Fairness that hinders

Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.  1 Cor 9:12

In the context of this verse the apostle Paul is commenting on his right, as a minister of the gospel, to receive financial assistance from those he ministers to.  But rather than see the spread of the gospel hindered among them, he preferred rather to endure the hardship of going without.  What wisdom from God!

Just a few chapters earlier Paul had counseled the Corinthians on their unwise and ungodly practice of bringing lawsuits against one another before the unbelieving world.  “Why do you not rather accept wrong?  Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?”  (1 Corinthians 6:7).  How we cringe at the very suggestion of such a thing.

There is something in our human nature that leads us to feel as though we are entitled to certain things.  One of those things is fairness.  If someone crosses us or treats us poorly we want them to know about.  We probably want other people to know about it as well.  And we want it to be made right.  So we broadcast our offense because we feel entitled to something better.  It’s only fair.  Thus we reason with ourselves and justify our actions and attitudes. 

And the gospel of Christ is hindered because we insist on our “rights”.

My heart aches over the times I have hindered the gospel of Christ because I felt entitled to dwell on petty offenses.  What small thinking this is.  Let us consider Christ, who of all people was treated most unfairly.  Yet he endured the shame of it all.  Why?  For the joy that was set before Him.

There is for us also a joy that awaits.  It is the joy of hearing the very voice of our own Lord Jesus saying “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”  For this brief little moment called life there will be the pain of suffering silently, but oh what bliss to know that we have not hindered the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Threatened by Jesus

“And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.” Mark 11:18

Jesus has just cleansed the temple, driving out the money changers and bringing accusation against those who had turned God’s house into a den of thieves. To grasp the significance of this event, picture Jesus ordering a group of hardened-hearted business men away from their profitable occupation. He was certainly outnumbered, but he physically upset their work area, rebuked them publicly and ordered them out. And they went! His actions proclaimed loudly “Not in My house!” This authority is what drew the admiration of the people and the hatred of the religious establishment.

I wonder if the scribes and chief priests had received some financial benefit from the marketplace they had allowed in the temple. People do get angry when you touch their wallet.

Maybe they just didn’t like this “new guy” coming in and making all kind of changes and gaining a following. He wasn’t even part of their group. Any maybe just the fact that He never even wanted to be part of their group infuriated them.

I suppose these things are possible, but they are speculation. The verse tells us that they feared Him because of the reaction of the people to His teaching. And while they may have disregarded some of His teachings, surely they remembered these (to list just a few):

He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.” Mark 7:9

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Matthew 23:25-26

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Mathew 23:27-28

His teaching threatened their position, their authority and their respectability. They had much to lose and they were not willing to let that happen. So they resorted to murder.

The presence of Jesus is still a threat to many. He threatens their belief in the sufficiency of their own goodness. He threatens their desire to create their own standard of right and wrong and live by their own rules. He threatens their trust in themselves as the master of their own destiny.

Really there are only two possible responses. You will either look upon Him with amazement, seeing Him as the only Savior to deliver you from your sins, or you will harden your heart against Him. But one thing is certain – you will not meet Jesus Christ and be unchanged.

Selfish Ambition and Vain Conceit

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  Philippians 2:3

My study of Philippians today included this verse.  Of particular interest to me was that the word “Do” was not in the original Greek, but was supplied by the translators.  Several commentaries agreed that in keeping with the context of the verses before and after, it would probably be more accurate to have supplied the word “Think”.  This certainly increases the intensity of the verse, extending it beyond our actions and into our thought life.

The following passage is from the Albert Barnes commentary.  See if you can read through it without seeing yourself.  I couldn’t.

The idea seems to be that of mere self-esteem; a mere desire to honor ourselves, to attract attention, to win praise, to make ourselves uppermost, or foremost, or the main object. The command here solemnly forbids our doing anything with such an aim – no matter whether it be in intellectual attainments, in physical strength, in skill in music, in eloquence or song, in dress, furniture, or religion. Self is not to be foremost; selfishness is not to be the motive. Probably there is no command of the Bible which would have a wider sweep than this, or would touch on more points of human conduct, if fairly applied. Who is there who passes a single day without, in some respect, desiring to display himself? What minister of the gospel preaches, who never has any wish to exhibit his talents, eloquence, or learning? How few make a gesture, but with some wish to display the grace or power with which it is done! Who, in conversation, is always free from a desire to show his wit, or his power in argumentation, or his skill in repartee? Who plays at the piano without the desire of commendation? Who thunders in the senate, or goes to the field of battle; who builds a house, or purchases an article of apparel; who writes a book, or performs a deed of benevolence, altogether uninfluenced by this desire? If all could be taken out of human conduct which is performed merely from “strife,” or from “vain-glory,” how small a portion would be left!

No Light – No Hope

In darkened lands, where no light dwells
Where no voice yet the gospel tells

A people lost and with no hope
No light, so they in darkness grope

My heart so long in ignorance
Or should we call it avoidance?

So easy, life, when all concerns
On that for which my own heart yearns

But God says “Daughter, you must see
The multitudes that know not me

And if your heart breaks not at this
Then has your faith not gone amiss?”

So now a heart that sees, that knows
Is this not the heart that goes?

Or do I stay and yet deny
That I have ever heard the cry

Of people lost and with no hope
No light, so they in darkness grope

And now for your listening pleasure – the Holy Word of God

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16

I remember when I was a new believer, knowing almost nothing about Christianity. I couldn’t wait until Sunday to hear the Word of God preached. Frequently I was fighting back tears during the service as the Word pierced my heart. But God was changing my heart and transforming my whole life in these moments when His Word penetrated my heart. It was a glorious time.

I wish I could say that I have maintained such a teachable heart throughout the course of my walk with Christ, but that hasn’t always been the case. I learned how to sit through a message and close my heart from being impacted, all the while nodding my head in agreement with the pastor and saying my fair share of AMENs. How very religious of me…….

But in the mercy of God He send those “wake up” moments where He allows you to see yourself clearly. It isn’t pretty. I had one such moment a few weeks ago.

We had a visiting preacher who shared a very strong message on the lack of compassion in the church from Matthew 25 and also from the story of the good Samaritan. Because this was a subject that the Lord had already been dealing with me about, as I heard the message I was cut to the heart by the Word of God. So much so that I could have wept out loud. I was incapable of issuing forth a single AMEN.

As I sat there wordlessly, reeling from the impact of the message, all around me I heard the excited AMENs from the congregation. And I became angry. I wanted to stand up and shout “DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT YOU?” But really, I was angry at myself for allowing my own heart to become calloused and hardened and for all the times I hadn’t realized he was talking about me. I had become like those in the book of Ezekiel:

As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, “Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. Ezekiel 33:30-32

Oh what danger there is in taking the Word of God lightly and not esteeming every speaking or preaching of it as the Word of God to ME. While I may not entertain myself with TV and movies like the world does, is it any more holy to entertain myself with the preaching of the Word of God?

“Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Jeremiah 23:29

Yes, indeed it is.

Progress and joy

As Paul shares with the Philippian church the reason he feels that it is necessary for him to continue living, he gives two reasons: for your progress and joy of faith. (Phil 1:25)

One of the things that is heartbreaking to see is the number of believers who seem to have a shallow faith. They remind me of the hearer who received the seed sown on stony places who has no root and stumbles when tribulation or persecution arises (Matthew 13:20-21).

In prosperous countries such as America, there seems to be little willingness to endure hardship for Christ. But as the apostle Paul talks about their advancing and progressing in the faith, he goes on to talk about suffering. What a tremendous thing he says about suffering in verse 29 – that it has been granted to us for Christ’s sake. To get the full impact of the verse, you must know that the word granted means to show ones’ self gracious, kind and benevolent. Hear this – it is a gift of grace directly from the hand of God to suffer for Christ. These are hard words, not likely to be embraced by those with a shallow faith. But Paul wants to help the Philippians as they begin to experience persecution for the name of Jesus, and assure them that they need not be ashamed of the suffering they are undergoing.

Another critical component of faith that Paul wanted to help the Philippians with was joy. What a strange combination – suffering and joy. But the apostle Paul’s experience was that these two seemingly contradictory things are perfectly suited to dwell together. Remember when he was in the Philippian jail after having been beaten? His heart was so full of joy that he was singing!! Those who live in nations where it is dangerous to be a Christian and where the church is underground can probably attest to this fact. There is a special grace during persecution and suffering, and Paul wants the Philippians to experience this as well.

In America we have been spared the persecution that Christians in many other parts of the world endure on a daily basis. For now. But if the day should come when it will really cost us something to stand for Christ, are our hearts prepared? Let us meditate on these words of the Saviour:

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

May the Lord so strengthen our hearts that we are prepared to joyfully endure all things for the glory of Christ.

It was needful

As I began to study through the book of Philippians, I must confess that I was looking forward to chapters 2-4.  Those are some of my favorite chapters in the Bible.  However, chapter one has held some wonderful surprises for me.   As I look back over my notes from this chapter I am overwhelmed by what I have seen of Paul’s love for the believers at Philippi.

I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the Philippian believers hearing this letter read as Paul expresses his deep thankfulness to God for their faithful partnership with him in the gospel.   How their hearts must have been encouraged as Paul explained to them the hand of God at work in his imprisonment.  How this body of believers must have been strengthened by Paul’s exhortation to be faithful in the midst of their sufferings for Christ.  Paul cared for these people deeply.

But probably most revealing are verses 21-26.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.  For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.  And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.

Even though Paul’s longing was to go be with Christ, which was by far much better than his current existence, yet he was willing to stay here to be of benefit to these people of God.  This is no small thing.  Paul’s life as a believer had been no picnic.  Full of persecutions and all manner of trouble, when Paul wasn’t imprisoned, he was frequently fleeing from one city only to be persecuted in the next.  Death would have been easier for Paul than life.  For Paul, life was painful.  And yet he says, “it is needful for you”.

How beautifully this portrays our Jesus, who thought not of His own comfort or convenience, but who left His eternal dwelling in glory to walk among us, to serve and give, to lay His life down.  This is something far more glorious than my mind can fully comprehend. “Why Lord?” I ask.  “Why did you do it?”

“Because it was needful for you”

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Refusing to be silenced by shame

…that in nothing I shall be ashamed… Philippians 1:20

To be ashamed is to have a feeling of fear or shame which prevents a person from doing a thing. It could either be the external rejection and condemnation levied against us by others, or perhaps it is the accusation of our own conscience. Either way, shame is a silencer.

What must it have felt like for Paul, once a highly respected man of religion, to now be chained as a common criminal and hated and reviled by those (the Pharisees) who had once been his brothers? He was an educated man with an impressive pedigree. Now he is a prisoner. A prisoner for Christ, but still a prisoner.

This is the same Paul who imprisoned believers before his conversion, and now he himself is in prison. How he must have been mocked.

The story of Peter’s rescue from prison by angels was surely not unknown to him and the other believers. As happened to Jesus on the cross, was Paul taunted by those who asked why his God didn’t rescue him?

There must surely have been moments when Paul was confronted by all of these thoughts. But even though Paul is confined by the walls of his prison, he will not allow himself to be confined by a shame that keeps him from speaking boldly for Christ. Very possibly he has always known that he was not worthy to carry the message of the gospel, as he tells the Philippians in verse 29 that their faith (as well as his) has been granted for the sake of Christ. So also, for the sake of Christ, Paul is a messenger of the gospel. No need to be ashamed of not being worthy now. He never was.

His words are – in nothing I shall be ashamed.

Not his past
Not his present
Not his circumstances
Not his God

Shame loses its power when we can fall back into the grace of God and no longer feel compelled to prove that we are worthy of it. We’re not. That’s why it’s grace.

Sweet, sweet grace that silences the screeching of shame and opens our mouths to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that others can also be free of sin and shame.

Amen and amen.

Your blessing is my testing

And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ Matthew 20:11-12 (For the complete story, read verses 1-16)

What a curious and ugly bit of human nature is exposed by this story. We all like to have good things happen to us. We rejoice when we receive a promotion at work, or an unexpected financial blessing, or some undeserved benefit. But when it happens to someone else, our hearts become tainted with envy. We can think of 100 reasons why they didn’t deserve it and we did, convincing ourselves that life (and God) is unfair. Oh let the pity party begin.

But who is our complaining directed against? This story tells us that the laborers grumbled against the master of the house. We may think it is against the apparent unfairness of the situation, but in actuality, it is directed against God. Have we not realized that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above”? This Master who is so generous to others has also been generous to us in 10,000 different ways that we have long since forgotten or become too busy to notice. They forgot that had it not been for the master, they would still be idle in the marketplace with no denarius at all.

However, in spite of the horrible response of the laborers to the generosity of the master, his response to them is “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.”

Friend – the word means comrade (intimate friend or associate) and mate (an assistant to a more skilled worker). This implies that they not only worked for the master, but with the master. They had begun to know him. A relationship was being formed – a benefit of working the whole day with him. But these are the very ones who complain – those who have been laboring with the master the longest, yet apparently do not yet know his heart.

And the saddest part of this story is the master’s words to these complaining laborers in verse 14 – “Take what belongs to you and go.” So now having reviled the kindness of the master, they are sent away from his presence.

Oh let us take this story to heart, being mindful that all we have received from God is a gift of grace. We may live in an entitlement society, but God’s is not an entitlement kingdom, and He is not pleased with those who are angry over His kindness to others.

So let us rejoice with those who rejoice and learn to celebrate the goodness of God, not only in our lives but also in the lives of others.

Love the Truth

Scripture tells us that one noticeable quality of the last days is the increase in deception, false teaching and false doctrines. Who can deny that we are seeing this very thing in our own day? I find it amazing that so many people no longer want to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, but prefer to be hyped up about their next level. Very rarely do you hear preaching on sin, repentance and holiness, while at the same time there is an abundance of preachers promoting a message of prosperity and destiny. The focus in all of these dangerous doctrines, in whatever form they are presented, is that they take the focus off Christ and make us, humanity, the focus of the gospel. While there is no doubt that Jesus came into the world to save lost humanity, the ultimate purpose was that the glory of God might be demonstrated by His mercy displayed towards us through Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2 tells us that those who are fooled by this rampant deception (and thus led astray from the simplicity of the true gospel of Christ) are led astray because they did not receive the love of the truth. When God’s Word is not esteemed and treasured as the very words of God, when it is not read and studied, when it is not used as the standard to judge all teachings, we become ripe for deception. The Bible tells us that the human heart is deceitfully wicked, yet we trust this heart to guide us into truth when we neglect to fill it with God’s word?? My heart will always gravitate to what pleases my flesh, not what pleases God. My heart will always exalt me, not God.

It is only as we cultivate a love of the truth that we will be safe from the false. When we love the truth, really love it, we will treasure and obey even the difficult commands of Scripture that require sacrifice on our part. When we love the truth, we would rather be excluded and thought poorly of than to compromise on the doctrines of the faith and fit in with others who are following those who speak to their itching ears.

Let us therefore be diligent to hide His truth in our hearts. Let us treasure it, love it and hold fast to it.

“Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth.” John 17:17