Thursday, June 30, 2011

The pursuit of wisdom

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8
There are many philosophies that Christians can get caught up in – both with of a spiritual flavour and those of  worldly pursuits. The word ‘philosophy’ derives from ‘philo’, to love, and ‘sophos’, wisdom. Therefore philosophy is a love or pursuit of wisdom.
We are told in the Scripture that there are two kinds of wisdom: the wisdom that comes from God (Prov. 9:10, 1 Cor. 2:6-7, etc.) and the wisdom of man. We are told that man’s wisdom is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 1:25), and conversely, God’s wisdom is foolishness to unsaved man (1 Cor. 2:14).
I’m not saying that Christians should refrain from pursuing education. It’s not wrong for a Christian to go to university, for example. But it’s when we get caught up in arguments about abstract things, worldviews, the meaning of life... an unsaved person and a Christian approach these things from entirely different perspectives. We will never win anyone to Christ through persuasive debate. It is the Holy Spirit who must convict them of their sin, and open their heart to receive Christ as their Saviour. And similarly, we mustn’t spend all our time studying how people think – Paul calls this ‘hollow and deceptive’. If we do this, and neglect our study of the Word of God, we will get sucked in and taken captive. Worldly wisdom offers nice ideas but little substance. But God’s wisdom offers power and salvation. Pursue that.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Firstborn over all creation

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Colossians 1:15
This verse creates a problem for many people. What does it mean that Jesus is “the firstborn over all creation”? The Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken this to mean that when God created the world, Jesus was the first thing He created, and then Jesus helped Him create the rest of it. But this teaching is in no way supported by the rest of Scripture. Jesus is God; He is not a created being.
When we read the word ‘firstborn’, we naturally think of it referring to the eldest child in a family - or if we’re to get technical, the eldest son. Certainly in most cases in the Bible, this was the case. Being the firstborn gave that person many privileges over his brothers: he would go on to be the leader of that generation after his father passed away, and he would receive a double portion as his inheritance. But not everyone in the Scriptures who receives the rights of the firstborn, was actually born first. Isaac was preferred over Ishmael, Jacob was preferred over Esau. Reuben was the eldest of Jacob’s sons, but his role as leader of the family passed to Judah and his double portion passed to Joseph (1 Chr. 5:1-2). Of Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh was the eldest, yet Ephraim is called the firstborn (Jer. 31:9). David was the youngest of all his brothers, yet God calls him the firstborn (Ps. 89:27).
Thus in referring to Jesus as the firstborn over all creation, we see that this is referring to His position, not His origin. Jesus is also called “the firstborn from the dead” (Rev. 1:5), but He was not the first person to be raised from the dead. But of those who are raised, He has the pre-eminent position. He receives the inheritance of the firstborn: the earth. He receives the position of ruler over the domain of creation.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pleasing God (2)

“...being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” Colossians 1:11-12
Yesterday we read of two things that please God: bearing fruit, and growing in knowledge of Him. Today we have two more: endurance and patience, and thanksgiving.
It’s been said before many times (probably because it’s true), that the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Time and time again in the Scriptures we see allusions made to ‘running the race’ (1 Cor. 9:24-27, Gal. 5:7, Phil. 2:16, 2 Tim. 4:7, Heb. 12:1, etc.). With a race, it’s not how we begin that’s important, but how we finish. If we don’t make it to the finish line, we may as well not have started. What this means in our Christian walk, then, is that we must have as our primary goal, to finish strongly. In other words, we need to persevere. This is what pleases God – perseverance, patience, remaining faithful to Him through every season of life.
Finally, we give thanks to God. It’s easy to take things in life for granted. Do you have somewhere to live? Then give thanks to God for it. Do you have family members who love you? food on the table? a job? good health? Then thank God for those things. Let’s be people of thanksgiving, rather than people who complain all the time. I always figure, no matter how bad things get, they could be worse. Just read the book of Job. Yes, we all have struggles in life (2 Tim. 3:12), but God is still on the throne and is looking out for us.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pleasing God (1)

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God...” Colossians 1:10
In Col. 1:10-12 Paul gives us four things that please God: bearing fruit, growing in knowledge of Him, persevering in His strength, and giving thanks. We’ll take the first two of these today and the next two tomorrow.
The topic of bearing fruit crops up (excuse the pun) many times in the Scriptures. Israel is symbolised by both a vine and a fig tree. Gentiles believers are ‘grafted in’ to the vine. God is described as a gardener and a vine-dresser. But despite all this, and despite our familiarity with how fruit grows, we often struggle to understand what this means in our own life. We think that bearing fruit it like bearing children – lots of pain and struggling, through our own works. But this is not how trees produce fruit. You don’t see an apple tree straining, and out pops an apple. No – it is the sap inside that causes buds to form, and then the fruit to grow. It doesn’t appear overnight, it takes time. Similarly with the fruit in our own life. We just need to allow the Holy Spirit to work inside us, to bring those things out.
In Col. 1:9, Paul says he is praying for the believers at Colosse for God to fill them with the knowledge of His will. As we come to know God better, day by day, we learn His will. As we mature in the Lord, our will is conformed to His.
How well do you know God? I don’t just mean what you know about God, but how well do you know Him personally? The mystery of the New Testament is that God can be known personally, by anyone who would come to Him in faith. Our knowledge of Him will never be complete, but we can increase in our knowledge of Him, by spending with Him every day.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

God will provide

“And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
Here’s a comforting verse. Whenever we are in need, God will be there to provide for us. But this isn’t only talking about material need, or financial need – no, God can provide our emotional and spiritual needs as well. How does He provide them? Out of “His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” God doesn’t have to stick to a budget. The cattle on a thousand hills belongs to Him (Ps. 50:10); “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1). So at any time, whatever we need, He is able to provide.
However, we must distinguish between ‘need’ and ‘want’. We need shelter, but we want a mansion. We need food, but we want gourmet meals. I’m not saying that God won’t give us a mansion and gourmet meals, (as I said above, He’s not limited to a budget) but if He knows those things will lead us away from Him, why would He give them to us? Yes, God wants to bless us if we are obedient, but is a big house and lots of money really a blessing if it hardens our hearts?
God is interested in our spiritual well-being. To Him, that is more important than our physical comfort – and we should be growing to see it this way too. For this world is passing away. When we get to heaven, it won’t matter how big your house was while you were here. What will matter is the depth of faith and character that developed in you, and the love that you showed to God and to others.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Don't worry, pray!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
How many times do we read in the Bible, ‘Don’t worry’, and yet we keep on doing it? It’s human nature to worry about what the future might hold. But as we grow in our Christian maturity, and learn to really trust God in all things, we will find that we will worry less. He holds the future, and He’s not going to let anything happen to us that will destroy us. His plans for us are good.
Whenever we’re given a command in the New Testament to not do something, we are also given a command to do something else. Here, we are told, ‘Don’t worry’, and ‘pray’. Paul gives us four kinds of prayer here, which are interesting to explore. First we have ‘prayer’ – simply talking to God, spending time with Him. Then we have ‘petition’, or ‘supplication’ – asking God for things that we need. Thirdly is ‘thanksgiving’. It’s good to give God thanks for all that He has done and is doing for us! Lastly, we have ‘requests’, things we are asking for on our own behalf or on the behalf of others.
Of course, when we’re tempted to worry is not the only time we should pray. But when we are worried, prayer will right our perspective about the situation.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Work out your salvation

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-13
Many people read ‘work out your salvation’ and think this means salvation (or at least sanctification) is by works. If it did, then this would contradict what the rest of the Bible teaches: that every stage of our salvation is by grace alone. If we would only read to verse 13, we would find what Paul means: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
Martin Luther said that ‘We are saved by grace alone, but the grace that saves is never alone.’ (See James 2:17.) If we are saved, we will do good works. We aren’t saved because of those works; the works are proof that we are already saved. God places the opportunities in our paths, and the desires in our hearts, to do good works. If we are obedient and submit to Him, He will conform our will to His. We will want to do the things that please Him. This is a never-ending process, while we are in these mortal bodies. We are constantly being purified.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Consider others better than yourself

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
This is advice we all need to hear. It’s so easy to look down on other people and think we are better than them because we don’t sin like they do. That may be true, but we might sin in ways that they don’t. When it comes to the gulf between God and natural man, we are all on the same level. Conversely, God’s love for us is the same for each person. Nobody is worth any more, or any less, than anyone else, to God. He sent His Son to die for us all.
The ultimate goal of the Christian walk should be to love God and love other people (Matt. 22:37-40). Loving other people, in a Biblical sense, doesn’t mean you have to like them. But it does mean what we are told here: to consider them as better than us. Speak politely and respectfully to them, offer to help even if it means going out of your way. If you both arrive at the checkout counter at the same time, let them go first. Selfishness won’t get us anywhere in life – not in this life, nor in God’s kingdom. But a life of humility, putting others first, will give us a right perspective. Jesus died so that everyone might have the opportunity to be saved. Because of this price that was paid, we cannot look down on anyone.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

God will complete His work

“being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
This is a verse that I memorised as a child, thanks to a song by the Donut Man. But it’s still encouraging to me now as an adult. God’s not finished with me yet!
It’s interesting to note that Jesus called His disciples to be “fishers of men”. Here’s where I’m getting at: the fish are cleaned after they are caught, not before. It’s wrong for us to expect or tell someone to clean up their lives before they become a Christian. If that were the case, then it's salvation by works, and Jesus didn’t die for everyone but only those who are clean enough. No – He saved us when we were still in the cesspool. Some are deeper than others, but we were all in it.
Starting the moment we were saved, God began a good work in us: that of conforming us to the image of His Son. We can hold up that work, through disobedience, but if we will submit to God we will see progress. This is the process of sanctification, and it will not be complete until the day that we go to be with the Lord.
God doesn’t start something and then not finish it. He won’t abandon us. If you know you’ve been saved, then praise God – He will never let you go. If you don’t know, or if you’re not sure, then take some time today to make sure. There is nothing more important than your eternal salvation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The death of the wicked

“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” Ezekiel 18:23
Many people imagine God as being angry with mankind, just waiting for us to sin so that He can smite us with judgement. “After all,” they say, “why would a loving God send someone to hell?”
But here, even in the Old Testament, we see that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. He does not enjoy judging people. In fact, God’s judgement is called His ‘strange work’ (Isa. 28:21).
Hell was not created for man, but for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). And here’s something you might not have considered: God does not send people to hell. Anyone who ends up there, does so because they chose to reject the means God gave for salvation. The choice is entirely ours. If salvation was only dependent on the will of God, then everyone would be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4). But God gives us a choice, to repent, or to reject. God is pleased when we do repent. He doesn’t save us reluctantly. Quite the opposite: Jesus endured the cross for “the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2) – that joy being to be united with us for eternity.
If you haven’t made a decision to repent and turn to God, I plead with you to do it today. The opportunity will not always be there. After you die, it’s too late. As the Scriptures say, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 4:7).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Responsibility

“The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” Ezekiel 18:20
This verse sums up Ezekiel 18. God goes into more detail, describing a godly man who had an ungodly son, who then had a godly son. He pointed out that the grandfather and son would have their righteousness credited to them, and the father would have his wickedness credited to him. As far as salvation went, neither righteousness nor wickedness would be credited to the next generation, or the previous generation, in the family.
We are each responsible for our own sin, and our own walk with God. This has two contrasting aspects that I want to touch on briefly.
First is the saying, ‘God has no grandchildren.’ Just because your parents may be Christians, or even pastors, does not mean that you are a Christian as well. We must each come to God and be born again as a child in His family.
Second is the issue that springs up from time to time concerning generational curses. This is a common concern for Christians whose parents or grandparents etc. have been involved in Freemasonry or the occult, etc. In the Old Testament we see the concept of generational curses in Deut. 23:2-3. But is this concerning our salvation, or concerning consequences in this life? We have read here in Ezekiel that the sins of the father will not pass on to the children. So our salvation is not affected. But it may well be the case, that just as a drug addict may give birth to a child who then suffers from drug addiction, these things may affect the quality of life of the next generation. I’m not sure. My grandfather was involved in Freemasonry, and I prayed for deliverance from it. I didn’t notice a huge change, but a friend of mine in the same situation said her life improved dramatically after she prayed for deliverance from these generational curses (some of the rites in Freemasonry involve placing curses on your descendants). All I can say is, decide for yourself; if in doubt, pray – it won’t do any harm.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Grace, all the way

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:21
Scripturally, there are three tenses to salvation, each given slightly different terms. First there is justification: being made right with God at the moment we choose to accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour. This is ‘salvation past’. Next is the process of sanctification, the purifying of our lives from that point on. This is ‘salvation present’. Finally, there is glorification, when we arrive in heaven and receive our new bodies, perfect knowledge, forever in the presence of the Lord. This is ‘salvation future’.
There is a false doctrine out there in the church that although we are justified by the grace of God, as we go on in our Christian walk we are sanctified through keeping the law. There are variations on what ‘keeping the law’ means here; whether it is the Old Testament Law, the instructions given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, or a combination of both. But this is not supported at all by Scripture. Paul says, decades after he was saved, he does not set aside the grace of God. Just as justification is entirely dependent on God’s grace, so too is sanctification (and glorification). Grace means getting good things we don’t deserve. If keeping the law plays any part in any step of our salvation, then we are having to work to earn it. In that case, it is no longer a free gift. And, as Paul points out, if sanctification (becoming more righteous) could be gained through keeping any law, then Christ died for nothing. If it was possible for man to be saved in this way, then God would not have allowed His Son to endure the cross.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Crucified with Christ

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
What does it mean to be ‘crucified with Christ?’ Crucifixion was the end of the road. As soon as you were condemned to die by crucifixion, you were a dead man walking. A person hanging on a cross was as good as dead, even while they were still alive. And even after death, such a person was cursed (Deut. 21:23 Gal. 3:13). While chances are none of us will be physically crucified, we should be saying, like Paul, ‘I have been crucified with Christ’.
Becoming a Christian involves setting our old lives aside – the lives that were dominated by selfishness, greed, etc. Now we do not live to please ourself, but to please God. The difference is vast, and the rewards are much better! How do we live to please God? The answer is simple: by faith (Heb. 11:6). We are still in this earthly body, but we can start living for the kingdom of God. Everywhere we go, every conversation we have, can be an opportunity to share the kingdom with others.

Friday, June 17, 2011

No contradiction

“I will spread My net for him, and he will be caught in My snare; I will bring him to Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans, but he will not see it, and there he will die.” Ezekiel 12:13
In several places, the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, was given what seemed like conflicting prophecies. We read, “You will surely see the king of Babylon with your own eyes, and he will speak with you face to face. And you will go to Babylon” (Jer. 34:3). But here in Ezek. 12:13 we read that he won’t see Babylon. How could he see the king of Babylon, but not see Babylon? How could one prophet say he would not see Babylon, but the other said he would go there?
The answer is in the historical account, given in 2 Kin. 25:4-7 and Jer. 39:4-7. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The wall was broken through and king Zedekiah was captured. His sons were killed in front of him, then his eyes were put out and he was taken to Babylon as a captive. So he did see and talk with Nebuchadnezzar (in Jerusalem), and he did go to Babylon, but he did not see it because before he was taken, he was blinded.
This is not a contradiction. On the contrary: it is an extremely specific prophecy. In fact, there is not one contradiction in the Bible. Two passages may be complementary, but when we really delve into them, we will find that there is no contradiction. The Bible is without error, and completely trustworthy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Living by God's standards

“And you will know that I am the Lord, for you have not followed My decrees or kept My laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” Ezekiel 11:12
God’s judgement came upon the Israelites, in the form of being taken into captivity as exiles away from their homeland, for this reason: they did not follow His decrees or keep His laws. We read in 1 Cor. 10:11 that “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us”. We should take special note of what happened to Israel, and ensure that we do not make the same mistakes.
Instead of living by God’s rules, the Israelites allowed themselves to be conformed to the standards of the nations around them. There is a problem with this: the morĂ©s of society change. Think back even 20 or 30 years ago, what was frowned upon in society that is now tolerated and even openly celebrated. How criminals are frequently given more rights than their victims. How we’re expected to be tolerant of everyone’s beliefs, except if they are a Christian.
How can we measure anything accurately, if our measuring line keeps changing length? We can’t. And because God never changes, He is the one whose standards we should live by. The world will hate you for it, yes. But the world is passing away.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Seeking God's commendation

“For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” 2 Corinthians 10:18
We’ve all met them: people who are constantly blowing their own trumpet, bragging about themselves and how wonderful they are, what they’ve achieved in their life, etc. After a while it gets a bit tiresome. But do we do this? What about in your own thought life? You might never say it out loud, but inside do you think you’re better than other people, more spiritual, more committed to God? I know I’ve been guilty of this on more than one occasion.
The Bible warns us against taking up this kind of attitude. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12). Paul says, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12).
Comparing yourself with other people will always make you feel good about yourself; you can always find someone who is doing worse in life than you. This blinds us to the gulf that exists between ourselves and God. It leads to pride, and an unforgiving spirit.
We shouldn’t seek commendation from others, or be patting ourselves on the back – even in private. Instead, seek God’s commendation, by living a life of submission to Him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What do you worship?

“Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” Psalm 115:7
This passage in Psalm 115:4-8 describes some of the aspects of idols: having mouths, but unable to speak; having eyes, but being blind; having ears, but being deaf; having noses, but being unable to smell; having hands and feet but being unable to use them.
When we hear the word ‘idol’, we instantly imagine a small statue in the shape of a man or something else, made of stone, wood, or metal. Then, with that image in mind, we instantly dismiss the thought that we could be guilty of idolatry. But we shouldn’t. There are many things in our own lives that can be idols: our possessions, our money, our car, home, education, even a person in our lives, if it trumps God for first place, it is an idol. When will we learn that we can’t trust in these things?
This verse also gives us an interesting insight: “Those who make them will be like them”. We become like that which we worship. If we worship things made of brick and metal, we will become hard, cold, and unfeeling like them. If we worship money, we will be consumed by it, even as it is consumed by things. But if we worship God, we will become like Him. This should be the goal of every child of God.

Monday, June 13, 2011

God's seal

“... set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2 Corinthians 1:22
In his study on 2 Cor. 1, pastor Alwyn Wall tells how cargo being shipped in the Roman empire would bear a seal, imprinted with the signet ring of its owner. The seal indicates ownership, and would guarantee that the cargo would reach the final destination.
Likewise, we have been imprinted with God’s seal of ownership. What is this seal? Eph. 1:13 tells us it is the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit is the seal upon us, and He is also the deposit placed inside our hearts. Both aspects guarantee what is to come.
A person buying goods gives a deposit as a downpayment. It means they are committed to receiving the goods, perhaps at a later date, and promise to pay the balance required. How amazing to think, God has done the same with us! He has paid the deposit, which means He is committed to receiving us (Phil. 1:6). God won’t change His mind about you. He has promised that you will reach the final destination.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Facing opposition

“But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” 1 Corinthians 16:8-9
This is an interesting verse, and one that we can find comfort in today. Paul said that opportunities were presenting themselves for him to serve God, but at the same time there were many who opposed him.
Persecution is one thing that is promised to every person who is being effective for the Lord (2 Tim. 3:12). Now, we need to be careful to distinguish persecution (which is unprovoked, and comes from people who hate God and attack His servants) from consequences (which come through some sin or ungodly thing we have done). That is, if you go around being obnoxious to people, and they push you away, you are not being ‘persecuted’ in the Biblical sense of the word. We see what persecution is, in the book of Acts, where groups of rabblerousers would follow Paul from city to city, heckling him as he was preaching, and trying to stir up riots against him. He did not instigate it.
You can be sure that when you are being effective for God, you will face opposition. But God is greater than any persecution that might come our way. He will not let us be overcome. Keep serving Him.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Our resurrection bodies

“But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” 1 Corinthians 15:35-36
There are various thoughts about what kind of body we will have in heaven. We are told in the Scriptures, “what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Our resurrection bodies will be just like Jesus’.
Because of the impending resurrection, many people are divided over burial vs. cremation. The argument against cremation is that at the resurrection, there won’t be any DNA left from which to re-create our bodies. But the same is true in burial – the DNA is broken down and reabsorbed by the earth, plants, etc. Even while we are alive, the cells in our body are constantly being replaced.
Paul uses the analogy of a seed, when referring to the resurrection. When a seed germinates, the husk does not form any part of the plant that grows from it. It is left behind in the earth. The seed, then, is our spirit. At the resurrection, God gives it a new body, fit for heaven, and just like Jesus’ resurrection body. Our resurrection bodies will not be inferior to the physical bodies we have now – no way!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Love never fails

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” 1 Corinthians 13:8
We all know that we can’t take anything material to heaven when we go. Instead, we are to lay up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20), by investing in things of the kingdom while we are here. But did you realise that there are even some spiritual things that won’t count for anything in heaven?
Here, Paul describes three things that will be irrelevant in heaven, and all of them are gifts of the Spirit that people chase after today. They are prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. Prophecy won’t be needed; prophecy is the forth-telling of God’s word. In heaven, God will speak directly to us; we won’t need a prophet to act as a middle-man. Tongues won’t be needed; there won’t be any language barriers in heaven. We will all understand everyone and be understood by everyone, and we will be able to praise God adequately using a new vocublary. (It also follows that the gift of interpretation of tongues also won’t be needed!) Finally, knowledge won’t be needed. We will all have perfect knowledge of all things. We’ll understand everything from how to cook the perfect meal, to the intricacies of quantum mechanics. We won’t need anybody to teach us anything, except one thing: the depth and breadth and length and height of God’s love.
You see, when we get to heaven, God’s love will be one thing that we will still find unfathomable. We will continually be finding out more and more about His love – and it is one thing we can reciprocate in turn. In heaven, many things become irrelevant. But love will be more important than ever. This is why ‘love never fails’, and why we should seek to develop it in our lives while we are here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Love always

“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:7
Here are four more things that love not only does, but ‘always’ does.
Firstly, it always protects. From the Old Testament (c.f. Ex. 22:22-23) to today, God has vowed to protect those who are vulnerable. If we love Him, we will do the same. Similarly, we will protect people’s reputations. We won’t start or spread gossip; instead we will seek to quash it so it can be dealt with in a Biblical manner.
Secondly, it always trusts. To love someone is to believe the best about them. It’s very easy to think someone has an ulterior motive. But love will give them the benefit of the doubt – and if the converse turns out to be true, it will seek to restore the person. In other words, love presumes people innocent until proven guilty.
Thirdly, it always hopes. Love never gives up on someone. No matter how badly they fall, we ought to keep showing them love and draw them back to God and to us.
Lastly, it always perseveres. Love is persistent. It isn’t half-hearted. We shouldn’t ever get tired of loving people, or of loving God. You see, when we love others, we receive a blessing too. It comes back to us – maybe not from that person, but from others and certainly from God.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Love does

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.” 1 Corinthians 13:6
In the gospels, Jesus gives us the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbour as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27). This describes the two planes of love: first, the vertical plane, loving God, and then second, the horizontal plane, loving our fellow man.
Our first love in life should be towards God. What does someone who is in love do? They find out everything the other person likes, and tries to act in a way that pleases them. This is what we should be doing for God. He has told us in His word what He likes and what He doesn’t like. We don’t have to wonder about what pleases Him.
Here we read that loving God means not delighting in evil. We can see all kinds of evil going on in our society – people being taken for granted, people being hurt by others. It shouldn’t make us happy to see someone mistreated, or to see someone get away with doing something wrong. Following on, we read that love rejoices in the truth. We should seek after that which is true – the word of God.
Living in this way is going to make you unpopular in society. But just remember that it is the most excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31) in the eyes of God – and at the end of the day, His is the only opinion that matters.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Love is not

“It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:5
Yesterday we read what love is (patient and kind). Today we read four things that it is not.
Firstly, it is not rude. If we love people, we won’t butt into their conversations, say inappropriate things, make fun of them, or treat them like a slave.
Secondly, it is not self-seeking. Someone who is only looking out for number one is not showing love. Love doesn’t mind if someone else has the spotlight. This is important, because when it comes to God, if we love Him we will ensure that He alone receives all the glory and priase.
Thirdly, it is not easily angered. Some people are prone to flying off the handle when things don’t go their way – this is selfish, immature, and often done to create a scene: all the things that love is not. Instead, love gives people the benefit of the doubt. Note that it doesn’t say ‘Love is not angry’. Jesus did get angry (e.g. Mark 3:5), but it was never at something that was done to Him personally.
Lastly, it keeps no record of wrongs. A loving person does not think up ways to get revenge back on someone for what they did to them. Jesus doesn’t do this with us; once our sins are forgiven, they are forgotten.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Love is

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” 1 Corinthians 13:4
1 Corinthians 13 is frequently called ‘the love chapter’. As we read yesterday, love is “the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). Without love, all our gifts mean nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
So how will we recognise love when we see it? In verses 4-7, which we will tackle over the next few days, Paul shows us both what it is, and what it isn’t.
Firstly, love is patient and kind. These are two fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), all of which stem from love. Love waits to be asked; it doesn’t butt in. Love wants to do what is best for everyone. Next, what love doesn’t do: it doesn’t envy, it doesn’t boast. Love doesn’t mind if someone else gets ahead. Love is not proud. It is not selfish, or self-centred.
Jesus showed us what love is – He is patient with us (2 Pet. 3:9), and He is kind. Jesus is the epitome of love. In fact, you can substitute the name ‘Jesus’ for ‘love’ throughout this chapter and it fits like a glove. Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. How many of these qualities are you showing in your own life?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The greatest gift, and the most excellent way

“But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12:31
In the Corinthian church, the believers has been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but were misusing them. They were being competitive with them, much like those today who teach that speaking in tongues is the sole evidence of being baptised in the Holy Spirit. We need to remember that the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit is not for our own kicks or to draw attention to ourselves, but rather to build up the body of Christ. For this reason, Paul says that prophecy is greater than tongues, because unless the tongues are interpreted, they only edify the speaker (1 Cor. 14:17-19).
This brings about another question: what is the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit? Well, it depends on the situation. A word of wisdom may be the greatest gift, when someone is seeking Godly advice. Or the gift of healing may be the greatest gift, when someone is sick. The greatest gift is the one that is best suited for the situation. It’s like saying, which is better – a hammer or a screwdriver? It depends what the task is. A hammer can’t screw in screws, and a screwdriver can’t hammer in nails. Which is better – a fork or a spoon? It depends if you are eating soup, or if you are eating steak.
Paul immediately follows this by saying, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” He then leads into chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, the ‘love’ chapter. If we have love for people, it doesn’t matter what gifts we have or don’t have. Conversely, if we don’t have love for people, we can have all the gifts in the world but not edify them (1 Cor. 13:2). Seeking the gifts of the Spirit is all well and good, but there is a more excellent way that we should be seeking above them – the way of love.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Speaking in tongues

“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” 1 Corinthians 12:29-30
As we learned yesterday, the Corinthian church was big on gifts of the Spirit, especially speaking in tongues. Similarly, today there are many churches, particularly of the Pentecostal variety, that are big on speaking in tongues. I know; I was in one. They taught that the baptism of the Holy Spirit came ‘with the evidence of speaking in tongues.’ That is, if you were baptised in the Holy Spirit, you would speak in tongues. It then logically followed, that anyone who didn’t speak in tongues wasn’t baptised with the Spirit.
But is this a true teaching? Nowhere in the Bible do the words ‘the evidence of speaking in tongues’ appear. In fact, when we read what Paul wrote at the end of 1 Corinthians 12, we find the opposite.
Paul asks a series of seven rhetorical questions. Let’s look at them. Are all apostles? No. Are all prophets? No. Are all teachers? No. (These are all different ministries given by the Holy Spirit, see Eph. 4:11.) Do all work miracles? No. Do all have gifts of healing? No. Do all interpret? No. (Paul touched on these gifts in 1 Cor. 12:9-10.) And finally, Do all speak in tongues? The answer, in the context of all these other questions, must be the same: no.
If you do speak in tongues, praise God – and praise God with them. If you don’t, don’t worry. The Holy Spirit will have given you another gift instead.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The purpose of the gifts of the Spirit

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:7
I imagine the church at Corinth was a young, vibrant fellowship. But being young in Christ, there were still aspects about their faith that were immature. The gifts of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on them, through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but they were emphasising one gift over others – that of speaking in tongues. (We’ll touch more on this tomorrow.)
This raises a question: what, exactly, is the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit? In several places in Scripture we find lists of examples, none of them complete (as Paul says, there are different kinds of gifts, 1 Cor. 12:4). Included are things like speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and so forth. We tend to look out for the more visible ones like miracles and healing. Essentially, we like a show. But that’s not what the gifts of the Spirit are for. Paul tells us here, the manifestation (or gifts) of the Spirit is given “for the common good”. They are not given for our own kicks, but to edify one another in the body of Christ. Again, Paul says, “So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12). This is the real purpose of the gifts of the Spirit. As someone once said, the purpose of the gifts of the spirit is like the steam in a locomotive. Its purpose is to drive the engine, not to blow the whistle. Whatever gift you have been given by the Holy Spirit, use it for the common good - to edify others.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Judas and Jesus

“May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.” Psalm 109:8
If this verse is familiar to you, it’s possibly because it was quoted by Peter in Acts 1:20 as referring to Judas. Judas had betrayed Jesus, and went out and hanged himself. When the remaining eleven disciples came together after the Ascension, Peter moved that they appoint another man in Judas’ place, and Matthias was chosen by lot.
So, given that verse 8 of Psalm 109 refers to an event connected with Jesus, what about the rest of the psalm?
“For wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues” (Ps. 109:2). Indeed, at Jesus’ trial there were witnesses who brought false testimony against Him.
“With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause” (Ps. 109:3). Both during His life and while He was hanging on the cross, the Pharisees spoke hatefully towards and about Jesus.
“In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer” (Ps. 109:4). Jesus’ life was characterised by prayer. If He as the Son of God needed to pray, how much more do we!
“For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me” (Ps. 109:22). Jesus was born to a poor family (as evidenced by the sacrifice at his circumcision being a pair of doves, Luke 2:24, c.f. Lev. 12:8). He died of a ruptured heart (hence the flow of blood and water when His side was pierced).
“I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads” (Ps. 109:25). Again we are reminded of how the religious leaders mocked Jesus as He hung on the cross (Matt. 27:39-43).
There are many, many passages of Scripture that are like this, having a double reference. As you read God’s Word, look out for these - they show Jesus to us.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Follow my example

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1
It’s true that nobody is perfect, except Jesus Christ. It’s true that we should worship nobody and nothing except God. It’s true that we shouldn’t set people on pedestals as being infallible. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t observe mature believers’ lives as examples in how we too should follow Christ.
A decade or so ago it became popular among young people to wear bracelets with the letters ‘W.W.J.D.’ – standing for ‘What would Jesus do?’ While wearing a bracelet isn’t going to change your life in and of itself, if one were to ask themselves the question it represented every time they responded to someone or some situation, it would certainly change their life for the better. The Scriptures tell us, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matt. 10:24-25). We will never be on a par with Jesus in terms of our own perfection and holiness. But that doesn’t mean we should give up trying to imitate Him as we go about our daily lives. Like Paul, we should be following the example of Christ. Then, and only then, can we be an example to others that is worthy of following.