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!
When the New Testament writers told their stories, they had the memorized and printed Word of Scripture to draw from. Their Bible (our Old Testament) was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. It had been recorded in the language of the common people at the time.
By the First Century, many people in what is now Israel still spoke Aramaic. But many others throughout Asia Minor and Southern Europe spoke Greek. Scholars observed differences between Attic Greek and the New Testament Greek and thought that it was some kind of “Holy Spirit” Greek, something that only appeared in the New Testament.
However, at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s, many documents were discovered, written in this new form of Greek. These documents were everyday types of documents, not Scriptures. Scholars discovered that this new Greek wasn’t special at all. It just happened to be the language spoken by common, everyday people throughout the area conquered by Alexander the Great. This new Greek was called Koine (pronounced COIN-ay) Greek, or common Greek.
Side Note: We in Western Christianity have the Bible in our common vernacular than at any other time in history. While many of our homes have the Bible in several English translations, many other parts of the world only have the Bible in one translation and it isn’t even in their Mother Tongue because translators haven’t yet learned their language. I plan to share some news about a new tremendous translation effort in the coming months.
You may have heard the expression, “You may be the only Bible many people ever read.“? I think the idea came from 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, in today’s daily Bible reading.
Now, if that expression is true, what do people conclude about the Bible they read?
Do they see condemnation and pain? Do they see encouragement and comfort? Do they see a religious holier-than-thou attitude? Do they see redeeming love?
Oftentimes the Bible people read when they look at us reflects the Bible we read when we were growing up. I know a lot of Believers who grew up under “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. They never heard of God’s love. One friend said she always felt that God was mad at her and if she messed up, He might squish her. Many Believers today have only heard of a loving God and have heard nothing of God’s righteous judgement.
Unfortunately, those who know only God’s judgment and those who know only God’s love have an incomplete view of God. Despite the common belief, the God of the Old Testament is the same God we see in the New Testament. He doesn’t change. (Hebrews 13:8)
If we are the only Bible some people ever read, then when people read us, they need to see a complete view of God, or as complete a view as possible, given that we are fallible, errant, and not inspired. That can only happen as we read across the genres of the Bible, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Prophecy, the History, the Poetry and Wisdom Literature, the Teaching Literature, and the Apocolyptic Literature. As we read, study, and apply the written Word, our attitudes, our beliefs, and our behaviors will begin to reveal a more complete Bible for our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers to read.
Spend a few minutes today contemplating the statement, “You may be the only Bible some people ever read.” Ask God to show you how you can reveal a more complete view of God in your attitudes, your beliefs, and your behavior.
Realize that you may be the only Bible that people read. Help them read between the lines. Tell them how God has made a difference in your life. Give them the Gospel message in words, not just actions. Without hearing the Gospel message, they will never come to a saving faith.
So faith comes from what is heard,
and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.
Romans 10:17 (CSB)
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)
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.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul discusses spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts
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
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.
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.
Picking up from yesterday, in today’s Bible reading, I don’t think Paul was taking a jab at Apollos, but he highlights his goal in preaching the gospel to the Corinthians. He didn’t want to come in his own strength and wisdom. He didn’t want to come with flowery speech. He said he would rather come in humility in the power of the Holy Spirit. And that’s what he did.
In our study on the Kingdom of God in church, we saw that God’s Kingdom doesn’t look like one would expect it to look like. God’s wisdom is similar.
we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age knew this wisdom, because if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:7–8 (CSB)
Paul says that unless God had revealed this hidden wisdom, no one would ever know it. (1 Corinthians 2:10) And reading through this section (1 Corinthians 2:6-16), it sounds like something you’d see in the Book of Hebrews where the author demonstrates how everything now is so much better than it was under the Old Covenant.
Paul says, as great as worldly wisdom is, God’s wisdom is far superior because God has hidden it until now. God has revealed — and has freely given to His kids — spiritual wisdom from the very mind of God. And not only that, but we have the mind of Christ! (1 Corinthians 2:16)
I think the more I know of God, the more I need to know — and the more I feel that I don’t know Him. That’s the way it is when you’re trying to comprehend the Infinite when you’re so finite. But the good thing is, God welcomes our questions. In fact, He’s glorified in our searching out His hidden wisdom. (Proverbs 25:2)
I once heard wisdom defined as applied knowledge. Not knowledge itself, but applied knowledge. We know that the fear of God is the beginning of both wisdom (Proverbs 9:10) and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).
You might want to try this:
There are thirty-one days in most months and there are thirty-one Proverbs, one for each day. Today is August 1. Read through Proverbs 1. What does that chapter tell you about wisdom? Ask God what He wants you to do about what you read. In other words, how can you apply the knowledge you gain from Proverbs 1?
Each day this month, read that date’s Proverb and ask God to show you something new, something that He wants you to apply for that day.