GOD IS FAITHFUL

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:17-20

Paul writes, “As surely as God is faithful” [verse 18]. Here is one of the foundational Christian truths about God. The word faithful means to be trustworthy, and can be relied upon. God is totally trustworthy and can be relied upon. What He says He will do. His “Yes” is “Yes” and His “No” is “No”.

Many years ago someone gave me a card that I kept in my Bible. It said,

“God says it; I believe it; that settles it!” If God has said it, then that is sufficient. The Bible says, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” [Numbers 23:19].

Jeremiah speaks of God’s faithfulness, when he writes, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” [Lamentations 3:22-23].

An aspect of God’s faithfulness, and a basis to trust Him, is that He never changes. Speaking of Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever” [Hebrews 13:8]. James, writing about God our Father says, “He is always the same and never makes dark shadows by changing” [James 1:17 CEV]

Because God is unchanging and keeps His word we can trust Him. People we worked among as missionaries on a fanatical Muslim island could not understand the unchanging character of God. Instead they believed that he could do whatever he wanted and whenever he wanted. Because of this they never had any certainty of salvation or an assurance of heaven. They worked so hard to please him, but then He could just decide on a whim to reject them. When we asked them if they were going to heaven when they die, their only response was Insha Allah – if God wills. But our God is not like that. Our God is limited by His own immutable and unalterable nature. He cannot lie, always keeps His word and is utterly trustworthy, and therefore we have a sure and certain hope that is an anchor for the soul [Hebrews 6:18-19].

Are you facing a difficult situation and have a promise from God that you can stand on at this time? Many years ago a man told me that the following day he would provide me with a car for my ministry in Singapore. The next day came and passed, and no car! On the third day I wrote in my journal, “When God promises something it will happen, but when man promises wait and see!” God is faithful and keeps His promises – just hang in there!

Questions:

We know that God is faithful, but why does He sometimes make us wait when He has promised us something?

If we are going to become more God-like, then it will mean that we must be faithful just as He is faithful. Are there some adjustments you will need to make in order to be a more faithful person?

Read Psalm 37:25. In what way does David speak of God’s faithfulness?

SOMETIMES WE HAVE TO CHANGE OUR PLANS

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:15-2:2

Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” [2 Corinthians 17-20 ESV]

It is imperative that we should, as Christians, be like God in the sense that our word is our bond. When we say, “Yes” we should mean, “Yes”. When we make a promise we should keep it. However, sometimes we have to change our plans and are aware that God has something different that we should do.

For example, last week I had agreed to meet someone on a certain day and at a certain time, but an emergency arose and I needed to cancel. The person concerned was happy to release me and I was able to reschedule the meeting within three days. Situations like this may not be uncommon, but our principle should be that we fulfil our commitments and keep our promises.

Although the apostle Paul had made a commitment to visit the Church in Corinth, he had a real sense that it was not the right time, and that he should postpone his visit. Some people in the Church at Corinth considered Paul to be no longer trustworthy because of this. Whilst this should never become a habit, it is nevertheless a wonderful attitude that releases people from a commitment when that is necessary, and does not hold it against them.

Our son Timothy struggled with church as a teenager. When he was seventeen we released him from having to go to church because we expected it. He rebelled and went into the world, and many nights Esther and I would cry out to God for him. He became a chef, and worked in a London restaurant. One morning he called me and said, “Dad I am desperate! I want to give everything to Jesus. Will you disciple me?” Not many fathers have the privilege of a 22 year-old son asking their father to disciple them. I cancelled everything in my diary for nearly four months, and early each morning, and often in the afternoon, met with Tim. We laughed, cried, read the Bible, chatted, and prayed together, and God began to turn him around. I had to cancel commitments to preach, and some of those churches have never invited me back. I have no guilt about what I did! Even though we should fulfil our commitments, we still need to be flexible and open to change.

Questions:

Why is it important that our word is our bond and we keep our promises?

If we do have to change a commitment because something important has cropped up, how can both parties show grace in such a situation?

Have you personally felt let down when someone has not fulfilled a commitment to you, and have held it in your heart against them? Why not contact them, forgive them, and seek to rebuild your relationship with them?

YOURS SINCERELY

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:12-14

We often end our letters with the words “yours sincerely”, but Paul begins his letter with the word sincerity! The Corinthian Church had misunderstood Paul, and now he writes to share his heart with them. He says that whether they understand him or not he has a clear conscience, has acted towards them in simplicity and godly sincerity, not depended upon human wisdom, and in what he writes there is no hidden meaning. “Don’t try to read between the lines or look for hidden meanings in this letter” [verse 13 The Message]. In a word he has been genuine, the real deal, authentic in all his dealings, and never tried to deceive them.

Let’s look more closely at these verses. Firstly, Paul has a clear conscience, and knows in his heart that he has done nothing wrong. He is able to look people in the face without guilt or shame. How blessed to have a clear conscience. I personally struggled for a long time over the way a fellow missionary had treated me. I was angry and never wanted to meet him again, but my conscience was troubled. Finally, in obedience to the Holy Spirit, I wrote to him and asked for forgiveness. God’s peace immediately flooded my heart and my conscience was no longer troubled.

Secondly, Paul has acted towards them in simplicity. In modern English the word simplicity means uncomplicated, but the Greek haplotes translated here as simplicity has a very different meaning. It means without duplicity or double-mindedness. With Paul there is no hidden agenda. Some versions of the Bible translate this word as holiness. Some manuscripts read honesty.

Thirdly, Paul acted towards the Corinthian Church with godly sincerity. He was transparent in a God-like way, because he relied on God’s wisdom and grace and not on earthly and fleshly wisdom. “God wants us to be real and transparent in all our relationships. If we aren’t, we may end up lowering ourselves to spreading rumours, gossiping, and second-guessing” [The Life Application Bible].

It is impossible to live a victorious Christian life without a clear conscience, being single minded, sincere, transparent, and without hidden agendas. This is the basis of Christian fellowship. John writes, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” [1 John 1:7]. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character and the beauty of authenticity!

Questions

If a person gets really close to you, what would they see? Would it be the same in the church as in the home? Are there areas of duplicity in your life that you need to deal with and the Holy Spirit to transform?

Can you sleep at night, knowing that your heart, as far as is possible, is at peace with men, and your conscience clear?

Why is transparency and sincerity so important in fellowship?

DEFENDING YOURSELF

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:2

I have always believed that when we are criticised we should not defend ourselves, but rather trust God as our Defender. Many years ago Corrie ten Boom said, “If you defend yourself God will say get on with it, but if you let Him defend you, then He will do a far better job than you can ever do.” It is a remarkable word of wisdom. Martin Luther wrote a great hymn that contained the line, “We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender.” The Bible says that Moses was more humble than all men on the face of the earth [Numbers 12:3]. The context is that he refused to retaliate when he was criticised and chose to let God defend him.

It does appear that contrary to trusting God to defend him, the apostle Paul was defending himself against accusations made by the Church in Corinth. Several Bible commentators speak of Paul defending himself as a principle reason why he wrote this epistle to the Corinthians.

Some people in Corinth did not believe that Paul was an apostle, because they considered him untrustworthy. Paul had told the church that he would come to visit them [2 Corinthians 1:15-16], but did not do so. They accused him of saying one thing and doing another. They felt let down by him.

It is helpful to read in the Message Bible why Paul did not visit Corinth. It was not so much to defend himself, but rather to try and explain why he had not kept his word – why it seemed that his “yes” was not “yes”.

Now, are you ready for the real reason I didn’t visit you in Corinth? As God is my witness, the only reason I didn’t come was to spare you pain. I was being considerate of you, not indifferent, not manipulative. We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours. That’s why I decided not to make another visit that could only be painful to both of us. If by merely showing up I would put you in an embarrassingly painful position, how would you then be free to cheer and refresh me?“ [2 Corinthians 1:23-2:2 The Message].

Clearly Paul, was not defending himself, but rather explaining the reason for his decision in order to clear up the misunderstanding.

For this reason Paul, at various times in this epistle will return to the issue of his apostleship, because he wants them to understand his heart for them. He will speak about his conduct, sincerity and love for the Corinthian Church, and emphasize the reality of his God-given authority, and the limits of his authority.

Questions:

Have your motives ever been misunderstood, and as a result people turn against you and become critical of you? How did you handle that situation?

Do you agree that Paul was not so much defending himself, but explaining his decision to do what he had done? Was it right to say that he would come to Corinth and then not do so? Was this a good enough reason for them to reject his ministry?

WHEN IT IS IMPOSSIBLE GOD STEPS IN

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

Paul now shares something of his own personal suffering for Christ and how God delivered him from great danger. What Paul experienced happened in Asia, or more accurately the Western Province of the Roman Empire now known as Turkey. He describes it as being “pressed beyond measure” [verse 8]. He had no strength left, and despaired even of life! He wrote, “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves” [verse 9]. The Greek word translated sentence is ‘krino’ and in secular usage meant the final verdict issued by a court of law, and implied the death sentence.

We have no idea exactly what the problem was that Paul faced, but whatever it was there was no way of escape! The difficulties were insurmountable; Paul despaired of life itself, and the only possible outcome, in Paul’s mind, was death! I love the honesty of Paul. He exposes his own weakness and inability to handle the situation that he faced. There was no other way but to trust God who raises the dead. He needed a supernatural miracle. Charles Wesley penned the words, “I link my earthly feebleness to Your Almighty power.”

Annie Johnson Flint wrote the words:

“When we come to the end of our hoarded resources,

Our Father’s full giving has only begun.”

Paul did come through this trial. God did deliver him and his ministry continued, probably with even more effectiveness and power. The Message Bible reads, “And He [God] did it, rescued us from certain doom. And He’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing” [verse 10].

When God had delivered him, Paul was quick to thank the Corinthians for their prayers. Although it was God who delivered Paul from such danger, He used people who prayed. When my wife and I worked in a fanatical Muslim situation in Indonesia we faced several serious crisis, and were often in danger. I am grateful to the people who contacted us and asked what we were doing at a certain time because they were burdened to pray. It transpired that they were praying at just the time we were in the greatest need. We felt so grateful for those who interceded, and that was exactly Paul’s sentiment as he thanked the Corinthian believers.

Questions:

Are you facing a seemingly impossible situation today and you do not know what to do? You have exhausted your limited resources. Will you trust God to deliver you?

Would you take time and be sensitive to pray, as the Holy Spirit leads you, for those Christians in difficult situations or going through severe persecution?

Do you think that God sometimes puts us into impossible situations so that we have to trust Him and not in our own ability or limited resources? Can you think of other people in the Bible who faced similar situations?

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW HIS CHILDREN TO SUFFER?

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 11:22-33.

Yesterday we looked at the comfort God gives to us when we face crushing pressure, persecution, and trials. Today I want to go a little further with this subject, and ask the question, “Why does God allow His children to suffer?”

Some years ago I remember that Brother Yuen [known as the Heavenly Man] was invited to speak to a large legislative body in the United States. He was asked how they could best stop the persecution of Christians in China. Brother Yuen’s response was, “Please don’t stop the persecution. It is our life-blood!” I often worked with Brother Yuen and remember how he spoke of himself and Peter Shu joking about whose turn it was next to have a rest in prison! So why does God allow these trials?

Firstly, God allows us to experience suffering so that we in turn might comfort others who suffer. When we have experienced God bringing us through a crushing experience, our testimony can become a powerful means of strengthening the faith of others. Over the years my wife and I have proven that the stories of brokenness and suffering, and God bringing us through, are far more powerful than the exciting stories of our successes.

Secondly, God allows us to experience suffering and persecution because He wants us to grow and become strong in Him. For something to become strong it must go through fire and be tested. I have noticed that many Christians who have a lot of the physical comforts of life do not grow so well spiritually. Job said, “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” [Job 23:10]. Both James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:3-4 speak of spiritual growth through trials and tribulation. Jesus promised us, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” [John 16:33]. Praise God for His mercy, for both the testing times and the easier times. Paul said, “I have learned to be abased, and I know how to abound. I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” [Philippians 4:12-13]

Thirdly, God allows us to go through tribulation and suffering because that is what it costs to follow Christ. “It is the way the Master went; should not the servant tread it still” [Horatius Bonar, 1843]. Writing to the Philippians Paul said that he wanted to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings [Philippians 3:10]. In our Bible reading today he says, “as the sufferings of Christ abound in us” [verse 5]. The sufferings of Christ to redeem us are unique and cannot be repeated, but Paul suffered for Christ as he obeyed and imitated Him.

Questions:

Why is it a privilege to suffer for Christ?

Why does the church so often grow more quickly and strongly when it goes through times of persecution?

When we follow Christ there will be times when we have to make very difficult decisions. Why is it so important that we make the right decisions?

GOD’S COMFORT IN SUFFERING

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

When Paul writes about suffering in this passage, he is talking specifically about suffering for Christ, and for the sake of the gospel [verse 5].

One of the verses of Scripture that has often challenged me personally is Paul’s word to Timothy, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” [2 Timothy 3:12]. We are in a spiritual battle! At various points and in various ways the enemy will seek to attack and hurt us. This might be through inward attacks, or outward attacks by people who oppose the gospel. One of the ways that this attack comes is through persecution. There will be opposition when, however gentle we may be, we uncompromisingly share our faith in Jesus, and the meaning of salvation. Jesus warns, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” [Luke 6:26].

The Early Church knew a lot about persecution. We see it from the very beginning in the Book of Acts. Several books, including, Hebrews, James, and the epistles of Peter were written against the backcloth of persecution and suffering. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul spoke of their being appointed to afflictions [1 Thessalonians 3:2-3].

On several occasions Paul spoke to the Corinthians about his suffering. Here is one such passage:

“Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.

For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” [2 Corinthians 7:4-6]. Notice that there were physical attacks, but Paul also experienced fear and was downcast.

The Greek word translated as comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:3,4 is ‘parakalesis’ meaning consolation, encouragement and comfort. The prefix ‘para’ means to come alongside. God comes alongside us to encourage us. The Greek word that we translate as tribulation [NKJV] or trouble [NIV] is ‘thlipsis’ and depicts a crushing pressure, and immense trial. However great the trial God promises His presence and encouragement and will bring us through. He will speak to us through His Word, promising us that he will not allow us to be tested above that which we are able to bear [1 Corinthians 10:13]. He will also minister His comfort to us through others, as in the coming of Titus to Paul.

Questions:

Why do you think that God allows us to go through times of great trial and sometimes crushing pressure?

Read James 1:2. What does James say about our attitude to trials?

Do you remember a time when you experienced a great trial and God comforted you and brought you through? Why not thank Him today?

THE FATHER OF MERCIES

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Psalm 103:1-22

The word mercy is found hundreds of times in the Bible. In Psalm 136 alone we are told 26 times that God’s mercy endures forever. Writing to the Church in Corinth Paul calls God the Father of mercies [1 Corinthians 1:3].

According to the Chambers Dictionary mercy is compassion, a disposition to be kind and forgiving, pardon, and kindness to others. In Exodus we read, “The Lord passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” [Exodus 34:6-7 ESV].

Many years ago I heard a preacher say that “Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve; Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve.” Let’s consider four ways in which God is merciful to us:

[1] He does not treat us as we deserve. David writes, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, or punished us according to our iniquities [Psalm 103:10]. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of our darkness and lost state [Ephesians 2:1-3], and continues, “But God, who is rich in mercy” [verse 4]. Mercy does not give what is deserved.

[2] He understands our weaknesses. David writes, The Lord knows our frame and remembers that we are dust [Psalm 103:14]. Jeremiah wrote, “It is because of God’s mercies that we are not consumed” [Lamentations 3:22]. Mercy understands weakness!

[3] He forgives our sins. David writes, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” [Psalm 103:12]. Mercy forgives.

[4] He gives to us all His treasures. One of the most beautiful stories in the Old Testament is the way in which David showed kindness to Mephibosheth, the grandson of his enemy King Saul [2 Samuel 9:1-13]. He didn’t just restore what he had lost, but brought him into his palace to eat at the king’s table [verse 7,13]. God treats us in the same way. Mercy is generous.

Isn’t God good! I can imagine that the Psalmist could not but help but cry out incessantly, “His mercy endures for ever.” God, the Father of mercies, also requires of us that we be merciful [Micah 6:8], and Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” [Matthew 5:7].

Questions:

Consider the definitions of mercy. What is the opposite of mercy? Is there anyone that you find it had to show mercy to? If so ask God to help you change your attitude.

In what way has God shown His mercy to you? Thank Him today for His mercy.

GOD OUR FATHER

“Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 2:2]

I have been so blessed in recent months as we have sung the song, “He’s a good, good Father; that’s who He is, that’s who He is.” The Fatherhood of God is one of the cornerstones of our faith. When Jesus taught us to pray, he began with “Our Father”. The Nicene Creed, spoken each Sunday in many Christian gatherings, begins with the words, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…” The concept of fatherhood is at the very heart of God and it is so vital that Satan has tried in every way that he can to destroy it.

Some people’s concept of God has been damaged by their bad experiences with their human father. Where there has been a cruel earthly father, God might be thought as being cruel. The absence of an earthly father might create the sense of a God who cannot be trusted. The non-relational earthly father might lead his child to believe that God cannot really be known. The prejudiced earthly father, who favours one child above the others, might lead a person to the terrible conclusion that God has favourites and they are not one of them! Many times people have said to me, “My father was never really able to express love to me.”

This week I heard a Christian brother, rejected by his family, and raised from the age of two in children’s homes, say, “I understand that others know God as Father but I have never been able to experience that for myself!

If someone’s relationship with God as Father has been damaged, then they need God to reveal that truth to them in their spirit! The writer to the Hebrews says, “God is the father of spirits” [Hebrews 12:9]. Opinion comes from our mind, but revelation comes through our spirit and God wants to repair the damage and reveal to us the true meaning of the word “father.” Knowing the Father-Heart of God is a major need for many Christians, and when you know His heart you cannot help but love Him.

I love the picture of the father in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, or perhaps more accurately the two lost sons [Luke 15:11-32]. He loves the son lost in the world but releases him, longs for him, embraces him, and celebrates when he returns. The father equally loves the elder brother and pleads with him to come to the party.

What the Heavenly Father longs for more than anything else is that He might have fellowship with us, enjoy our company, and pour out His blessings into our lives. That is why Paul writes, “Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Questions:

How do you relate to God as Father? Is there something that hinders you from really having a close relationship with Him?

Why not ask God to give you a fresh and meaningful revelation to your spirit of His Father heart?

GOD’S WONDERFUL PEACE

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”[2 Corinthians 1:2]

Having greeted the Corinthians with the word grace, Paul now adds peace to his greeting.

What is it that keeps you together when everything is falling apart? When the marriage partner walks out? What the doctor gives the diagnosis that you never wanted to hear? When the trial you are going through seems impossible to bear? It is the knowledge that God is still in control, and allowing God’s peace to rule in your mind and heart. Writing to the Colossians Paul says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” [Colossians 3:15 ESV]. And so, Paul gives this wonderful greeting to the Church in Corinth, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What the Bible says about peace is far deeper and more powerful than the way in which peace is often presented. It is far more than the absence of strife. The Hebrew word translated as peace is shalom, meaning completeness, wholeness, peace, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquillity, prosperity, fullness, perfectness, rest, harmony: the absence of agitation and discord. ‘Shalom’ comes from the root verb shalam, meaning to be complete, perfect, and full. The Greek word translated as peace is eirẽnẽ and is used to describe the calmness that a nation enjoys when it has a caring, competent and secure leader. Having this kind of peace means having tranquillity in your heart that originates from the understanding that your life is truly in the hands of a loving God. It means experiencing quiet in your inner self.

God’s Word is full of wonderful promises about peace, but perhaps the most wonderful is: “The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:7]. When you have peace, and with God’s grace you can handle every situation.

This peace is only found in Jesus Christ – the world cannot give it to you. It is supernatural and doesn’t make sense to the natural mind. This kind of peace is not dependent upon circumstances. It is a settled rest, a sense of security, wellbeing and rightness. This peace is protective because it guards the heart and the mind. The word, keep in Philippians 4:7 can be translated as umpire or garrison. Literally, if there is a sense that something is wrong, and disturbs the inner peace that God gives, then don’t go there! All God’s paths are righteousness and all His ways are ways of peace!

Questions:

Why is the peace of God so important for the Christian? What are the things that might hinder a person from enjoying God’s peace on a moment-by-moment basis in their life?

Why not repeat out loud over and over again the different meanings of the word shalom, and allow them to flood every part of your life?