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Encouragement

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Conflict

I mentioned yesterday the importance of noting repeated words and phrases in a limited number of Bible verses. In today’s Bible reading, “pain” and its derivatives occur seven times in 2 Corinthians 2:1-7. Evidently not all was well between the Apostle and the church at Corinth. Where the first paragraph in 2 Corinthians 1 was about comfort, the first paragraph of 2 Corinthians 2 is about pain between Paul and the Corinthians.

Paul may have been referring to 1 Corinthians, or he may be referring to another letter that wasn’t preserved for us. If this is the case, it’s no cause for worry; if God wanted us to have that letter, we would have that letter.

Paul gives us a glimpse into the feelings of a church leader when things aren’t right in the church. Of course, Paul was an apostle, so he wasn’t involved in the normal day-to-day operations of the church at Corinth. But he had planted the church and wanted everything to go smoothly. But oftentimes, things don’t go smoothly in a local church.

Application

Maybe you’ve never seen church conflict that results in long-lasting hurt feelings in yourself or someone else. But sometimes the hurts are caused by the malicious actions of others, wolves in sheep clothing or “well-intentioned dragons“. Regardless of how, the wounds are real. But God can bring healing where there has been hurt.

Dealing with church conflict requires integrity. And it requires humility. If you’ve been hurt, take the high road and extend an olive branch of forgiveness. If you’ve done the hurting, take the high road and ask for forgiveness. Pride and malice can wound very deeply. So can harboring a root of bitterness, distrust, and unforgiveness. Jesus had some pretty strong words for those who would seek to give to God’s work when things aren’t right between them and another believer. Basically He said, if things aren’t right between you and another believer, don’t bother coming to worship the Father. Make it right and then come to give to His work. (Matthew 5:23–24)

Note: If your church is dealing with conflict, please seek the help of others, perhaps professional mediation. In my tribe, that would be an association Director of Missions. For United Methodists, it would be a District Superintendent. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of other denominational organizations, but I’m sure each one has resources.

I also recommend a book written by my friend, Eric Willis, Sacred Conflict: Resolution Skills for the Follower of Christ.

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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.

Application

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.

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The Resurrection

The Resurrection of Jesus either happened or it didn’t. So what difference would it make if it did or didn’t happen? What if it never happened and the entire Christian movement — from the very beginning — is based on hopeful wishes of Jesus’ Disciples? Would that make much difference?

Paul thinks the Resurrection is a pretty big deal. In today’s Bible reading, he goes so far as to say that if the Resurrection of Jesus didn’t actually happen, then Jesus is dead. If Jesus is dead, then Christians are liars for claiming He’s alive when He’s dead. He says that if the Resurrection didn’t happen, then we don’t have forgiveness of sin, and our faith is useless. (1 Corinthians 15:17) Useless!

Paul says that the Christian movement didn’t just arise out of a vacuum. He says that Jesus’ death and His Resurrection were grounded in the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The Christian movement wasn’t a new religion invented in the middle of the First Century. Instead, it was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. It wasn’t just a sectarian branch of Judaism. It was the fulfillment of Judaism! All of the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Jesus!

Application

Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can have a relationship with the holy Creator of the universe! Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can be transformed from strangers and enemies of God to being sons and daughters of God. Because the Resurrection happened, you and I can be adopted by the most loving Father anyone ever hoped of having. Because the Resurrection happened, you and I have hope for an eternity with God in heaven. And because of the Resurrection, you and I have been given all of the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)

Spend a few minutes contemplating the magnitude of the reality of the Resurrection. Then spend a few minutes today praising God for the miracle of the Resurrection.

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Today’s Bible reading is often called “The Love Chapter”. Part of this chapter 1 Corinthians 13:4–7) is often used during wedding ceremonies. But Paul didn’t write this chapter to describe marital love.

Instead, he wrote it to show the superiority of love over spiritual gifts. He goes so far as to say that without love, the spiritual gifts are worthless. Wow! That puts spiritual gifts in a different perspective when you have a church arguing about who’s more spiritual than others based on their spiritual gifts. (See yesterday’s devotional.)

The church at Corinth was not unlike us today in that we tend to elevate some spiritual gifts while diminishing the importance (or validity) of others. We also tend to misuse and abuse spiritual gifts. More on that in a minute.

Are all of the spiritual gifts for today? Paul seems to indicate the tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will go away “when the perfect comes” (1 Corinthians 13:10). And many Bible teachers use 1 Corinthians 13:8 as their basis for their cessationist theology (cessationism believes these gifts have “ceased” in their legitimate purpose) because the Bible is God’s perfect revelation. But is this what Paul is talking about? Did Paul have the completed Biblical canon in mind when he wrote verse eight?

As I have said many times, whenever you want to understand a Bible passage, take a step back and look at the context. Read a few sentences before and a few sentences after the sentence in question. Yes, I believe the Bible is God’s perfect revelation. It is the only authority for what I teach and preach. But I don’t believe that Paul had the completed Bible in mind when he said that some of the gifts would end.

Look at 1 Corinthians 13:12 where Paul explains “when the perfect comes” as when we see Jesus face-to-face. In other words, the “perfect comes” when we cross over to the other side of eternity. Paul implies that until then, all of the spiritual gifts will have a legitimate purpose in building up Jesus’ church.

Cessationists would have us to believe that if all of the gifts were still operational after the Apostles died, we should expect to see widespread expression of those gifts. Since we don’t, they don’t. And cessationists often claim that the misuse of tongues is further proof that the gift of tongues isn’t for today.

OK, first, go back to verse twelve. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen Jesus face-to-face as Paul describes. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

Second, just because a gift is misused doesn’t mean the gift isn’t legitimately operational today.

Third, I would argue that the gift of tongues is not the most misused spiritual gift. Perhaps the most abused spiritual gifts are teaching and prophecy/exhortation (preaching). And I say that as a Bible teacher and preacher. I can’t think of any way that anyone can say that they were spiritually wounded because someone spoke in tongues. But I can’t count how many people I know who have been spiritually wounded because of what a Bible teacher or preacher said when “speaking for God”.

Finally, love is the mark of properly using a spiritual gift. If a gift is used without love, it doesn’t mean the gift isn’t legitimate. It just means the gift isn’t being used in a legitimate way. And that applies to all of the spiritual gifts.

Application

Have you been spiritually wounded by someone who misused a spiritual gift? They weren’t using their gift in love? If you were wounded by a preacher or Bible teacher because they weren’t using their spiritual gifts in love, let me simply say, “I’m sorry. The way they used their gift was wrong.”

Now, having said that, let me add that sometimes using a gift like teaching or prophecy/exhortation can come across as abrasive. Quite frankly, a lot of the Bible can come across as abrasive! And rightfully so! Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) The sharpening process is by definition abrasive. In using their spiritual gifts, Bible teachers and preachers sometimes have to be abrasive. But just like everyone else with their spiritual gifts, Bible teachers and preachers need to exercise their gifts in love.

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Paul discusses several related topics in today’s Bible reading. I think an appropriate summarizing word would be Contented.

Paul discusses people who are married. They should be contented in their situation. Paul discusses singles. They should be contented in their situation.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t set goals. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have aspirations. But at the end of the day, Believers should be contented in their situation. God is God and we aren’t.

Let each one live his life
in the situation the Lord assigned when God called him.
This is what I command in all the churches.
1 Corinthians 7:17 (CSB)

Let each of you remain
in the situation in which he was called.
1 Corinthians 7:20 (CSB)

Brothers and sisters, each person is to remain with God
in the situation in which he was called.
1 Corinthians 7:24 (CSB)

Application

Each of us is at a different place in our lives and in our walk with God. God wired each of us differently and gave each of us a different personality mix and a different gift mix according to His will.

Are you a Type-A personality? Or are you more laid-back? Do you have dreams and aspirations? That’s ok. Just remember to let God shape those dreams and aspirations into His dreams and aspirations for you.

A person’s heart plans his way,
but the Lord determines his steps.
Proverbs 16:9 (CSB)

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Psalm 37:4 (CSB)

The key to all of this is to find our delight in God. Not in stuff. Not in positions. Not in people. In Jesus. Spend a few minutes today thanking God for making you unlike anyone else who ever walked on this planet. Thank Him for your unique wiring, your unique personality. Thank Him for making you, you.

God is most glorified in us
when we are most glorified in Him.

John Piper

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1 2 3 12

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