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.
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.
This devotional was originally published August 23, 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.
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
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.
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.
This devotional was originally published August 16, 2019.
Despite what some preachers may tell you these days, you cannot unhitch the New Testament from the Old Testament. Today’s Bible reading demonstrates this fact.
John the Baptizer was Jesus’ cousin. Luke recorded Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22. But just before baptizing Jesus, Dr. Luke referred to Isaiah’s prophecy, saying that someone would come, announcing the Messiah’s birth (Isaiah 40:3-5). I don’t know if John realized he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy or not. I don’t know how aware he was of his situation, but he did make mention of Jesus being the Lamb of God Who takes away the world’s sins. (John 1:29)
Anyway… when John’s disciples come to Jesus asking if He is the One they’re waiting for, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 61 — the very passage He had read from when the synagogue officials handed Isaiah’s scroll to Him in Luke 4!
“The Spirit of the Lord God is on
me,because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn.” Isaiah 61:1–2 (CSB)
Jesus responds, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news,” Luke 7:22 (CSB)
Reading Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ response to John’s disciples side-by-side, you cannot deny that Jesus is applying Isaiah to Himself: good news, healing, and liberty.
After John’s disciples leave, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 40, telling the crowd that John’s was the voice that cried out in the wilderness:
A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 40:3–5 (CSB)
Yes, John’s was the voice that Isaiah said would cry out in the desert, urging everyone to prepare for the Messiah’s arrival. And Jesus was the Messiah!
Have you had trouble understanding the Old Testament? Have you struggled to figure out how the two Testaments fit together, if at all?
I can tell you that I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I have questioned why Christians even need to read the Old Testament. But not
Listen to Jesus. Listen to Peter. Listen to Paul and the other New Testament writers. The words of the Prophets and the words of the Psalmists roll off their lips. They knew their Bible. And their Bible was what we call the Old Testament.
As you read through the New Testament this year, don’t gloss over the references back to the Old Testament. When you read the Old Testament, ask yourself, “Where is Jesus in this passage?” If you look a little closer, you’ll see Jesus on every page of the Old Testament. And you’ll find the Old Testament quoted or alluded to over and over again in the New Testament. It’s as if God planned it all along!
The Old Testament. The New Testament. It’s all part of One Big Story: The relentless pursuit of God for His people in a covenant relationship.
Don’t read the Bible, trying to unhitch it from its overall context. It wasn’t written that way! If your Bible has cross-references, use them to see how God interweaves His Word with His Word. You’ll be amazed
This devotional was originally published July 5, 2019.
My barber had a sign in his barber shop, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It’ll keep you busy, but it won’t get you anywhere.” In today’s Bible reading from Philippians 4, Paul gives the best remedy to worry: prayer.
Most of the time when we come to verses like Philippians 4:6, we see anxiety/worry as a completely negative thing. However, I think Paul would argue that anxiety/worry can be a good thing. That is, anxiety/worry can be a good thing if it reminds us to pray. But if we don’t use anxiety/worry as a reminder to pray, it can quickly become paralyzing.
Just a few minutes ago, I came across a blog post that pointed out that not worrying doesn’t mean not caring. You can care a great deal, and yet not worry. And that’s what we’re called to do. (Romans 12:15)
Philippians 4:6-9 could be summed up, “Instead of worrying, pray and let God handle it.” Verses 6-7 are the main statement about turning our worry focus onto prayer focus: Don’t worry, but pray. And God promises to give incomprehensible peace.
But Paul doesn’t stop with verse 7. He gives us tangible things to think about as we shift our focus from worry to prayer.
“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8–9, CSB)
Paul says that if we’ll turn our focus from worry to prayer and think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, of moral excellence and praiseworthy, not only will God give us His peace (Philippians 4:7). God will give us Himself! (Philippians 4:9) The peace of God and the God of peace!
I know. I know. Not worrying is difficult. Turning your focus from anxiety/worry to prayer is hard. I know.
Most of the things you worry about will probably never come to pass. And anxiety/worry takes your eyes off the One Who can actually do something about what you’re worried about.
It’s OK to tell God you’re having problems obeying his command to not worry. (Mark 9:24) We’ve all been there way more often than we’d like to admit.
Note: There is a clinical condition called anxiety. If you’ve been diagnosed with this mental illness, follow Paul’s instructions: Pray. At the same time, don’t be ashamed to take your prescribed medications. God can heal you of your anxiety: Sometimes He chooses to do it miraculously, and sometimes He chooses to use doctors and meds. Acts 28:8–9 records both ways God healed people through Paul and Dr. Luke. A few months ago, I commented on
This devotional was originally published June 19, 2019.