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God’s Will

Nero
Image source: Wikimedia

Peter continues addressing his persecuted, exiled readers (1 Peter 2:11) in today’s Bible reading. Last month, I commented on the historical context around the middle of the First Century. I mentioned Nero was the Roman Emporer at the time. Under Nero’s reign, Christians were persecuted far beyond what many of us can imagine today. “Pure evil” is the only way I can describe it without going into the ugly details.

And yet… Peter tells his readers to submit to every human authority. And lest there be any confusion, Peter says clearly that his command includes the “emperor [Nero] as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.” (1 Peter 2:13–14 CSB)

So what does “submit” mean? Submit was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.[1]

Submission is not a bad word. In fact, no military unit can properly function without it. No marriage can properly function without it. No church can properly function without it. And no country can properly function without it. There has to be a chain of command. The pastor who married Amy and me said, “Anything with more than one head is a monster.”

Peter gives his rationale for his command in verses 12 and 15. “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.” 1 Peter 2:12, 15 (CSB)

Did you catch that? Peter says the reason Believers should submit even to the evil Emperor Nero was so that God would be glorified. He adds that silencing foolish ignorance by doing good is God’s will. Well, you can’t argue with that!

Application

Most of my readers live in the United States and do not have first-hand knowledge of real religious persecution. However, readers in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes may know people who have experienced persecution. They may have even had to alter their way of doing life — especially church life — in order to coexist in a restrictive environment. I have friends who live in one of those restrictive countries and they have to be very careful in the way they communicate prayer needs back to churches in the US. In fact, they don’t even use the words “pray”, “church”, or “Jesus Christ” in their email correspondence.

But regardless of where you live, Peter’s instructions are clear: Submit to every human authority. Every human authority. You may or may not like your President. You may or may not like your Chancellor. You may or may not like your Prime Minister. But regardless of how you feel about your leaders, if you are a Believer, you are obligated to submit to those authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14) and to pray for them. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.

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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)

Application

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!

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Paul brings out a very important and highly applicable point in today’s Bible reading. I’ve already pointed out that the Corinthian church had many problems, including pride and narcissism.

They thought it was all about them. This worldview is man-centered or anthropocentric. If their ideas were correct, then what could they think when they go through hard times? If the universe revolves around me, what am I supposed to think when things don’t go my way? If it’s all about me, then what am I to think when other people disappoint me? What am I to think when I don’t get what I want?

If everything revolves around me then if things don’t go well, I will be angry. All the time. I will blame other people. I will even blame God. I mean, after all, isn’t He there to serve me?

Life doesn’t make sense to pride-ridden narcissists thinking anthropocentrically. But God has a better way. If everything is understood Theocentrically (God-centered), then everything makes sense. Even the things that don’t seem to!

If… God is all good. If… God is all-loving. If… God is all knowing. If… God is all-powerful, then everything has a purpose. Nothing happens by chance. God will work out everything to make His Name great. For any other being in the universe, this would be the height of egotism. But if God were not supremely interested in Himself, He must be supremely interested in something else, making Himself worship something other than Himself, making Himself an idolater. Go back and re-read that again if you need to.

Why did God create the universe? For Him. Why did God create mankind? For Him. Why did God plan the atonement before He created the world, and therefore before our first parents sinned? It wasn’t for us! It was for Him. Why did Jesus die on a cross. For Him. Why? Because God relentlessly pursues His people through a covenant relationship. He did all of these things because we couldn’t. And because if we could, we wouldn’t. We are fallen creatures. We are broken creatures. We, in our natural state, are enemies of God. So God pursued. Not because He needed us. God had an eternity past to enjoy Himself by Himself and the other Persons of the Trinity.

Application

Why did I spend over 350 words talking about man-centered vs. God-centered. Because our worldview matters. A lot! Look at the end of 2 Corinthians 4.

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (CSB)

Paul reminds us that we should focus on what is not seen, not what is seen. As we focus on the unseen realm, all of life will begin to make sense. And the things that don’t make sense, make sense, if God is completely in control.

If this life is all there is,
then there is nothing better.
But Paul says that what we see
can’t hold a candle to the light of the
incomparable eternal weight of glory
(what we can’t see).

Mic Drop!

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Paul began talking about spiritual gifts with 1 Corinthians 12. In yesterday’s reading (Chapter 13), he talked about love. In today’s Bible reading, he continues addressing spiritual gifts, specifically how the gifts should be used in the church setting.

The first thing to note is that things were not just a little bit different in the First Century. Today, at least in the US, we have many churches in metropolitan cities, some right across the street or right next door to ours. That wasn’t true in the First Century. We have structures in place — not just the brick-and-mortar kind, but church governing structures — that weren’t in place in the church at Corinth. We have historical differences. We have cultural differences. We have theological differences. Plus, we have the benefit of hindsight. So we need to be very careful about taking our concepts of how things are done in our Twenty-First Century churches and imposing them onto the church at Corinth.

Obviously, the church at Corinth had problems with their attitudes toward many things, including spiritual gifts. As I have said earlier (and throughout 1 Corinthians), the Church at Corinth had a major issue with narcissism, as well as pride, and a lack of humility.

As I said above, Paul tells us how the gifts should be used in the church setting. He is crystal clear in highlighting the point that when God’s people come together in an official setting, everything is to be done for the good of the church body. Everything. We don’t get to do whatever we want. The church is Jesus’ church. Jesus decides how things are done. Our place is to humbly submit to His design. Or… we can live in disobedience. And that’s not a good thing!

When God’s people come together in an official setting, there is to be order, not chaos. Look at a few of Paul’s comments.

In the same way, unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known? For you will be speaking into the air. So also you—since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, seek to excel in building up the church. What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, another tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up. But everything is to be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:9, 12, 26, 40 (CSB)

In other words, everyone gets to participate. And those who have the same gifts have to take turns. Why? So that everyone benefits.

But I find it interesting that Paul never tells the church leaders to reign in anyone. Paul doesn’t seem to indicate that the leadership should shut down anyone in their chaotic use of their gifts. Instead, the people are to self-regulate. Notice the way Paul says that people should silence themselves, as opposed to being silenced by someone in leadership. Obviously, Paul recognizes that the people have some sense of decorum and humility. But I can see Paul handling things differently if they repeatedly didn’t practice self-control.

But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets. 1 Corinthians 14:28, 30–32 (CSB)

Application

God is generous in giving spiritual gifts. He gives according to His choice of who gets what. No one should be “puffed up” because of God’s choice to give him/her a particular gift. And no one should feel belittled for not receiving one of the “big gifts”. Again, God gives according to His choice. But then again, the focus should be on the Giver, not the gift.

By focusing on the Giver, everyone benefits from the humble, orderly exercise of everyone’s spiritual gifts.

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul discusses spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts tends to be one of those topics that many Christians feel uncomfortable discussing. And unnecessarily so because Paul’s thesis could be boiled down to just three verses:

A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. One and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each person as he wills. But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 18 (CSB)

When many Bible teachers teach on Spiritual Gifts, before anything else, he/she normally distributes a Spiritual Gifts Inventory Questionnaire to the class. After a few minutes, the teacher collects the questionnaires and returns them a week later with a ranking of which spiritual gifts appear strongest in each student.

Sometimes students are a little surprised at the results. But you know something I have never heard? “Wow! I had no idea that was my spiritual gift!” Every time I have taught a class on spiritual gifts, there were no great revelations. Almost everyone responds with a “Hmm. I’ve been doing that for years. I just didn’t know it was my gift.”

That was my mom’s response when she saw her high “scores” for the spiritual gift of Helps. Previously, she was certain that she didn’t have a spiritual gift. But everyone around her knew her servant heart. The Questionnaire simply highlighted that gift that she was already using.

Almost without exception, people realize that they naturally gravitate to the gifts they have. The results of the Spiritual Gifts Inventory simply confirm what the student already knew.

I am confident that Paul never asked a church to complete a Spiritual Gifts Inventory Questionnaire. Paul’s emphasis wasn’t on the gift(s) that someone had. Those three verses ( 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 18 ) were all that Paul was really concerned with. Paul’s bottom line was that God manifests Himself in believers as He chooses for the common good of the Body of Christ in order that God would get the glory.

But of course, the Corinthians were more concerned with which gift(s) they had and how much more “spiritual” they were than others because they had a particular gift. As I have said several times about the Corinthians: they (like we) were narcissists; they thought everything was about them.

But Paul tapped the brakes and told them to put God at the center of their discussion of spiritual gifts. And so should we.

Application

The purpose of the spiritual gifts is to equip the church to be the church to do the work of the church. None of the spiritual gifts is about that gift. None. God distributes every gift according to His sovereign design. Believers don’t get to pick and choose which gift they have. If they did, some gifts might be chosen by everyone, while other gifts would only have a few takers.

I won’t ask what your spiritual gift is because if you are living in a growing dependence on the Holy Spirit, you will (super)naturally manifest the gift(s) God has given to you. As you grow in the use of your gift(s), you will (super)naturally do everything you can to help others through the use of your gift(s). Your focus won’t be on your gift, but rather your focus will be on helping other people grow in their faith. And when they work together properly, the spiritual gifts will produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Tomorrow, we’ll see a little more about how this is supposed to work.

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