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2 Corinthians Bible thoughts

Daily Bible thoughts 731: Wednesday 22nd October 2014:

 Galatians 4:8-20

‘’In the egg, when first laid, there is a tiny point of life amid the thick, viscous fluid; but this gradually increases, while the other diminishes, and at last there is hardly a trace of this left, and the chick is formed, the egg-shell is broken, and the tiny feathered thing steps forth. The chick is formed in the shell.’’ F.B. Meyer: ‘Great verses through the Bible’, p.432

It is sad when you see people make good progress in the Christian life, and then start to regress (11). This is so painful for a genuine Christian leader. ‘’I am afraid that all my hard work among you has gone up in a puff of smoke.’’ The Message. That feeling is hard to take. Authentic ministry can be like childbirth (19). You ‘labour’ to see people become increasingly Christ-like, but this work can be excruciating. It’s never more heart-breaking than when you see people go back to their old ways. Do you know how I feel right now, and will feel until Christ’s life becomes visible in your lives? Like a mother in the pain of childbirth. The Message. Pray for Christian leaders. They carry burdens (and wounds) that don’t always show on the surface. They must persevere through great disappointments. Remember this and determine that you will keep them in your prayers, and not insensitively and unnecessarily add to their ‘load’.

There was a time when the Galatian believers were unbelievers (8). This is true of us all. We can look back to when we ‘’did not know God’’. When Paul says, ‘’But now that you know God – or rather are known by God…’’ (9), he is underlining God’s initiative in salvation; His sovereign choice of them. This always precedes our decision to move towards Him. In their pre-Christian days the Galatians were in slavery to idols. In going back to the law, Paul saw them as returning to a form of slavery (9, 10; see also 3). This wasn’t a palatable thing to say. It wasn’t a ‘sermon’ the Galatians wanted to hear. It wasn’t likely to get him an invitation to come back to their church!But Paul would not pull any punches with the gospel itself at stake. The false teachers, who had seen good success with the Galatians, flattered them for their own purposes (17). No-one could ever properly accuse Paul of such an approach. ‘’And now have I suddenly become your enemy simply by telling you the truth? I can’t believe it. Those heretical teachers go to great lengths to flatter you, but their motives are rotten.’’ The Message.

At the core of this passage we see the apostle himself as a living illustration of Romans 8:28. Can good come out of ‘’an illness’’? (14). It did in Paul’s case. It made it possible for him to preach the gospel to the Galatians. (It is thought Paul may have had an eye condition: 4:15; see also 6:11). God was working for Paul’s good. The Galatians treated him with such love and care. He was also working for the Galatians’ good. They heard the gospel through Paul’s physical problem. It can be argued that God was working, too, for the greater God of the many who would later read and benefit from Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches – ourselves included! An illness can have a ‘’because’’ attached to it. In itself it is not a good thing, but God can use it for good and great purposes. ‘’You were well aware that the reason I ended up preaching to you was that I was physically broken, and so, prevented from continuing my journey, I was forced to stop with you. That is how I came to preach to you.’’ The Message. But oh the pain the great apostle must have gone through, to be so loved, and then later on so rejected. Let’s determine that, as far as it lies with us, we will not cause such grief to the leaders Christ, the ascended Lord, has gifted to His church (Ephesians 4).

Prayer: Thank you Sovereign Lord that, although you may allow bad things to happen, you can be trusted to bring good things out of them.

Daily Bible thoughts 649: Monday 30th June 2014:

2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

”He gives you something you can then give away’’ (From verse 11 in The Message.) Giving is a vital part of Christian discipleship.

We are to give generously (6; see also 8-11). This doesn’t just apply to money. It is a general spiritual principle that works out in many ways. But it certainly does apply to money. Think about the realm of agriculture. If you only sow a small part of a field, you will have a relatively small harvest. If you sow a large area of land you can reap a big harvest. I was talking to a farmer and his wife last autumn, and they told me that from a small seed sown you get back something much bigger, more plentiful than you might expect. Proportionately, what you harvest looks far more impressive than what you sow. But, of course, you will get nowhere if you keep the seed in your hand.

We are to give cheerfully (7). One famous preacher paraphrased the last part of this verse as ”Hallelujah! Here comes the plate!!” I heard another leader say that each month, when he and his wife write their tithe cheque, they rejoice that they have once again been able to put to death that greedy, grasping spirit; that poverty mentality that says, ‘I am fearful of shortage.’ Cheerful, and willing giving is one way to overcome the world. (Note that Paul did not stipulate how much people must give; only that they should do so, and generously. He wanted to see ‘free-will offerings’.) ”God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.” The Message.

We are to give abundantly (8-11).

  • The abundance of the giver (8, 9): In verse 9 Paul quotes from Psalm 112:9: He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.” The Message. This is part of the righteous life God calls His people to. It is a life of supplying the needs of others (12), serving (13) and sharing what we have (14). By the way, have you noticed how giving binds people more closely together? ”Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they’ll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need.” (14) The Message.

 

  • The abundance of the harvest (10, 11). We reap more than we sow. But this harvesting is not for the sake of scrooge-like hoarding. It is so that the virtuous cycle of giving can go on and on in ever-increasing circles. The more you give, the more you have to be able to give. What’s more, the glory goes to God (11b; see also 13). ”Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God.” (12) The Message. And, as someone observed, the moment we stop being generous is when God will stop making us rich!

 

We are to give obediently (13). Giving is a mark of Christian obedience, and one of the ways we live out the implications of the Lordship of Christ.

We are to give in recognition of the greatest gift (14). Someone spoke of ”the gift of Christ, so great as to be beyond description, the spring and pattern of our giving.” The thought of Jesus’ self-giving should continually challenge us.

”Let us always remember how great God’s power is (Ephesians 3:20-21). From a tiny seed, God can make a great tree. But we have to let go of that seed; we have to bury it in the ground. If we keep that seed in our pocket, no tree will come from it. In the same way, a small boy once gave away five loaves and two fish to Jesus, and Jesus turned them into a feast for five thousand men! (see Mark 6:35-44).” Tom Hale: The Applied New Testament Commentary, p.683

Prayer: Lord I ask you to direct my giving, that I may always please and glorify you by generosity.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 642: Thursday 19th June 2014:

 2 Corinthians 9:1-5

God wants His people to have generous attitudes. He doesn’t want them to be ”pressed men’ in the realm of giving. He ”loves a cheerful giver” (7). He desires that our giving should be the overflow of something good happening in our hearts (see 8:16).

”For the Macedonian Christians, giving was not a chore but a challenge, not a burden but a blessing. Giving was not something to be avoided but a privilege to be desired.” George Sweeting.

Paul’s handling of the Corinthians on this subject of the offering is a fine example of pastoral tact and sensitivity:

  • He reminds them of what they had promised. Paul knew they’d said it, and they knew they’d said it. Paul didn’t threaten, but he knew how to apply the right amount of pressure by letting them know he hadn’t forgotten their words, and that he had every confidence in them as people of their word!
  • He tells them he has told others about their commitment to give (and paints well a picture of what it will feel like if they don’t do so. They must have felt their cheeks beginning to redden even as they heard Paul’s apostolic words. They could indeed imagine how embarrassing it would be, especially if their failure to deliver came out in front of the Macedonians, who were famous for their giving: 8:1-5)
  • His words and actions demonstrated an expectation that they would make good on their promise, and not grudgingly so. They would know that they had effectively tied themselves by their earlier promise, and they would not be allowed to undo this particular ‘knot’.
  • He was sending the ‘finance team’ to them to help them prepare their contributions, so that when he arrived everything would be in order.
  • But he was coming to them! They would have to face him.

It is not unreasonable for church leaders to have high expectations of those they lead, and to make those expectations clear.

Prayer: May my own heart increasingly reflect the generous heart of God, as you change me by your Spirit.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 641: Wednesday 18th June 2014:

 2 Corinthians 8:16-24

In church administration generally, but particularly in matters of finance, we not only need to be above board, but seen to be above board. Here is a vital example to follow: ”We want to avoid any criticism of the way we handle this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.” (20, 21). ”We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves. We’re being as careful in our reputation with the public as in our reputation with God.” The Message. ”Naturally we want to avoid the slightest breath of criticism in the distribution of their gifts, and to be absolutely aboveboard not only in the sight of God but in the eyes of men.” J.B. Phillips . If you remember, this collection was taken to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem. When people give to a cause, they want to know that their money is going to that cause, and not being diverted somewhere else.

In particular, Paul took pains to show that the men carrying the money were trustworthy, and not like Judas, dipping into the funds for their own gain. Essentially he gives them ‘character references’ in this passage.

  • He mentions Titus and his qualities (16, 23; see also 6). But Paul wisely did not leave this in the hands of one man, however great his reputation was. He didn’t want to leave him exposed to possible criticism (or even temptation?).
  • He also says: ”We’re sending a companion along with him, someone very popular in the churches for his preaching of the Message. But there’s far more to him than popularity. He’s rock-solid trustworthy. The churches handpicked him to go with us as we travel about doing the work of sharing God’s gifts to honor God as well as we can, taking every precaution against scandal.” The Message. (See Prov.22:1) He is described, in the ‘New International Version’ as ”…the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.” (18)
  • Then Paul mentions ‘‘another trusted friend” The Message (22) as part of the ‘finance team’. ”He’s proved his dependability many times over and carries on as energetically as the day he started.” The Message.

Paul could say about the two men accompanying Titus, ”they are representatives of the churches and an honour to Christ.” (23). ”The brothers who travel with him are delegates from the churches, a real credit to Christ.” The Message.

So it is our responsibility to ensure that all who handle church money are of unblemished character without a sniff of suspicion surrounding them. We owe it to the world; we owe it to the church. Above all, we owe it to the Lord Himself.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that you have blessed us so that we can be generous. It is a privilege to give.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 631: Wednesday 4th June 2014:

2 Corinthians 8:8-15

When we tell true stories about the commitment and sacrifice shown by fellow-believers, we are not telling the people under our pastoral care what they must do (8). This is not about emotional manipulation or coercion. But a judicious use of such stories can stir up God’s people to be everything they can be in Him. Sometimes Christians are rocked to sleep in the devil’s ‘cradle’ and they don’t even know that they have ‘dozed off’. They need a wake up call. There are times when what is required is to be exposed to the challenge of red hot Christian lives. Followers of Jesus may get this inspiration by meeting those people who burn with intense love for Christ, or by reading about them, or even hearing about them. There are occasions when we who lead in the church have to, as it were, place the jigsaw box lid on the table where all the pieces are scattered. Then we can all see the picture we are trying to put together. As an apostle, Paul could have told the Corinthians what to do. Instead his approach was more subtle; he told them a story! When you become aware that your own performance is lacking, seeing what best practice looks like can motivate you to want to get there. If your love is ‘sincere’ it will stand comparison with ”the earnestness of others” and seek to rise to that level, and even surpass it. Once give a genuine Christian a vision of what ought to be, and he or she will no doubt aspire to it.

There is no greater example in the matter of Christian giving than that of Christ Himself (9). Stories of other Christians may inspire us, but no-one we know has given as Jesus did. He gave up (leaving the glory and wealth of heaven for a time: ”He was rich beyond our telling…” J.B.Phillips); He gave out (in a life of unstinting service to others); and He laid down (His life on the cross for the sins of the world.) No other has ever given like Jesus. Seek to copy Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is possible in any area of the Christian life to make a good start, and then begin to flag in the middle section of the race (10, 11). This was how it had been with the Corinthians with reference to this collection for the poor Christians in Judea. They had shown great ”desire” to help in the fairly recent past, and had made a start with their giving. Paul wanted to motivate them to finish what they had started. Of course, he was expecting them to give according to their ”means” (11).

What Paul wanted to see was more of a level playing field in the church (11-15 cf. Ex.16:18), where those with more helped those with less. There is a strong sense of mutuality and interdependence in these words. We need each other. ”…the important thing is to be willing to give as much as we can – that is what God accepts, and no one is asked to give what he has not got. Of course, I don’t mean that others should be relieved to an extent that leaves you in distress. It is a matter of share and share alike. At present your plenty should supply their need, and then at some future date their plenty may supply your need.” J.B. Phillips.

Prayer: May I so live that my life will inspire others to ‘burn’ with love for Jesus.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 630: Tuesday 3rd June 2014:

2 Corinthians 8:1-7

There are times when we need to communicate good news to fellow Christians so that it will be an example and an encouragement to them. Let’s learn to tell each other true stories that will help to promote godliness. Paul had something to tell the Corinthians about the ”grace of giving”. Giving is a mark of God’s grace (1). It is a sure sign that He is at work. Wherever there is a work of God you find generosity of heart and action among God’s people. As the Baptist pastor, William Still , said when there is a deep work of the Word and the Spirit in a local church, the people of God ”will delve deeper into their pockets without anyone telling them, and the offerings will swell, and the question on everyone’s heart and mind will be: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Letters of William Still, p.77. In (2; see Luke 21:4) you find a combination of ideas that you would not expect to see hanging out together: ”severe trial…extreme poverty…overflowing joy…rich generosity.” It undoubtedly took ”the grace that God has given” (1; see also 6, 7) to bring about such an outcome. ”Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor.” The Message. This giving was supernatural and miraculous. It certainly was an expression of God’s grace. They gave more than they could afford (3). No wonder Paul wanted the Corinthians to hear about them. He wanted to spur them on to ”love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24). 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 deal with the offering Paul was taking for the needy believers in Judea. The Corinthian church had signed up to help, but they had been dragging their feet (6, 7). Paul used this powerful (and true) ‘sermon illustration’ in order to re-motivate them. We can all be challenged and inspired by hearing about good things other Christians are doing, and we regularly need to be.

How we need to see giving as a ”privilege” (4). F.B. Meyer suggests one reason why Christians don’t give as they should is due to a mistrust of God, and a fear that one day the supplies may run dry. And then what? ”Probably there is no greater test of our true religion than our behaviour in giving. How few, comparatively, give in proportion to their income! How few give systematically! How few have learnt the joy and luxury of giving, so that they abound therein!” Great verses through the Bible, p428.
The key to becoming a generous believer is self-surrender to the Lord Jesus. Put yourself in the offering bag! Stand on the collection plate!! You won’t give your substance if you don’t first give yourself (5). If you’ve responded as you should to the Lordship of Jesus, you will see that everything you have is His, and you will want to use it as He directs. ”What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives.” The Message. ”Pray day and night that you may abound in this grace also; and then, in faith that God is answering your prayer, begin to do violence to your churlish, niggard nature. What though it protest – Give!” F.B.Meyer: Great verses through the Bible, p.429.

Prayer: Lord help me to slay everything that belongs to my old nature, including the fear of lack, and the selfish desire to grip tightly to what isn’t mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Bible Notes 621: Wednesday 21st May 2014:

2 Corinthians 7: 8-16

Leaders have to develop a toughness that is also tender, and it’s not always an easy line to tread. It is certainly a narrow one. How can you be firm when and where you need to be without at the same time becoming cruel and harsh? As we saw yesterday, and see again today, Paul was in turmoil over a severe letter he’d had to send to the church at Corinth. At the same time he was tough enough to write it and courageous enough to put it in the post. He was strong enough to say and do things that might hurt (although it was not his intention to hurt them) in order to see a God-honouring result. The ”Godly sorrow” his letter had caused them had led to ”repentance”. So all was well.

”I know I distressed you greatly with my letter. Although I felt awful at the time, I don’t feel at all bad now that I see how it turned out. The letter upset you, but only for a while. Now I’m glad – not that you were upset, but that you were jarred into turning things around. You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him…Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets. And now, isn’t it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God?” The Message.

‘Trust in God and do the right.’ There are times when a leader has to say to himself or herself, ‘Whatever anyone else is doing, I’m going to do the right thing in this set of circumstances.’ It may not be popular. It may not win you a lot of friends. But if you see people straying from God and His ways, and you try to bring them back to the fold, you can live with your conscience and sleep at night. Hopefully, as here, the outcome will be good. But whatever, you will always know that you showed the courage of your convictions.

A person’s response to confrontation and correction reveals a lot about their heart. Paul believed he knew what the Corinthians were really like at heart, and he had ”boasted” to Titus about them. They had not let him down (14). The seed sown by Paul had fallen into good soil (which was essentially his conviction about their hearts) and produced good fruit. How lovely it is when you meet people who ‘refresh’ you (13). I guess we all know what that feels like.

Maybe you are facing a difficult situation today. You have to say or do (perhaps both) something that is really tough. May God give you the courage to do the right thing, being willing to stand alone if necessary; and the courage to leave the outcome with Him.

Prayer: Lord, let me not be lacking in the courage department when backbone is what is required.

Daily Bible thoughts 620: Tuesday 20th May 2014

 2 Corinthians 7:2- 7

Is there someone you know who is downcast? How can you help them today, and enable their sagging spirits to soar? This passage provides a clue, and we’ll get to the answer shortly.

When you love someone you will not willingly harm them. You might have to hurt them for their good, by chastising them (Paul’s experience with the Corinthians: 8ff) but you wouldn’t wrong them by corrupting or exploiting them (2) or wilfully doing bad things to them. Although Paul had received unjust criticism from some of the Christians in Corinth, out of his great big heart towards them he just wanted to bless them (4). He is a powerful example of a magnanimous, forgiving spirit. Others might want to grub around in the dirt, but he took the high road.

When you are going through difficult seasons in life, nothing lifts your spirits more than to know that there are people who love and care for you, and who are genuinely interested in your welfare. (This was also Paul’s recent experience with the Corinthian church: 6, 7).

Many people will be able to identify with Paul’s words: ”When we arrived in Macedonia province, we couldn’t settle down. The fights in the church and the fears in our hearts kept us on pins and needles. We couldn’t relax because we didn’t know how it would turn out. Then the God who lifts up the downcast lifted our heads and our hearts with the arrival of Titus. We were glad just to see him, but the true assurance came in what he told us about you: how much you cared, how much you grieved, how concerned you were for me. I went from worry to tranquility in no time!” The Message.

(According to 2 Cor.2:12, 13, Paul had gone to Macedonia to meet Titus. The latter was on the return leg from Corinth, carrying with him news of the church there. Titus had earlier been the ‘postman’, carrying to them a severe letter from Paul, and the apostle was concerned about how they had reacted to this (2 Cor.2:3). Had they become angry and rejected him totally? Or had they repented and obeyed his admonitions as they did in the early days. Such questions were preoccupying his mind as he journeyed to Macedonia to find Titus. Thankfully, Titus was carrying news that was music to Paul’s ears: 6, 7). Church leadership is never easy, and at times can be excruciatingly painful. Remember the burdens leaders bear. Keep them in your hearts and prayers and regularly encourage them.

So here’s how to lift up someone’s drooping morale today (and it may be a leader. It could be a great general in the church like Paul.) Be a ‘Titus’ to them. Your very going to be with them will encourage them. And if you carry a message that they are loved and cared for and thought about you will be doing a great work for the Kingdom.

”Have you ever been an answer to someone’s prayers as Titus was?” Warren W. Wiersbe: With the Word, p.760

Prayer: Make me a channel of blessing today.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 611: Wednesday 7th May 2014:

 2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1

There are stark differences between Christians and non- Christians. This is spelled out in the contrasting descriptions given in (14-16). Believers and unbelievers belong to different kingdoms; vastly differing worlds. They don’t speak the same language. Therefore there are certain close relationships (what Paul refers to as being ”yoked together’’) that Christians should not enter into. Paul does not state precisely which he has in mind, but it has long been believed that marriage is a major example. How can you become one with someone who is ”darkness” when you are ”light in the Lord.’’? (Eph.5:8). The Christian in such a situation will usually reason/argue that he or she will win their partner over. Of course it can happen. But the normal flow of events is in the other direction. I heard that Spurgeon was in conversation with a girl from his church who proposed to enter such an unequal partnership. ‘But I’ll pull him up’, she protested. Spurgeon had her stand on a chair in the middle of the room. ‘You pull me up from there,’ he said. She couldn’t, of course. ‘Now let me show you how easy it is for me to pull you down!!’ It is not the case that we are to avoid friendships with people who do not share our faith. But any tying together of our lives is to be avoided. In such a relationship we will constantly pull apart and want to go off in different directions. There will have to be compromise to keep moving forward together, and the disciple of Christ must not compromise his beliefs or commitment to holiness (17 -7:1). The central truth here is that God lives in His church (16), among His people. He also lives in each of us (see 1 Corinthians chapters 3 and 6). We belong to God; we are not our own. Therefore we must put separation between ourselves and anything that would prevent us from fully living out the implications of this relationship. It is a privilege to be God’s people, but it also carries responsibilities.

”Don’t become partners with those who reject God. How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong? That’s not partnership; that’s war. Is light best friends with dark? Does Christ go strolling with the Devil?…Don’t link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself…With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.” The Message.

When you are wearing your best clothes you will do everything you can to avoid staining them or getting them dirty. As a Christian you have a responsibility to be even keener to avoid contact with moral filth. Remember always who you are and whose you are.

Prayer: Lord, if I am going to make a ‘’clean break’’ with everything that would stain my life – and I do want to – I will need your strength. I look to you to help me keep my clothes unstained this day.

 

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