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Kingdom of God

Stronghold, castle

If you’ve been around church very long and you’ve heard about “spiritual warfare”, you’ll find one of the key passages on the subject in today’s Bible reading.

Paul says, “For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 (CSB)

Oftentimes when we run into rough times in our walk with God, prayer is our last resort. Prayer should be our first resort! Why? Because prayer is a very powerful weapon in the battle for our hearts that’s fought mostly in our minds. Unfortunately, we often use prayer as a domestic intercom (“Butler, please adjust the thermostat.”) when prayer is actually a wartime walkie-talkie (“Commander, send reinforcements!”).

Prayer and the other spiritual weapons in our arsenal (Ephesians 6:10-20) are Weapons of Mass Destruction. When Paul says that our weapons are powerful for demolishing strongholds, he isn’t kidding! The word translated demolishing means absolute obliteration. Jesus uses the word to describe the coming destruction of the Temple in Luke 21:6 when “not one stone will be left on another that will not be thrown down.”

Our weapons tear down strongholds, defined as “1. a castle, stronghold, fortress, fastness. 2. anything on which one relies. 2A. of the arguments and reasonings by which a disputant endeavours to fortify his opinion and defend it against his opponent.”[1]

Our WMDs attack the false arguments and thoughts that exalt themselves against knowing God. And do you remember what eternal life is? It is knowing God. (John 17:3) Proper use of our spiritual arsenal can affect people’s eternal destinies!

We often think of “spiritual warfare” as fighting demonic forces. But did you notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about using our spiritual arsenal against demonic forces? Of course, I believe in the influence of demonic forces in the life of Believers. But perhaps instead of fighting demons, most of our spiritual warfare has more to do with reclaiming the “thought territory” that we previously surrendered to demonic forces.

Application

A good friend wisely said, “You will never win a spiritual battle with a fleshly weapon.” If that’s true, why do we tend to resort to using fleshly weapons? Because those are the ones we are most familiar with, despite the fact that our spiritual weapons are infinitely more powerful. But we need to grow accustomed to using our spiritual arsenal so we are able to deal most effectively with spiritual warfare.

Using our spiritual weapons to win a battle isn’t the end of their use. We also use our spiritual WMDs to take every thought captive that we would obey Jesus.

[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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piggy bank

In today’s Bible reading, Paul makes the case for personal budgeting for missions. He tells the church at Corinth to set aside a little extra money every week so that when it comes time to take up a collection, everyone can participate in the blessing of supporting Paul’s mission work.

You may have heard (or personally experienced) the rationing that was done during World War II. People gave up certain things so that the war effort could be carried out. Ladies went without their nylons. Copper pennies were replaced by steel pennies (I actually have some 1978 steel pennies).

John Piper has made the case that Believers should live with a wartime mindset, similar to the mindset people had during the War. Why? Because spiritual war is more real than physical war. The cost of souls dying without Jesus is higher than the cost of soldiers going off to war.

Application

Do you have a wartime mindset when it comes to your finances? Pray about how God would want to use you to further His Kingdom with your finances. Paul didn’t tell the Corinthians how much to set aside, just that they should set aside something. You don’t have to give huge sums of money. But if you set aside a little money each week, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll have available when it comes time to give to the cause of missions locally, in your state, in the US, and around the world.

I remember piggy banks that looked like a bowl of rice that churches used to hand out for missions collection. What a great idea! It reminds you of the basic needs that people have to have in order to survive. And how much more important than food is eternal life?

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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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Divine Wisdom

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)

Application

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.

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