A Prophet’s Reward

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. – Matthew 10:40-11:1 ESV

Jesus is about to wrap up His little pre-mission prep talk to His disciples, but as He nears the end, His words don’t get any less discomfiting. By this time, the disciples’ heads must have been ready to explode. They probably couldn’t make up their minds whether to go on this excursion or simply walk away while they could still do so. The way Jesus had described the outcome of their first unchaperoned missionary journey must have left them with serious reservations.

But it seems that Jesus tried to leave them with some words of assurance, reminding them that He was the one sending them. And it was vital that they remember Jesus had been sent by God. So, ultimately, the mission on which Jesus was sending them had been ordained by God the Father. In fact, in His high priestly prayer, prayed during the last few hours of His life on earth, Jesus asked the Father:

“Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.” – John 17:11-12 NLT

Jesus knew that these men had been given to Him by God, and while under His care, Jesus had protected and guarded them. The only one of them that had been lost was Judas, the disciple who had chosen to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin in return for money. And Judas’ role had been ordained by God and foretold in the Word of God (Psalm 41:9).

The other 11 disciples would remain with Jesus to the bitter end. While they would wrestle with all the talk of trials, suffering, and death, they would not abandon Jesus. At least, not until He had been arrested in the garden and dragged before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. At that moment, they would all scatter, except for Peter,  who would follow Jesus as far as the courtyard of the high priest’s house. Then, fearing for his life, Peter would betray Jesus, denying he ever knew Him.

But that’s another story for another post. At this point in time, the disciples were on board, if a bit reluctantly. And Jesus wants them to know that they have a divine mission to accomplish, and their marching orders were from the throne room of God Almighty. So, while on their mission, if they found anyone receptive to their words, they needed to remember that they were speaking on behalf of Jesus, who was sent as the anointed one of God. Whoever believed them was actually believing the words of God. And, by extension, whoever refused to believe them was resisting the words and the will of God.

These men were still trying to get their heads around just who Jesus was. Even if they believed Him to be the Messiah, their perceptions of that title had been skewed by years of religious teaching that promoted the idea of a warrior king like David. They were expecting a military leader who would deliver the people of Israel from their centuries-long subjugation to foreign powers like the Romans.

In these early days of their relationship with Jesus, they were not yet fully aware of His divinity and His identity as the second person of the Trinity. Yes, at the baptism of Jesus, they had heard God say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV), but even those words from the lips of God did not necessarily register in their minds as a declaration of the deity of Jesus. They most likely took it as a statement of sonship, just as they considered themselves to be sons of God.  And this becomes clear when we read the encounter between Jesus and His disciples some years later. Jesus was letting them know that He was going away, and He told them, “…you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:4 NLT).

To this, Thomas responded, “No, we don’t know, Lord. We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5 NLT).

That’s when Jesus uttered those memorable words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT).

And then, Jesus added a statement that we often overlook. In it, He reveals a reality concerning the disciples’ understanding of His identity.

If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” – John 14:7 NLT

Don’t miss what Jesus is saying. He is telling Thomas that they still don’t know that He is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. They don’t know who His Father is. Jesus is not insinuating that they don’t know God. He is saying they don’t understand the unique relationship He shared with God.

At this point, Philip got involved in the conversation, revealing his cluelessness by requesting of Jesus “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (John 14:8 NLT).

Now, look closely at how Jesus responded to Philip.

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.” – John 14:9-11 NLT

Jesus dropped the bombshell that by seeing Him, they had seen God Almighty. The author of Hebrews supports Jesus’ contention.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. – Hebrews 1:3 ESV

And the apostle Paul adds his own Spirit-inspired confirmation.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation… – Colossians 1:15 NLT

It was essential that these men understand the true identity of Jesus. But it would be three years later and after the death and resurrection of Jesus before they fully grasped that reality. So, as Jesus prepared to send them out, He tried to get them to understand that they were acting as prophets of God. They were taking the truth of God, as revealed to them by Jesus, and sharing it with the people of God, the Israelites. And all those who heard and received their message would be rewarded just as a faithful prophet would be: With the full blessing and acceptance of God.

Once again, Jesus is giving the disciples a glimpse into the future. He is preparing them for His eventual departure and the critical role they will play as the primary purveyors of His message of repentance and salvation. Those who hear their message will be rewarded. Those who reject it will suffer the consequences. And all those who assist the prophets of God, the disciples (or as Jesus refers to them, “these little ones”), will be rewarded as well. Even a cup of cold water, given to aid the messenger of God in his effort to disseminate the gospel, will receive a reward.

Jesus is emphasizing the message and the messenger. Remember, He is about to send them out on their first missionary journey, and it is likely that their primary focus is on the miracles He has told them they will perform. But He wants them to know that the kingdom is not going to be about miracles, but about the message of the gospel. Bringing sight to the physically blind, cleansing to the leper, the ability to walk to the lame, and deliverance to the demon-possessed was not the main point of Jesus’ mission. And it would not be theirs either. Even bringing the dead back to life would pale in comparison to bringing regeneration of new life to those spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins.

All that Jesus has said was intended to be part of an ongoing program designed to prepare His disciples for their future role as His messengers of the good news. Little did they know that they were in an intensive training program that would last three years and entail a series of life-altering lessons and encounters. And it would all end with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and a non-negotiable assignment to take the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 29:19-20 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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A Priestly Presence.

Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites came to Eleazar the priest and to Joshua the son of Nun and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel. And they said to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, “The Lord commanded through Moses that we be given cities to dwell in, along with their pasturelands for our livestock.” So by command of the Lord the people of Israel gave to the Levites the following cities and pasturelands out of their inheritance.

The lot came out for the clans of the Kohathites. So those Levites who were descendants of Aaron the priest received by lot from the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin, thirteen cities.

And the rest of the Kohathites received by lot from the clans of the tribe of Ephraim, from the tribe of Dan and the half-tribe of Manasseh, ten cities.

The Gershonites received by lot from the clans of the tribe of Issachar, from the tribe of Asher, from the tribe of Naphtali, and from the half-tribe of Manasseh in Bashan, thirteen cities.

The Merarites according to their clans received from the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad, and the tribe of Zebulun, twelve cities.

These cities and their pasturelands the people of Israel gave by lot to the Levites, as the Lord had commanded through Moses.

Out of the tribe of the people of Judah and the tribe of the people of Simeon they gave the following cities mentioned by name, 10 which went to the descendants of Aaron, one of the clans of the Kohathites who belonged to the people of Levi; since the lot fell to them first. 11 They gave them Kiriath-arba (Arba being the father of Anak), that is Hebron, in the hill country of Judah, along with the pasturelands around it. 12 But the fields of the city and its villages had been given to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as his possession.

13 And to the descendants of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasturelands, Libnah with its pasturelands, 14 Jattir with its pasturelands, Eshtemoa with its pasturelands, 15 Holon with its pasturelands, Debir with its pasturelands, 16 Ain with its pasturelands, Juttah with its pasturelands, Beth-shemesh with its pasturelands—nine cities out of these two tribes; 17 then out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with its pasturelands, Geba with its pasturelands, 18 Anathoth with its pasturelands, and Almon with its pasturelands—four cities. 19 The cities of the descendants of Aaron, the priests, were in all thirteen cities with their pasturelands.

20 As to the rest of the Kohathites belonging to the Kohathite clans of the Levites, the cities allotted to them were out of the tribe of Ephraim. 21 To them were given Shechem, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasturelands in the hill country of Ephraim, Gezer with its pasturelands, 22 Kibzaim with its pasturelands, Beth-horon with its pasturelands—four cities; 23 and out of the tribe of Dan, Elteke with its pasturelands, Gibbethon with its pasturelands, 24 Aijalon with its pasturelands, Gath-rimmon with its pasturelands—four cities; 25 and out of the half-tribe of Manasseh, Taanach with its pasturelands, and Gath-rimmon with its pasturelands—two cities. 26 The cities of the clans of the rest of the Kohathites were ten in all with their pasturelands.

27 And to the Gershonites, one of the clans of the Levites, were given out of the half-tribe of Manasseh, Golan in Bashan with its pasturelands, the city of refuge for the manslayer, and Beeshterah with its pasturelands—two cities; 28 and out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishion with its pasturelands, Daberath with its pasturelands, 29 Jarmuth with its pasturelands, En-gannim with its pasturelands—four cities; 30 and out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with its pasturelands, Abdon with its pasturelands, 31 Helkath with its pasturelands, and Rehob with its pasturelands—four cities; 32 and out of the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with its pasturelands, the city of refuge for the manslayer, Hammoth-dor with its pasturelands, and Kartan with its pasturelands—three cities. 33 The cities of the several clans of the Gershonites were in all thirteen cities with their pasturelands.

34 And to the rest of the Levites, the Merarite clans, were given out of the tribe of Zebulun, Jokneam with its pasturelands, Kartah with its pasturelands, 35 Dimnah with its pasturelands, Nahalal with its pasturelands—four cities; 36 and out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with its pasturelands, Jahaz with its pasturelands, 37 Kedemoth with its pasturelands, and Mephaath with its pasturelands—four cities; 38 and out of the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Gilead with its pasturelands, the city of refuge for the manslayer, Mahanaim with its pasturelands, 39 Heshbon with its pasturelands, Jazer with its pasturelands—four cities in all. 40 As for the cities of the several Merarite clans, that is, the remainder of the clans of the Levites, those allotted to them were in all twelve cities.

41 The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands. 42 These cities each had its pasturelands around it. So it was with all these cities. Joshua 21:1-42 ESV

levitical-cities-map.png

During the days of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, God had given the tribe of Levi the responsibility of caring for the tabernacle and everything associated with it. They were declared by God to be a priestly order, with their descendants holding the distinct honor of serving the rest of the tribes of Israel in a spiritual capacity.They were to be unique among all the other tribes, not only because of their  special God-ordained role, but because of God’s declaration that they not be allotted their own portion of land as an inheritance. In the book of Numbers, we have recorded God’s words to Moses that outlined His plans for the Levites.

“Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. 10 And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” – Numbers 3:6-10 ESV

And God gave Moses the reasoning behind His decision.

12 “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.” – Numbers 3:11-13 ESV

And later on, when God had given the law to Moses, He provided further details concerning the distinctive role of this particular tribe.

At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him.) – Deuteronomy 10:8-9 ESV

But who were the Levites and what led God to choose them for this very special honor? To understand what is going on here, we have to go back to Exodus chapter 2, where we have recorded the birth of Moses.

1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. – Exodus 2:1-2 ESV

Moses was a pure-blooded Levite. His father, Amram, was a Levite, born to Kohath, who was a son of Levi, the third son of Jacob. Moses’ mother was also a Levite. And Moses and his brother, Aaron, would become the first priests overseeing the well-being of the tribes of Israel as a whole. The Levites would become God’s ordained instruments dedicated to His service and assigned the task of ministering to the spiritual needs of the people. They belonged to God and, as His servants, they were to be cared for by God. So, when it came time to apportion the land of promise, they were not given a particular portion of land like all the other tribes. Instead, God gave them cities located within the boundaries of the other tribes – 48 cities in all. Each tribe was required to provide four cities each, and the Levites were given pasture land around those cities for their own use. This plan resulted in the Levites being equally distributed among the other tribes, providing them with ready access to the people of God so that they might instruct them in the law and in the worship of Jehovah. The Levites did not become the sole-inhabitants of these cities and the cities did not become their possessions. The cities remained the property of the tribes on whose land they existed. But the Levites were provided places to live and a means for raising flocks to care for their needs. God became their provider and benefactor.

God provided for His people. He had given them the land, but He had also provided them with a priestly clan, whose sole purpose was to teach the people the law and encourage them in their worship of God. God knew the people were going to need far more than land. He also recognized that their designation as His chosen people would not be enough to keep them faithful to His law and committed to the worship of Him alone. In fact, one of the key reasons the Levites had been chosen by God is because of the role they had played in God’s discipline of the people of Israel after they had made the golden calf in the wilderness. When Moses had seen what Aaron and the people had done while He had been on the top of Mount Sinai receiving the law from God, he called for judgment to be enacted upon the people, nd it was the Levites who responded.

26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord‘s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29 And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.” – Exodus 32:26-29 ESV

The Levites, the tribe of Moses, came to his aid and to the defense of God’s name, and brought just judgment upon all those who had worshiped the false god. This tribe was dispersed among all the other tribes in order that they might hold the people of God accountable. They were to be a strong influence for good among the people,

9 “For they observed your word
    and kept your covenant.
10 They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar. – Deuteronomy 33:9-10 ESV

These men were dedicated to God. They belonged to Him and were given the indispensable and unenviable task of keeping the people of God faithful to God. From their 48 cities, spread all across the land of promise, they were to be salt and light among the tribes of Judah. Their job would not be an easy one, but it was vital to the spiritual well-being of the nation. Obedience was going to be the key to Israel getting the most out of their experience in the land. And the Levites were God’s ambassadors, tasked with teaching the people the ways of God so that they might walk in obedience to God and fully know the blessings of God.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Come Back To God!

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 ESV

How easy it is to judge others from our limited, human perspective. We are so quick to assess the value or worth of others based on externals. We are even prone to establish someone’s unworthiness or lack of value based on how they look, their ethnic makeup, economic background, educational status or personality profile. In the Old Testament, we have the account of when Samuel the prophet went to the house of Jesse to find a new king to replace Saul. When he set eyes on Jesse’ son, Eliab, Samuel said, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” (1 Samuel 16:7b NLT). But God responded, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:8 NLT).

Because of the life-transforming work of Jesus Christ and the Spirit’s power to give new life to those who were dead in the trespasses and sins, Paul states, “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT). Prior to coming to faith in Christ and recognizing Him as his Savior, Paul saw Him from a purely human perspective. Paul was a Pharisee who viewed Jesus as nothing more than a charlatan, a political revolutionary and threat to the religious status quo. But ever since his encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul’s view of Jesus had changed radically. And his view of others had changed as well – “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). Salvation was meant to be life-changing. it wasn’t just a matter of someone switching religious allegiances or choosing another way of pursuing a right relationship with God. What Jesus offered was radical, out-of-the-ordinary life transformation that resulted in a totally new life, a new nature – immediately. Those who placed their faith in Christ were instantly transformed from death to life, from darkness to light, from enemies to friends of God, from condemned to forgiven, from guilty to innocent, from outcasts to members of the family of God. And Paul says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18 ESV).

It was all God’s doing, not man’s. Salvation is the work of God, from beginning to end. He is the one who reconciles. He is the one who redeems, restores, forgives, justifies, regenerates, and sanctifies. He provides new life. He places His Holy Spirit within us. And He accomplished it all through Christ. God sent His Son to be the payment for the sins of mankind and to be the acceptable sacrifice, whose innocent life was given to satisfy the His just demands and holy wrath against man’s rebellion against Him. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT). It was through Christ that God had determined to restore His lost creation. It was through Christ that God had ordained a means by which He could satisfy His own righteous judgment against sin while providing a means of showing His love for mankind.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 ESV

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 ESV

This message of God’s love and offer of reconciliation had been given to Paul and his companions. They had become ambassadors of God, sharing the good news of how men and women could be made right with God and restored to a right relationship with Him. “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT). They viewed themselves as conduits of God’s grace. They were vessels in the hands of God, pouring out His goodness and grace upon all those they encountered, not pre-judging or predetermining who deserved to hear. They simply told of God’s Son; His death, burial and resurrection; His offer of salvation; and the simple, solitary requirement of faith. They shared. God saved. Christ had provided the means. Paul simply shared the message. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT).

Sharing the gospel is really quite easy. It is simply pleading with people to come back to God. It is a desperate, loving appeal for them to accept the only means by which they can be restored to a right relationship with God – by faith in Jesus Christ. It is not up to us to determine who deserves to hear. It is not up to us to judge who is worthy of receiving the message. It is not our job to predetermine who we would prefer to have as a brother or sister in Christ. We have been given the message of reconciliation. Like Paul, we have been appointed ambassadors by God, with the sole responsibility of spreading the good news of His Son’s death and resurrection to a lost and dying world. God’s offer of salvation is non-discriminatory, and so should our appeal be.

 

 

Confident Conduits of God’s Grace.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 ESV

Paul ended the last chapter with the words, “You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” (2 Corinthians 2:17 NLT). He can’t help but feel a bit frustrated at having to defend himself and his ministry yet again. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he found himself having to deal with those who were questioning his authority and his apostleship. But as far as he was concerned, it was only God to whom he had to answer. “As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4 NLT). 

Much of what Paul writes in this letter is not new news to the Corinthians. He had said it all before, in writing and in person. He wants them to know that he is not attempting to prove himself to them again. As far as he is concerned, he does not need a letter of recommendation, either from himself or anyone else. If they wanted proof of the effectiveness of his ministry, all they had to do was look at their own lives.

The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you.– 2 Corinthians 3:2-3a NLT

Paul’s ministry had been fruitful. It had produced results. Lives had been changed. And there should have been no reason for him to defend himself. The believers in Corinth were his letter of recommendation “written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3b NLT). There was no greater proof of the validity of Paul’s apostolic ministry than the transformed lives of those who made up the church in Corinth. The amazing thing about what had happened in Corinth was not that Paul had arrived in town and was able to wow the people there with his oratory skills. He didn’t blow them away with his eloquence and powers of persuasion. In fact, just the opposite was the case.

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NLT

The establishment of the church in Corinth had been the work of the Holy Spirit, not Paul. He had simply been a conduit through which the Spirit had worked. He had been an instrument in the hands of God. Paul could look at the changed lives of the people in Corinth and know with confidence that his work had been effective. And he also knew that it had not been because of his own skills or abilities. “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6a ESV). Any success Paul had enjoyed was the result of God’s power, not his own. “We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:4 NLT).

It is important to note that Paul, while viewing himself as a servant of God, did not really believe that he was working on behalf of God as much as he was being used by God. He truly believed that God was working through him, not that he was working for God. Sometimes we can easily begin to think that we are doing God a favor by serving Him. We can believe that we are doing all the work and He is sitting back eagerly watching and waiting to see what it is we accomplish. But Paul knew that, without God’s power, all his efforts would have been in vain. God is not dependent upon us. It is the other way around. It was Paul who proudly proclaimed, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). It was God who said to Paul, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).

It is the Spirit who gives life, Paul asserts. It is God who makes possible the salvation of men. We have a role to play, but we must never forget that our role is as servants of God. We are tools in His hands, empowered by His Spirit and obligated to do His will His way. Paul will emphasize his understanding of his God-given role later on in this same letter.

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” –2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT

We are conduits of God’s grace. We are PVC pipes carrying the live-giving message of the good news to those who are spiritually thirsty and starving. And we can be confident that God can and will use us as we make ourselves available to Him. Our weakness does not disqualify us, it makes us perfect candidates for God’s service.

God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NLT

So, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31 NLT). He can and does use you. Your value to Him begins with your recognition of your absolute dependence upon Him. Your greatest use to Him starts with your understanding that you are useless without Him. When we understand that God is power behind our effectiveness, we can become confident conduits of His grace.

Spirit of Power.

Because of this I remind you to rekindle God’s gift that you possess through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control … Protect that good thing entrusted to you, through the Holy Spirit who lives within us. – 2 Timothy 1:6-7, 14 NET

Paul had a special affection for Timothy. He looked on him as his son in the faith. But he knew that others had played a role in Timothy’s spiritual development. It is clear that Timothy had been positively influenced by his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois. They had raised him to fear and love God and had instructed him in the Scriptures. At one point in this same letter, Paul reminds Timothy, “You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15 NET). These two matriarchs had played a major role in Timothy’s life, preparing him for his inevitable encounter with the gospel and his acceptance of it.

But Paul held a special place in his heart for Timothy, having been there when Timothy received his commission for the ministry of the gospel. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14 NET). The elders had not given Timothy his spiritual gift. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. But they confirmed him for his use of his gift with the laying on of hands and a special word from the Lord. In that same letter, Paul wrote, “I put this charge before you, Timothy my child, in keeping with the prophecies once spoken about you, in order that with such encouragement you may fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18 NET).

Whether or not Paul’s reference to “God’s gift” and the laying on of hands in these verses is speaking of the same commissioning service is not clear. But it would seem that Paul is speaking of something else. In the verses above, Paul makes reference to him laying hands on Timothy. This may very well be speaking of the moment at which Timothy received the Holy Spirit. And it would appear that this may very well be the “gift” from God that Timothy is to rekindle or fan into flame. Like every other believer, Timothy had received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit at his conversion. But, like every other believer, we can quench the Spirit’s activity in our lives through our unwillingness to submit to His control. Paul knew that Timothy was going to need the power of the Holy Spirit to effectively accomplish his role as a minister of the gospel. That is why he told him, “rekindle God’s gift that you possess”. Paul knew that Timothy was young and was struggling with fear and timidity. The news of Paul’s imprisonment had obviously upset him. Paul had obviously sensed that Timothy was wavering in his faith and struggling with doubt about his calling. So Paul reminded him, “God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7 NET). The gift that Timothy possessed was the Spirit of God – the Spirit of power, love and self-control. Timothy had all that he required to face the struggles of life as God’s spokesman and a minister of the gospel. He had the very Spirit of God living within him. So Paul told him, “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8 NET). Paul didn’t sugar coat it for Timothy. He let him know that suffering was going to be a part of his life as a minister of the gospel. But he also reminded him that the Spirit of God was within him, providing the power he needed to face any and all circumstances. Paul wanted Timothy to have the same confidence that he had. “I am not ashamed, because I know the one in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12 NET). And he charged Timothy, “Protect that good thing entrusted to you, through the Holy Spirit who lives within us” (2 Timothy 1:14 NET).

Each and every one of us who are followers of Jesus Christ have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. At our conversion He took up residence within us. He is our guide, comforter, advocate, source of strength and prayer partner. He provides us with a divine power supply that is inexhaustible and inconceivable. It is the same power that helped create the universe and that raised Jesus from the dead. That power lives within us and is constantly available to us. It is that power that makes it possible for us to face the struggles and trials of life with boldness and confidence. God has  “called us to a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9 NET). We, like Timothy, have been commissioned by God to act as His ambassadors on earth. We are to take the message of the gospel to any and all we meet. We are to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, not our own strength. We are to remind ourselves daily that our future is secure and the very fact that the Spirit lives within us is a proof of our status as a child of God. We have the Spirit of power, love and self-control. We are lacking nothing. We have all we need to live the life we have been called to live, so let us do it with boldness, confidence, joy, and hope.

Make Him Known.

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. – Psalm 145:8-12 ESV

Psalm 145

How does anyone really get to know God? Of course, the Scriptures tell us that God has revealed Himself in His creation. “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Romans 1:20 NLT). But there is a sense in which creation provides only a limited understanding of God. It reveals His invisible qualities – His power and nature. But there is so much more to God. He is gracious, slow to anger, merciful, and incredibly loving. How are people to come to know those things about God? How will they discover the full essence of His character if all they have to go by is nature itself? God never intended nature to be the end all or final revelation of Himself. His eternal plan was to send His Son as the ultimate expression of Himself. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). Jesus the Son made God the Father known to mankind. That is why He is called Emmanuel, which means, “God with us”. God came to earth in the form of a helpless baby and dwelt among men. That baby grew to be a man and for three and a half years He made God known to man. He revealed His power. taught about His Kingdom, expressed His love and, ultimately, gave His own life, so that men might be made right with God.

But what about us? What is our role? What part do we play in making God known to men? According to the psalmist, we too play a significant part in making God known. We are to talk about His power, testify to His grace and mercy, give thanks for all His blessings, and praise Him for all the mighty deeds He has done and continues to do in our lives. More than anything else, as those who have benefited from the saving grace made available through Jesus Christ, we are to tell others of the good news of salvation that God has made possible. People can look at nature and see the power and creativity of God, but they should be able to look at us and see the grace, mercy. love and forgiveness of God. They should be able to see what it looks like when a sinner becomes a saint as a result of God’s remarkable gift of grace. And when they hear us talk about all that God has done and continues to do for us, they get a glimpse of God that they would otherwise have missed. But in order for them to hear, we must speak up. We must make God known. We have a responsibility to act as God’s personal press agents, telling everyone we meet of His glory, grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. We have been commissioned to make disciples. But it is impossible to make disciples if we remain silent. Paul reminds us, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14 ESV).

Jesus came in order to make His Father known. But He didn’t stop there. He died in order to make men right with God. His death was an expression of God’s love. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). Jesus make known the love of God. And we can do the same thing as we talk about what He has done for us. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are the recipients of that love. We now know God in a way that was impossible before Jesus Christ died. We enjoy an intimate relationship with God that is based on love and forgiveness. We have enjoyed the benefits of His grace. We know God as holy and righteous, but also as loving and kind. He is our God, but also our Father. He loves us. He has adopted us as His sons and daughters. We are His children and heirs. And we should want to make all that known to everyone we meet. We should gladly brag about our God. We should take every opportunity to tell others about the grace of God made available through His Son. But our great testimony isn’t always what God has done for us in the past at our salvation. Sometimes our greatest testimony is what God is doing for us right here and now as a result of our new relationship with Him. It is His ongoing activity in our lives that a lost and dying world wants to know about. Yes, we have been saved. But in a real sense we are being saved each and every day as God works in and through our lives, transforming us into the likeness of His Son. When we talk about all that God is doing, and express our gratitude for His daily activity in our lives, we make Him known. We make Him visible. God becomes real to those who would otherwise be unable to see Him.

Left Behind, But Not Alone.

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. – John 17:13-16 ESV

John 17:1-26

As difficult as it was for the disciples to accept Jesus’ admission that He was going to die, it had to be even more unsettling when, after His resurrection, He told them He was going away. They had just gotten Him back from the dead, a fact that had been hard for them to accept initially. But once they had come to grips with the amazing realization that He was alive, He told them that He was leaving. They would be on their own. Left behind to continue the work He had begun. It all had to be a bit overwhelming and confusing. Jesus had known it would be, which is why His prayer for them contained a request that His Father keep them from the evil one. He knew they were going to face all kinds of opposition for His name’s sake. As His followers, they were no longer “of the world.” They had become citizens of another Kingdom. But for the foreseeable future they were going to be ambassadors for Christ in this world. Jesus was leaving them behind to continue spreading the news of salvation that His death was going to make possible. The apostle Paul understood that mission well. “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT). The disciples and all those who would follow them, have been given the ministry of reconciliation. It is our job to tell the world about how to be made right with God. We have been left behind for a reason. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 29:19 ESV).

So we have a job to do. But we have not been left alone or defenseless. Jesus prayed for us. Yes, we are hated by the world because we are not of this world anymore. We are foreigners and sojourners. We are like aliens living in a strange land. We don’t really belong here anymore, but we have a mission to accomplish. And not only does the world hate us, the prince of this world, Satan, is out to destroy us. He despises and loathes us because we are children of God, which is why Jesus asked the Father to keep us from him. The two big threats we face as believers are complacency or compromise. If Satan can get us to lose the urgency of our God-given mission and make it a back-burner issue, he has won. If he can get our faith in Christ to become just another add-on to our already busy lives, he will have made us ineffective and essentially powerless. But another threat we face is compromise. If Satan can get us to fall in love with the world and seek our satisfaction and sufficiency from all that it offers, it will render us useless for the cause of Christ. The apostle John warned, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15 ESV). It is virtually impossible to effectively serve God’s Kingdom when we are in love with this one. Compromise and complacency are deadly temptations for each of us as believers. So Jesus prayed that God would keep us from the evil one. He wanted us to remain loyal to our God and faithful to our commission, right up until the end. We must constantly remind ourselves that we are not of this world. We are citizens of another Kingdom. We serve another King. We live according to a different set of standards or rules. But not only are we citizens of a different Kingdom, we are children of the King. In fact, Paul would have us remember, “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17 ESV).

Jesus knew that life on this earth for His followers would be difficult after His departure. That is why He gave us the Holy Spirit. He is to be our comforter, helper, guide, and source of spiritual strength. Jesus understood the dangers and difficulties His followers would face. But He also knew that His Father was fully capable of caring for them and keeping them safe. Our salvation was completely God’s doing. Our sanctification or growth in Christ-likeness is His doing as well. Our safekeeping and security as His children is up to God as well. He has not and will not lose a single one He has redeemed. Our faith is secure, not because we live up to a certain standard or keep ourselves from committing certain sins, but because God holds us in His hands and will never let us go. While we live in this world, we must constantly remind ourselves that our real home is with Him. He has saved us so that we might be with Him. Jesus even told His disciples, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1-4 ESV).

2 Chronicles 35-36, Philemon 1

Our Persistent Compassionate God.

2 Chronicles 35-36, Philemon 1

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 ESV

The days of the kingdom of Judah are quickly coming to an end. In spite of the reigns of kings like Hezekiah and Josiah, the downward spiral of the kingdom continued. The unfaithfulness of the people became increasingly evident. Even the reforms of Josiah would not prevent the inevitable spiritual decline of the people. While Josiah had proven himself to be a good and godly king, he too failed to fully trust God. He had gone out of his way to reestablish the proper worship of God, reinstituting the Passover ceremony. But when he found himself facing a possible threat from the Egyptians, he took matters into his own hands and refused to listen to the words of God. His stubbornness and rebellion results in his own death. From there, things went downhill fast. Josiah was followed by his son Jehoahaz, but his reign would last only three months. He was deposed by the king of Egypt and replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim. He would be defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and taken captive. Jehoiachin replaced him as king of Judah, but his reign would last a mere three months and ten days. He too would be taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah, his brother, would replace him as king. But “he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel” (2 Chronicles 36:13 ESV). And all during this time, God had been sending His words of warning and calls to repentance through the prophets. He had repeatedly sent men like Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah. These men had been His ambassadors and spokesmen, delivering His message to the kings and the people of Judah. They warned of things to come. They called the people to repentance. They expressed God’s desire to restore them if they would only return to Him. But rather than listen, the people mocked God’s prophets, “despising his words” spoken through them. They scoffed at these men, rejecting their messages, “until there was no remedy.”

What does this passage reveal about God?

God persistently, compassionately gave His children opportunities to return to Him. He begged them to repent. He warned them of what was going to happen if they refused to turn from their wickedness. He gave them ample proof of His power and goodness when they did things His way. But they just couldn’t seem to trust Him. Even the good kings each eventually ended their reigns on a sour note. They started well, but ended poorly. But God’s compassion never failed. Jeremiah the prophet would write of God, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV). When reading these closing chapters of 2 Chronicles, we must remember that they were written to the people of Judah who had just recently returned to the land of promise after having spent 70 years in exile in Babylon. They had been allowed to return to the land, in spite of all they had done for generations. The chronicler had spent chapter after chapter reminding them of their less-than-flattering history as a people. He had made it painfully clear that their fall had been their own fault. But he had also gone out of his way to make sure they understood their return was undeserved. They were back in the land, not because they had done something to deserve it, but because God was merciful, loving and faithful. The chronicler closes his book with a reminder of the most recent events in the history of the people of God. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up”’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23 ESV. God had done a miracle. He used the king of a pagan nation to return His people to the land. Cyrus would not only decree that the people of Judah return to the land and rebuild the Temple of God, he would fund the entire operation. God made that happen. God was faithful to keep His Word and restore His people to the land He had promised to Abraham all those years ago.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man is inherently unfaithful. Even those who have enjoyed the blessings of God and been the recipients of His power and presence can find themselves refusing to live in faithful obedience to Him. In spite of His goodness and grace, we tend to return the favor with a stubborn determination to do things our own way. We are rebellious by nature. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). All of us have sinned against God. All of us are guilty of open rebellion against a holy and righteous God. But in spite of us, God provided a plan to redeem us. He sent His own Son to die in our place and satisfy His own just demands that someone pay the penalty due. None of us deserved it. None of us had earned it. It was the gracious, merciful gift of a loving God. Paul reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Like the people of Judah, we must be reminded of God’s amazing love and mercy, showered on us in the midst of our disobedience, while we were living as slaves and captives. Jeremiah knew of the compassion of God and he tried to let the people of Judah know that God would never let them go completely. “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lamentations 3:31-32 ESV). In spite of us, God just keeps loving us.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the story of Philemon and Onesimus, we have a picture of God’s amazing love, forgiveness and compassion modeled in a real-life scenario. Paul was writing to Philemon, who was a Christ-following slave owner. No where in the text does Paul speak against slavery. It was a part of the cultural context in which the Christian in his day lived. Paul neither condoned or condemned it. He did not address the moral, ethical or spiritual implications of slavery. But he did encourage his readers to treat those who found themselves living as slaves in a different way. Paul’s desire was not to revolutionize or change the institution of slavery, but the hearts of those involved in it. Onesimus, a runaway slave, had become a believer, probably through Paul’s ministry. He had been ministering to Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. But Paul knew that Onesimus needed to make things right with Philemon, his master. So he appealed to Philemon to accept Onesimus, not as a guilty, runaway slave deserving of punishment, but “more than a slave, as a beloved brother…both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16 ESV). Paul infers that the relationship between these two men had been radically changed because of Onesimus’ acceptance of Christ as His Savior. While he was technically still a slave, according to the laws of the land, Onesimus was now a brother in Christ. And in reality, Paul, Philemon and Onesimus were all slaves to Christ. They all had a new Master. Paul’s appeal to Philemon’s compassion was based on the compassion shown to each of them by God through Christ. Elsewhere Paul would write, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV). We are to love as we have been loved. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are to show compassion to the same degree that we have received it from God Himself. What a difference it would make if we were able to live this out in everyday life. What a testimony we would have to the world around us if we could model the compassion, love, mercy and forgiveness of God in our everyday relationships. 

Father, help me to fully grasp the magnitude of Your amazing grace in my life. Show me how to express that kind of grace to all those around me, not just because they deserve it, but because I have been the recipient of it from You. I want to love like You love, forgive like I have been forgiven, and show compassion in the same You have shown it to me. Not based on the other person’s merit, but simply because You have called me to do so. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 3e

Be Ready To Be Used.

“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, ‘Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.'” – Proverbs 3:27-28 NLT

God has us on this planet for a reason. He could have taken us when He saved us, but instead, He chose to leave us here. Rather than some sort of sick joke, God has a purpose for our presence in this world. We are His ambassadors, His representatives, and we have the distinct privilege of acting as His hands and feet, making His love and mercy visible to all those around us. According to the apostle Paul, “God has given us this task of reconciling people to him” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NLT). Because of what God has graciously done for us through Christ, we should be ready and willing to share this message of hope with others. “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!'” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT). But not only are we to tell people about the good news of Jesus Christ, we are to act as agents of His love and mercy to all those around us. And that means that we are not only to be ready to share the gospel, but we must be ready to meet needs. These verses in Proverbs are interesting. When they say, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it,” it carries the idea of withholding something from the one to whom it belongs. In other words, you have something that belongs to someone else, and you run the risk of keeping it for yourself. God has given you the responsibility of stewarding something that He intended for you to give to someone else.

This makes me think about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Who is to be the beneficiary of this fruit? You and I? No. The fruit is intended for others. God does not produce patience in my life so that I might enjoy it for me. It is to be shared with those who try my patience. Self-control is not intended for my own benefit, but to bless those around me as I practice it. Each of these characteristics of the Spirit are given to us to share with others. In essence, they are the owners of it and we are simply giving them what is rightfully theirs.

Take it a step further. If God blesses us with material possessions or financial means, does He do so simply for our own good? I don’t think so. He gives to us so that we might be able to give to others. Once again, He makes us stewards of His blessings so that we might be ready to share them with those we meet along the way. And according to Proverbs, we are to be ready to help immediately. We are not to delay or postpone our acts of goodness and generosity to another, more convenient time. We are to respond immediately. James gives us the same words of advice and reminds us that our actions are an expression of our faith. “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:14-17 NLT).

Our faith must have an expression. It must show up in our actions and attitudes towards others. Each day we are given opportunities by God to act as His agents, His instruments of change in the world. We are like vessels through which He pours out His love, mercy and grace to those in our sphere of influence. We are conduits carrying the love of God to those in need, and one of the best ways to help them to see God is for them to experience His love through us as we respond to their physical needs in a timely manner. Our faith must be actionable, our love must be tangible, so that God’s presence might be palpable.

Father, through Your Holy Spirit, give me the sensitivity I need to know what I have that others need. Forgive me for selfishly keeping for myself what You intended for others. Help me see the needs of others more keenly and respond quickly. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org