Spiritual Healing.

32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner. Acts 9:32-43 ESV

The gospel continued to spread. It had already moved beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem into the neighboring region of Samaria. Now, Luke provides with an overview of how it was taken to Lydda and Joppa, two cities located on the Mediterranean coastal plain, northwest of Jerusalem. And Luke records that it was Peter who made the trip to these two cities. His journey to Lydda was most likely part of a trip he made to visit the believers who existed in the cities outside of Jerusalem. Verse 31 tells us: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up” and Luke records that “Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda” (Acts 9:32 ESV). Peter was checking in on all those cities where the gospel had been taken and people had responded. He felt a responsibility to gain a first-hand report on what was happening and to encourage all those who had placed their faith in Christ. It was while he was in Lydda, visiting the saints who lived there, that he heard about a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. Other than the physical ailment from which he suffered, we know nothing else about this man. His name is Greek, so he could have been a Hellenistic Jews. But we are not told whether he was one of the saints in Lydda or not. But Peter, upon meeting the man, boldly declared to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed” (Acts 9:34 ESV), and Luke records that the man “immediately rose.” His healing was instantaneous and complete, a clear work of God. And the immediate outcome of this miraculous healing was not just the man’s renewed capacity to walk, but his neighbors’ acceptance of the gospel. Luke simply states that, upon seeing Aeneas healed, “they turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35 ESV).

It is always interesting to consider why the Spirit of God inspired the writers of the gospels and the other books of the New Testament to include the accounts of the healings that they did. Surely, these were not all the healings that Jesus and the disciples performed. But they are all very particular in terms of their descriptions. There were many who were lame and could not walk. There were others who were blind and could not see. Jesus and the disciples all cast demons out of those who were possessed. And then, as we will see in the following verses, there are several accounts of those who were dead and then brought back to life. All of these have spiritual implications. They were physical healings, but they mirror what was happening on a spiritual level in the lives of those who came to faith in Christ. At one time they were unable to walk the path that God had chosen for them. They were incapable of following the precept and laws of God faithfully. Like a paralyzed man who was hindered by his body’s disability, the lost were totally incapacitated by their sinful condition. They could never have turned to God on their own. And the blind, while physically incapable of sight, were really unable to see spiritually. They were blind to the realities of their own sin and their inability to achieve righteousness on their own. And Jesus placed this spiritual condition on all, including the Pharisees, who He referred to as “blind guides.” They were spiritually sightless and devoid of any ability to see truth. Then there were the dead, like Dorcas, whose lives had expired and their ability to live any kind of life was gone, let alone to live righteously. They represent all those who are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13). Every healing performed by Jesus and the disciples was intended to be a representation of man’s spiritual plight. Jesus spoke of this very thing when He had read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” – Luke 4:18-21 NLT

Jesus had come to open the eyes of the blind – the spiritually blind. He had come to release those who were restricted, not by physical paralysis or non-functioning limbs, but by their own sinful state. He came to set free those who were trapped by their own state of spiritual death and condemnation, not just physical death. Jesus came to feed the spiritually hungry and to enrich the lives of the spiritually impoverished. And every physical healing He performed was a living lesson in the kind of power He possessed and proof of His claim to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

While in Lydda, Peter received word from Joppa, a coastal city about ten miles to the east, that a disciple there named Tabitha had recently died. Upon hearing of her death, Two men from Joppa had been sent to Peter with a simple, yet urgent message: “Please come to us without delay” (Acts 9:38 ESV). Why were they so insistent that Peter hurry? What was the rush? Tabitha was already dead and her body had been laid in an upper room. It would seem that the disciples in Joppa fully expected Peter to do something about this situation. They weren’t just asking him to come in order to perform her funeral. They expected something far greater to happen. So, Peter made his way to Joppa and, upon arrival, he made a beeline to the room where Tabitha’s body lay. There, he found a weeping widows who showed him the clothes that Tabitha had hand-sewn for them. This woman had been a generous and compassionate individual, who had served the local community well. The women who had gathered to mourn her death were expressing their grief over having lost a friend and benefactor. But Peter ushered them from the room, then kneeled by the body and prayed. After some time, he turned to the body and said, ““Tabitha, arise.” And she did. She came back to life. And Luke somewhat anticlimactically states: “Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive” (Acts 9:41 ESV). No emotion. No excitement. It’s almost as if Luke is overly casual in his description of this episode, as if he was not surprised at all by what he had seen. To a certain degree, the members of the early church had an expectation that these kinds of things would happen. They were become somewhat normal occurences and no longer shocked those who witnessed them. But to those outside the church, these kinds of things were far from normal or expected. And when news got out that Tabitah was alive, Luke reports that “many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42 ESV).

This chapter closes with an interesting side note. It states that Peter remained in Joppa, staying the home of a man named Simon, who just so happened to be a tanner. This little aside can be easily overlooked by those of us in the modern, western church. To us, it simply sounds like Peter stayed in the home of a gracious host, enjoying his hospitality. But notice that Luke reports that Simon was a tanner. That means, as part of his profession, this man worked with the carcasses of dead animals. To any God-fearing Jew, this man’s occupation would have made him unclean and, therefore, to be avoided at all costs. But with this very brief note at the close of this chapter, we get a glimpse into a change that seems to be taking place in Peter’s heart and life. He is opening up to the idea that Jesus wants the gospel to go to ALL men, not just some. It has obviously been extended to Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews. Now, Peter is about to discover that God is going to open up the door to even those whom the average Jew would consider unclean and undeserving of God’s grace and mercy: The Gentiles.

 

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

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Greater Expectations.

1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:1-10 ESV

The last chapter ended with an upbeat description of how things were going just days after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:46-47 ESV

Now, in chapter three, we are given a glimpse into what one of those typical days looked like. Because the early church was made up predominantly of believing Jews, these individuals, including the disciples, were still attending the Temple and practicing their Jewish faith as they did before. As this chapter opens, we find Peter and John going to the Temple at 3:00 p.m., to take part in the prescribed prayer time held at that hour each day.

Luke tells us that Peter and John entered the Temple compound through “the Beautiful Gate.” This was evidently meant as a description, not as the actual name of the gate. There were three primary gates into the Temple grounds: The Shushan Gate, the Corinthian Gate and the Nicanor Gate. We are not sure which of these three gates Luke is referring to, but at this particular gate Peter and John come into contact with a lame man. Perhaps Luke uses this description as a way to emphasize and contrast the man’s impoverished and physically hopeless condition. He had been born with this infirmity and, each day, he had to be carried to the Temple in order to beg for alms. Alms-giving was a common practice in those days, involving the voluntary gift of money or goods to those in need. It was not an obligation or part of the Mosaic law, but giving to the destitute was seen as a righteous act. In fact, Jesus addressed this very topic in His Sermon on the Mount.

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. – Matthew 6:2-4 NLT

This lame man, upon seeing Peter and John entering the Temple, asked them for alms. He had chosen his spot well, because those entering the Temple were there to worship and would have been predisposed to generosity. The first thing Peter said to the man was, “Look at us!” Most likely, the man made a habit of keeping his eyes down, a sign of his humble estate and in keeping with the Jewish mindset that those suffering from infirmities were being punished by God for their sins. Poverty, disease, physical infirmities and even widowhood were seen by most Jews as signs of God’s punishment for sin. On one occasion, Jesus and His disciples encountered a blind man, and one of the men asked Jesus, “‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?’” (John 9:2 NLT). And Jesus answered them:

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:3-5 NLT

Then John records that Jesus performed a miracle, giving sight to one who had been blind since birth. Jesus revealed the power of God in the life of this man, doing for him what he could have never accomplished on his own. The blind man, like the lame man in Luke’s story, was relegated to begging for temporary relief from his suffering. But Jesus came to give something far more lasting and life-changing than alms. He gave sight to the blind. And when the lame man begged Peter and John to give him money, Peter responded, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6 NLT). And Luke records what happened next:

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. – Acts 3:7-8 NLT

Peter and John both must have recalled the words of Jesus: “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” They had received a commission from Jesus and they had received the power of the Holy Spirit, so they knew they had work to do. Peter gave the man something of far greater value than that for which he had asked. The man had begged for the gift of spare change, but Peter gave him a changed life. Notice what Luke writes, “Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.” He was a changed man. For the first time in his life, he was able to go into the Temple to worship. In his previous condition, he would have been banned from entrance into the Temple. That’s why he was forced to sit at the gate each day, hoping for some form of financial relief to assist him in his daily struggle with his physical disability and the social ostracism it caused. But now, his disability was gone. He was running, jumping and worshiping with abandon. Not only that, once the crowd recognized him as the lame man whom they passed daily outside the Beautiful Gate, they were blown away.

When Jesus had healed the blind man, it had also caused quite a stir. The people could not believe what they were seeing. And the Jewish leaders were incensed, especially because Jesus had chosen to heal on the Sabbath, breaking their religious codes. So, they had confronted the man and then his parents, demanding to know what had happened.

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” – John 9:24-25 NLT

A blind man could see. A lame man could walk. That was as deep as either man’s theology went. They had been radically changed by an encounter with Jesus. The blind man had been touched by Jesus. The lame man had been healed in the name of Jesus.

This unnamed man had come to the Temple that day expecting nothing more than a handout from some generous stranger. Perhaps he had regular contributors, who knew him and made a habit of giving to him each day. He probably had a vague idea of how much money he could expect to take home by day’s end. But there is no way that he came to the Beautiful Gate expecting to walk home on his own two legs. He never dreamed he would be leaping, dancing and worshiping in the Temple when he woke up that morning. His would be a day just like any other day, filled with the same old tasks of getting up, begging a lift to the gate and beginning his humiliating day of begging for coins from those who viewed him as little more than a sinner who deserved his sorry state in life. But his less-than-ambitious expectations were shattered that day. He came to the Temple, lying on a mat, but went home leaping on his own two legs. He came a beggar, but became a worshiper. He showed up a sinner, but suddenly found himself free to walk into the Temple grounds unhindered and unafraid of God’s judgment.

It’s important to note that Peter and John saw this man as more than a nuisance or a common sinner to be ignored. He was an opportunity for the power of God to be revealed and the name of Christ to be lifted up. While Jesus had been in the world, He had been the light of the world. Now it was the disciples’ turn. They had work to do. As far as Peter was concerned, this man was there for a reason: That God might be glorified and the gospel of Jesus Christ might be proclaimed. Just as the miracles of Jesus validated His claims to be the Son of God and the Messiah, the signs and wonders performed by the disciples would prove that they had been sent by God and had the authority to speak on His behalf. And they would take advantage of this opportunity to tell the good news regarding Jesus Christ to all who had gathered. The man’s miraculous restoration would become a platform to share about salvation. The same power that made a blind man see and a lame man walk, could bring the spiritually dead back to life.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

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

By the Power of God.

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.

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.– 2 Corinthians 12:19-13:4 ESV

Paul is making plans for a third trip to see the Corinthians, and based on all that has transpired since his last visit, he is somewhat apprehensive and anxious. He is concerned that he will find them in a less-than-ideal spiritual state. They had obviously been influenced by those he has labeled the “super-apostles” and their degree of their spiritual maturity is somewhat suspect. In some ways, he is afraid that things were not much different than they had been since he had written his first letter to them.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 ESV

Paul’s greatest concern for them was their spiritual growth and maturity. All his time spent defending his apostleship was not to make himself look better in their eyes, but to get them to realize that he was God-ordained for his ministry and well worth listening to. Unlike his adversaries, he had their best interests at heart. The last thing Paul wanted to find when he arrived was his spiritual children still struggling with the same issues they had been before. He expected to see true life change. He desired to see signs of repentance and spiritual reformation. And he hated the thought of having to spend his time among them reprimanding and disciplining all those who remained unrepentant and addicted to their life in the flesh.

While Paul is not anxious or eager to find the Corinthians dealing with their same old problems, he warns them that he is ready to confront their sin in the power of God. if they want proof that he has been sent by God, they are going to get it – in the form of church discipline. But Paul is going to do things in a godly fashion. Any accusations anyone may have against a brother or sister will have to be based on two or three witnesses, just as Jesus had commanded (Matthew 18:15-20). There was going to be a fair and equitable process followed, but in the end, Paul was going to deal with the situation in a powerful way.

Earlier in this letter, Paul had appealed to them based on the gentleness and meekness of Christ.

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. – 2 Corinthians 10:1-2 ESV

But it appears that Paul wasn’t too confident that they would listen to his pleas. He was going to have to “show boldness.” They were going to have to witness the power of Christ exhibited through the authoritative, disciplinary actions of Paul. He was going to get their attention and prove to them once and for all that he was speaking on behalf of Christ. Paul reminds them that Christ was crucified in weakness. In other words, He was beaten, humiliated, tortured and nailed to a cross – in his human flesh. He slowly bled out. He gradually and painfully asphyxiated as his lungs filled with fluid and he had to push down with his nail-pierced feet in order to take his next breath. This had gone on for hours, until He had finally breathed his last breath and died. But Paul reminds them that Jesus had not stayed dead. He was resurrected by the power of God and “lives by the power of God.” And they were going to experience that same power when Paul came to them. Even in his human weakness, Paul possessed the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead. And he was going to use that power to make sure that the Corinthians remained true to their faith in Christ, so that they might one day experience the resurrection of their bodies and enjoy all the joys of eternal life as promised by Jesus Himself. As Paul told the Romans:

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. – Romans 8:11 NLT

For Paul, the important matter was how you finished the race, not how you started it. Coming to faith in Christ was wonderful, but the Christian life was intended to be a journey with a final destination. The goal was to finish well. And the only way to do it was to rely upon the power of God – for daily strength, but also for discipline. “For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT). “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT). The power of God. It guides and directs, empowers and protects, disciplines and corrects. The One who called us is powerful enough to keep us and ensure that what He began, He completes.

 

 

 

A Profound Paradox.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 ESV

In verse one, Paul confesses, “I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.” He is letting his readers know that he is about to provide some more proofs to validate his apostleship and to set him apart from the false apostles who are dogging his ministry. His reference to visions and revelations provide a hint that what he is about to divulge is well beyond the normal arguments for his apostleship. This is going to involve the supernatural and direct communication from God. Visions are typically visible manifestations of God’s power. They are seen. The Greek word Paul uses is optasia and it means, “a sight, a vision, an appearance presented to one whether asleep or awake”(“G3701 – optasia – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 20 Oct, 2016. https://www.blueletterbible.org).

Revelations would seem to indicate verbal communication from God. The Greek word is apokalypsis and it means, “a disclosure of truth, instruction; oncerning things before unknown” (“G602 – apokalypsis – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 20 Oct, 2016. https://www.blueletterbible.org). Paul is going to share a personal experience that included a vision and word from God. He refers to to himself in the third person, simply because he is trying to diminish the aura of bragging that comes from sharing such a story. He says, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2a ESV). It is clear that Paul is referring to himself, because later on he says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations…” (2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). This is a personal experience that Paul had and one he shared reluctantly and somewhat obscurely. He does not provide a lot of detail and refuses to share exactly what he saw or heard. But fourteen years earlier, Paul had been given a vision by God and was somehow transported into the “third heaven.” In the ancient mindset, there were three heavens. There was the sky or the visible atmosphere, and then there was the heavens containing the sun, moon, stars and planets. The third heaven or paradise was a reference to the dwelling place of God.

Paul recalls being somehow transported into heaven. He could not tell if it had all been a dream or whether he had actually gone there in his physical body. While there, “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). Paul does not spend any time describing the sights or sounds of heaven. He provides us with no insights into what it might have looked like. Not only that, he gives us no clue as to what it is that he heard. He only describes it as unrepeatable. This obviously one-of-a-kind, supernatural event clearly set Paul apart. Who else could claim to have been transported to heaven and given a glimpse of the sights and sounds associated with that remarkable place? But while blown away by the experience, Paul refused to boast about it. He would not allow himself to turn his divinely ordained experience into an opportunity to make himself a celebrity. He would boast about “this man,” but when it came to himself, he would rather boast about his weaknesses. He explains, “I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message” (2 Corinthians 12:6 NLT). Paul wanted his life and message to be his calling cards, not his supernatural vision.

It is interesting to note that earlier Paul had referred to the time in his life when he had been saved from arrest by being lowered in a basket from window. He boasted of this as something that revealed his weakness. He had been forced to suffer the humiliation of being crammed in a basket and lowered out a window. For a guy of Paul’s temperament, this would have been a blow to the ego. But now he talks about having been raised by God to the very heights of heaven. This may have been what Paul meant when he wrote, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12 ESV).

An experience like Paul had could have easily gone to his head. He could have seen himself as somehow more anointed and blessed by God. After all, who else could claim to have gotten an all-expenses-paid trip to paradise? But God wasn’t going to let Paul get the big head. In fact, Paul says, “to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). Paul does not say what this “thorn” was. The Greek word Paul uses is skolops and it actually refers to a sharp pointed stake. It was far more than just a “splinter” or an inconvenient annoyance. It was potentially debilitating and described by Paul as “a messenger of Satan to harass me.” Was it a physical disability or a spiritual weakness? Paul doesn’t say. Because Paul mentions conceit, it may have been a proclivity toward pride and arrogance. The constant harassment Paul faced from his always-present adversaries would have easily driven Paul to boast of his superior calling and intellectual prowess. Paul was an educated man who had risen high in the ranks of the Pharisees. He was an Old Testament scholar. It would have been easy for Paul to develop a haughty spirit and arrogant attitude toward those who questioned his ministry. But God lovingly kept him humble. On three different occasions, Paul pleaded with God to remove this “stake” from his life. And each time God refused. But He reminded Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a ESV). God’s grace was greater than Paul’s problem. His strength was far superior to Paul’s weakness in the flesh. And more than 14 years later, Paul was able to say, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9b ESV). It was an awareness of his weakness that made Paul appreciative of God’s gracious love and power. Anything he accomplished in his life that was worthwhile or worthy of praise was attributable to God, not himself.

Paul would gladly suffer the humiliating of being lowered down the wall in a basket. He would willingly go through the pain of another stoning or the indignity of arrest and imprisonment – for the sake of Christ. Because he had learned the invaluable life lesson of “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV).

 

 

 

Called To Oneness.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 ESV

Back in chapter one, verse 8, Paul said, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Unbelievers cannot understand the wisdom of God revealed in the death of Christ – namely, that one man’s death could provide eternal life for those believed in Him. Now, Paul states that “the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” Man’s wisdom doesn’t impress God and it will never make anyone right with God. If anything, the wisdom of man becomes a barrier to accepting the truth of God’s redemptive plan as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The wisdom of men is futile and totally incapable of remedying mankind’s sin problem and state of condemnation before a holy and just God. So why, Paul asks, would we make much of men. Why would we create false idols out of men and women, worshiping them for the role they played in our salvation, while overlooking the fact that it was God who sent His Son to die, gave His message of reconciliation to those He called, and sent His Spirit to open the hearts of those who heard that message. No man has the right to boast of his usefulness to God, and no one should elevate the messenger over the One who sent the message.

Paul’s real concern has to do with division in the body of Christ. He started out his letter with the plea, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV). He accused them of quarreling and bickering over which man they followed – “each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Their disunity was causing divisiveness. So Paul reminds them that they are the temple of God. Not just as individuals, but as the local body of Christ. He is speaking to the church, not the individual. How do we know this? Because in the Greek language, the personal pronoun, “you” is plural, not singular. Peter confirms the idea that the local church is the temple of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God.

“…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:5 ESV

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul said the same thing:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV

As God’s temple, the local church is to be valued and protected. If anyone does anything to harm or destroy the integrity of the church, they will answer to God. Paul warns them, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV). Disunity destroys. It damages from within. We have been called by God to love one another, not debate and display contempt for one another. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminded them of their oneness in Christ.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV

In the prayer He prayed in the garden on the night of His betrayal, Jesus asked the Father, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21 ESV). It is our unity that displays the reality of the church’s role as God’s temple. God alone can bring together people of every age, from every walk of life, ethnicity, economic strata, and social background, and mold them into one family. All sharing one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Paul reminds the believers in Corinth, “So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23 NLT). Each of these men had been given to the church by God. They were to be seen as gifts from God intended for the building up of the body of Christ. As Paul told the Ephesian church:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

And God gave these gifted individuals to the church in order that it might grow and prosper, “until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). Disunity is destructive. Divisiveness is counterproductive. Boasting in men robs God of glory and the body of Christ of its power. Making celebrities out of God’s servants ends up deifying them and diminishing the effectiveness of the local church. The church may grow in numbers, but it will lack the power of God’s Spirit. When we make much of men, we experience less of God.

A Holy Helper.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. – John 14:15-17 ESV

I think Jesus knew the disciples loved Him. I think He believed they truly wanted to keep His commandments. But He knew that they would find that task impossible in the days ahead, especially after His death, burial and resurrection. Which is why Jesus said He was going to send them a Helper – someone to assist them. The Greek word Jesus used was paraklētos and, like most Greek words, it is rich and multifaceted in its meaning. It refers to someone who is summoned or called to the aid and assistance of another. In the literal sense it meant “one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate” (www.blueletterbible.org).  Jesus used this common Greek word to refer to the Holy Spirit who would “lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom” (www.blueletterbible.org).

Jesus knew that His disciples loved Him and would be eager to keep His commandments, but they would find both tasks impossible to fulfill without divine help. Their love was going to be tested. Their desire to be obedient would weaken. And without Jesus by their side, they would find it difficult to remain motivated. So Jesus promised to send help in the form of a divine advocate or aid. They would not be left alone. They would not be left powerless. The same Spirit of God who they had seen actively present in the life of Jesus would be given to them. They would soon find themselves not only living in the presence of the Spirit of God, but living with the Spirit of God present within them. God the Son would ask God the Father to send God the Holy Spirit to come to their aid. What an incredible thought. What a remarkable reality. But one that we either take for granted or treat with a sort of doubt or incredulity. Our own experience seems to suggest that this Holy Helper is either absent in our lives or not nearly as helpful as Jesus seemed to suggest.

Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would live in them. The power and presence of God would no longer be an external force they witnessed, but an internal reality that would set them apart from the rest of the world. When Jesus performed miracles everyone was able to witness them and see the power of God at work. Anyone could hear the words of Jesus and be amazed at His teaching. But with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus would find themselves possessed of a power that allowed them to not only hear the words of Jesus, but obey them. No longer would they simply be witnesses to the power of God, they would be the very conduits through which that power flowed.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have the Holy Spirit living within us. Our ability to love Christ consistently is not left up to our own strength. We have a helper. Our capacity to remain obedient to His commands is not based on our will power and inner resolve, but on the indwelling presence of God. Jesus referred to the Spirit as the “Spirit of truth”. Because He is the Spirit of God and God is truth, the Holy Spirit speaks truth. He doesn’t bring new truth, but helps believers understand and apply the truth of God as revealed in the Word of God. We might wonder how the disciples of Jesus were able to remember all the things that He said and taught. Did they take copious notes and spend every evening writing down all that He said. Jesus Himself gives us the explanation. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV). Not only would the Spirit give them the capacity to remember the words of Jesus, they would be able to understand them and apply them to their lives.

This “help” we have been given is not to be viewed like some kind of divine Cliff Notes or study aid. He is the very essence of God Himself. He is the third person of the Trinity and He lives within all who have accepted the free gift of salvation made possible through Christ’s death on the cross. Because He lives within us, we have all the help we need to live the life we have been called to live. We can love consistently. We can obey fully. Not because we have the capacity to do so on our own, but because we have the presence of God within us. Jesus didn’t leave us defenseless, helpless or hopeless. He sent the Spirit of God to live in us, to help us, to empower us and transform us as we live our lives in anticipation of His return. We have all the help we need to prove our love for Jesus by living in obedience to His commands.

Deuteronomy 33-34, Acts 5

Man of God.

Deuteronomy 33-34, Acts 5

We must obey God rather than men. ­– Deuteronomy 34:29 ESV

Moses was a man, a flawed and sometimes fault-filled man. But he was God’s man. Throughout his tenure as God’s appointed leader of the people of Israel, Moses tried to live in obedience to God. He attempted to faithfully carry out God’s will, in spite of his own feelings of inadequacies and the people’s stubborn refusal to obey. It isn’t easy to find examples of this man’s faults and failings. There were times when he got frustrated and even angry with God. He often became exasperated with the very people he had been called to lead, and at times wished he could walk away from the job. But there are just as many examples of his faithful leadership and his loving intercession to God on behalf of a stiff necked people. We know that Moses was not perfect because God refused to allow him to enter into the land of promise. Instead, he died in the land of Moab, and was buried by God Himself. He was 120 years old when he died, and “his eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated” (Deuteronomy 34:7 ESV). Moses was an incredible man, but a man nonetheless. He is an example of what it means to follow the Lord and to know God face to face. He had an intimate, personal relationship with the living God of the universe. He was used by God because he remained useable to God. He was willing to do whatever God called him to do. Yes, sometimes he exhibited reluctance and even reticence. But eventually he always overcame his fears and apprehensions, doing whatever God had called Him to do.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God works through men. He chooses to reveal His extraordinary power through the means of ordinary men and women. Moses was not chosen by God because he had any special qualities or characteristics that set him apart. God used him in spite of his faults. Moses was actually a murderer with a bounty on his head, but God chose to use him to set the people of Israel free from captivity in Egypt and to lead them to the land of promise in Canaan. In the New Testament, we see God using a group of men to spread the message of Christ’s death and resurrection to the world. These were ordinary men who brought nothing to the table except their belief in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. After the resurrection of Jesus, God would fill these men with His Holy Spirit and empower them to do signs and wonders in the midst of the people of Israel, just as Moses had done. Like Moses, they would become spokesmen for God, speaking on His behalf and exhibiting His power and presence through their own lives and ministries.

God is not obligated to use men. He could just as easily accomplish His mission without the help of men or women, but He has chosen to use us. Just as in the days of Moses, God wants to exhibit His power and presence through the lives of ordinary men and women in order to show the world what a right relationship between He and His human creation should look like. When we live in obedience to His will and empowered by His Spirit, we become living, breathing witnesses to the world of the reality and life-changing power of God. The world gets to see God in us. His presence becomes tangible and highly practical.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When the apostles faithfully ministered as Jesus had commanded them to do, they quickly found themselves in trouble with the Jewish religious authorities. In fact, it wasn’t long before they were arrested and thrown in jail. They had been teaching, preaching, healing and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Thousands of people were hearing and accepting the message regarding salvation through Christ alone. “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14 ESV). These ordinary men were making an extraordinary impact on the world. And even when they found themselves locked in a jail cell, God would use their circumstance to reveal His power. He sent an angel to release them and commanded them to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20 ESV). And they obeyed. The high priest had them re-arrested and brought before him. He confronted them saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:28 ESV).

Confronted by this powerful religious leader who had played a role in the death of Jesus, Peter and the apostles didn’t bat an eye. Rather than back down and give in to his threats, they remained faithful to their calling. “We must obey God rather than men,” Peter responded. They would not give in or give up. Even when they were beaten and warned again not to speak in the name of Jesus, Luke records that they left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41 ESV). These ordinary men, filled with the Spirit of God, would go on to do extraordinary things for God. “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42 ESV).

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

There is no limit to what God can accomplish through the man or woman who is willing to be used by Him. Our usefulness to God has nothing to do with our own abilities, talents, or strengths. God is not obligated to use us or somehow dependent upon our abilities to accomplish His will. Like the apostle Paul, we often find ourselves weak and ill-equipped to do what God has called us to do, but we quickly learn as he did, that God’s grace is sufficient. “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV). I don’t have to be strong. I don’t have to be smart. I don’t have to have my act together or bring a special array of talents to the table. I simply must be willing and ready to be used by God. It is the recognition of my own insufficiency and weakness that makes me useable by God. When I realize just how much I need Him, I am much more likely to be used by Him. What the world needs to see are more men and women of God who are empowered by God and being used by Him to accomplish His will in His power through their lives.

Father, I want to be a man of God, who knows You face to face and relies on Your power and presence in my life to accomplish the unimaginable and inexplicable, so that they world my truly know You exist. Amen

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

 

Numbers 7-8, Luke 19

From Joy To Tears.

Numbers 7-8, Luke 19

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” – Luke 19:41-42 ESV

In chapter seven of Numbers, we see the joy and generosity of the people of Israel at the dedication of the Tabernacle. The entire chapter is a list of all the gifts the various tribes brought to the dedication. And Moses painstakingly records the exact nature of each tribe’s contribution, revealing that they all gave equally. This occasion was spread out over 12 days, with the various sacrifices for each tribe taking up the better part of the day on which they made their presentation. So for almost two solid weeks, there was the giving of gifts, the burning of sacrifices, and the atonement for the sins of the people. This would have been a remarkable celebration. And it ended with Moses going into the Tabernacle to meet with God, where “he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, and it spoke to him” (Numbers 7:59 ESV).

God had accepted their gifts and was in their midst. This was a joyful celebration. And it was followed by the dedication of the Levites. These men were the literal “stand-ins” for the people. God had chosen them to serve Him in place of the first-born males of the people. At one point, God had commanded that all the first-born males of the people of Israel were to be dedicated to His service. This was due to the fact that He had spared all the first-born Hebrew sons on the night the Death Angel passed through the land of Egypt. But because of the sin of the people in worshiping the golden calf, God had chosen the Levites to serve Him instead. So on this day, the people were commanded to lay their hands on the heads of the Levites, transferring the responsibility of serving God from the first-borns on to the Levites. In essence, the Levites became living sacrifices, dedicated to God’s service. Paul reminds believers that we are to live with the same mindset: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had gone out of His way to ensure that His presence would be with the people – in spite of their sinfulness. He had given them ample proof of His power, His ability to provide, and the benefits of living as His people. He had freed them from slavery in Egypt. He had given them the Tabernacle as a dwelling place for His presence. He had provided the sacrificial system as a means of atoning for their sins and receiving His forgiveness. He had given them manna from heaven and water from a rock. He had guided them all along the way through a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of could by day. When they had sinned at Mount Sinai and worshiped the golden calf, rather than destroy them, God had forgiven them and allowed the Levites to serve as substitutes for the first-born. God had been generous, merciful, gracious, kind, forgiving, and incredibly faithful – in the face of the people’s faithlessness. And over the coming years, their track record for faithlessness would prove to be abysmal. They would consistently fail to follow God faithfully – from the first moment they laid eyes on the Promised Land to the day they would find themselves headed into exile and back into slavery as a result of their rebellion against God. And Yet God would remain faithful to His covenant and unfailing in His love.

What does this passage reveal about man?

If we fast-forward to the time of Jesus, we find the people of God living in the Land of Promise, worshiping Him in a magnificent Temple rather than a temporary Tabernacle. They have long-since returned to the land after years in exile. But they are living under the rule of Rome. There is a dark cloud hanging over the land. They have no king. The man who calls himself the king of the Jews is a puppet king appointed by the Romans. King Herod, the self-proclaimed king of Israel, was not even a Jew, but an Edomite. He was a tyrant and a madman, who owed his allegiance to Rome, not the God of Israel. The spiritual climate in Israel was not good. The religious leaders were little more than self-righteous autocrats who lived by their own self-manufactured code of ethics. Jesus would commonly refer to them as hypocrites. These men were the spiritual elite of the day, but were little more than religious charlatans who mislead the people and who would reject Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah.

In spite of all that God had done for the nation of Israel over the centuries, they had continued to rebel against Him, while claiming a false sort of allegiance to Him. They had come to believe that their very existence as descendants of Abraham was their ticket into God’s favor. They still expected their Messiah or King to show up any day, but they were looking for a military leader who would set them free from the tyranny of Rome. They longed for a political savior, not a spiritual one. So when Jesus appeared on the scene, He didn’t meet their requirements. He wasn’t what they had been expecting, so they rejected Him.

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

Jesus arrival should have been a day of celebration for the people of Israel. When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah that day in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He read the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV). Jesus was announcing the fact that He truly was the long-awaited Messiah. But the freedom and victory He came to bring was not from political oppression, but from sin and death. Jesus was God’s appointed representative to bring the one thing the people of Israel needed more than anything else – permanent atonement and forgiveness for their sins. He came to restore the people to a right relationship with God once and for all.

And while there was a brief, yet seemingly enthusiastic welcome upon His arrival in Jerusalem that day, the shouts of “Hosanna!” would soon turn to screams of “Crucify him!” When He failed to reveal Himself as the conquering king and liberator from Roman rule, the people would turn their backs on Him. And while His arrival should have been a time of joy and excitement, for Jesus it was actually a time of weeping and sadness. Luke records that he wept over the city of Jerusalem. He knew that they were going to reject Him as their Messiah. He also knew that the city was doomed to destruction in just a matter of years. Their might city and the Temple of God they revered would both be destroyed in 70 A.D. Jesus sadly predicted, “they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44 ESV). As in the days of Moses at the dedication of the Tabernacle, God was in their midst. Immanuel – “God with us” – was standing amongst them and they failed to see Him for who He was. The very presence of God was there, but they were blind to God’s goodness, grace, mercy, and love. And it brought Jesus, the Son of God, to tears.

How often do I fail to recognize the presence and power of God in my own life? How many times have I neglected the very presence of God in my life by refusing to listen to and obey the voice of His indwelling Holy Spirit? God has proven His power, provision and presence in my life time and time again, and yet I can find it so easy to doubt Him, disobey Him, and determine to ignore Him – turning what should be days of rejoicing into times of sadness and tears. I don’t want to overlook or miss out on the presence of God in and around my life. He is there. But I must look for Him. I must focus on Him. I must faithfully trust in Him.

Father, You are faithful. There is no doubt about it. You are gracious, kind, loving, patient and consistently present in my life. Help me to see You more clearly. Help me to listen to You more closely and obey You more willingly. Each day of my life should be a celebration of Your goodness, grace, presence and power. Amen

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

Romans 15:14-22

You Have What It Takes.

Romans 15:14-22

But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters,that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. – Romans 15:14 NET

While Paul has spent a great deal of time critiquing the behavior of the Christians in Rome, he begins to close out his letter with some words of encouragement. He wants them to know that they not only have within them the power to live lives that are different and distinct from those around them, they are actually pulling it off. His letter was not meant to depress and demoralize them. He was simply doing what God had called him to do as a minister of the Gospel. And that sometimes included having to say and write difficult things. But his goal was always the same: “that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16 NET). Paul wanted them to live lives that were set apart, different and distinct from the way they used to live. He wanted their lives to be marked by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit – who alone can make a life of holiness possible. Paul knew that they had what it takes to live holy, set apart lives because he knew they had the Holy Spirit residing within them. As a result they were “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14 NLT).

Paul uses the term “goodness.” It is the Greek word, agathōsynē and it means “uprightness of heart and life.” It is the goodness that comes from God and reveals itself in spiritual, moral excellence. In other words, it is an inner quality that shows up in our character and our interactions with others. Paul uses the word in three other places in his letters and it is always associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is not of human origin, but is divine. In Galatians 5, Paul includes it in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells the believers in Ephesus that they are full of light and, as a result, they should live as people of light. For the light that resides within them only produces “goodness” – spiritual and moral excellence. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul prayed that they would be make them worthy of His calling and fulfill for them every desire they had for “goodness” and every act that was prompted by their faith. Paul wanted to see the power of the Holy Spirit “fleshed out” in their lives by the way they lived their lives and interacted with one another. They had it in them, but they had to live it out.

The key for Paul was dependence upon and obedience to the Holy Spirit. His life was marked by a constant reliance upon the Holy Spirit’s direction. He did what he was told to do. He went where he was told to go. He preached what he was told to say. In spite of opposition, difficulty, set backs, his own apprehensions, fear, physical illness or any feelings of inadequacy or inability. Again, Paul was simply doing what the Holy Spirit had directed and empowered him to do. “I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16 NLT). Anything he had accomplished through his life had been done by the Spirit, not him. His life had been marked by “goodness” – spiritual, moral excellence. By allowing himself to be used by the Spirit, Paul had been able to see lives changed, and the message of the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire. The power of God had been “fleshed out” in Paul’s life, making a difference in not only his own life, but the lives of thousands of others. The goodness of God had done a good work in and through Paul. And Paul wanted to see that same thing happen in the lives of the believers in Rome. Having the Spirit of God living within us is great. But the key to living the Christian life is learning to let the Holy Spirit reveal His power through us. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:5 NLT). Our darkness has been penetrated by the light of the Gospel and the presence of the power of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. Now we need to let that light shine. He describes us as fragile clay jars. We are weak and worthless, and yet God has placed His Spirit within us, so that His power might flow from us – revealing and testifying to His life-changing presence in our lives. But if the Spirit’s power never shows up, if the “goodness” of God never reveals itself in spiritual, moral excellence in our lives – God doesn’t get the glory and the darkness around us remains unchanged. We have what it takes. Now we have to take what we have and let it out.

Father, too often we live in our own power and fail to reveal Your power that resides within us. Show us how to let the power of the Spirit within us out of us. May His light shine through us, proving that we truly are Your sons and daughters. May Your goodness flow from us in acts of kindness, works of faith, and the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.

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

1 Corinthians 2

The Mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2

For, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2:16 NLT

In chapter 1, Paul makes it clear that the work of salvation is entirely up to God, not man. There was no reason for anyone to boast regarding their acceptance by God, because they had nothing to do with it. It was completely God’s doing. God called them. He chose them. And he united them with Christ. And it was Christ who made them right with God. It was He who made them pure, holy and freed them from sin. Now Paul hammers home the point that even the message of the Gospel he had shared with them on his first visit was not the product of man’s imagination or human wisdom. It was revealed by the Spirit of God. Paul reminds them that his words were not impressive or particularly eloquent from a human perspective. “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 2:4 NLT). Paul didn’t win these people over with his powerfully persuasive words. Instead, it was the Spirit of God that made the foolishness of the cross suddenly make sense. Without the Spirit’s help, the message of the Gospel would fall on deaf ears. “So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended, and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT). It was the Spirit of God who made the mystery of God’s plan of salvation knowable and accessible. “But it was to us that God revealed these things by His Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets” (1 Corinthians 2:10 NLT). It is impossible to know the things of God without the help of the Spirit of God. “No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:11 NLT).

Salvation is a purely spiritual endeavor. It has nothing to do with human effort or human wisdom. It is the work of God. It requires the Spirit of God to understand the truths of God. Without the Spirit’s help, the truth of God will be impossible to understand and sound like foolishness. But because God places His Spirit within the heart of every believer, they have the capacity to know and comprehend His thoughts. Paul describes it as having the mind of Christ. Not only can we understand and accept His plan of salvation, but we can know God’s thoughts and grow in our knowledge of His character. We can understand deeper spiritual truths that were once hidden from us. We can read the Word of God and comprehend its meanings and apply its messages to our lives. Like Christ, we can regularly talk to the Father and have Him respond, not only in answers to our prayers, but with words of comfort and direction. We can know God’s will for us. We can walk in obedience to His plan because His Spirit has made it clear to us. And His Spirit provides us with the power to do what God calls us to do.

We have the mind of Christ. What an incredible statement. What a powerful reminder that the walk of faith is not left up to us. It is not based on our ability to study harder, pray longer, memorize more, sin less or make ourselves more spiritual. It is the Spirit’s’ doing. It is the Spirit who provides us with the mind of Christ. He alone can provide us with the capacity to think as Christ did. He gives us the ability to hear God speak. He empowers us to do what God says. He makes God known to us. So when we read God’s Word, it becomes far more than an academic pursuit, increasing our human intelligence. It becomes a spiritual endeavor, providing us with a supernatural capacity to comprehend the truths of God on a level that was previously impossible for us. There is no reason for us not to grow. There is no excuse for us to not understand the things of God. We must simply remember that it is all based on the power of God made possible through the Spirit of God. We have the mind of Christ.

Father, Your Spirit made the plan of salvation understandable to me. Without His help, I never would have even heard Your call. And now He makes it possible for me to comprehend Your Word and to hear Your voice speaking to me through it. Give me an every-increasing sensitivity to Your Spirit. Help me hear clearer, obey quicker, and rely more readily on His power and not my own. Amen.

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