PAUL’S MOTIVE FOR MINISTRY – 1

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-21

The second half of chapter five tells us a tremendous amount about the passion and motives for Paul’s ministry. Over the next few days, we will look at some of the things that motivated Paul.

Firstly, Paul was motivated by a desire to please God [verse 9]. Some versions of the Bible translate this phrase, “to be accepted by God.” The phrase in Greek is euarestoi einai meaning to be well pleasing; and then acceptable, or approved. To be well pleasing to God is not to obey a list of rules and regulations, but to live in communion with Him and let Him have every part of us, so that the Holy Spirit can work through us. What most pleases God is when He sees His Son Jesus increasingly formed in us, and that we become like Him. God’s plan for us is that we should be “conformed to the image of His dear Son” [Romans 8:29]

The songwriter summed this up in the following words:

“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me, All His wonderful passion and purity.

O Thou Spirit divine all my nature refine, Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

Jim Elliot, one of the five missionary martyrs to Ecuador, wrote some remarkable statements in his diary. It was Jim Elliot who said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” He prayed, “Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” Jim Elliot said that the degree he most coveted was an A.U.G. – standing for Approved unto God! [Quotes taken from Shadow of the Almighty by Elizabeth Elliot]. In a very real sense what motivated Paul was that desire to be approved unto God!

One of the most remarkable novels ever written was In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon. First published in 1897, it sold more than 30 million copies. It was the story of a group of committed Christians who resolved to ask themselves whenever they had hard decisions to make, “What would Jesus do?”. This led them to a dedication that avoided easy choices, and instead opting for difficult but spiritually rewarding projects in service of others.

Questions:

What does it mean to be approved unto God?

Has there been a growth in the last year in your relationship and walk with God? If so what have been the main reasons for this? If not, what can you do about it?

Would it be helpful to you to make a habit of asking the question, “What would Jesus do” before each thing that you do?

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD WORKS

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-11

“Therefore, whether we are at home [on earth] or away from home [and with Him], it is our [constant] ambition to be pleasing to Him. For we [believers will be called to account and] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body, whether good or bad [that is, each will be held responsible for his actions, purposes, goals, motives—the use or misuse of his time, opportunities and abilities].” [2 Corinthians 5:9-10 Amplified Bible]

According to Paul our eternal ambition is to be pleasing to God [verse 9]. This is our desire whether on earth or with the Lord. This is a clear distinguishing mark of a Christian believer – the ambition to please God.

It is impossible for us to come to know God as a result of our good works. We cannot earn the love of Jesus by the things we do. That is a settled fact. Salvation is a gift, and if we do anything to pay for it then it is no longer a gift.

Paul also writes in this passage that every believer must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive according to the things that they have done, whether good or bad! While good works cannot save us, good works are the evidence that we are saved. Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them” [Matthew 7:20]. Although salvation is not a reward for good works, once we become God’s children we will be rewarded for our good works.

The foundation for life is Jesus Christ, but on that foundation we have to build. Paul makes this clear in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value.   If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames” [1 Corinthians 3:12-15]. How we build and the works we do are important. Yes, we are saved, but it could have been so much better if we had done the works that God wanted us to do.

Perhaps one of the loveliest stories in the Book of Acts is about a woman named Tabitha [Acts 9:36-43]. She was full of good works and charitable deeds. She died but all the widows showed Peter the tunics and garments that she had made for them while she was alive. Peter prayed and she came back from the dead. God has special honour and rewards for His children who are full of good works.

Questions:

Good works cannot save us but good works are very important. Why are good works so important?

Read James 2:14-26. What does James say about the relationship between faith and works?

MIND THE GAP

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:5-8; Mark 11:20-26

There is often a time gap between claiming a promise of God by faith and its fulfilment!

In our Bible verses today Paul uses the word confidence twice. The Greek word is tharrheo and is only found seven times in the New Testament, two of them in these four verses. Remarkably it can also be translated as to be bold, or even to exercise courage. Paul is literally saying, “I am confident, I am encouraged and I am bold.” The enemy of our faith trades in the opposite of these characteristics using discouragement and timidity to destroy our confidence in God. So often this happens after we claim one of God’s promises.

Jesus’ words about faith that moves mountains immediately follow an incident where he cursed an unfruitful fig tree. The next day the disciples found that the fig tree had withered up. It did not happen immediately! There was a gap between the word and its fulfilment. Two verses later Jesus says, “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain… and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, and he will have whatever he says” [Mark 11:24] Again there is a gap between what was said in faith and when it actually happened.

This time between the speaking of faith, and the fulfilment of what you believe for is critical. That is when the enemy will attack. He will use the negative words of people to discourage you, cause you to doubt and try to destroy your confidence. The battle is in the thought-life. The writer to the Hebrews said,

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” [Hebrews 10:36-37]. In that gap period the danger is that we do not endure, that is stand firm, but instead cast away our confidence.

Many years ago God spoke to John Wimber and told him to pray for the sick and believe for their healing. For 18 months they prayed for sick people and not one was healed. The temptation was to give up, to doubt and to lose confidence, but instead they pressed on until someone was healed. After that, healings became very regular in his ministry. It was so good that he did not give up, doubt or became discouraged. If you are trusting God for something guard your heart in the time between claiming the promise and experiencing its fulfilment.

Questions:

How can you stand firm and not doubt and become discouraged if God has given you a promise and you still awaiting its fulfilment?

Why do you think it is that God doesn’t always give immediately what He has promised but allows our faith to be tested?

Why is patience such an important part of seeing God’s promises fulfilled?

ABSENT FROM THE BODY PRESENT WITH THE LORD

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8

“So then, being always filled with good courage and confident hope, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord…. we are [as I was saying] of good courage and confident hope, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:6,8 Amplified Bible]

There has been a lot of talk in Christian circles about what exactly happens when we die. Some have insisted that our soul and spirit go to a place where we sleep and await the day of resurrection. The people who hold this view quote the story of Jesus raising Lazarus and saying that he was asleep when he was actually dead. On various occasions Paul refers to death as sleep.

The Bible speaks of the Old Testament believers, who looked forward to the cross, as going to a place at death called paradise, which was part of Hades – the place of the departed dead. In the Jewish understanding, Abraham’s side [Luke 16:22] and paradise were the same place. When Jesus spoke to the dying thief on the cross He said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” [Luke 23:43]. The word paradise comes from a Greek word ‘paradeisos” and means “garden.” We know that Jesus went down to Hades after His death

When Jesus ascended into heaven, the Bible says that He led captivity captive [Ephesians 4:8-10]. Those righteous Old Testament believers who died were awaiting Christ’s work on the cross, His resurrection and ascension. He set them free and brought them to heaven. Paradise has been transferred to heaven. When we die we will join them in heaven, and be with Jesus, awaiting the resurrection of the body. We will be conscious and aware of the presence of Jesus. If this were not the case then why would Paul say, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord”. When a believer dies his spirit and soul leave him and return to the Lord and are in the presence of Jesus.

Elsewhere Paul speaking to the Philippians said, “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 labour; 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” [Philippians 1:21-23]. If we don’t go into the immediate presence of Christ, then what is the gain that Paul speaks of, and why does he say that to be with Christ is far better?

Questions:

How would you describe in a few words the Christian’s hope?

Why do you think Paul would say that to be with the Lord is far better?

Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Would you affirm afresh today the Lordship of Jesus in your life? What changes might have to take place in your life if you do this?

THE EAGLE AND THE CELL PHONE

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:7; Mark 11:20-26

Last week, we considered faith that sees the invisible and I mentioned Mark 11:22-24. I have been meditating on these verses and this morning received a most remarkable testimony from a source that I can thoroughly endorse. It speaks of such simple and yet profound faith.

The north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has mountains up to 6,800 metres [22,300 feet] above sea level. There are many hidden tribes and ethnic groups there who remain unreached with the Gospel.

A Christian pastor shared an amazing story, which reveals how keen God is to reveal His Son to the precious unreached tribes of this remote region. Last year a teenage girl – we will call Sarita – heard the Gospel and believed. She was the first known Christian in her village, and the Hindu leaders were angry and tried to get her to renounce Christ. Sarita refused, and continued to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.

One day, Sarita went to the forest to cut grass for the animals. After working several hours she sat down for a rest, when a crow suddenly swooped down, snatched up her cell phone in its claws and flew off! The young sister was deeply upset, as she had not owned the phone for long and she used it to communicate with Christian friends and receive online Bible teaching.

When she returned home, Sarita shared what had happened and the Hindu villagers mocked her. Undeterred, the young Christian told them that Jesus is the Living God who controls nature. She told them she was going to pray and ask Him to do a miracle, and this made them laugh even more!

Three days later, when many of the villagers were outside working in the hot sun, they saw an eagle slowly circling overhead, with an object in its claws.

Thinking it was probably a mouse or other small animal, they watched in amazement as the eagle glided in low to the ground (something they never do). As it flew over the village it gently dropped the object right next to where

Sarita was sitting, before flying off. The people rushed over and were astonished to see that the eagle had returned Sarita’s cell phone, still in perfect working condition!

This miracle had a powerful impact on the whole community. They no longer opposed Sarita’s faith, and they agreed that Jesus is the Living God. Many asked to hear about God, and the Gospel spread to many Hindus who had never previously heard the Name of Jesus Christ before in their lives. Many were saved and today there is a church in this remote village! [www.asiaharvest.org]

Questions:

What does this simple testimony tell you about faith?

How can we in our “intellectual” Western society begin to experience such remarkable answers to prayer? What are our hindrances to faith?

SEEING THE INVISIBLE

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8; Joshua 5:13-6:10

“…for we walk by faith, not by sight [living our lives in a manner consistent with our confident belief in God’s promises]” [2 Corinthians 5:7 Amplified Bible].

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” [Hebrews 11:1]

Paul is writing about our Christian hope. He is talking about an eternal habitation [5:2]; about mortality swallowed up by life [5:3]; about our confidence of one day being with Jesus [5:6,8]. We don’t yet see this but we have it by faith. Peter writes about this hope in Jesus Christ, and then adds, “whom having not yet seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing you rejoice with joy inexpressible, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls” [1 Peter 1:8-9].

Faith always sees what is invisible to the natural eyes. It confidently believes in the promises of God, and depends upon them. His promises are foundational to faith. Jesus, speaking about faith that can remove mountains, said, “Therefore I say to you, whatsoever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” [Mark 11:24]. The emphasis here is asking, believing [but not yet seeing] and then receiving!

When Abram left Ur of the Chaldees, and all its immorality and idolatry, he went by faith, obeying God, but not knowing where this would lead him [Hebrews 11:8]. He couldn’t see where God was leading him, but He knew that God planned a place for him. He went by faith not by sight.

Perhaps one of the best illustrations of walking by faith and not by sight is the story of the fall of Jericho. Jericho could not be avoided. It blocked the path of the children of Israel into the Promised Land. The Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given into your hands, Jericho, its king and its mighty men of valour” [Joshua 6:2]. What did Joshua see? Was it the impossible city securely shut up, or was it what God said? Here is the difference between seeing with the eyes of faith and seeing with the natural eyes!

God honours faith! Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” [John 20:29].

Questions:

Why do many people find faith and launching out into the unknown so difficult?

Why is God’s Word such an important part of believing God for the impossible situation that you might face?

What Peter did say in 1 Peter 1:8-9 about faith in regard to our hope of salvation?

INWARD RENEWAL

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” [2 Corinthians 4:16 NKJV]

The outward man is that which is physical and can be seen, but the inward man is the spirit of man, made alive through new birth by the Holy Spirit. Our bodies do become tired, worn out and decayed. I certainly cannot do physically some of the things that I did fifty years ago – running, long-jumping and triple jumping are no longer possible!! I used to be constantly on the go, travelling, and speaking in several meetings each day but my body no longer allows me to keep going at that pace, and now I need recovery time between each thing that I do!!

Paul certainly new what it was to experience his outer man perishing! His body had taken so much pressure, over years of ministry. I have even heard doctors say that our brain cells are dying little by little, although I do everything I can to keep my mind active and alert. Something that causes me great sadness is to see dear Christian friends, as well as a special elderly family member, experiencing dementia.

The inward man does not perish, but is constantly being renewed by the Holy Spirit as we walk with God and honour Him. This has never been more obvious to me than when my wife and I visited an elderly missionary in Wales. When we had lived together in Indonesia Cyril and Barbara had been a tremendous blessing to us, and possibly had saved our missionary career. In his last years Cyril’s mind went, and we visited him when he was staying in a home to give Barbara some respite.

Cyril didn’t recognise us, although we had been so close. His mind had completely gone, and I wondered how on earth we could communicate with him. Then I the thought, why not sing Cyril’s favourite hymn. He had always loved singing and worshipping God. As we sang, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene” Cyril suddenly began to sing with us all the verses of that great hymn. When we had finished singing I prayed for Cyril, and then he began to pray for Esther and me. It was one of the most fervent prayers I have ever heard anyone pray. I suddenly realised that although his body was worn out and his mind completely gone, yet Cyril’s spirit was very much alive. What comfort this gave to my wife and me!

Even under incredibly pressure, pain and the weight of sin, Jesus could pray, “Father into Your hands I commit My spirit.” The Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the spirit of the believer even though the body and the mind decay.

Questions:

Read 2 Corinthians 3:18. What is the main key that Paul gives for the renewal of the inner man? What can you do to strengthen your spirit?

I once heard someone say, “The way that we live will determine the way that we die!” What do you think of that statement? Is there any truth in it?

What can you do to keep your mind active and alert?

EXPERIENCING GOD IN THE PAIN

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

In these days we are hearing of amazing faith and faithfulness in times of much suffering for Christians and persecution in various parts of the world. Stories from China, Iran, Iraq and others parts of the world are inspirational.

In these days we are hearing of amazing faith and faithfulness in times of much suffering for Christians and persecution in various parts of the world. Stories from China, Iran, Iraq and others parts of the world are inspirational.

Today I want to share with you a poem that I have received in the past few days. It is written by a Christian lady, Zhang Xiuhong, in China, who has been victimised for her faith and been sentenced to five years in prison. It perfectly sums up much of what Paul has said about suffering.
This year
I didn’t hear the sweet voice of my baby,
I didn’t embrace the wanderer come back from afar,
I didn’t see my loved one’s thin and weak figure,
I didn’t have heart-to-heart talks with my sister,
I didn’t taste the delicious food prepared by my mother-in-law,
I didn’t bask in the rays of the morning sunlight,
Or take a stroll as the sun sets.
Or ride on a high-speed train to go somewhere.

This year, the sound I often heard,
Was the slam of metal doors, sharp and piercing,
This year, the sight I often saw was hopeless eyes,
This year, the food I had every day was the unchanging “three dishes and a soup,”
This year, the farthest I went was less than 1,000 meters [approximately 3,281 feet] away,
This year, I received a staggering fine,
This year, I saw the judge of my case twice, not at the court, but where I’m being detained.

Was this a tough year for me? Painful? Lonely? Living each day like a year? Absolutely not!
This year, I was never in a dark place while waiting; the sun above the clouds shined upon me and nourished me;
This year, I was never homesick;
This year, I enjoyed the bounty of grace because my trust in the Lord who called me brought me unspeakable glory and joy;
This year, the world drifted farther away from me;
This year, my Lord drew ever closer to me;
This year, I received the fruits of the Lord’s Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control;
This year, I bathed in His love;
This year, my soul broke free from the metal bars of prison and soared in the Kingdom of God;
This year, I lived in hope and divine promises….”

Would you take time to pray today for those who are suffering for Christ?

HOW NOT TO LOSE HEART

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

Have you ever felt that the pressure is too much for you, and wanted to give up. Despite all that God has done for us there are still times when we come under tremendous pressure and feel like giving up. Even church life can be a pressure. After listing all the trials and struggles he had gone through Paul added, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” [2 Corinthians 11:28 NASB]. The word “pressure” is the Greek word episustasis that derives from another Greek word meaning to stand against, and in this context refers to all that apostle Paul had to encounter which was in opposition to him! Inspite of all the pressure, perplexity and persecution that he experienced he was not crushed, in despair or destroyed [verses 8-9]. How was it that Paul did not lose heart?

Firstly, he regarded suffering for Christ as a privilege. He recognised that suffering for Jesus was a part of the package of salvation. Writing to Timothy Paul said, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” [2 Timothy 3:12]. It almost seemed like a badge of honour to suffer for Jesus!

When Jesus said that a disciple is not above his teacher or a servant above his master [Matthew 10:24], he was strongly implying that if He suffered His disciples would also suffer!

Secondly, God has a purpose even in our suffering. He will never abandon us. Everything that we suffer for Christ is an opportunity to demonstrate His power and presence in us, and He will use it for our good. This morning I had a long chat with a young man who runs his own business. Because of jealousy someone has slandered him and tried to destroy him. He faces immense battles and this morning said to me, “Why is Satan attacking me in such way – it is such battle. God must have something very special for me.” It is a battle and it is tough, but I have seen this young man grow in stature as a person. He has become godly in his decisions and mature in his attitudes. It is in the difficult times that we grow in Christ. There is no school of maturity like the school of hard knocks.

Thirdly, It is so easy to concentrate on present struggles rather than the ultimate goal. One day we will experience the resurrection and receive the reward for our faith. It is so easy to lose heart and quit, but we must not let fatigue, pain or criticism force us out of God’s plan for our lives. Don’t forsake your eternal reward because of the intensity of today’s pain!

Questions:

What are some of the blessings that we can experience when times are tough for us?

Why do you think it is that we grow most into Christian maturity when we experience trials and struggles?

Why should we regard it as privilege when we suffer for Christ’s sake?