, without hope, without any right to living with him after we die. We've all got sins, and nothing we do is sufficient to pay for them. Our only hope is to accept the sacrifice that Jesus gave...his death pays the penalty for our sin, and his resurrection is the proof that God will accept us as His children and will bring us to Himself when we die.

This is a life or death decision, and it has to be made by each person before he or she dies. Has God forgiven my sin because Jesus died for me, or am I free to make up any kind of religion that makes me feel good? If Jesus is not who he said he was, then he's either a madman or a wicked, lying devil. If he's who he says he was, we have to act on what he said.

So, this is meant to be a reminder to myself, and an encouragement to you: get naked for God! Strip off anything that distracts you. Strip off your worries and ignore the devil's attempts to mislead you. Make a relationship with God the most important part of your life, and everything else will fall into place.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

For What Should We Pray?

For What Should We Pray?

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

For what should we pray? Health? Food? Safety? Money to pay our debts? Friends to encourage us? Understanding? Direction? We should certainly ask God for what we lack. But remember that God has required many believers to go without these important benefits. He allowed Job to lose all of these things (Job 1). God has in the past required saints to undergo times of tremendous pain and loss (Hebrews 11:36-38).

But there IS one thing that God will ALWAYS provide to those who ask: His peace!

God may not choose to grant us health, food, or safety. We may lack money. Friends may disappoint and we often will lack understanding and direction despite our heartfelt prayer. Yet God will NEVER allow us to live without His peace. We need daily to ask God to provide what we lack, but we should always end our prayers by asking God to give us the one thing that is absolutely necessary...the one thing that He promises to all who ask...the one thing that will carry us through every loss...His peace, that which goes beyond understanding.

Remember: we don’t need answers...we don’t need to understand the situation...we don’t even need to know the next step...we just need His peace. We need to rest, believing that God is in control and that He will do what is best for us.

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Faithful Work, Loving Labor, and Hope-filled Patience

Faithful Work, Loving Labor, and Hope-filled Patience

Paul continually remembered the "work of faith" found in the Thessalonian Christians.

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father...(1 Thessalonians 1:3)

"Work of faith" is translated from a single Greek word, "ergon", from which we get our English word, "ergonomics", the science that improves the efficiency and safety of work environments. It means business, employment, product, or act.

"Faith" in the Greek means a conviction of truth, to persuade, to trust.

What work qualifies as faithful?

...You became imitators of us and of the welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit..." (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
...You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead---Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
...We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living..." (1 Thessalonians 4:1)

The Thessalonians produced "faith-work" by imitating other faithful lives, patterned after the life of Christ. The Holy Spirit of God had full reign over their hearts, making Him free to give them joy in hearing God's gospel message. They repented of their sins and lived each day in recognition of the Almighty God Who created and sustained them. They accepted Jesus as the Son of God, their Sacrifice for sin, their Redeemer and Savior. They were now living to please God, rather than themselves. This was their "work of faith", their "faith-product".

Philippians 2:12: " out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

Faith-work is allowing God to work through us. Our deeds cannot save us...the gulf between our righteous acts and God's standard of holiness is like that of dirty rags to clean linen...but a Christian cannot help but do good if they are allowing God's Spirit free reign to their life.

With their faithful work, the Thessalonian Christians demonstrated "labor prompted by love". (1 Thessalonians 1:3) "Labor" is often a synonym for work, so is Paul being redundant in praising the Thessalonians for their "labor of love"? A close examination of the original language shows a great difference between "labor" and "work".

"Labor" is translated from a Greek word that means to cut, repeated blows, or hacking. It was used as a synonym for toil that reduces one's strength, or pain. It comes from a word meaning to chop or or beat one's breast for grief. Visualize a person deeply mourning the death of a child, striking their head in disbelief, hitting the wall in frustration and pain. This is the meaning of the word, "labor".

When the woman anointed Jesus with the precious alabaster, his dull-hearted followers reprimanded her. Jesus defended her, reproaching them for the pain they caused her. The word, "trouble" is translated from the same word as "labor".

When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.(Matthew 26:10)

Paul included "labor" in his description of his ministry.

But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings...(2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

Paul used this word twice in the following passage. Both "labors" and "weariness" are translations of the same Greek word.

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

Paul endured exhausting toil and trouble for the sake of others.

For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

"Labor of love" represents the sacrificial love expressed by the Christians in Thessalonica towards each other. This immediately brings to mind Jesus's words written by the Apostle John:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:34-35)

The writer of Hebrews echoes the same sentiment.

For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: 12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:10-12)

This passage from Hebrews contains the same elements that we see in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians: work, love, ministry, hope, faith, and patience.

When Paul praised the Thessalonians for their "labor of love", he was recognizing the trouble, the pain, distress, and danger they endured for the sake of loving others. Genuine, unconditional love is never easy, never without personal pain and sacrifice.

Finally, Paul commended the Thessalonians for their "patience of hope". (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

"Patience" is translated from a Greek word meaning cheerful and hopeful steadfastness, constancy, or endurance. It comes from a word meaning to remain, undergo, or persevere. Literally, it means to "under-stay". It implies humble endurance, waiting upon someone you respect and trust.

A good illustration of patience is that of a farmer. God's Word is often compared to seed, and Christians are to patiently allow His words to grow in our hearts.

But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15)
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. (James 5:7-11)

Paul described patience as being essential to a Christian's spiritual growth, showing that patience comes from experiencing trouble, and it results in hope and love.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.(Romans 5:4-5)

Patience brings comfort, allowing Christians to love one another, bringing glory to God.

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4-6)

"Hope" means an expectation, of evil or of good. It comes from a word that means to anticipate with pleasure. It is NOT "wishful thinking", or unfounded anticipation. It implies certainty and confidence.

Hope is always founded in truth, and hope in God is founded in His promises to us. Standing before unbelieving Jews, Paul claims the hope of God's promise.

And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers...(Acts 26:6)

A vivid illustration of hope is found in the life of Abraham. There was strong physical evidence to show that he would never have an heir. He and his wife were old, aged far beyond childbearing years. But Abraham considered the promise of God to have greater weight than mere appearances. He did not ignore his age...he "hoped against hope", putting God's promise higher than human perspective.

Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. (Romans 4:18-21)

Paul's praise of the Thessalonians is a tremendous encouragement to us continue in trusting God.

Our lives glorify God as we recognize His work on our behalf, resulting in faithful work for Him.

Love is never easy, never cheap. It means sacrifice of time, money, comfort, and safety. Ministry is always a labour of love.

Hopeful patience is based upon the trustworthiness and goodness of the One upon which we wait: Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father...(1 Thessalonians 1:3).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Eternal Life

Eternal Life

Eternal after death...nirvana...all religions describe their view of the great mystery. But what does the Bible say? Is heaven a place of reward or a state of perfection?

Paul (little one), a servant (dedicated to humble service) of God, and an apostle (one sent out) of Jesus Christ, according to (in regard to) the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after (in regard to) godliness (adoration and obedience toward God) in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; (Titus 1:1-2)

Look at the little word, "in". In the Greek it is a preposition meaning superimposition, over, upon, etc. It is properly translated as "on", showing that our faith and knowledge rest upon the promise of eternal life.

In the same letter to Titus, Paul mentions hope, connecting the hope of eternal life with the glorious appearing of Christ.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ...(Titus 2:11-13)

Our future hope is the appearing of Jesus Christ, bringing eternal life. Our confident expectation of eternal life is based on our relationship to Christ...he shares his life with us (inheritance).

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.(Titus 3:7)
And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.(Hebrews 9:15)

Jesus described eternal life as simply "life".

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.(Matthew 19:16-17)

There are only two eternal destinies: life or punishment.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.(Matthew 25:46)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.(John 3:16)
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.(John 3:36)

Eternal life, heaven, and the kingdom of God all describe the afterlife. (See Mark 10:17-30)

Jesus said that He was the source of eternal life.

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. (John 5:40) And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.(John 5:39)
For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us...(1 John 1:2)
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13)
For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself...(John 5:26)

Eternal life is the same as eternal salvation (rescue) or redemption (ransomed).

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;(Hebrews 5:9)

Eternal life is the result of God's judgement (Greek, "krima", decision):

Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.(Hebrews 6:2)

Eternal life is glorious, a state of perfectlon, stability, and strength, surrounded by the lordship of Christ.

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory (very apparent) by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect (thoroughly complete), stablish (set fast, secure), strengthen, settle (set on a firm foundation) you. To him be glory and dominion (power) for ever and ever. Amen.(1 Peter 5:10-11)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apostle of Jesus Christ

Apostle of Jesus Christ

Paul identified himself af a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. As servant, Paul belonged to God---he was "tied" to God and committed to service and obedience. As an apostle, Paul was "set apart", sent out or commissioned by Jesus to preach.

Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness...(Titus 1:1)

The word, "apostle" comes directly from the Greek word, "apostolos", meaning a delegate or ambassador. It comes from two combined words meaning set apart, or sent out. The two words literally mean "set fast away", where "fast" means secure, or unshakeable. An apostle was unshakenly commissioned to be God's ambassador.

Paul was called apostle because Jesus had commanded him to preach the gospel, the good news of salvation.

But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; (Titus 1:3)

Paul was a sort of apostle even before being commissioned by Jesus. He was a self-proclaimed "enforcer" for the radical Jews that hated Jesus.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

But Paul's heart was dramatically converted, and he became an apostle of Jesus Christ.

...for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:(Acts 9:15)
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews:(Acts 13:2-5)

Paul was a "late-comer" as an apostle. Jesus had appointed twelve men early in His ministry, including Judas, who would later betray Him. These original apostles (except Judas) followed Jesus, saw Him crucified, and witnessed His resurrection. Paul did not become a Christian until well after the Church had begun to grow.

There is some indication that Paul encountered opposition to his being considered one of the apostles.

If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 9:2)

Paul himself was humbled by his commission as apostle, but he did not doubt it.

And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.(1 Corinthians 15:8-10)

But no matter what groups disputed with Paul, or how humble he felt about being counted worthy by Jesus to preach for Him, the other apostles fully accepted Paul.

And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship...(Galatians 2:9)

I think we all feel unworthy at times...we think back to things we're ashamed of, and we might wonder, Can God really love me? We need to remember all His promises, and realize that, like Paul, "God so loved us, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

God is glorified by the mercy He shows to those He forgives.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Little Life Lesson

God will at times stir us to notice some little, insignificant detail of ordinary life and lead us down a path of thought that helps us to understand truth. Jesus once pointed to a flower and made his disciples notice the colorful beauty of a simple flower. He saw in that flower a reminder that God provides clothing for even a much more will He provide for us?

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: (Matthew 6:29) And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Matthew 6:30) Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? (Matthew 6:28)

A small detail concerning the Apostle Paul can remind us of the change that God brings to the life of one who loves and trusts Him. And by "small" detail, I mean literally, "little"!

Paul, a servant of God

The name of Paul is common, and common names seem to lose impact when we use them. But names are derived from words that have meaning and significance. Paul's name comes from a Greek word, Paulos, meaning "little". A person introduced to Paul would immediately form a first impression based on the idea of smallness or humility. Paul often mentioned his "leastness", or an aura of smallness that characterized his appearance to the world.

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea,and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you...For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. (2 Corinthians 10:1,10)

Paul was evidently so small physically that he could fit in a basket when being rescued from persecution!

And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands. (2 Corinthians 11:33)

Paul rejoiced in his weaknesses and smallness because it allowed God to show Himself great...none but a great God can work powerfully in a small, weak person.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Paul was humbled by the tremendous support and confidence given to him by God.

Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; (Ephesians 3:7-8)

Paul was a living example of his name, a physically small, weak man, whose only claim to success could be that he loved Jesus and he allowed God to work through his life.

But Paul was not always known as "Paul". His given name was Saul, and that's how he is introduced to us in Scripture: Saul the Pharisee, a legalistic, ultra-religious Jew, bitterly obsessed with destroying anyone who followed the "heretic", Jesus Christ. We see this first when Saul helped to kill the young Christian, Stephen:

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul...And Saul was consenting unto his death. (Acts 7:57-58, 8:1)

Paul the apostle would later write about his old life:

...If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church...(Philippians 3:4-6)

Paul's given name was Saul, which is from a Hebrew word, "Sha'al", which means to ask, inquire, request, or to demand. Does Paul's life before Christ show evidence of assertiveness, demanding information or obedience of others? Was the character of "Saul the Jew" different than that of "Paul the Christian"? First, let's see some example of how the Hebrew word, "Sha'al" was used.

In the Old Testament, Isaac and his wife, Rebekah, journeyed to the country of the Philistines, looking for refuge from famine, and immediately ran into conflict:

And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon. (Genesis 26:7)

The word for "asked" used here is not a simple request for information, otherwise Isaac would not have felt fear. The implication is that the men demanded that Rebekah be available for their "social pleasure". The demand implied that nothing should stand in the way of their desires, so Isaac lied to save his own life. (Actually, Rebekah WAS Isaac's cousin! See Genesis 24:15)

The great Writer of Songs and Oracle of Wisdom, King Solomon, spent time in his youth tasting of all that life could offer.

And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. (Ecclesiastes 2:10)

The word, "desired" is the same Hebrew word used to express "demand". Solomon didn't merely ask for luxury and pleasure, he demanded them. Incidentally, Solomon eventually realized that unlimited pleasure was empty and vain unless one's life is lived to glorify and enjoy God. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-14)

Saul/Paul the Apostle also used this word, or at least he acted out the intent of that word before he gave his life to Christ. Saul the Jew was vehemently opposed to Christians and actively sought authority to destroy their faith.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And DESIRED of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

Again, Saul did not simply ask for the letters of authority...he didn't weakly desire them. The clear intent expressed in this verse is that Saul aggressively demanded the letters. The word "Sha'al" carries the implication that it is a demand for something due...Saul felt he deserved the authority and that he owned the right to persecute heretics.

Paul would later write of this phase of his life,

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of of the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13-14)

Saul's violent, aggressive, demanding nature continued until Jesus Christ Himself put a stop to it, suddenly and decisively:

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou,Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. (Acts 9:3-9)

Saul the Demander became Saul the Follower. He allowed a Christian named Ananias to heal his blindness and teach him the truth about Jesus, and he accepted the Lordship and spiritual calling given to him by God. God took an agressive, self-righteous, demanding unbeliever and filled his life with a new purpose and love. God said of Saul,

...he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel... (Acts 9:15)

Scripture does not record when or how Saul's name changed to Paul. Most likely, he himself changed his name to reflect his new life, but those who knew him before probably continued to call him Saul. It's entirely possible that Saul began to introduce himself as "Paul, the Little Man Who Follows a Big God". His new friends would call him Paul, and his old friends would refer to him as "Saul, also known as Paul".

It is significant that Scripture would begin to refer to Saul as "Paul" during a conflict between the Apostle and a Jewish sorceror, the false prophet named Elymas, or "Bar-Jesus". The sorceror worked for a Roman proconsul named Sergius Paulus, who was seeking to learn more about Jesus Christ. But the sorceror opposed Christianity and attempted to use deceit and trickery to destroy the proconsul's growing faith. Saul confronted Elymas:

Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. (Acts 13:9-11)

The sorceror was rebuked and made blind through the faithful ministry of a man who himself once was blinded during a violent rampage against Christians. How ironic! How God-coincidental!

Don't take this focus on humility as a condemnation of assertiveness. There is definitely a time for bold, assertive action, especially concerning the truth and character of God. One vivid example comes to mind: Peter and John's courageous stand for God before the Sanhedrin. They boldly contradicted the council's express command.

But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:17-20)

Be bold for the truth, but humble for yourself!

If you feel small and insignificant, if you suffer from weakness or inadequacy, don't feel too sorry for yourself. Instead, turn your weakness into a prayer to God for Him to show Himself great in your life. Turn your loss into praise for a God who sees, who is sovereign and who is in control, who can work through little and make much.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

After Godliness

Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness...(Titus 1:1)

Both "according to" and "after" are translated from a Greek word that means down, in place or time. It is used to point to a related idea, similar to saying "in regard to".

The Greek word for "godliness" means piety, from a word meaning well-revererent or pious.

"Pious" is an old-fashioned word, often used today in a negative sense, but it originally was a very positive, sincere word. It meant a person was godly; revering and honoring the Supreme Being in heart and in practice. A pious person has veneration and affection for the character of God, and habitually obeys his commands. Piety, or godliness, combines faith with real-life actions.

Paul (little one), a servant (dedicated to humble service) of God, and an apostle (one sent out) of Jesus Christ, according to (in regard to) the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after (in regard to) godliness (adoration and obedience toward God)... (Titus 1:1)

Paul is writing to Titus to encourage him in faith, truth, and godliness. Is "godliness" a realistic goal for everyday Christians? Is godliness just good appearances, or does it spring from a heart sincerely in love with God?

First, a godly life is not to be flashy or confrontational. A quiet and peaceable life characterizes godliness. Paul encouraged Christians to pray for a godly lifestyle:

...for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. (1 Timothy 2:2

Godliness is the expression of our faith...evidence that our beliefs guide our behavior.

But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:15-16)

Here, Paul is listing the beliefs that are the foundation of godliness, expecting his readers to live in accordance to what they believe.

Godliness is a source of help. Paul contrasts godliness with old wive's fables, showing the futility of believing worldly religions. He compares godliness to spiritual exercise, bringing profit (advantage, "heaps of gain") for life here on earth and for eternity to come.

But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

Paul uses an interesting word in this verse. He says to "exercise" godliness. The Greek word for "exercise" is "gumnazo", from which we get our English word, "gynastics" or "gymnasium". It literally means to practice or train naked for athletic events. "gumnazo" comes from "gumnos" which means "nude". The Greek culture completely accepted, and even encouraged, athletes to train naked.

This idea of training without clothing emphasizes the desire to strip away anything that might hinder or distract. For a Christian to exercise godliness, this means to focus on what is true about God and concentrate on living each day in accordance to this truth. A godly Christian loves God, loves the character of God, and loves to walk in obedience to His desires.

Godliness is not hypocritical. It is not weak. It is not "pie in the sky". Godliness is a daily commitment to living a life of love and goodness, regardless of the cost, regardless of the distractions of the world.