In today’s Bible reading, Jesus’ friends sent word that his friend Lazarus has died. Jesus knows that He will raise his friend from the dead. And yet, when He approaches His friend’s grave, He weeps. (John 11:35)
The Jewish bystanders correctly observe that Jesus could have kept Lazarus from dying in the first place. I’m sure that His Disciples wondered why He didn’t go straight to Bethany when He heard that Lazarus was sick. In John 11:4, Jesus says that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, but would lead to glory being given to God. Obviously, Jesus’ understanding of the situation was far better than ours. And yet, He weeps.
Jesus tells the Disciples that He’s glad that Lazarus has died so that they might believe (John 11:15). And yet, He weeps.
Jesus tells Martha that Lazarus will rise from the dead. (John 11:23) Martha acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah. (John 11:27) Yet, he weeps.
Regardless of how hopeless the situation looked, Jesus knew that God would work everything out to His glory. And yet Jesus wept.
Believer, regardless of how hopeless your life situation may look, even in your darkest days, God promises to work out everything that He would be glorified, and that you will be more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)
God, the Sovereign Lord, is on His throne. He is never caught off guard. He is never surprized by anything that happens. But even with all of this being true, when it He approached His friend’s grave, Jesus wept.
It’s ok to express emotions. God created you in His image. God has emotions. God expresses His emotions in healthy ways. And you can, too. You should, too.
Jesus didn’t just weep for Himself. He wept with His friends. Friends rejoice with friends who rejoice. And friends weep when friends weep. (Romans 12:15)
And when your friends go through dark days, God, the Sovereign Lord, is still on His throne. He is never caught off guard. He is never surprized by anything that happens. As your friends weep, be like Jesus and weep with them.
In today’s Bible reading, John tells us about Jesus’ encounter with a man who was born blind. The Jewish leaders asked Jesus about the source of his blindness. Was it his sin or his parents’ sin?
Evidently, these First Century Jewish leaders believed there was a connection between sin and physical ailments. They were partially right. The fact than anyone has any type of physical or mental ailment is ultimately due to the Fall of mankind. One decision in Genesis 3 affected not only the spiritual condition, but also the physical and mental condition of every descendent of Adam and Eve. But the Jewish leaders went too far in believing there was a direct link between this man’s blindness and someone’s sin. Jesus said neither was the source. Instead, He says this man was blind to show the works of God. (John 9:3)
The First Century Jewish leaders aren’t the only ones who try to draw a direct link between sin and illness. Can there be a link between sin and illness? Absolutely! Is there always a direct link? No. And Scripture does not state or imply otherwise. But James tells us that if someone is not well, he/she should pray for healing and deal with whatever sin(s) that may be related to the illness. (James 5:16) And when Paul and Dr. Luke were shipwrecked on the island of Malta, people brought their sick to these two men. Dr. Luke points out (very clearly in Greek) that at least one of the people was healed and others were cured. (Acts 28:8-9)
So why are some people born with physical or mental disabilities? Again, ultimately, this goes back to the decision made by Adam and Eve in the Garden. How could God cause/allow sickness and disease? If God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving, why doesn’t He prevent sickness and disease?
That’s a great question! And to answer it, we must define “all-good”, “all-powerful” and “all-loving” to include “not-always-understandable”. I don’t know why. And the Bible doesn’t tell me why. Nor does it need to. Some things about God are just beyond my comprehension. And God doesn’t owe me explanations for whatever He does. He’s God and I’m not! Sometimes, I just have to trust that He knows what He’s doing and that at some point — on this side, or on the other side of eternity — every Believer will be completely healed.
That trust is called “Faith”. And sometimes, I just have to say, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Acts 28:7)
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.
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.
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.