When Paul talks about honoring the elders in today’s Bible reading, he isn’t talking about honoring your parents or honoring people who are older than you. He’s talking about honoring church elders.
Elders in the First Century church were pastors and mature men who had been called to provide spiritual and financial leadership of the church. Deacons tended to the day-to-day “pastoral care” ministries of the churches.
In most of the churches in my tribe, Baptist Churches, we don’t have elders. Pastors provide spiritual leadership and work with the deacons to administer the financial dealings of the church. Our Congregational polity means that all business decisions must be approved by the church congregation. How minutely the deacons manage the church differs from church to church.
I remember one church where every motion brought before the church in our business meetings came from the “Deacon Board”. And I remember hearing stories of staff members who had to appeal to the deacons to approve everything down to the number of servings of fruit on a Singles Retreat. Yes, seriously!
Admittedly, not all church elders are worthy of respect. But Paul isn’t talking about those people in 1 Timothy 5. He tells Timothy that good leaders who work hard at preaching and teaching should be considered worthy of double honor. Exactly what Paul means here may be a little unclear, but he explains himself when he quotes the Old Testament and talks about letting oxes eat while they work. (Deuteronomy 25:4) He summaries his thoughts with, “The worker is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)
Unfortunately, not every church treats its pastor as well as I have been treated. Just this week, I talked with a pastor-friend about new opportunities before him. He hesitated whether to take the next steps with a new church because with the church-provided parsonage, he might end up with less in his pocket every month, despite the slightly higher salary. Most pastor search committees — and churches in general for that matter — are unaware of the financial downside to living in a parsonage. The IRS sees the parsonage as a taxable asset in the salary package. This means the pastor must pay income taxes on a “fair market rental value” for the parsonage. So for this friend, going to this new opportunity may not be the financial increase he and his family were hoping for. I deeply hope that churches are just unaware of situations like this, rather than being uncaring about them. Many churches have no idea just how poorly they are treating their “elders”. It’s wrong and God will hold them to account for their mistreatment of these servants.
You can honor your “elders” in many ways.
How do you feel about your pastor and church ministry staff? Do you appreciate them? Do you tell them? Sometimes a reassuring or affirming word goes a long way.
Do you pray for your church staff? Have you asked them how you can pray for them?
Sometimes a gift certificate to a restaurant and an offer to keep the kids so a staff member can take his wife on a date night can go a long way.
I haven’t met anyone who goes into vocational ministry for the money. In most churches, there’s no money to be in it for anyway! But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid for their work. Is your church fairly compensating your church staff? When was the last time your pastor or staff received a raise or a special gift to show your appreciation? Maybe it’s time to talk with your church leaders about addressing these issues.
I hope that you and your church honor your elders. Honor them, not as unto men, but as unto God. (Colossians 3:23–24)
This devotional was originally published on September 14, 2019.
Paul continues to address the Corinthians regarding the financial support of God’s work in today’s Bible reading. He summarizes his appeal, “The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 (CSB)
Note that Paul doesn’t use manipulation. He doesn’t twist Scripture to promise health and wealth if the Corinthians would just plant a seed of faith. No, Paul just puts it out there, saying that God will reward generosity with generosity.
Although Corinth was a thriving metropolis when Paul wrote this letter, the citizens must have had a concept of sowing and reaping. If you want a harvest, you have to sow seeds. If you want a bountiful harvest, you have to sow a lot of seeds. Paul tapped into the people’s understanding of agriculture and presented this principle of sowing and reaping.
It’s easy to look at your paycheck and panic when you see how much of the “gross” is taken before you ever see the “net”. Between taxes, Social Security, insurance premiums, it can seem like there’s not enough left over. As the month goes on, sometimes it can seem like the month goes longer than the paycheck.
So where does God fit in the discussion of money? Well, if you’re a growing Christ-follower, God should fit right in the middle of your budgeting. Don’t just give God leftovers. Give Him your best! Give regularly. Give generously. Give sacrificially. And give wisely.
Give, and it will be given to you;
a good measure—pressed down, shaken together,
and running over—will be poured into your lap.
For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Luke 6:38 (CSB)
This devotional was originally published on September 3, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about people supporting his mission work. He says that even in the midst of financial hardship, the Macedonian churches gave out of their poverty to support God’s work. He says, ” I can testify that, according to their ability and even beyond their ability, of their own accord, they begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us by God’s will.” 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 (CSB) This reminds me of when Jesus and His Disciples watched people give their tithes and offerings in the Temple in Mark 12:41–44.
Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had—all she had to live on.”
The picture above is from a Facebook group for Small Church Pastors that I belong to. I have never seen anything like this. And I find it gravely offensive on many layers. This is definitely NOT what Paul was talking about in today’s reading. My point is not to get into the pattern of New Testament giving, but to talk about how Paul used the Macedonian churches as an example of how giving is supposed to function.
As I read Scripture, it seems that if God is calling someone to do a ministry, God will provide the funding to support the work. Missionary Hudson Taylor said,
“God’s work, done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”
If Taylor was correct — and I believe he was — what does that say about modern-day fund raising to support “God’s work”? I remember many conversations with my dad talking about people “begging for money” on Christian radio and TV. It shouldn’t be this way! Yes, ministries should be up front with their needs. And they may miss a lot of financial support if they don’t ask. And like Paul says, people get in on a blessing when they support God’s work.
But how much of “God’s work” isn’t? That may well explain why so many ministries have to “beg for money”. Maybe it isn’t God’s “big K” Kingdom they’re trying to build, but rather their own “little k” kingdoms.
Paul says that the Macedonian churches begged for the privilege to support God’s work. (2 Corinthians 8:4–5) When Moses collected the Hebrews’ gifts to build the wilderness Tabernacle, the people responded above and beyond the need. Moses responded, “Let no man or woman make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people stopped. The materials were sufficient for them to do all the work. There was more than enough.” Exodus 36:6–7 (CSB)
Let me ask you, when was the last time a church or ministry begged people to stop giving? I never have!
Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith. Galatians 6:7–10 (CSB)
So how much should you give? That’s a great question! I like what John Piper suggests.
Giving is a way of having what you need. Giving in a regular, disciplined, generous way … is simply good sense in view of the promises of God. [2 Corinthians 9:6] says, “He who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.” Then [2 Corinthians 9:8] says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you that always having all sufficiency . . . ” In other words the “bountiful reaping” promised in verse 6 is explained in verse 8 by God’s pledge to give a sufficiency for us and an abundance for good deeds.
He says elsewhere,
When you get your paycheck, do you look to the Spirit for how to turn this money to best advantage for God’s kingdom, or do you invest it in the field of the flesh for your own private use? Sowing to the Spirit means recognizing where the Spirit aims to produce some luscious fruit for the glory of God and dropping the seed of your resources in there.
One thing to point out: the Corinthians knew Paul and Titus, just as the Macedonians did. They weren’t just sending money to some preacher who may have been a charlatan, frivolously squandering their gifts. There was a sense of accountability by knowing the people they were supporting.
Note: God doesn’t need your money.
But you need to give!
This devotional was originally published on August 31, 2019.
Again, I’ll highlight what I have said before, that when you see a word or phrase repeated in close proximity in the Bible, it’s a signal of its importance. In today’s Bible reading, Paul uses reconcile five times in only three verses. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
The word reconcile is used in accounting. You may have reconciled your checkbook to make sure that your income and expenses come into agreement. Hmmm…. come into agreement. That’s what it means to be reconciled!
One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for dictionary) says this about reconciliation:
to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken (the componential features of this series of meanings involve (1) disruption of friendly relations because of (2) presumed or real provocation, (3) overt behavior designed to remove hostility, and (4) restoration of original friendly relations)—‘to reconcile, to make things right with one another, reconciliation.’
The fact that God reconciles people to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18) demonstrates that the relationship was broken in the first place. And the relationship was broken by Adam and all of his descendants. Otherwise, Paul could speak of us reconciling ourselves with God.
But God is the one Who takes the initiative because we, as fallen creatures cannot. In fact, even if we could take the initiative, we would not. Yes, we are that fallen! We are that broken!
Until we can understand the gravity of our sinful condition, we can’t grasp the incredible goodness, grace, and mercy of God to reconcile us to Himself. Because God has reconciled His children to Himself through Jesus Christ, we can have peace with God and peace with each other! “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15, (CSB)
And we get to be a part of God’s ministry of reconciliation! He has made us His ambassadors to plead with our family, friends, and acquaintances, “Be reconciled to God!” What an amazing priviledge!
And what an amazing responsibility!
Have you been reconciled to God? Have you recognized your infinite debt to God due to your own sin? He has done all that is necessary to restore you to Himself, if you will only accept His offer! Be reconciled to God!
If you have been reconciled to God, have you told your family, friends, and acquaintances about this glorious God Who has extended His grace to you, and to them?
Who can you tell today?
 Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 501. Print.
This devotional was originally published August 28, 2019.
I’ve said many times that when you see a word or idea repeated several times in a few Bible verses, it’s a pretty good sign that the word or idea are important. Well, in today’s Bible reading the word “comfort” appears nine times in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. That’s nine times in five verses! It’s safe to say that the theme of the first paragraph is “comfort”
The word translated “comfort” is the word we get one of the titles of the Holy Spirit, The Comforter. When the Bible calls the Holy Spirit The Comforter, it isn’t referring to something you throw on your bed to curl up with when it’s cold in the house.
The verb form of the word means to be called to come alongside, to encourage. The noun form of the word means encouragement, comfort, consulation.
Paul says that God intends to use those areas where we have experienced comfort and encouragement to comfort and encourage other people. In other words, the places where you have received the deepest wounds and experienced the deepest healing are the very places where God wants to use you to minister to other people who are going through what you went through. God wants to use our scars as tools for healing in the lives of other people. Those things the enemy used to beat you down can be used to beat him down in other people’s lives.
In what areas have you experienced your deepest emotional wounds? Your deepest spiritual wounds? Have you ever considered that God wants to use you to bring to others who have experienced a similar blow?
For example, if you experienced a miscarriage, God wants to use the comfort you received to pour comfort and encouragement into the lives of others who have lost children, perhaps through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, or abortion.
Perhaps you aren’t ready. Perhaps you don’t feel that you have the strength to bring comfort to someone else yet. Ask God to bring other people into your life who can encourage and comfort you so that your comfort can flow over into the lives of those around you.
This devotional was originally published August 22, 2019.