FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:10-11

“So here’s what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it” [2 Corinthians 8:10-11 The Message].

A year before Paul wrote this epistle to the Corinthians he had challenged them to take up a collection for the saints living in poverty in Judea. They had enthusiastically embraced Paul’s request and begun to do what they had promised but had not finished what they had begun. Paul challenged them to finish what they had begun and not let their earlier good intentions grow stale.

Making a promise to do something is easy, but finishing what you started is often more difficult. Have you ever noticed the half way crisis! When you decorate a room it is easy to lose your enthusiasm when it is half done. It is often most discouraging when you set out on a long drive and have driven for hours, and then realise that you are still only half way to your destination!

When Nehemiah and the Israelites rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem they became discouraged when the wall was built to half its height. The workers complained to Nehemiah and said, “The strength of the labourers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall” [Nehemiah 4:6,10 NKJV].

Paul writes, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” [Philippians 1:6]. It is God’s nature to complete that which He has begun. It is a godly characteristic to complete what we start and not to give up until it is finished.

A student in our church Bible School who knew that God had called her to study in the school decided to give up at the beginning of the second of the three terms and go somewhere else that seemed more attractive. I warned her of the danger of starting things and not completing them and how that could become a negative life habit. The student went on to complete her Bible School studies before moving on to the next step in her spiritual journey. She shared with us how grateful she was that she had completed what she had started, and we could see in her a real growth in stability and maturity.

Questions:

Why is it important to keep the promises that we make to God and complete the things that we have begun to do?

What have you begun to do and never completed? How do you feel about this, and what could you do to correct it?

Not completing something we have begun can be as seemingly insignificant as beginning to read a book but not completing it. When did you last read a book from cover to cover and really felt good about it?

GOD IS ABLE

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 9:1-15

All through his life the Methodist preacher Dr. W. E. Sangster preached that God was able in every circumstance. This inspired his best-known book “He is Able.” As he approached death Dr. Sangster wrote to the evangelist Billy Graham and said, “All my life I have preached that Christ is able. Please tell the world that as I am dying I am finding that He is still able!”

God is able to save! The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” [Hebrews 7:25]. The word save is the Greek word sozo, and includes to heal, preserve, save, do well, and to make whole. It doesn’t matter how deep a person has sunk into sin God is able to save those who come to Him through Christ, and it is a full salvation!

God is able to deliver you! Whatever your situation today God is able! Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego experience this when they faced death in a fiery furnace in Babylon because they refused to bow down and worship the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. When facing death they said, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.   But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” [Daniel 3:17-18].

God is able to keep! “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy…” [Jude 24]. “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” [2 Timothy 1:12].

Finally, God is able to make all grace abound to us. “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” [2 Cor. 9:8 NKJV].

Writing to Timothy Paul says, “Be strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” [2 Timothy 2:1]. Whatever our situation God’s grace is sufficient for us and supplies all our needs, so that we can serve Him effectively.

What an amazing God who is able to save us, deliver us, keep us, and by His grace strengthen us and to supply all our needs!

Questions:

What is your need today? Will you claim His promise in your need and situation and trust Him to bring you through to a place of victory?

Paul writes about being saved to the uttermost. In what way is salvation so much more than being saved from hell and having a future in heaven?

How do we move from knowing that God is able to proving it in our every day living?

PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIAN GIVING – PART 2

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15

In our previous devotional we looked at the principle of sacrifice in Christian giving. Today we will look at a second of these principles that Paul shared with the Church in Corinth.

We should give generously [8:3; 9:6]. Writing about the Church in Macedonia Paul says, “For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will” [8:3]. They were exceedingly generous. They did not wait until they had more to give but began with what they had. This principle of beginning with what you have rather than what you want is wonderfully illustrated in the story of a desperate widow who came to the prophet Elisha for help. He asked her, “What do you have in the house?” [2 Kings 4:2]. The Biblical principle is always to begin with what you have got and use it for God’s glory, rather than wait until God gives you more.

Enlarging on this principle of generosity, Paul writes, “Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop” [9:6]. There are two kinds of money that we receive – seed for the sower and bread for food [2 Cor. 9:10].

All money that we receive requires that we ask, “Is this for myself to enjoy, or for seed to be sown? If we use for ourselves what God meant to be sown then we will have less seed to sow and not enjoy the generous reward and harvest that God planned for us to enjoy. The writer of Proverbs put this very succinctly when he wrote, “The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller. The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped” [Proverbs 11:24-25 The Message].

Incidentally, the generosity is not only in what you give but the attitude with which you give it. Again Paul writes, “I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving” [2 Corinthians 9:7 The Message]. Give intentionally, give thoughtfully, and give cheerfully! Remember the words of Jesus, “It is more blessed [literally, “makes you happier”] to give than to receive” [Acts 20:35]

Questions:

Will you make an intentional decision today to honour God by being generous to others with what He has entrusted to you?

Why is our attitude in the way that we give as important to God as the amount that we give?

How do you intend to handle the truth that we have two types of income – bread to eat and seed to be sown?

PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIAN GIVING – PART 1

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15; 2 Samuel 24:18-25

Although Paul is reminding the Christians in Corinth of their commitment to take up a collection for the believers in Jerusalem, he also takes this opportunity to remind them of the principles of Christian giving.

We should give sacrificially [8:2]. Paul writes about the amazing generosity of the Christians in Macedonia who gave so bountifully but out of their poverty. Many years ago I was ministering in a wealthy church in Indonesia and was amazed at the size of the Sunday offering. I mentioned it to the pastor, and have never forgotten his response. He said, “Don’t look at how much people give, but how much they keep back for themselves!”

One day Jesus watched a poor widow put two coins into the Temple treasury “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has” [Luke 21:3-4 NLT].

Some years ago a church in Croydon held a special “first-fruits” offering. People would bring their gift in an envelope to the front of the church where an elder would receive it and pray for the person giving their offering. One lady brought her offering, and later when the envelope was opened we discovered just two pence. This woman’s offering puzzled the elders. A week later the same woman called by the church and gave a gift to the church of £100. She explained that the two pence was the last money she had and that she had been unsuccessful in getting one of the many jobs she had applied for. After giving her two pence first fruits of offering she had received a telephone call and was offered a job. The £100 was the first money she had earned and she wanted to give it in total to the Lord.

King David wanted to buy a piece of land on which to build an altar to the Lord. Araunah the Jebusite offered David his land, the animals for the sacrifice and the wood to build the altar as a gift. He said to David, “I will give it all to you, Your Majesty, and may the LORD your God accept your sacrifice.”

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the LORD my God that have cost me nothing.” So David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen [2 Samuel 24:23-24].

Questions:

Why do you think that David was so insistent on not giving to the Lord that which had cost him nothing?

What do you think of the statement, “God is not so much concerned with what you give to Him as to the spirit in which you give it?”

Why is giving such an important part of the Christian life?

Have you ever given something to the Lord that was really costly to you?

What did you experience as a result of giving that offering to the Lord?

DO NOT FORGET THE POOR

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:24-9:15

Paul now turns his attention to something that was very much on his heart, a collection for the Jerusalem Church [see 8:4 and 9:1]. This relief fund was intended to aid the poverty-stricken saints in Jerusalem. A prophet named Agabus had come to Antioch and spoken about a great famine, and this came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. The church in Antioch had taken up a collection and sent it by the hands of Barnabas and Saul [Acts 11:27-30].

Later, at the Council of Jerusalem the ministry of Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles was approved, but they were also exhorted to remember the poor, which was something that Paul was eager to do [Galatians 2:10]. In his epistle to the Romans Paul spoke of going to Jerusalem and to take with him contributions from Achaia [Corinth] and Macedonia for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem [Romans 15:25-27, 31].

Paul had previously mentioned this to the Church [1 Corinthians 16:1-2], but it seems that the Corinthians had been a little slow to come forward with this money. It was now time to collect the money, and so Paul instructed Titus to complete this grace in them [8:6]. Notice that giving is seen as an evidence and work of grace. Relationships between the Jewish Christian Community and the Gentile Christians were not always easy, and Paul hoped that this gift from the Gentile congregations would cement relationships between the two groups in the early Christian community.

To encourage the Christians in Corinth Paul used the example of the generosity of the believers in Macedonia [2 Corinthians 8:1-5]. These included the church in Philippi. The believers in Macedonia were being tested by many trials and troubles and were very poor, but this did not stop them from being filled with joy and rich in generosity. The word generosity is the Greek word haplotes that means among other things bountiful, copious bestowal of generosity, and sincerity without self-seeking.

The Macedonian Church gave with such generosity because of the work that God had done in their hearts [8:1,5]. They did not consider their own circumstances as a hindrance and did not wait until they had more with which to bless others. When he wrote to the Philippians, Paul said that because of their generosity God would supply all their needs [Philippians 4:19]. Don’t wait for God to provide before you give, but give and expect God to provide!

Paul’s hope was that the example of the Macedonians would encourage the Church at Corinth, which was much wealthier, to also give to the needs of the poor. In our next devotional we would look at the principles of giving

Questions:

Why do you think it is that God has such a heart for the poor?

What are you doing personally to help meet the needs of the poor?

Why is it important that we give and then trust God to meet our needs, rather than wait until He provides for us and then give?

REPENTANCE AND THE JOY-FILLED LIFE

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 7:2-18; Psalm 51:1-19

In the late 1960s Mother Basilea Schlink, co-founder of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt, Germany, wrote a book entitled Repentance and the Joy-Filled Life which has become a spiritual classic. In her book she showed just how important repentance is, not just for the person coming to Christ, but also for Christians generally.

In recent years there have been some Bible teachers who argue that repentance is only relevant to people turning to Christ but does not apply to Christians. I have even heard one of those who teach this say that the first chapter of John’s first epistle was written not for believers but for unbelievers.

From my understanding of Scripture and from personal experience, I believe that repentance is very important for the Christian.

In the Old Testament we read the story of King David and his adultery with Bathsheba [2 Samuel 11]. Not only did he commit adultery but he had Bathsheba’s husband killed, and then tried to cover up by telling lies. Through the prophet Nathan David’s sin was uncovered. In Psalm 51 we read David’s repentance and confession of sin. Listen to the language of his godly sorrow and repentance: “Blot out my transgressions… Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity… cleanse me from my sin… Against You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight… Hide Your face from my sins.” One of the things that David had lost has a result of his sin was the joy of salvation, and he prayed that God would restore to him the joy of salvation [Psalm 51:12].

September 10th 1966 was a red letter day in my life. I was a young evangelist, preaching in Yorkshire on the story of the prodigal son. When I gave the altar call a lot of people responded, many for salvation. At the end of the meeting I walked through the congregation to say goodnight to people as they left the meeting. People were praising me, and praising my preaching. A woman called Mavis took my hand, looked at me eyeball to eyeball, and said, “You didn’t glorify God tonight! Good night!” My pride was punctured.

That night I got on my knees before God and repented of my pride. The Holy Spirit then began to put His finger on other wrong things in my life. This included writing to my former employer, asking forgiveness for a wrong attitude towards my parents, and ending a relationship with a girlfriend that I knew was not in God’s will. It was a night of deep repentance when the Holy Spirit met with me afresh. Since then there have been many other times when God has had to deal with issues and attitudes in my life. In my experience keeping short accounts with God and repentance where necessary are keys to the joy-filled life.

Questions:

What does it mean to “keep short accounts” with God?

What experience have you had as a Christian where God has led you to repent? Did this lead you to a sense of freedom and joyfulness?

TRUE AND FALSE REPENTANCE

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 7:2-18

Yesterday we considered the godly sorrow that leads to repentance, but as Paul writes to the Corinthians he also compares godly sorrow with worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow, that is seeing our sin as God sees it, leads to repentance and to salvation. Godly sorrow is rooted in God’s holiness and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but worldly sorrow is rooted in selfishness. It does not lead to repentance but rather to remorse. Such sorrow contains no sense of sorrow for sin, but is more likely to be sorry at getting caught or found out. Worldly sorrow does not lead to a change of behaviour. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, was full of sorrow and remorse but it was not repentance and led to death not life.

Having recognised that which is false, Paul makes it clear that he is grateful that the Corinthian Christians were genuinely sorry for their sin, and that their sorrow had led to repentance. The Greek word translated as repentance is metanoia. A definition of metanoia is a change in one’s life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion. It might also be defined as a change of mind that leads to a change in behaviour. The evidence that a person has repented of sin and become a Christian is a change in their behaviour.

Many years ago I heard the testimony of Percy Rush as told by his wife. For years Percy had been a drunkard and a hard man. When he came home from the pub night after night he would be violent and abusive. For fifty years his godly wife stood by him, put up with him, and prayed for him. One night Percy came to Christ, and was described as a brand plucked from the burning. His wife described his conversion in the following way: “The first miracle that Jesus did was to turn water into wine, and the first miracle that Jesus did in my husband’s life was to turn beer into furniture.” What a remarkable definition of repentance – a conversion, a change of mind that led to a totally different behaviour.

You might respond to this testimony by saying that you have never been a bad person like Percy Rush. We are all sinners by nature, and dead towards God, and however good we might be in the world’s eyes, we still need to repent of sin and of coming short of God’s standard. John the Baptist told the religious leaders of his day to bring forth the fruits worthy of repentance.

Repentance leads to a totally different attitude to sin. My wife Esther, never a bad person, says that before she received Christ she would steal cakes freshly baked by her mother, but after receiving Christ she could no longer even think of doing that without a sense of guilt.

Questions:

What were the immediate changes you experienced in your life when you repented of sin?

Why is repentance such an important step in the Biblical process of salvation?

What part does the Holy Spirit play in bringing a person to repentance?

GODLY SORROW THAT LEADS TO REPENTANCE

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 7:2-18

I sometimes get concerned at baptismal services when I hear testimonies about following Jesus but hear no mention of conviction of sin or repentance from sin. I was very comforted in a recent baptismal service in our church when the pastor shared three conditions that should be fulfilled before a person is baptised, and the first was that they have repented of sin.

Repentance from sin is foundational to the Christian life. The message of John the Baptist was a message of repentance. The first message of Jesus was “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” [Mark 1:15]. The writer to the Hebrews includes repentance as one of the six elementary Christian principles [Hebrews 6:1].

Paul is full of joy when he hears that believers in Corinth have accepted his message and have repented of their wrong doing [2 Corinthians 7:7]. He speaks of repentance in terms of godly sorrow that led to repentance [see verse 9], and then states that “godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation” [verse 10]. Godly sorrow results from a heart-felt conviction that we have offended God by our sin.

In the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew chapters 5-7] Jesus spoke about the poor in spirit and those who mourn being blessed. The poor in spirit are those who recognise their spiritual poverty and those who mourn are those who have godly sorrow because of their sin. They recognise how much their sin hurts and grieves God.

Many years ago I heard Floyd McClung, the International Director of Youth with a Mission, speak about the problems he and his wife were experiencing with Misha, their teenage daughter. She had been telling lies and been very rebellious. Floyd had tried several ways to correct her, but everything he tried had failed. One morning before he took Misha to school Floyd sat her on his knee and began to sob. Through his tears he asked her, “What can we do to help you Misha?” She couldn’t wait to get home from school that day and ran straight to Floyd and told him how sorry she was. From that moment she totally changed. Later Floyd asked her what it was that made her change, to which she responded, “Daddy, you disciplined me and tried to help me but I had never seen you cry before.”

Recognising how our sin grieves and hurts God is the first step towards genuine repentance. In our next devotional we will take a closer look at the meaning of repentance and the difference between true and false repentance.

Questions:

Has the Holy Spirit ever shown you just how much your sin causes grief and pain to God? If so how did you respond?

There will never be deep and genuine repentance until we recognise how deeply our sin offends and grieves God. What is your response to this statement?

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?