PRECIOUS CO-WORKERS

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 7:2-18

The apostle Paul worked with a number of co-workers. He was originally sent out from the church in Antioch, together with Barnabas [Acts 13:1-4]. Later Silas and Luke joined Paul, and in the Book of Acts we find that the number of co-workers grew dramatically. “And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia” [Acts 20:4]. Epaphroditus and Titus were also Paul’s co-workers. Paul was certainly not a lone ranger!

It is dangerous to work alone in Christian ministry. Just consider how many times we find the phrase, “one another” in Scripture. Jesus sent the disciples out in twos. One of the remedies for Elijah’s collapse at the challenge of Jezebel [2 Kings 19:1] was to care for Elisha, to train him, and to be ambitious for him. In 1624 the English poet John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Several years ago I heard someone say that every Christian needs three close friends – a Barnabas who encourages them, a Paul who mentors them and a Timothy whom they disciple.

I always used to travel alone in the ministry in various areas of Asia, but particularly in Indonesia. One day a young Christian graduate approached me and asked to travel with me. We agreed to travel together for a year. I was nervous at first because I valued my privacy but I soon realised that having this young man with me was a tremendous blessing. Many times he had a word from the Lord that helped me in the ministry, and I often used to think that I was learning from him rather than him from me. Today he is recognised as one of the finest Bible teachers in the Southern Hemisphere.

The gifts that God had given to Titus complemented the gifts of Paul. The Corinthians felt comfortable sharing their hearts with Titus, and he in turn was able to comfort Paul with the churches response [verse 6]. In this way Titus was able to lift Paul when he had been struggling and in a very real sense was able to protect him. Here is the great value of a precious co-worker – one who has complementary gifts, minister’s comfort, strengthens and gives protection. Surely this is at the heart of genuine Christian fellowship

Questions:

Why is it important that as Christians we don’t work alone but in fellowship with other like-minded believers?

Why do you think it is difficult for some people to work closely with others in the ministry?

Each Christian needs three people – a Barnabas who encourages, a Paul who mentors and a Timothy whom they disciple. Who are the people who fulfil these roles in your life?

STRUGGLES IN MACEDONIA

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 7:5

“For even when we arrived in Macedonia, our bodies had no ease or rest, but we were oppressed in every way and afflicted at every turn – fighting and contentions without, dread and fears within [us]” [2 Corinthians 7:5 Amplified Bible].

Paul first went to Macedonia on his second missionary journey having had a clear vision of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to come over to Macedonia and help us [Acts 16:9-10]. It proved to be a tough assignment.

He and Silas commanded a python spirit to come out of a medium. Her owners, no longer able to use her to make money, were angry and stirred up a mob against Paul and Silas. They were stripped, beaten with rods and thrown into prison, and their feet clamped in stocks. Paul’s first visit to Macedonia was not easy. Obeying God’s call does not guarantee an easy life, but He promises to be with us and to bless us.

Paul’s second visit to Macedonia followed his writing a very severe letter to the Corinthians in which he challenged them about the sin they were allowing in the church. Whilst Titus delivered the letter to Corinth, the Lord opened a door for Paul to minister in Troas. Although the Lord had opened this door for Paul he was in no state to minister in Troas, and went instead to Macedonia [2 Corinthians 2:12-13].

God’s Word tells us that Paul had no ease or rest in Macedonia. The Greek word translated as “no rest” [2 Corinthians 7:5] literally means to have no peace of mind! He faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fears within. The enemy was attacking his mind! He was questioning if he had done the right thing in writing a severe letter to the church at Corinth, and if his relationship with them had been damaged beyond repair. Paul’s anxiety was compounded by the fact that he had received no news from Titus. Paul is struggling with acute anxiety!

There are times when we too struggle in a similar way. Paul wrote elsewhere about the burden he carried for the care of the churches [2 Corinth. 11:28].

Over the years I have learned that when our heart is right toward God and we have to make difficult decisions we can trust Him with the consequences. God can use even the mistakes we make for good if our heart is right with Him.

Nevertheless, the enemy will do all he can to make us anxious and afraid. God’s Word says, “Cast all your care [that which divides your mind] upon Him for He cares for you” [1 Peter 5:7].

Questions:

Why is it encouraging to understand that mistakes that we make when our hearts are right with God will never prove to be fatal but God will bring something good out of it?

Satan seeks to divide our mind and make us double-minded. What is God’s remedy for this in 1 Peter 5:7?

THE FEAR OF THE LORD

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 7:1

“Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God” [2 Corinthians 7:1 NLT]

Throughout Scripture, and especially in the Book of Proverbs we find the phrase, “The fear of the Lord”. Consider just four of the fifteen references to the fear of the Lord in the Book of Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” [Proverbs 1:7]; “To fear the Lord is to hate evil” [Proverbs 8:13]; The fear of the Lord adds length to life [Proverbs 10:27]; “…always be zealous for the fear of the Lord” [Proverbs 23:7]. These verses tell me that the fear of the Lord is not some cringing and unhealthy fear, but is good and wholesome. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge [of God], to hate sin, and to have a deep respect and reverence for God.

The fear of the Lord is the awesome respect for the person of the Lord Jesus and His authority, which when we understand it excludes evil and ensures righteousness in our lives. A comment in the margin of the NIV Study Bible on Ecclesiastes 12:13 defines the fear of the Lord as, “A loving reverence for God that includes submission to His lordship and to the commands of His word.” You cannot separate the fear of the Lord and obedience to the Lord.

The Psalmist wrote, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways” [Psalm 128:1]. After Abraham had been prepared to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice the angel of said to him, “Now I know that you fear God” [Genesis 22:12].

The Bible speaks of amazing blessings that come to the person who fears the Lord:

It is PROTECTIVE – “The fear of the Lord keeps you from evil” [Proverbs 16:16]. “For the angel of the LORD is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear Him” [Psalm 34:7].

It is LIFE-GIVING – “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death [Proverbs 14:27]; it adds length to life [Proverbs 10:27].

It brings PEACE and CONTENTMENT – “The fear of the Lord leads to life: then one rests content, untouched by trouble” [Proverbs 19:23].

It brings WEALTH, HONOUR and LIFE – “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth, honour and life [Proverbs 22:4].

Finally, to fear the Lord is a choice that we have to make. The writer of Proverbs says, “They… did not choose to fear the Lord,” [Proverbs 1:29] and commands us to “… always be zealous for the fear of the Lord [Proverbs 23:17].

By obedience and submission to God and His Word we choose to fear the Lord!

Questions:

Why do you think that the fear of the Lord is so important? What new thing have you learned today about the fear of the Lord? In what way does your life reveal to others that you fear of the Lord?

GOD’S STANDARD

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

“Therefore, since these [great] promises are ours, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates and defiles body and spirit, and bring [our] consecration to completeness in the [reverential] fear of God” [2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 AMP].

With these promises ringing in our ears, dear friends, let us keep clear of anything that smirches body or soul. Let us prove reverence for God by consecrating ourselves to him completely” [J.B. Phillips].

In the last three verses of 2 Corinthians 6 Paul gives us three promises from the Old Testament. By applying these promises to our lives we will cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit, grow in holiness and have a deep reverence for God. The three promises are:

Firstly, “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” These words are taken from Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38 and; Ezekiel 37:27. God promises to be our God, to dwell in us and to walk among us. We are literally the temple of the living God. He makes His home in us.

Secondly, “Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate,’ says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” This promise is taken from Isaiah 52:11. If we turn from everything that is displeasing to God and honour godly boundaries He promises to receive us.

Thirdly, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” This promise is taken from 2 Samuel 7:14. Paul has added the words, “and daughters” to the original promise. God promises to be a Father to us.

Can you imagine three more wonderful promises that God could give to us than to make His home in us, to receive us and to be a Father to us?

We can enjoy these wonderful promises but in order to do so we must fulfil the conditions attached to them. We are to separate ourselves from the spirit of the world, to no longer compromise, and to separate ourselves from the impurity of unbelieving attitudes and behaviours. Then we shall know His blessing, grow in holiness and reverence Him.

Some time ago I met with a young student on holiday from Bible School. I asked him how he was doing. He told me that his appetites had totally changed, and whereas in the past he would just ‘go with the crowd’, that this no longer satisfied him because he was chasing after God and His glory. My heart was filled with praise for the change in this young man.

Questions:

What does it mean that we are temples of the living God?

According to our reading today what are God’s promises that we can claim when we separate ourselves from the spirit of the world?

What does it mean to have reverence for God?

A CALL TO SEPARATION

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

As a young Christian I used to regularly hear the phrase, “A Christian should be in the world but not of the world.” It is a good catchphrase but I often puzzled about its real meaning. What is the meaning of the word “world” and what does it mean to be in the world but not of it?

Let me begin by saying that the world is something far more than just a wrong lifestyle. Sometimes Christians have regarded the world as things like smoking, addictions, living for pleasure, promiscuity, etc., but these are merely symptoms of worldliness. “The world is that invisible and yet surrounding atmosphere in which we live, and which erodes faith, dissipates hope and corrupts love” [Charles Swindoll]. God’s standards are absolute!

The Ten Commandments are absolutes! The world hates absolutes, and loves relativism and syncretism. I once heard Leighton Ford, Billy Graham’s brother-in- law say, “To many the only absolute is the absolute that there are no absolutes.” The values of God and the world are totally opposite and opposed to each other. John writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” [1 John 2:15].

Paul was deeply concerned that the Corinthian believers should not follow the spirit of this world. He calls it by various names: darkness, the devil, idolatry, filthy things, and says that we should be separated from these. We live in this fallen world but we live with a different spirit – the Holy Spirit. We are witnesses to the world because we live in the Holy Spirit, and that life is so different to the spirit of the world.

We have boundaries! The word separate [verse 17] is translated from the Greek word aphorizo and literally means to set off by boundary. We don’t team up [become yoked] with unbelievers. We don’t partner with wickedness!

There is bound to be compromise when a Christian business owner joins his business to an unbeliever. It is disobedience when a Christian chooses to marry an unbeliever. Occasionally, because of God’s grace, such a union is successful, but normally the Christian has to compromise and their faith and testimony will be weakened. Spurgeon once said that it is far easier for an unbeliever to pull the believer down to their level than for the believer to pull the unbeliever up to where they are.

We will continue this theme tomorrow and take a look at the promises God gives to those who choose to live by the boundaries that honour Him

Questions:

Why is it important that as God’s children we have clearly defined boundaries? Read James 1:27. What do you think James means when he says that we are to keep ourselves unspotted from the world?

Sometimes when a believer chooses not to do things that cross God’s boundaries they are accused of being boring. How would you answer such an accusation?

UNREQUITED LOVE

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:11-13

“Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us.   I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us.” [2 Corinthians 6:11-13 NLT]

Many years ago I listened to a vinyl recording of the great Methodist preacher Dr W. E. Sangster speaking about the tragedy of unrequited love. He told the story of a young woman who fell in love with a man who was neither suitable for her, nor worthy of her love. She was counselled to end her relationship with him, but she responded by saying that she could not because her love for him had gone too deep. He went on to speak of the depth of Jesus’ love for us, but how people failed to respond to His love. This is unrequited love!

In our reading today we see the depth of Paul’s love for the people in the Corinthian Church, and yet they withheld their love from him. Paul had suffered much pain to bring the gospel to them and, together with his friends, had spoken honestly, and opened their hearts to the Corinthians. These two characteristics, honesty and openness of heart are fundamental to love and Christian fellowship. Paul communicated with them what was going on in his own life; he shared with them his feelings, struggles, failures, pressures, and problems, and he let them know how he coped with them. That is always a mark of love. John wrote, “If we walk in the light we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin” [see 1 John 1:7]. When we walk in the light it always makes us vulnerable.

The problem is that for real fellowship both parties need to be open and honest, but in the case of Paul and the Corinthians this love, openness, and honesty only came from Paul and not the Corinthians.

Tragically some people build a wall to protect themselves and keep other people out. It may be because they have been hurt. Often it is because of fear. This wall that cuts us off from others may offer a selfish protection, but it might also keep the Holy Spirit out. This wall is limiting [verse 12] and imprisons people within the narrow boundaries of their own selfishness. A ministry of the Holy Spirit is to pull down this wall, and although this may mean vulnerability, it will also open the door to freedom, honesty, fellowship and love.

Questions:

Another word for walking in the light is transparency, and this always stretches and makes us vulnerable. Why is transparency so important?

Has the Holy Spirit ever given you a deep, Christ like love for an individual or a group, but they have rejected your love? How did you handle this?

Fellowship was one of four keys to the growth of the Early Church [Acts 2:42]. How do you understand the meaning of Christian fellowship? Why is honesty such a key element of fellowship?

A TRUE MINISTER OF JESUS CHRIST

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:4-10

Paul lists some remarkable characteristics of a true minister of Jesus Christ.

They are Consistent [verse 2 & 8]. They do not cause others to stumble by double standards. They remain consistent whether people support them or oppose them.

They are Patient [verse 4]. They face many difficult issues, and in this passage Paul lists six of the difficulties that they have to face [verse 5]

They are Faithful [verse 7]. They faithfully preach God’s Word, trusting God to work through them. Elsewhere Paul wrote to Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” [2 Timothy 4:2]. The power is in God’s Word, not in our interpretations or ideas about God’s word.

They know how to Wage Warfare [verse 7]. Paul speaks of using the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defence. Obviously he is writing about the Sword of the Spirit, that is the Word of God in the right hand. This is the only part of the Christians armour and weapons listed in Ephesians 6:12-18 that is for attack. The Shield of Faith in the left hand is for defence and quenches all the fiery darts of the evil one.

Whatever they face they Never Give Up [verses 8-10a]. People may honour or despise us, slander or praise us, ignore us and beat us, but Paul says, “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy” [verse 10a]. We may sometimes be tempted to give up but we choose not to give up, as we fix our eyes on Jesus!

They desire to Bless Others [verse 10]. “We are poor, but give spiritual riches to others.” Our heart is to bless others. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” [Acts 20:35].

We could so easily take the next few days to consider each of these characteristics one by one. None of us is perfect but we should be growing in these remarkable characteristics that were so evident in Paul’s life. The key is that we are filled with the Holy Spirit and increasingly walking with Him. Paul writes, “We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love” [verse 6].

Questions:

Which of these characteristics are your strengths, and which are the areas in which you are weaker and need to work on?

How does God teach us patience through the difficult experiences and trials that we go through?

How would you answer people who say that these characteristics of a true minister of Jesus Christ only apply to full-time church workers and pastors?

Will you ask God to fill you afresh with the Holy Spirit today?

THE NATURAL MAN AND THE SPIRITUAL MAN

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-2

“As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvellous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:1-2 NLT]

It would seem that among the Corinthians who had opposed Paul were people who had accepted God’s wonderful gift of salvation but sadly they had not continued to live it out in their daily life. The Bible teaches that once we receive salvation we must work it out in our lives [Philippians 2:12], but sadly there are those who do not move forward after making that initial decision to accept Christ. My father-in-law and mother-in-law are a prime example of this. They both attended the same evangelistic meeting in 1939, and both put their hands up to accept Christ. My mother-in- law grew dramatically in her walk with God, but sadly, her husband did not go on with Christ. One accepted Christ and went on with Him, and the heart of the other was unchanged. The only comfort is that at the age of 80, he finally surrendered to Christ.

One of the most difficult issues that churches may have to deal with are the people who attend, even taking a lead role, and who think they are Christians, but are not really in a right place with God. It is questionable whether they are really saved. They operate in the flesh rather than the Spirit, making natural rather than spiritual decisions. Late in his life Paul wrote a warning to Timothy about supposed Christians who were living ungodly lives. He wrote, “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”

These people may even teach but have a counterfeit faith [1 Timothy 3:1-9].

From the way that Paul wrote to the Corinthians it seems that he regarded those people who opposed him as not really saved, and he pleaded with them to be saved. This would certainly solve the problem of their attitude to Paul. In urging these people to turn to the Lord and be saved Paul quoted from Isaiah,

“In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you” [Isaiah 49:8]. Later in this same epistle Paul challenges people in the church to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves [2 Corinthians 13:5].

Questions:

Why is it so important that as God’s children we constantly examine ourselves to make sure that we are in the faith?

When Jesus spoke to the church in Laodicea, He rebuked them for being neither hot nor cold [Revelation 3:14-22]. Why do you think that their spiritual condition was such an offence to Jesus?

Why are people in the church who live and operate in a form of religion but deny the power of the Gospel in their lives so damaging to God’s work?

IN PARTNERSHIP WITH GOD

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10

“As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvellous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it” [2 Corinthians 6:1 NLT]

Here is an amazing truth – God calls us to work in partnership with Him. The various English translations call us God’s partners, co-operators with God, and God’s fellow workers! What grace and what a privilege! The Greek word used here is sunergeo meaning fellow worker, to co-operate, to work with.

Although He doesn’t need to do so, it has always been on God’s heart to work through men. When God created Adam and Eve He gave them work to do.

Adam was to name the animals, have dominion over them, and take care of the earth that God had created. When God wanted a special people through whom He could work he called out a man, Abraham, and the nation of Israel was created. When God wanted to reach the Assyrians he called a pouting prophet named Jonah.

In the Book of Ezekiel we read that the prophets were seeing false visions, and divining lies, saying ‘Thus says the Lord,’ when the Lord had not spoken.

They mistreated the poor and needy and were wrongfully oppressing foreigners [Ezekiel 22:28-29]. God then said, “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” [Ezekiel 22:30]. God looked for a man who would intercede for the people.

Of course God can work without co-workers. Amazing stories are coming out of places like Malaysia and Iran, of people who have met with Jesus through dreams and visions, and whose lives have been totally changed. However, God normally uses co-workers who work with Him. Writing to the Romans Paul says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?

And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace; who bring glad tidings of good things” [Romans 10:14-15].

There is an indication of our working together with God at the end of Mark’s Gospel, “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen [Mark 16:20].

Questions:

What do you think is the meaning of partnership with God in the work of His Kingdom?

Why do you think it is that the Sovereign Lord chooses to work with and through men?

What part has God called you personally to play in serving Him and in the extending of His Kingdom? If He calls you to do something for Him are you prepared to obey His call?

THE GOSPEL IN A VERSE – 2

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:21-31

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV].

Yesterday we looked at the first half of this verse – God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us. Today we look at the second half of the verse, that through Jesus being made sin for us, we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

What does it mean that we become the righteousness of God in Christ?

Becoming the righteousness of God has nothing to do with us doing righteous works. There is nothing that we can boast of in ourselves because it is God who gives us His righteousness, and declares us righteous. This is one of the key teachings in Paul’s letters. He teaches that through the gospel we become the righteousness of God [Romans 1:17]. He writes, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” [Romans 5:19]. Righteousness is an act of God when God declares us righteous on the basis of our turning from sin [repentance], and our faith in Christ. God declaring us righteous is known as justification.

Before we become Christians we were under the control of our old nature and the influence of the devil [Ephesians 2:1-3], but when we turned to Christ we were given the very nature of God. Christ is God, and what He is we are [see 1 John 4:17]. On the cross our sin was made over to Him, and now His righteousness is given to us. Our union with Christ is everything! We are in Him and He in us, and that is why God can declare us righteous!

Many years ago I heard a lady from Wales sing a beautiful hymn that helps us to understand this. The words were, “God sees my Saviour, and then He sees me; In the beloved accepted and free.” He sees us as already complete in Christ [Colossians 2:10]. It is a wonderfully liberating truth to see yourself in the way that God sees you, and to recognise that there is nothing more that we can do but what His grace has already done. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus….” [Romans 8:1]

God declares us righteous but this does not give us the freedom to live as we please. We are to honour God in everything, practice righteousness, and love one another [1 John 3:7].

Questions:

Why do you think it is that so little teaching and preaching is about the righteousness that God has already made us in Christ?

Read Galatians 5:1. What does Paul mean when he says, “Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free?

Why is it so important to see yourself in the same way that God sees you? In what way is this liberating and bring freedom?