HOW TO BE STRONG IN THE LORD

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

In the Old Testament God spoke to Joshua and told him to be “strong and of good courage” [Joshua 1:6,7]. In his last letter, written whilst facing death in Rome and several years after his letter to Corinthians, Paul exhorts Timothy to be “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” [2 Timothy 2:1]. What then are the keys, for Joshua, Timothy and us to be strong in the Lord? Today I would like to suggest four of those keys:

Firstly, honouring God’s Word. When telling Joshua to be strong God gave him a key. He was to obey God’s Word, speak it out, and meditate upon it [Joshua 1:7,8]. Only in obeying God’s Word “will we find strength. It shall “not depart from our mouth” [v.7]. God doesn’t say mind or thought, but mouth! There is something powerful when we speak out God’s word. To meditate on God’s Word means to think about it, pray over it and allow it to rule in our lives. Here is the first key to being strong in the Lord.

Secondly, waiting on the Lord [Isaiah 40:31]. The Hebrew word for wait is Qâvâh and has various meanings. They include to wait, to expect, to look for patiently, to hope, to be confident, and to trust. Basically it is spending time waiting for God, looking to Him, and confidently trusting Him. Those who take time and do this will renew their strength.

Thirdly, rejoicing in the Lord. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” [Nehemiah 8:10]. Joy is far deeper than happiness. Happiness depends upon circumstances, but joy exists whatever the circumstances. It knows that whatever may happen God is in control, and all things work together for good to those who love God [Romans 8:28]. Joy always sings in the darkest night.

Where there has been grief and sadness God can give the oil of joy for mourning [Isaiah 61:3]. Paul and Silas, beaten and bruised and in chains prayed and sang songs at midnight and God moved powerfully [Acts 16:25ff].

King David lost his joy and his song after his sin with Bathsheba, and in his prayer of repentance he cried out to God, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” [Psalm 51:12]

Fourthly, recognizing our weakness. Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” [2 Cor.12:9]. I recently heard someone say, “Weakness is the new strength.” It is when we are incapable, vulnerable and struggling that we honour God’s Word, seek His face and rejoice in Him, and suddenly Christ gives us new strength, so that Paul can say, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” [2 Corinthians 12:10].

Questions:

Is it possible that God wants to meet with you afresh if you are experiencing physical weakness? What steps would you take to meet afresh with God?

If you have lost your song, and the joy of the Lord would you today pray sincerely the prayer of David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation”?

TREASURE IN JARS OF CLAY

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

It is amazing that God would put His light and His Holy Spirit into our bodies that are simply jars of clay. Paul uses the Greek word ostrakinos when he referred to “earthen vessels”. This word describes easily broken pottery made of cheap, shoddy and inferior materials! In His book “Sparkling Gems From the Greek Volume 2, Rick Renner makes the comment that these earthen vessels were frail, fragile and imperfect. This is exactly the kind of people that the church is made of! Paul’s use of the earthen vessels is a remarkable way to describe our weakness and fragility, and yet it is even more remarkable that God puts His Holy Spirit within us.

This concept of the treasure of “the knowledge of the glory God” within our frail bodies brings us back to the central message of 2 Corinthians, that God triumphs amid human weakness. It was what Paul said earlier in the epistle when he spoke of being “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but upon God who raises the dead” [2 Corinthians 1:8-9].

The thought of God using what is weak takes us right back to the cross. At the cross God chose what is regarded as foolish and despised by the world to save us. Paul continued to say, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” [1 Cor. 1:27ff].

Later Paul made it clear, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weakness” [2 Corinthians 11:30]. Such a different message to that so often heard of personal strength, self-confidence and natural ability!

I have often wondered what Paul’s body must have been like. Josephus, the Church Historian says that he was short, bald, bow legged and had poor eyesight! Now add some of the pressures his body had been subject to –

We read about him being whipped or beaten eight times, shipwrecked and spending a night and a day in the sea, in constant danger, weary, without sleep, hungry and thirsty. Paul called it sharing in Christ’s suffering [v. 10-11].

Tomorrow we will look at what kept him going and the source of his strength.

Questions;

Why do you think it was that Paul boasted in his weakness?

Why is a Christian life that is full of every kind of luxury and comfort so dangerous and so different to the life of the early apostles?

David said that he would not give to the Lord that which cost him nothing [see 2 Samuel 24:24. What have you given to Jesus something that was really costly?

PAUL’S MESSAGE

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

“You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:5-6 NLT].

In these two verses we feel the heart of Paul, his passion and his message.

Firstly, we see Paul’s attitude. He doesn’t preach about himself, even though he may testify of what God has done in him, for him, and through Him. In fact he often speaks about his struggles and his sufferings, and especially in this particular letter, but it is always to point to Jesus. He regards himself as a servant! The word that Paul uses for servant is the Greek word doulos, and it means one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, and whose will is consumed in the will of another. This is a slave who is sold to his owner and has no say in his life whatsoever. He totally belongs to and lives to fulfil the wishes and desires of his master. This is such a difficult message to grasp in a modern society that puts its greatest emphasis on ‘my needs being met.’ Elsewhere Paul says, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me” [Galatians 2:20]

Secondly, we see Paul’s message. He preached that Jesus Christ is Lord, and just as God commanded the light to shine [Genesis 1:3], so now He has shone into our hearts that were darkened by sin! Instead of blindness we now have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God – and it is all because of Jesus!

Writing to the Colossians Paul says, “He [God] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” [Colossians 1:13]. Writing to the Ephesians Paul again uses this picture of light, and says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” [Ephesians 5:8]. Light in the Bible is always the emblem of knowledge, purity and truth, just as darkness is the emblem of ignorance, error, wretchedness and sin. When someone repents of sin, believes on Jesus, and receives Him, God removes this ignorance and pours a flood of light and truth into the new believer. This image of light meant so much to Paul. When Jesus met with him on the Damascus Road a light from heaven shone around him, and he immediately recognised Jesus as Lord [Acts 9:3-6]. People might want him to dilute this message, but it is the only message that Paul has, and he is passionate about it!

Questions:

Paul says that the light shone into the darkness, and he had the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. What does this mean to you in your own personal experience?

What is the meaning of being a “bond-servant of Jesus Christ?” How does this affect your daily living?

A BLINDED MIND

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:1-4

If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God” [2 Corinthians 4:3-4 NLT]

Our minds are very important. Among the many references in the Bible to the mind are verses about being single minded [Isaiah 38:3] or double-minded [James 1:8; Psalm 119:113], a doubtful mind [Luke 12:29], a carnal mind [Romans 8:7] and a renewed mind [Romans 12:2]. In our reading today Paul writes about the mind of the unbeliever that is blinded by Satan.

The mind is the communications centre of the human personality, and the place where Satan seeks to control and manipulate people. Just as in a political coup the enemy goes for the communications centre of a nation so our spiritual enemy attacks the mind. The real spiritual battle is in the mind. Writing about this spiritual battle Paul says:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” [2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIVUK]. Even in the minds of Christians Satan seeks to sow lies. His plan is to get a foothold in the mind, build a stronghold and eventually have a stranglehold.

Satan seeks to blind the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot understand or accept the Gospel. In addressing this issue Paul clearly stated that the problem is not in the message preached but in Satan blinding the minds of those hearing the message! The Message Bible puts it like this: “If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.” Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of people’s understanding as the Gospel is faithfully preached, so that people will testify, “I was blind but now I see.”

Questions:

What are some of the lies that Satan seeks to sow into the minds of those who do not believe? Also in the minds of those who do believe?

Read Ephesians 1:15-23. What did Paul say about the “eyes of your understanding being enlightened?” In the light of Paul’s message how should we pray for those we love who do not yet believe?

RIGHTEOUS DECISIONS ABOUT CARS AND SOFAS

Bible Reading: Psalm 32:8-9; Acts 16:6-10

Yesterday we looked at some of the key points in making righteous decisions – praying, examining motives, seeking mature counsel, understanding God’s timing and allowing His peace to rule in our hearts.

I want to continue this theme and consider that God gives us more freedom in decision-making than some people think. He did not create us as robots but gave us the freedom of choice. A Rabbinical interpretation of Psalm 37:4 is “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you His desires.” God puts desires in our heart. It is quite clear from Scripture that God led the apostle Paul, but at the same time he made his own decisions. Paul planned to go first into Asia, but was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go and preach the word there [Acts 16:6]. He then tried to go into Bithynia but again the Spirit did not permit him [Acts 16:7]. Paul then had a vision of a man from Macedonia, pleading with him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us” [Acts 16:9-10].

What fascinates me is that Paul’s heart is to minister to and bless others, and that he plans where he goes, but if it does not fit in with God’s plans then the Holy Spirit is quite capable of telling him and stopping him. That gives us so much freedom in guidance!

For many years I have bought my cars and had them serviced at the same garage. Sometime ago they told me it was the optimum time for me to change my car. They have never let me down and always proved trustworthy. Fairly soon after that we went to Singapore, and committed the need to the Lord. I looked at many cars in Singapore and especially liked the Honda Jazz. I saw one with leather interior and lots of extras, and thought that this would really suit my wife and myself. I rang the garage in the UK and asked them if they could find one for me. They were surprised at my request because they had just bought one that morning – a two year-old top of the range model with only 7,000 miles on the clock. I asked the Lord to show me it was right by sending me £5,000 in sterling within 24 hours. Remarkably that happened as two people blessed us. Then the garage even sold me the car at trade price.

Recently I have been saving up for some months to replace our old three-piece suite. I had £1600 and was ready to buy our new furniture, when a lovely young couple told me that they wanted to go on a Christian rescue mission trip to India. The cost for the two of them would be £1600. After prayer we felt that the Lord wanted us to give them the money for their mission trip, and a few days later, without us saying a word, an elderly relative gave us a large gift to cover the cost of a new three-piece suite.

Questions

What lessons of guidance and making righteous decisions can be learned from the story of the car and the sofa?

Why is it important that God’s will is flexible and allows us to make our own plans and decisions?

HOW DO YOU MAKE GODLY DECISIONS?

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; 2 Peter 2:6-7

As a result of the devotional three days ago, about the importance of making righteous decisions, I have received an email containing a question that needs be answered, and to air it publicly would be helpful. The question was,

“How do you make righteous choices? Or any decision at all? What is the process for doing it?

The devotional word that inspired this question was about the choice that “righteous Lot” made when he and his uncle Abraham separated. The choice that he made was obviously wrong, and led him down a road that caused both him and his family great pain and loss. It was a choice, not made by seeking God, but motivated by selfish gain. In making the choice Lot did not consider how it would affect his relationship with God or his spiritual life.

The following four keys have consistently helped my wife and I to make righteous decisions over the years:

Firstly, Pray! Ask God for His counsel, direction, and wisdom. At the same time ask Him to reveal any wrong or selfish motives that you may have in your heart. It is good to ask the question, “Will this decision enhance or hinder my walk with God and with God’s people?”

Secondly, and especially in major decisions, seek mature counsel. There is safety in a multitude of counsellors. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” [Proverbs 11:14]. This is especially true of important spiritual decisions, but also relevant in practical decisions such as buying a car or a house. Seek the advice of knowledgeable and trustworthy people!

Thirdly, Timing! Is this the right time to be doing what I am thinking of doing? Especially in practical issues make sure that you don’t go into debt or make life difficult for either yourself or others.

Fourthly, listen to your own spirit. As you pray does God’s peace tell you that it is the right thing to do. If it does not bring you peace don’t go there and don’t do it. “ Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life” [Philippians 4:6-7 The Message].

I will continue with this theme tomorrow and share a couple of illustrations

Questions

One of the things that I have learned over the years is that guidance is easier when we are seeking to bless others and not so much seeking God’s blessing for ourselves. What do you think of this statement?

Why do you think it is so common for Christians to make decisions based on selfish motivation and not even consult God for His will at all?

How would you explain to someone else how to seek God’s guidance?

KEEP DOING WHAT IS RIGHT

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:1-5

“Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this” [2 Corinthians 4:1-2 NLT]

The word “therefore” [verse 1] directly links 2 Corinthians chapter 3 and chapter 4. Paul’s ministry and message is the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ that makes us right with God, brings us freedom, and transforms the way we live. This message is so much more glorious than the old covenant message of the law [2 Corinthians 3:6]. Paul continues to write about how he ministers this wonderful message, and in particular emphasizes three key principles:

Firstly, Paul had this ministry because of God’s mercy. Any ministry that we might have is totally because of God’s mercy. God’s mercy is God giving us what we don’t deserve. God had entrusted Paul with this ministry and because it was God’s mercy and favour he wanted to make it clear that there was no place for arrogance or self-confidence.

Secondly, Paul had to be utterly honest and truthful in the way that he handled God’s Word. Paul says that he didn’t trick people or distort God’s Word. The ESV uses the phrase, “We refuse…. to tamper with God’s Word.” This was a word used of wine merchants who diluted their wares and watered them down. The Greek word is ‘Doloō’ which means to adulterate, or to mix human traditions with the pure word of the Gospel. It is God’s Word that is most powerful in touching the human heart. Billy Graham is known for his straight preaching of the Gospel and constantly using the phrase, “The Bible says…” When he was a young student at Wheaton College he was confused by so many Biblical interpretations. One day he went into the woods, knelt on his Bible and prayed, “Lord I will believe and will preach this book just as it is.” The fruit of his ministry over so many years is a result of that commitment!

Thirdly, Paul never gave up in ministering this wonderful gospel. A good translation is, “We faint not” [NKJV]. The Greek word here is ekkakoumen, meaning to lose one’s courage; to be disheartened, to give up because of difficulties. Paul was undeterred by difficulties. He did lose his purpose because of persecution or his strength fail in the many trials he faced. He had every incentive to give up, but God’s mercy and grace sustained him.

It was said that one of Winston Churchill’s most powerful speeches was at a Harrow Boy’s School prize giving. It consisted of five words, “Never! Never! Never give up.

Questions:

In what way are these three principles relevant for us today in whatever ministry or work God has given us to do?

Have you ever felt like giving up? What caused this and what was it that kept you going and enabled you to continue serving God?

MAKING RIGHTEOUS CHOICES!

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; 2 Peter 2:6-7

God declaring us righteous is an act of God and not a process. Sanctification, however, is a lifetime process as the Holy Spirit changes us into the image and character of God. Paul describes this process as, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” [2 Corinthians 3:18]. We are righteous in God’s eyes but now have to live righteously and increasingly God-like [a process], making the right decisions.

Nowhere in God’s Word is this more clearly illustrated than in the life of a man called Lot who was the nephew of Abraham. God calls him righteous [2 Peter 2:7], and yet he made some seriously wrong decisions that caused him great pain and loss.

Lot travelled with Abram, stayed in Egypt with him, and returned to Canaan with him. Both men had become rich in Egypt and owned many cattle, but their riches became a source of strife between them. Against all the cultural norms Abram, the older man, generously offered Lot to choose where he would like to move to with his cattle. That moment of choice was pivotal in Lot’s life. He looked at the fertile plain of Jordan and it reminded him of his good times in Egypt. His decision was not made on seeking God’s will or even honouring his uncle Abraham, but on a selfish choice. It has been said that Lot was out of Egypt, but Egypt, symbolising the world, was not out of Lot.

Having made his choice Lot moves towards Sodom, and into a place of depravity and sin [Genesis 13:12-13]. Within a short time Lot was captured as Sodom fell in battle [Genesis 14:10-12], and it was Abram who rescued him. When the time came for God to judge Sodom and Gomorrah it was Abraham who interceded for Lot!

Lot was a righteous man but in a compromised situation because of a pivotal wrong choice. When he invited two angels who visited Sodom to stay in his home they preferred to sleep in the city square [Genesis 19:1]. When God’s judgment fell on Sodom Lot was rescued, but he lost his wife, sons-in-law, wealth, dignity, and became the father of Moab and Ammon who became enemies of Israel. All of this happened because he made a wrong choice and continued to make wrong choices. God still called him righteous and oppressed by the conduct of the wicked! [Genesis 19:12-38 & 2 Peter 2:8]

Questions:

Read 1 John 3:7. What does this verse mean if God has already declared us to be righteous?

Paul says that we “must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” [Philippians 2:12]. What exactly does this mean in the context of today’s devotional word?

THE BLESSINGS OF BEING JUSTIFIED BY GOD

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 ; Romans 5:1-11

Can you imagine what it means that God sees us as righteous? It has been said that when He justified us, it was as though in His eyes, it was “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned! He no longer counts our sins against us. All the guilt of the past has gone, although one of the enemy’s ploys is to try to keep reminding you of your guilty past! Isaiah chapter sixty-one is full of wonderful promises. God’s people will be called trees of righteousness [verse 3]. Instead of their mourning over their sin they shall be comforted. Beauty will replace ashes – ashes are not beautiful and are what is left when the fire has gone out. Joy will replace mourning and praise heaviness. I love verse seven, “Instead of your shame you shall have double honour.”

A young man recently called me and said although he now loves the Lord that sometimes his past haunts him. When God declared us righteous in His sight it meant beauty, joy, praise and double honour. When the devil tries to remind you of your past remind him of these promises, and then remind him of his future!

Paul wrote so much in Romans about the blessings of God declaring us righteous [justified] – Firstly, peace [Romans 5:1]. Isaiah wrote, “The work of righteousness shall be peace” [Isaiah 32:17]. Secondly, access into God’s presence [Romans 5:2a]. Thirdly, we have hope in God [Romans 5:2b] – peace speaks to the past, access to the present, and hope for the future. This hope is the helmet of salvation that protects our mind [1 Thessalonians 5:8]. Fourthly, confidence in God [Romans 5:3-4] – there may be trials but they work for us and not against us, and even bring us closer to the Lord and make us more like Him. Fifthly, love [Romans 5:5] – the Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts, Sixthly, Salvation from future wrath [Romans 5:9] – through justification God’s anger is averted and we can face the day of God’s judgment without fear. Seventhly, Reconciliation with God [Romans 5:10-11] – the word reconciliation is sometimes translated as atonement, meaning “brought back into fellowship with God.”

A review of these seven blessings of justification shows how certain our salvation is in Christ. Totally apart from Law, and purely by grace, we have a salvation that takes care of the past, the present, and the future. Christ died for us; Christ lives for us; Christ is coming for us!

Questions:

Many people are haunted by mistakes and trauma in the past. What does God say about our guilt and shame? How can we let go of those things and accept what God says about us?

Would you allow the Holy Spirit to minister to you as you read again slowly these seven blessings of justification and then thank God for each one of them?

Isaiah speaks of God’s people as “trees of righteousness.” What does this picture portray to you?