Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Can You Find Another like Jesus?

The religion of our Lord Jesus Christ contains in it nothing so wonderful as Himself. It is a mass of marvels, but He is the miracle of it; the wonder of wonders is “the Wonderful” Himself. If proof be asked of the truth which He proclaimed, we point men to Jesus Christ Himself. His character is unique. We defy unbelievers to imagine another like Him. He is God and yet man, and we challenge them to compose a narrative in which the two apparently incongruous characters shall be so harmoniously blended, in which the human and divine shall be so marvelously apparent, without the one overshading the other.

They question the authenticity of the four Gospels; will they try to write a fifth? Will they even attempt to add a few incidents to the life which shall be worthy of the sacred biography, and congruous with those facts which are already described? If it be all a forgery, will they be so good as to show us how it is done? Will they find a novelist who will write another biography of a man of any century they choose, of any nationality, or of any degree of experience, or any rank or station, and let us see if they can describe in that imaginary life a devotion, a self-sacrifice, a truthfulness, a completeness of character at all comparable to that of Jesus Christ Himself? Can they invent another perfect character even if the divine element be left out? They must of necessity fail, for there is none like unto Jesus Himself.

- Charles Spurgeon

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Heavenly Knife

"He prunes every branch that produces fruit--so that it will produce more fruit." John 15:2

The gardener prunes the branches--but not without wise purpose. The Master's words, referring to this process in spiritual husbandry, are rich in their comfort for those on whom the knife is doing its painful work.

For one thing, we are told that "My Father is the husbandman" (verse 1). We know that our Father loves us and would never do anything unloving or hurtful to His children. We know that He is infinitely wise, that He looks far on in our life, planning the largest and the best good for us, not for today only--but for all the future; and that what He does, is certainly the best which could be devised. In every time of sharp pruning, when the knife cuts deep and the pain is sore--it is an unspeakable comfort to read, "My Father is the gardener!"

Another inspiring thought in all such afflictions--is that it is the fruitful branch which the Father prunes. Sometimes godly people say when they are led through great trials, "Surely God does not love me--or He would not afflict me so sorely!" But it takes away all distressing thoughts about our trouble, to read the Master's words, "He prunes every branch that produces fruit." It is not punishment to which we are subjected--but pruning; and it is because we are fruitful that we are pruned.

Still another comfort here is revealed--in the object of the pruning, "He prunes every branch that produces fruit--so that it will produce more fruit." The one object of all God's pruning, is fruitfulness. The figure of pruning helps us to understand this. When one who knows nothing of such processes sees a man cutting away branch after branch of a tree or vine, it would seem to him that the work is destructive. But those who understand the object of the pruning--know that what the gardener is doing, will add to the vine's value and to its ultimate fruitfulness.

Pruning seems to be destroying the vine. The gardener appears to be cutting it all away. But he looks on into the future and knows that the final outcome will be the enrichment of its life, and greater abundance of fruit.

- J. R. Miller

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Every Desire of God is not Equal

"So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." (Rom. 9:18); "this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:3-4)

One of the most basic theological errors about God is thinking every desire of God is equal. That miscue has launched such heresies as Open Theism, where God's nature can change; to Arminianism, where Man's will canʼt be changed -- even by God. But every desire of God is not equal. What God brings to pass and what God wishes would come to pass, many times are not the same. What a cattleman desires of a calf isn't always what He desires of that same calf in the herd. In fact, it may be even contradictory. Three combinations of Godʼs decrees and desires exist:

First, God determines what He desires. This is where God's decrees and God's will for holiness and/or mercy are the same. God brings to pass what God has always desired in His nature and word. For example, it was His desire to g lorify Christ from all eternity with an elect people, and He most certainly will bring that to pass. "He predestined us [decree] to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to HImself, according to the kind intention of His will [desire]" (Eph. 1:5). Both wills are accomplished.

Second, God determines what He does not desire. The classic example is Christ's death on the cross -- pre-determined by the foreknowledge of God, but brought about through what God does not desire -- godless men breaking God's commands (Acts 2:22-23). God decreed to bruise Jesus (Is. 53:4,10) through the betrayal of Judas (Lk. 22:3), the contempt of Herod (Lk. 23:11), the injustice of Pilate (Lk. 23:24), and the hatred of the Jews (Lk. 23:21) -- all sins. God willed that His will not be done, so that His will would be done!

Third, God does not determine what He does desire. This is the above passage in 1 Timothy where God desires all men to be saved, but doesn't20decree their salvation;20or wishing for men to repent (2 Pet. 3:9) but doesn't grant them the gift (2 Tim. 2:25). Some will say that this makes God disingenuous -- saying that He cares when He doesn't save. But insincerity is built on a lie, which God cannot do (Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18). Simply because a husband chooses a wife doesn't mean he hates all other women. God could love and save everyone the same, but for reasons of His own, has chosen not to -- reasons left to His infinite wisdom for the displaying of His glory (Rom. 9:22-23). The error is in reading far too much into "desire" than what God has said, or not enough into it when God has said it.

Be careful how you judge the affections of God -- either by saying He has only one, or that He isn't honest in them. God's goodness doesn't contradict His sovereignty. Remember, people who bury talents in the kingdom of God start with this error (Matt. 25:24-25).

- Mark Lacour

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Power of Sin

One of the most fearful things about sin is its power to harden the one who practices it. The deeper a man goes in sin, the less sin bothers him. . . . Every sinner finds himself now committing sins that he once despised, and the sins that he now despises, he will someday find himself committing. It should shock us to remember that Adolph Hitler was once a little boy playing with toys just like other little boys. Man knows the beginning of sin, but no man has ever known the end of sin.

- Charles Leiter

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Hidden Life

"Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart!" 1 Samuel 16:7
Those who are striving to live near the heart of Christ must realize that it is the hidden life which makes the character. What we are in the depths of our being, where no human eye can penetrate, that is what we are actually, as God sees us. This inner life will ultimately work its way through to the surface--transforming the character into its own quality.

Nothing can be more important, therefore, than that the hidden life be true, pure, beautiful, and Christ-like.

"Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart!" 1 Samuel 16:7

- J. R. Miller

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Was Spurgeon a Calvinist?

Was Spurgeon a passionate, evangelistic, soul-winning, prayerful, witnessing Calvinist?

In 1873, an English evangelical church leader, R. W. Dale of Birmingham, claimed that all Calvinism was now obsolete. In response to this, Spurgeon replied to Dale:

"Those who labor to smother "Calvinism" will find that it dies hard, and, it may be, they will come, after many defeats, to perceive the certain fact that it will outlive its opponents. Its funeral oration has been pronounced many times before now, but the performance has been premature. It will live when the present phase of religious misbelief has gone down to eternal execration amid the groans of those whom it has undone. Today it may be sneered at; nevertheless, it was only yesterday that it numbered among its adherents the ablest men of the age [the same could be said today- MT], and tomorrow it may be, when once again there shall be giants in theology, it will come to the front and ask in vain for its adversaries." [Spurgeon's prophecy in the last sentence has come true- MT]

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The New Birth is a Radical Change

"Therefore if any man is in Christ--he is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new!" 2 Corinthians 5:17

How comprehensive the words--how vast the change! The effect produced by the new birth is radical and thorough: the heart, once so hateful and hating, has now become a fountain of sweet waters, transmitting its pure and holy streams throughout the whole soul, changing the entire conduct of the individual, and working out in its degree a universal holiness of his whole being.

For the Christian, who has received a new nature in regeneration . . . .

The WORLD he once loved is now as a crucified thing.

The PLEASURES he once indulged have lost their charm.

The SINS he once committed are now loathed and forsaken.

The worldly friendships he once enjoyed no longer attract or please him.

The new birth will be manifest in our Christlike mind and spirit . . . the pride and selfishness, the worldliness and frivolity, the levity and man-pleasing, which cropped up so luxuriantly from the soil of our unsanctified heart, will now in a great measure be supplanted by the fruits of righteousness springing from a heart which has been changed, sanctified, and occupied by the Spirit of God.

The walk and conversation of a renewed man will be the outward and visible reflection of inward and invisible grace. As a parent, as a child, as a brother, a sister--so let your light shine, so let your life evidence its reality, so let your change and your faith be visible in its lowliness and gentleness, its lovable and loving spirit, as to command from all who see it the admiring exclamation, "Behold! he is a new creature; old things have passed away; all things are become new!"

- Octavius Winslow

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Your Life Preaches Every Day

A man is what he is on his knees before God and nothing more! In great measure, according to the purity of the instrument, will be success. It is not great talents which God blesses so much as true likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is a powerful weapon in the hand of God.

Study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this; your sermons last but an hour or two, but your life preaches every day! If Satan can only make a minister covetous, or a lover of praise, of pleasure, or of fine worldly things, he has ruined your ministry!

"Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be!"

- Robert Murray M'Cheyne

Friday, September 19, 2008

Kept by Him

John 17:11 Holy Father, keep them.

John 17:15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.

Our being kept is great on the heart of our Intercessor – keep them – and keeping is no small matter, for it is easier to obtain some things than it is to keep them. I know a fellow that bought a car and in six months lost it. You might build a new house, but it is another thing to maintain it. It is easier to bring children into the world than to keep them. Genghis, Alexander, and Rome obtained vast kingdoms, but could not keep them.

The Holy Father keeps His own. It is a great comfort to us. It is a great glory to God, for as the old Puritan said, "It is more wonderful to keep a candle burning in a bucket of water than on a lamp stand." We could have been taken out of the world, but the Lord does not ask for that. "Victory is more glorious than exemption," says another. And it must be quite a frustration to the devil to see his former servants now walking the world in white, to see Daniels in Babylon, to see saints in Caesar's household. No, none were lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture would be fulfilled – God is not frustrated. The elect must persevere, and they will.

- Bob Jennings

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

God Himself is the Refuge of His People

"My help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth! He will not let you stumble and fall; the One who watches over you will not sleep. Indeed, He who watches over Israel never tires and never sleeps. The Lord Himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not hurt you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all evil and preserves your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go--both now and forever." Psalm 121:1-8

The promise of heaven is very alluring to Christian hope. But how can we get there? Seen and unseen perils beset the way--and we have no strength to defend ourselves, or to keep our lives from hurt. To meet these dangers, however, we have the promise of a Guide who is able to guard us on from falling, even from stumbling--and to bring us at last unharmed, without blemish, to the door of our Father's house. "For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death!" Psalm 48:14.

The Bible gives many assurances of protection to the children of God, as they pass through this world. They dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and abide under the shadow of the Almighty. They take refuge under the wings of God. We never can get out from under the shadow of the Almighty. Wherever we may have to go, we shall always have the love of God over us.

There are also promises of protection. We have the assurance that God will not let you stumble and fall. So the divine thought extends even to our feet and to our steps, one by one. There is not an inch in all our pathway through this world which is unwatched, on which the eye of God does not rest. The most watchful human love must sometimes close its eyes in sleep. The most loving mother must sometimes steal from the bedside of her little sick child for a minute's rest. But the divine care never slumbers nor fails, even for a moment. Indeed, "the One who watches over you will not sleep."

In this world of danger, we need never vex ourselves with fear or anxiety, for God is watching, and He never sleeps! There is not a moment by day or by night when we are unguarded. There can be no sudden surprise or danger by which God can be taken unaware.

Christ surrounds His people with an invisible protection, which nothing can tear away. In all our perils, struggles and sorrows He has us in His heart. "Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:20

A Christian woman, walking alone at night, was approached by a stranger. He said, "I see you are alone." "No, sir, I am not alone; I have a friend with me." "I do not see anyone," he said, looking round. The woman quietly answered, "Jesus Christ is with me," and the man turned and fled into the darkness.

So while heaven seems far off, and while the way is full of enemies and dangers, yet no believer, not even the weakest, need perish on the way nor fail to get home. Christ the mighty One has build a road through the world, a safe and secure road, on which all His friends may journey under His guidance and guardianship, without hurt until they enter the Father's house. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish ever! No one can snatch them out of My hand!" John 10:28

- J. R. Miller

Monday, September 8, 2008

Humbled by the Sin of Others

2 Corinthians 12:19-21

2 Corinthians is a vivid, often painful portrayal of the courage, honesty, and vulnerability of the apostle Paul. More so than in any of his other letters, in 2 Corinthians we hear his heart beat, we feel his passions, we are put in touch with his deepest fears and longings and loves. If one is looking for a paradigm of pastoral sensitivity and strength, of unyielding commitment to truth and purity together with compassion and profound concern for his converts, this is the place. Look no further.

I say this because of one remarkable statement in the passage before us today. Although on reading this text you may at first wince a bit at the forceful language of the apostle, read it again, carefully and slowly, and tune your ear to the sound of his love for these people:

"Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish - that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced" (2 Cor. 12:19-21).

D. A. Carson makes the following pointed application to the present day:

"Sadly, too many leaders consciously or unconsciously link their own careers and reputations with the gospel they proclaim and the people they serve. Slowly, unnoticed by all but the most discerning, defense of the truth slips into self-defense, and the best interest of the congregation becomes identified with the best interest of the leaders. Personal triumphalism strikes again, sometimes with vicious intensity. It is found in the evangelical academic who invests all his opinions with the authority of Scripture, in the pastor whose every word is above contradiction, in the leader transparently more interested in self-promotion and the esteem of the crowd than in the benefit and progress of the Christians allegedly being served. It issues in political maneuvering, temper tantrums, a secular set of values (though never acknowledged as such), a smug and self-serving shepherd and hungry sheep."

Note how theology impacts life. Paul's posture throughout the letter, each word that he wrote, his pastoral choices, as well as his attitude toward the Corinthians, all were shaped by his keen and conscious awareness of God's keen and conscious awareness of him! "It is in the sight of God," says Paul (v. 19), that I've conducted myself and fashioned my speech. The all-knowing God, who sees into every motive and method, is witness to the truth of his words. Omniscience changes lives! Theology impacts ethics!

These closing verses of chapter 12 are dominated by Paul's "fear" at the presence of unresolved moral problems in Corinth which he must address upon his arrival. His concern is that he may find them embroiled in "quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder" (v. 20b).

There are, apparently, long-standing and unrepented sexual sins in the church as well. The extent of such sin in Corinth is well-documented. The so-called "lost letter" to the Corinthians was occasioned by "sexually immoral" people in the church (1 Cor. 5:9-11). In 1 Corinthians, Paul had challenged their indifference to the incestuous man (5:1), and had rebuked them for their use of prostitutes (6:15) and their involvement in adultery and homosexuality (6:9).

He fears that things may not have changed much in recent days. Three specific areas of moral failure are noted. First, he mentions "impurity", a general term for sexual uncleanness of any kind (cf. Rom. 1:24; Eph. 4:19). Second, "sexual immorality" is the rendering of the well-known word porneia from which we derive "pornography" and would refer to illicit sexual activity of any and all sorts, especially fornication and prostitution. Finally, "sensuality" (aselgeia) refers to debauchery or wanton defiance of public decency. According to Harris, it "describes sexual conduct that lacks any moral restraint, unbridled and shameless sexual activity comparable to that of animals" (903). Between them, "the three terms depict impure, immoral, and dissolute sexual behavior and testify to the rampant depravity in the city of Corinth and the clinging pagan background of some of the Corinthian converts (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11)" (Harris, 903-04).

But my primary concern is for us to note Paul's attitude and response. Make no mistake. If he does not find repentance upon his arrival, he will discipline them firmly. But he takes no delight in dealing harshly with such people. Indeed, he anticipates "mourning" over their sins. Discipline grieved Paul. It broke his heart. He took no sordid joy in it.
Paul is open and honest about his fear that if they have not repented, "God may humble me before you" (v. 21). In other words, in addition to his fear of conflict with the Corinthians over their persistent immorality is his concern that God might "humble" him in their presence. What could he possibly mean by this, and what does it tell us about this man of God?

Note well that it is "God" who will humble him, not the Corinthians or the false apostles in their midst. This reflects his remarkable sense of personal responsibility for the churches he founded and those who came to faith through his ministry. Not for Paul, writes, Carson, is "the haughty sternness of egocentric leaders who can with dry eyes and a high hand discipline members ensnared by sin. Paul is too much aware of the intertwining of responsibilities in the body of Christ. He cannot even distance himself entirely from their sin. He himself feels humbled in the face of it, just as a father feels humbled by his son's rebellion."

He is fully prepared to impose the required discipline, but regards it as a personal humiliation to himself. Discipline, yes, but not disinterested or harsh lording it over others. As Paul contemplates the necessity of dealing with their immorality, he is gripped by heartbroken dismay and tears flow freely. There's not a hint of self-righteousness or smug pontificating.

I've had the responsibility of being involved in several cases of church discipline over the years and must confess that I've not always done it well. All too often the wayward are either oppressed by leadership or largely ignored. That is to say, we err either on the side of excessive harshness and rigidity or apply "greasy grace" in our misguided attempts to display love and compassion for those who have failed. Rarely do we see instances in which people are held accountable, even publicly rebuked, and yet provided with counsel and encouragement with a view to their restoration both to God and his people.

Perhaps the element most lacking in us is what we see most shockingly present in Paul's response, namely, a healthy sense of personal identification with those who've fallen and a humbling awareness that their failure is, at least in part, indicative of our own failure. Excessive individualism and a loss of authentic community have contributed greatly to this in the church today. We too easily isolate ourselves from others and fail to grasp the profound implications of what it is to be one body, unified in Christ, one with another.

The example of Paul is a powerful message not only to pastors but all believers in the body of Christ. Would that we all might say with him, "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?" (2 Cor. 11:29).

- Sam Storms

Sunday, September 7, 2008

When God Dwelt All Alone

"Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God!" - Psalm 90:2

There was a time, if 'time' it could be called, when God dwelt all alone. There was no heaven where His glory is now particularly manifested. There was no earth to engage His attention. There were no angels to hymn His raises. There was no universe to be upheld by the word of His power. There was nothing, no one---but God; and that, not for a day, a year, or an age--but "from eternity."

During eternity past, God was alone:

in need of nothing.

Had a universe, or angels, or human beings been necessary to Him in any way--they would have been called into existence from all eternity. The creating of them added nothing to God essentially. He does not change (Mal. 3:6), therefore His essential glory can be neither augmented nor diminished.

"Before Him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing." Isaiah 40:17

- A. W. Pink

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Look What God has done for Us !

Look What God has done for Us !

Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died FOR US.

Romans 8:26 - In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes FOR US with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8:31 - What then shall we say to these things? If God is FOR US, who can be against us?
Romans 8:32 - He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up FOR US all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Romams 8:34 - Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes FOR US.

I Corinthians 8:6 - Yet FOR US there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

I Corinthians 10:6 - Now these things happened as examples FOR US, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.

II Corinthians 4:17 - For momentary, light affliction is producing FOR US an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.

Galatians 3:13 - Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse FOR US; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.

Ephesians 5:2 - And walk in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave Himself up FOR US, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

1 Thessalonians 5:10 - Who died FOR US, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.

Titus 2:14 - Who gave Himself FOR US to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

Hebrews 6:20 - Where Jesus has entered as a forerunner FOR US, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 7:26 - For it was fitting FOR US to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.

Hebrews 9:24 - For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God FOR US.

Hebrews 10:20 - By a new and living way which He inaugurated FOR US through the veil, that is, His flesh.

Hebrews 11:40 - Because God had provided something better FOR US, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

1 John 3:16 - We know love by this, that He laid down His life FOR US; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

1 John 4:16 - We have come to know and have believed the love which God has FOR US; God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

Isn't it amazing what God has done FOR US ?

- Tom Rayborn

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

To Spend and Be Spent for Others

2 Corinthians 12:14-18

I have to admit that at times I find myself losing patience with the Corinthians. In more honest moments, I'm flat out sick of them. Although centuries removed and without ever having met them, I still find them more than a little intolerable. How Paul was able to endure their ingratitude and arrogance, not to mention their suspicion of his integrity and intentions, is beyond me.

Here again, in vv. 14-18, we encounter yet another inexcusable and groundless charge against the apostle. Some were accusing Paul of being "crafty" (v. 16a) and using "deceit" (v. 16b) to take advantage of them financially.

Here's how he describes it:

"Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?" (2 Cor. 12:14-18).

Paul makes it clear that when he arrives for the third time in Corinth his financial policy will be the same as it has been on his previous two visits. The word translated "burden" in v. 14 means to grow numb under a heavy weight. Belleville says, "While the Corinthians looked on Paul's refusal of support as a personal injustice, he saw it as an opportunity to relieve his children of the undue weight of his daily needs."

Unlike the false apostles, he doesn't want their money or their possessions. His only concern is for their spiritual welfare. He wants them, which is to say, their continued allegiance and love, first to Christ and then to himself. We need to pause for a moment and reflect on the profound spiritual implications of two statements, the first in v. 14, and the second in v. 15. Here they are. Note them well:

"I seek not what is yours, but you" (v. 14).
"I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls" (v. 15).

It grieves me to say that many in pastoral ministry today have reversed Paul's perspective. People have become to them a means to a material end. If compelled to reveal their most fundamental motive, they would concede, "I seek what is yours, not you." Fame is their aim. Power is their purpose. People are viewed as a resource for financial gain. Ministry, so-called, has degenerated into pragmatic manipulation to enhance their physical comforts and elevate their social standing.

I doubt there is anything I could say that would persuade those who are thus inclined to change their behavior. But perhaps this expression of Paul's can serve as a daily reminder to all others and a standard by which we measure our motives and deeds. As we set our agendas, cast our vision, schedule our days, prepare our sermons, and relate to those whom God has entrusted to our care, let us ever and always ask: "Am I seeking them, their souls, their greatest good, their deepest delight in God and greatest joy in Jesus? Or do I see them as a burden, an inconvenience, a mere rung on the ladder for my personal ascent to higher acclaim, recognition, and prosperity?"

The second of Paul's declarations is even more stunning: "I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls" (v. 15). Ministry is costly. There is a high price to pay, whether financially, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. And this applies no less to the average Christian than to those in full time vocational work. The untimely phone call at home. The intrusive appearance at the office. The inordinate demands on time and energy. And all this, at least in Paul's case, for ungrateful people, unfaithful people, people who actually loved Paul "less" for his having loved them "more" (v. 15)!

There's no doubt that Paul was frustrated by their failure to reciprocate his love for them. They tested the limits of his patience and pressed him to the brink of despair. But his compassion never waned. His devotion never faltered. However, it's one thing to "spend and be spent" for the sake of others. It's quite another to do so "most gladly". So how did he do it? If asked, I suspect he would have responded with the words he wrote to the Colossians: "For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me" (Col. 1:29).

I will expend and be utterly expended for you! I will pour out and be poured out for your sakes! All his energy, whatever money he possessed, even his very life, he gladly and with profound delight devotes to the goal of bringing them to maturity in faith and the sanctifying knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But is this possible for anyone other than an apostle? By all means! There's no indication this kind of love was tied to any particular spiritual gift or office. Still, though, to give gladly with no expectation of getting, to serve sincerely without the assurance of being served, strikes us as entirely out of reach. We'll happily expend ourselves for the sake of others, but only so long as we know they will acknowledge our efforts and be quick to replenish what we've poured out.

To what, then, do we attribute Paul's enduring love? Was there a spiritual secret to which only he was privy? Our difficulty here undoubtedly comes from thinking that ceaseless compassion and service and humility left him somehow depleted or in lack. But so long as he drew on the "fullness of joy" (Ps. 16:11) available in Christ Jesus, he suffered no loss. If the in-flow is unending, the out-flow poses no threat. Paul drew from a deep well of satisfaction in Christ and ministered faithfully in the strength of its overflow.

As far as Paul was concerned, this was only natural, for as their spiritual father (cf. 1 Cor. 4:14-15) it was his responsibility to provide for them, not theirs to provide for him (v. 14). We should be careful, however, that this illustration is not elevated to an unqualified absolute or made universal in its application, for there are several notable exceptions. Paul himself received financial support from some of his spiritual children (Phil. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 9:3-9, 13-14; see especially 2 Cor. 11:8-9). Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 5:8 he requires believers to provide for the needs . . . of their own families, which would include, in certain circumstances (cf. Mark 7:9-13), the care of parents by children. That is not normally the case that children provide for their parents, but parents for their children.

Of greatest concern and practical importance for us today is the revelation in this passage of the heart of Christian love and ministry. In the face of ingratitude and injustice, Paul labors all the more fervently for the sake of God's people. And again, he does so "most gladly"! Not with grumbling or muttering or unspoken disdain for their having put him in such unpleasant circumstances, but with true, sincere, heartfelt joy he expends himself for their sakes. Shall we do less? We dare not.

- Sam Storms

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Comfort of All Comforts

The knowledge of a man's property in God--is the comfort of comforts. Property makes every comfort a pleasurable comfort, a delightful comfort. When a man walks . . .

in a fair meadow--and can write mine upon it,
into a pleasant garden--and can write mine upon it,
into a fruitful field--and can write mine upon it,
into a stately habitation--and can write mine upon it,
into a rich treasury--and can write mine upon it--
Oh, how does it please him! How does it delight him!

Of all words, the word mine is the sweetest and most comforting word. Ah! when a man can look upon God and say "Mine!", when he can look upon God and say, "This God is my God forever and ever!", when he can look upon God and say, "This God is my portion!", when he can look upon God and say with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"--how will all the springs of joy rise in his soul!

Oh, who can but rejoice to be possessor of that God who fills heaven and earth with His fullness? Who can but rejoice to have Him for his portion, in having of whom, he has all things--in having of whom, he can lack nothing?

The serious thoughts of our property in God will add much sweet to all our sweets! Yes, it will make every bitter thing sweet! When a man seriously thinks . . .

it is my God who cheers me with His presence,
it is my God who supports me with His power,
it is my God who guides me by His counsel,
it is my God who supplies me with His goodness,
it is my God who blesses all my blessings to me;
it is my God who afflicts me in love,
it is my God who has broken me in my estate,
it is my God who has sorely visited His child,
it is my God who has passed this sentence of death upon a friend,
it is my God who has thus cast me down--

how do these thoughts cheer up the spirit of a man, make
every bitter sweet and every burden light unto him.

O Christians! A clear sight of your property in God is . . .

a pearl of great price,
your paradise,
manna in a wilderness,
water out of a rock,
a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night,
a salve for every sore,
a cure for every disease,
a remedy against every malady,
an anchor at sea, and a shield on shore,
a star to guide you,
a staff to support you,
a sword to defend you,
a pavilion to hide you,
a fire to warm you,
a banquet to refresh you,
a city of refuge to secure you,
a cordial to cheer you!

What more could you desire?

- Thomas Brooks

Monday, September 1, 2008

Teach Me

Teach Me"Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path." Psalm 27:11

"Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong." Job 6:24

O Lord, teach me to know the vanity and emptiness of the world; its insufficiency to gratify the desires, or satisfy the longings of the new born soul; yes, its utter inability to make its most devoted servants happy.

Teach me to value the bliss of heaven above all earthly joys; and to dread the torments of hell above all earthly sorrow. Alas! how often do the pleasures of sense blunt my sensibilities to those things which are above, while the troubles of time obliterate from my mind the miseries which await the impenitent and unbelieving.

Teach me, O blessed Savior, cheerfully to refuse the pleasures of sin, which end in everlasting torment; and cheerfully to endure those trials, for Your sake and the gospel's, which terminate in endless glory!

"Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long." Psalm 25:4-5

- Thomas Reade