Thursday, December 5, 2013
Church choirs have notoriously been a hotbed of controversy and aggravation in recent ecclesiological history. Whether your church has completely removed choirs altogether or continues to have a vocal ensemble that leads worship, pastors and other church leaders often view the musical component of church services as an angry bear that need not be poked or prodded unless absolutely necessary. When awoken or shaken in any way, disaster follows closely behind. I know one such leader that has even said 90% of all of the problems he has encountered over his long tenure of ministry find their root in the choir. But why?
Why would one small representation of the church suffer from such a stigma? Why would such a minority have the potential of creating such a problem? Why have many churches decided to not even fool with this group in the first place?
I believe that the answers to these questions might, in part, be theological.
Choirs are found throughout Scripture and deserve at least some attention. In the Old Testament, choirs were used as special vessels of praise to God. Accompanied with instruments, these groups of singers led in the worship of the Almighty, focusing everyone’s attention on Yahweh (2 Chron. 5:12-14; Neh. 12:31ff). In the New Testament, men, women, and even angelic beings are said to have participated in the phenomenon of choir. Choirs of angels helped celebrate the coming of the baby Jesus (Lk. 2:13-14). Even a diverse group of elders, angels, and creatures stands forever singing in the throne-room of heaven (Rev. 5:11-12)! Choirs of all shapes and sizes and members are represented throughout Scripture. However, what choirs represent is far more important than the entity itself.
Several fundamental characteristics of choirs can be delineated from the Scriptures mentioned above. First, choirs are made up of unique individuals. Not only are the people distinct from one another, today, a variety of parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) exist as well. Second, though made up of individual members, choirs exist as one body. You cannot have a choir of one and any one member is not greater than the collective whole. Third, it would appear, at least from Scripture, that church choirs exist for one purpose and one purpose only—glorifying God through the gift of music as presented through words sung in discreet melodies, harmonies. In the Bible, glory to God may have been given to commemorate a special event, military victory, creative work, or special revelation. Regardless of the motive, glory to God always resulted from these music groups.
Therefore a rough definition of a church choir, as defined by these fundamentals might read as follows:
A church choir is one musical body made up of individual believers who have come together to glorify God through participating in the phenomenon of music.
When juxtaposed against a definition of the church, the similarities are striking
The church is one body made up of individual believers who are committed to the glory of God through the phenomenon of Christianity.
When placed alongside each other, the only distinct difference between the choir and the church is the means by which each seeks to glorify God!
In so many ways, the choir is a representative microcosm of the church. Just as a choir is supposed to cooperate within itself to produce a harmonious sound, the church is to cooperate within itself to produce harmony among believers. Just as a choir is made up of individuals singing different parts, the church is made up of different members equipped with different talents. Just as a choir continues to refine and improve its craft through rigorous rehearsal, a church is sanctified through experience and grace in the ministry. Just as a choir gives a musical performance designed to draw the attention of the congregation to the person of God,
the church shines the light of God before men, directing attention to Jesus Christ.
But how does this begin to answer why choirs are often such a source of turmoil?
What more efficient way would there be for the enemy to create division, dissention, or disillusionment in the church than to attack an institution that reflects the body of Christ so nearly? What easier way would there be to grieve a pastor or discourage a congregation than for Satan to corrupt those leading that congregation in a worship experience?
As is the case elsewhere, the institution of choir is not inherently wicked, irrelevant, or cumbersome; it is the enemy that turns the beautiful harmonies into meaningless noise.
Whether your choir suffers from the poison of pre-madonnas, the subtle slip into self-promotion, the demon of divisiveness over styles and song choices, or the glow of glamorization, understand that the battle is very real and the enemy would love nothing more than to use your group for discord instead of worship.
With great grace comes great responsibility. If your church has been graced with a choir, understand that it has an extraordinary opportunity to help people encounter the person of God in wonderful ways. However, don’t forget that they are also uniquely at risk of the enemy’s very real attack to taint the image of the church that the choir is intended to emulate and the harmony that it is supposed to create as it leads the congregation in worship.
But what am I saying? You already know this and I’m just preaching to the choir. J
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Any man who is married has experienced the following scenario: You wife comes in and tells you something that she presumes you already know and you obviously have no idea to what she is referring. She then proceeds to say that she already told you about the event, situation, or errand earlier, perhaps even days before. In this moment, the husband has a choice to make. He can be a stupid and try and prove that she did not make him aware of whatever it is they are discussing, or he can plead ignorance and chalk it up to not remembering what she must have made perfectly clear. In my short tenure as a married man, I have learned to choose the latter. I learned this fairly quickly because, unfortunately, I am very adept at forgetting the unmemorable. There are few conversations that I can remember the specifics of. Unless, it is really important or commands my full attention, I will probably forget the details. However, I do remember the conversation I had with Brianna’s parents before I asked her to marry me. Everything from where we ate to what was said to how we left is imprinted in my mind. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my parents as they dropped me off at College my freshmen year and drove off. I can still remember what was said and how long the embraces lasted. I remember every detail surrounding the moment when Brianna told me we were expecting our first child! Some conversations you just don’t forget. Today we are going to look at 4 Parts of a conversation experienced between two unlikely individuals, an archangel and a teenage girl, as we look forward to Christmas time from Luke 1:26-38. Like my conversation with Brianna 10 months ago, a young woman is soon going to learn that a baby changes everything. How she responds will teach each one of us how we ought to respond when God speaks.
I. PART 1: The Context of the Message-1:26-27
The timing of the conversation ties itself with the first 25 verses of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus’ story begins as yet another story has already been introduced, the birth of Jesus’ would-be cousin John. This discreet connection is made to show how Jesus’ life and work was a large part of an even greater narrative God was setting up. Just as Elizabeth had conceived miraculously in her old age, Mary would conceive even more miraculously in her virginity. When John would be called great in the sight of the Lord (1:15), the Lord Jesus would be great without qualification (1:32) and would be called the Son of God (1:35).
After the timing of this conversation is identified, the messenger is revealed. The messenger is Gabriel and the message is straight from the eternal glory of heaven. So rare had God’s activity in the world become that this would have been absolutely shocking and incredibly significant.
Gabriel’s angelic resume is riddled with eschatological events. Twice in Daniel, it is Gabriel who brings news of the end of the ages. This announcement of God’s coming to earth is also a look ahead to His work on the earth and how that work ushers in the age that would lead to the end of time.
Next, Luke is oddly specific concerning where Gabriel was sent. Nazareth was the Burnt Chimney of Israel. Have you heard of Burnt Chimney, VA? Exactly. In order to help his readers understand where the tiny town of Nazareth was, he specifies its location in the land of Galilee. The humility of this birthplace is made even more acute in John 1:46 when Nathaniel says, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” These humble beginnings are not accidental nor are they superfluous. It is purposeful that God would allow his Son to be sent in such a humble way as His ministry would be forever marked with humility and his destiny marked with an even greater humiliation. God’s glory is, even in Christ’s birth, shown most beautifully in the most unlikely of places.
I’ll never forget finding a 20 dollar bill on the road one day as a kid, how exciting it was to find something so valuable in such an unlikely spot. I would not have been so excited or pleasantly surprised to havea 20 dollar bill given to me from my dad’s wallet. In the same way, to create something special and galvanize excitement and draw attention to the glory of Christ, God places Him in the most unlikely of situations.
Part of understanding this situation involves understanding who was included in the activity. Luke clearly emphasizes here and elsewhere that Gabriel was sent to a virgin woman. Not only was this woman a virgin, she was given to be married to a man; something that could not be broken except through something similar to a formal divorce. At this time, Mary would have probably been only 15 years old, some scholars suggest she was even a younger 13 as this was the normal age of betrothal.
The lucky fiancé of this young lady was none other than Joseph of the line of David. This is incredibly important as it shows Jesus’ relationship to the line of the king of Israel that was promised a forever kingdom. Through these context clues, Luke reveals that the message has something to do with the family lineage of David. This, along with the unlikely setting and even more unlikely miracle would have created quite a stir Mary and Joseph’s life.
Before we move on to talk about the content of the message consider this. An angel going to Nazareth of Galilee to deliver this message to Mary would have been like an angel going to the outskirts of Burnt Chimney to speak to the young daughter of a family who lived in a double-wide. This is a proper way to view the situation as it was for Mary and Joseph. This is how this news found them in their lives. You can bet that she would never forget this encounter or the conversation that would take place.
II. PART 2: The Content of the Message-1:28-33
So eager was Gabriel to bring this news that he begins talking as he was coming into Mary’s presence. As Gabriel is in the process of appearing, he tells Mary that God considers her highly favored, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (1:28). There is no evidence to suggest that this was because of any merit or special holiness she possessed (as some suggest). Instead, she had been chosen for his own mysterious and glorious purposes. This proclamation of God’s choosing is quickly followed with a promise of God’s presence in her life (the Lord is with you), revealing a timeless principle: once God chooses you, there is no escaping His presence in your life.
There is nothing implicitly confusing about Gabriel’s greetings. However, think for a moment about how it was given in the first place. Here is an angelic being appearing to young girl in the middle of nowhere after God has proven almost silent for 100s of years. A little confusion is understandable of this young girl who had seen nothing of this sort in all of her life, “But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was” (1:29). Maybe she wiped her eyes thinking it was a dream or checked herself to see if she had hit her head on something.
The heavenly being is able to read her expression of dumbfoundedness and quickly assures her that there is nothing to be afraid of. God’s favor has found Mary. (As stated earlier, this does not suggest that Mary had earned it in some way, but it does mean that she had been sovereignly chosen of God for the task she would soon hear about)
After assuring her, Gabriel eagerly divulges the prediction he had been sent to communicate, “…You will conceive in your womb and bear a son…”(1:31).
Immediately following the prediction of the child Himself, Gabriel provides Mary with the name of the child.
This follows an Old Testament pattern of prophecy and then naming.
Notice that Mary is not given the opportunity of waiting to see what the sex of the baby will be. Nor is she able to name the baby for herself!
Gabriel states that the name will be “Jesus.” Luke doesn’t make a big deal out of the name, in fact, the commonality of his name in the Jewish culture runs parallel to His ordinary birthplace. However, Jesus (which means God is salvation), would prove to be anything but ordinary and his life everything but common.
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David” (1:32). Jesus will be great period (no qualifications, nor conditions). He will be the son of the most, which is simply another name for the Son of God. He will also prove to be the heir to the throne of David. The Davidic throne is clearly a regal image drawn from the Davidic covenant’s promise of a son, a house, and an everlasting rule. In fact, the promise of David (the hero of the Old Testament) will in fact culminate in Jesus Christ. The words “son” and the reference to “David” are examples of strong regal language. Gabriel was divulging to Mary that her son would prove to be the King her people had waited for a long time.
However, not only will Jesus have a title and claim to the throne of David, “He will reign over a the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end…”(1:33). The phrase “house of Jacob” is another way to refer to Israel. However, the everlasting quality of His reign seems to suggest that his sovereignty will extend beyond Israel’s borders.
What an earful! Sure I don’t get to name my baby or talk things over with Joseph but the son of God! Wow! He is going to be the King! He is going to rule the forever kingdom the OT looks forward to! But wait…how is this even possible? A justified question from a young Jewish girl.
III. PART 3: The Explanation of the Message-1:34-37
Given her lack of sexual experience, Mary questions how this will transpire. While not yet through high school, it is obvious that Mary understands that several things need to take place biologically for this to happen, and yet, in keeping her vow to stay pure, she has not known a man. This question along with the couples resolve to abstain from sexual activity until after Jesus’ birth help to prove that Jesus was miraculously conceived as Gabriel speaks of next.
What Gabriel tells Mary next runs parallel to what was spoken to Elizabeth and is similar to other stories of miraculous births in Scripture, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (1:35). Sarah gave birth to Isaac, Isaac had Jacob and Esau, Hannah had Samuel, etc. God, it seems enjoys bringing life from barrenness and glorifying Himself in these miraculous births. In fact, these allusions are small images of Christ himself who brought life in a dead and dying world. In the midst of spiritual barrenness, Jesus would breath life.
Jesus’ birth through the power of the Holy God is what gives Him His perfect nature and sets Him apart from any other man. His birth is the direct result of God’s creative power and therefore can be called the Holy Child and Son of God. Holy in that Jesus was set-apart for Spiritual Service, like His Father in every way. First called the Davidic son because of his practical parents (Joseph and Mary), Jesus is now revealed to be the Son of God because of His real Father and divinity.
To help Mary to process this incredible influx of information, Gabriel draws her attention to her relative Elizabeth whose miracle birth would have given Mary pause to consider the possibility that with God, all things, yes even bringing God to earth in flesh, are Possible, “and behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a child in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month” (1:36).
Only God could perform this greatest of miracles, the incarnation. God coming to earth- The outsider and creator of everything coming to the creation to save it from itself.
Message complete, proclamation given, and predictions made, Gabriel’s task is complete leaving the ball in Mary’s court. This early teenage girl’s response to the message is what I hope inspires us today. Before we think about how excited we would be to accept such an offer, consider the risk it was for her. She was pledged to be married. What would Joseph say about the teenage baby bump that would eventually show? What would friends and family members speculate happened to her? Sure her life was simple and common, but it was familiar and stable. What if she did not want this God-sized interruption in her life? What if she wished it upon someone else? She realized more than anyone else that she was no one special. Why me? However, Mary says none of these things.
IV. PART 4: The Response to the Message-1:38
”And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bond slave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”…” (1:38). Mary calls herself a slave of God and places herself under His rule, His will, and His ways. As God’s handmaid, she openly accepts what God asks of her. Mary proves exemplary in the way she responds to God’s message of grace. In response to the grace shown to her (God found favor with her simply because He was pleased to do so), she proved submissive and obedient to Him. God can now do with her what he wishes. Despite all the risk involved, as the Lord’s servant, she willingly accepts.
Mary says yes in spite of what Joseph would choose to do with her. She says yes in spite of what her family would say. She says yes, in spite of what her community might do to her. She says yes in spite of her own plans for her life. In response to the grace of God in her life, Mary is willing to leave everything to follow Him in obedience.
With this positive response, the Angel departs, back toward the heavens, excited, overjoyed, and grinning at the news he is eager now to share with his angelic peers.
What a conversation! The great thing about it is we don’t have to wish we were a fly on the wall to experience what took place, Luke reveals what happened with pinpoint precision. After understanding the context of this incredible message and observing the content and explanation of the message, how will we choose to respond? While I’m sure God will never appear to you and ask of you to bear His Son, what does he keep asking you to do for Him. Haven’t we also been shown favor from God undeserved as Mary? Haven’t we been given unearned grace from the Almighty? If so, then why don’t we respond like Mary does with complete obedience? If and when we do this God is able to do with us far more than we ever could have imagined. Isn’t it about time we stop letting age or circumstance keep us from responding to God’s grace with the action He has already commanded of us? What better gift could we give God this Christmas season than to allow our “yes” to be on the table when God asks us to do anything? What better activity could we engage in as believers to busy ourselves with actually doing what He has already instructed in His Word? Maybe it’s time you had a memorable conversation with God.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
At this time of year, many people are already preparing for their spring gardens and lawns by aerating soil, sowing seed, etc. to make sure their yard looks supreme when the weather gets warm again. When it comes to growing beautiful flowers and lush foliage, anything goes. After doing a bit of research on my own, I found some pretty surprising tips that people say maximize their plant growth: adding tea bags to the soil, eggs to the potting mix, and even rusty nails in fertilizer! Though all kinds of unusual techniques may be used to plant flowers, does anything go when it comes to spiritual growth or are their principles to live by that will foster our development in the Lord Jesus Christ? Today we are going to wrap up our Maximize series by looking at the concept of spiritual growth. Though everything we have covered up to this point (our faith, prayer, giving, involvement, and witness) contribute to spiritual growth in some way, Ephesians 5:15-21 give three general tips for godly growth in the church. Let us take a look at these tips in order that this church may grow to its fullest potential.
I. TIP #1: WALK RIGHTLY-5:15-16
This passage comes after a long series of instructions and prohibitions designed to encourage a lifestyle that imitates God (5:1-14). “Therefore” these are the tips design to help the church grow more into the likeness of God Himself. The first of three tips given in verses 15-21 involves walking rightly, “…be careful how you walk.” Literally translated, this phrase would read, “be considering how you are behaving.” With this, Paul calls to mind the lifestyle of his audience and asks everyone in the church to reflect on their daily walk, being careful that it is consistent with wisdom.
Those who consider how they are behaving will be able to discern whether or not they are living as wise or unwise. No doubt, Paul had the Old Testament wisdom passages from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in mind when he gave this encouragement. Paul states that those who consider how they are behaving will be able to live a life that is consistent with the wisdom that is demonstrated in God’s revelation. To maximize one’s growth, one needs to make a conscious decision, after considering their behavior, to choose wisdom over all other endeavors. But once achieved, what does this look like?
Those who walk rightly by living wisely redeem their time well. In other words, Paul encourages the church to make the most of their lives. This not only involves understanding what to do, but it also is committed to doing it!
This has become more and more difficult because, as Paul reminds here, “the days are evil” (5:16). In an evil world where everything is trying to steal our attention and rob us of precious time, it is increasingly difficult to walk rightly. Instead of progressing forward in the will of God, we stop along the way, distracted by the things around us. These kinds of pit-stops stifle growth in the Christian life.
II. TIP #2: DISCERN CORRECTLY-5:17
Paul’s second tip is a stark prohibition, “do not be foolish” (5:17). This familiar word “pertains to not employing one’s understanding, particularly in practical matters.” In other words, Paul says to the church, do not be someone who knows what to do and does not do it. To grow, one must act on what they know, employing their understanding toward godliness. But, how do I know what to do?
The opposite of foolishness is understanding and executing the Lord’s will (5:17). What is the Lord’s will? Though many look for God’s will in signs and wonders or wait hear an audible voice in the stillness, God’s will has already been made available in His word! His will is understandable because it has been presented to us in clear-cut directions: (adapted from Found: God's Will by John Macarthur)
1. It is God’s will for men to be saved (1 Peter 3:1-10)
2. It is God’s will for you to be Spirit filled (Ephesian 5:15-18)
3. It is God’s will for you to be sanctified (1 Thess. 4:3-7)
4. It is God’s will for you to submit to authority (1 Peter 2:13-15)
5. It is God’s will for you to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29)
God’s will has been made absolutely clear. Any question you could ask or decisions you have to make should be informed by these principles from God’s Word. Someone who is living under the influence of these principles is living in the will of God and is free to act on the desires of his or her heart. Their desires have become God’s desires.
Psalm 37:4-Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.
In order to maximize your growth for the Lord, you must understand what God has made clear in His Word concerning His will for your life. Those who do not do this are foolish.
III. TIP #3: LIVE SOBERLY-5:18-21
The final tip found in this passage is to live soberly. Paul introduces this by saying, “and do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation…” (5:18). However, was drunkenness really a big deal in the church in Ephesus?
Wine and drunkenness were central features of the worship of Dionysus (a popular pagan deity in Ephesus). In the frenzied and ecstatic rituals of this pagan trend, intoxication with wine was seen as being filled with the spirit of this false god. Therefore, it may be inferred that some of the new believers in this region were assimilating this form of worship with their association of wine and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Paul repudiates this and denounces drunkenness as both a spiritual and societal problem.
The connection between drunkenness and spiritual misdirection is not without its implications. Inebriation places the body under the control of something other than God and is therefore “dissipation” or “recklessness.” Though drinkable means of drunkenness was a significant problem in the context of Ephesus, different controlling substances lead to dissipation in the church today as they maintain control over the individual. Greed, lust, success, prestige, prominence, selfishness, pride, etc. can all be abused as any controlled substance, leaving the believer in a reckless stupor. These “spirits” must be avoided in order to anyone to maximize their growth for the Lord.
Instead of being controlled by these worldly things, the growing believer is filled with the Spirit—that is the Spirit par excellence. Though the Holy Spirit is constantly present with believers, Paul urges a regular appropriation of the Spirit’s power. To be filled with the Spirit means to live under his control and in the manifestation of His power. Living under the influence of lesser spirits leads to recklessness. Living under the Holy Spirit leads to growth and manifests itself in several ways.
First, a life controlled by the Spirit results in praise expressed in all kinds of ways, “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (5:19). All three of these words for songs occur in the Old Testament book of Psalms. Though they might carry some discreetly different nuances, it is inappropriate, given this context, to conclude that Paul is primarily concerned about different worship styles. This is especially true when one considers that the final word, “spiritual songs” (wdh) is a generic term for any kind of song. Therefore, Paul is ultimately saying that a life controlled by the spirit is a life filled with praise. People who are growing in Christ are those who are full of praise.
More to Paul’s point is what he shares as verse 19 continues, “singing and making melody with your heart to
the Lord” (5:19b). Once again, Paul does not seem to be prescribing music styles as much as he is a lifestyle that is characterized by the sweet harmonies found in healthy Christian fellowship. As with most of the New Testament, God is more concerned about the heart than He is the way things look or sound. When the people in the church grow under the control of the Holy Spirit, it is music to God’s ears.
The second result of Godly growth is thanksgiving. Though many in the church may have believed this to be an easy thing to force or fake, “always giving thanks for all things” tends to carry more weight when one considers the “alls” involved. In fact, only those who are controlled by the Spirit are able to live in a constant state of gratitude to the Lord. They are those who never forget to thank God for all that they have been given. Also, only those under the Spirit’s control are able to thank God for “all things,” including the difficulties, heartaches, disappointments, etc. They are those who understand that God is about a bigger plan and all things work together for those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Another result of godly growth through sober living is submission “to one another in the fear of Christ” (5:21). Those who are living soberly recognize submission as a godly trait. First, we are commanded of God to submit out of reverence for Christ and God. Also, subordinating ourselves to one another is in keeping with Christ’s example on the earth (John 4:24; Phil. 2;6; Luke 2:51). Therefore, those who are living soberly are not only those full of praise and thanksgiving, they are those who are submit themselves gladly to one another.
Does this personality profile of those under the Spirit’s control match your current life and walk? Are you full of praise or are you full of disdain? Are you thankful to God or are you a complainer? Are you given to submission to other Godly influences in your life or do you always want to be in control, calling the shots?
This passage has revealed that in order to grow in the best possible way, the believer must walk rightly, discern correctly, and live soberly. These habits are the sunlight, water, and fertile soil in which the believer develops into a beautiful bloom for the glory of God. As God walks around His garden, are you a shriveled up eyesore the needs to be pulled out or are you one of His prized roses? Remember, a beautiful garden is not a reflection of the individual flowers as much as it is a testament to the gardener who organized, planted, and took care of the plants. In the same way, our spiritual growth does not exist for our own self glory, but for the glory of the God who made us, saved us, and is sanctifying us. Are you giving God every reason to be proud of what He has accomplished in you? Today the application is simple. Straighten out your walk wherever it is unwise. Understand the will of the Lord as expressed in God’s word and act on it. Give up whatever may control you that is not the Holy Spirit of God and submit to His leadership. Then, and only then, will you grow as intended.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Voyager Golden Record is a memory device that contains a collection of 116 images and sounds that were placed on the voyager satellite that was sent into space. These images and sounds are to represent the human race to the universe (that is in case intelligent life gets a hold of it somehow). You tell me if what is found on this disk would be an adequate witness to extraterrestrial life of the human race. There are spoken greetings in 55 different languages, the English greeting saying, “hello from the children of planet Earth.” There are music recordings as well. Beethoven’s 5th symphony and excerpts from Bach sent from European countries and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny be Good” sent from the U.S. There are also several photographs. Here are just a few: the Taj Mahal, someone cooking fish, a dolphin, a family portrait, a gymnast, and a grape picker. Would these images reflect humanity in any or all of its parts? Does the Voyager Golden Record adequately testify to who we are?
I want to ask and answer a similar question today that pertains to our relationship to the gospel and the world that we live in. If you were sent to this lost world as the only representation of Jesus Christ, would people have an adequate understanding of God and salvation? If not, heed these three parts of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy from 2 Timothy 2:14-19 as we learn how to maximize our witness before men.
I. THE INSTRUCTIONS-2:14-15
Everything said by Paul in this book to Timothy should be understood in the context of his predicament. Paul is in prison, awaiting death. Therefore, what Paul says to Timothy in this last written letter are his final acknowledgements, sentiments, and encouragements to a son in the faith, rendering this book highly significant and personal. With that said, Paul has just finished encouraging Timothy to be strong in the midst of the struggle that existed in his ministry. Why was strength necessary? Because the witness of many within the church was sub-par.
This is why Paul asks Timothy to remind the church of these instructions he gives at the beginning of 2:14. First, Paul calls for Timothy to remind the church not to wrangle about words. However, immediately after he asks Timothy to “remind” them of this charge, he recognizes that his word is too delicate and changes tone by emphasizing this challenge with, “solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words” (2:14). Timothy’s activity of reminding and charging the church with this challenge was to become his regular practice. No doubt, the bulk of Timothy’s preaching to a knowledgeable audience consisted of reminding them of what they already knew. The same is true in many churches today. Timothy was commanded of Paul here to remind and teach against wrangling over words.
Ultimately, this is a clarion call to rise above petty trivialities. Whether it was a dispute over words, traditions, etc. petty quarrels are never welcome in any fellowship. But why was this so important to Paul?
Pettiness is not only unproductive (“useless”) it is destructive (“leads to the ruin of the hearers”). This is why it was to be prohibited at all costs. Though a war over words was of primary concern to Paul and Timothy with reference to the church in Ephesus, wars over worship, wardrobe, etc., unfortunately plague many places of worship today. Warring or “wrangling” over such things hurts the witness of the church family. If the family cannot get along with itself, why in the world would anyone else want to be adopted into it?
Therefore, in order for the church in Ephesus to Maximize its witness, they needed to remove petty arguments which were useless and destructive.
After beginning with a prohibition, Paul follows up with a contrasting encouragement to Timothy so that he might demonstrate the kind of behavior he hoped would be replicated in the church in Ephesus. Instead of falling into trivial bickering, Timothy was to “be diligent to present [himself] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed.” There are several important characteristics that set these characteristics of a good witness over and against what contributes to an ineffective witness. First, while wrangling over words requires two parties and comparing someone’s position to another’s, an effective witness is primarily concerned with oneself (“present yourself”). Second, while winning an argument might help you gain approval before men, an effective witness results in standing approved before God. Third, while pettiness is useless and destructive, an effective witness is edifying and encouraging, “as a workman who does not need to be ashamed” (2:15). In other words, an ineffective witness requires no work, does no good, and yields the approval of the small. An effective witness requires diligence, does something, and gains the approval of the almighty God! However, how does one make sure their witness falls in the second category?
The approval of God and the success of the Ephesian church’s witness to the world were contingent on how they handled the “word of truth.” As the church leader, Timothy was to do his part to handle the Word of God appropriately in order that the both he and his church would understand how to live rightly. This is preacher’s highest and most weighty responsibility. Mishandling the word of God will result in an ineffective witness for the entire church. Accurately dividing the scriptures will result in a compelling testimony.
II. THE ILLUSTRATIONS-2:16-18
In the next part of this passage, Paul moves to illustrate the instructions he gave earlier. First, he reiterates what he has already stated by saying, “but avoid worldy and empty chatter” (2:16).
It is amazing how different the chatter can be depending on what context in which you find yourself. Having worked at a construction site, attended political events, and served in the church, it never ceases to amaze me how different the conversations will be or what words might even be used. Different words and phrases are expected in certain areas. Unfortunately, the chatter that Paul heard coming out of the church in Ephesus was not becoming of a church. Instead of being righteous and edifying, it was “worldly” and “empty.” Such chatter should be avoided by the church like the plague.
The symptoms of empty chatter spread like a disease and progress like a deadly illness. In fact, the Bible compares the side-effects of this kind of speech to gangrene. In ancient times, gangrene referred to a spreading ulcer. Today, it is more clearly described as the death of tissue due to loss of the vital blood supply to that part of the body. Often the most distal tip of an extremity, such as fingertips or toes, will turn black and surgeons will amputate the dead part to prevent extension and harm to more of the limb or to life itself.
Either way (pussing ulcers or dead extremities), this is not the kind of thing Paul wanted festering in the church in Ephesus, nor is it anything we want going unchecked in our church today!
A bad witness in the church, like a bad infection, is only good for one thing, slowly killing the life of the fellowship.
Two extremities in the church body of Ephesus that deserved to be amputated were Hymenaues and Philetus. These two were like dead limbs hanging lifelessly onto the church and weighing it down, rendering it ineffective. Their witness made them infamous for all in the world to see. In fact, Paul had already “delivered them over to Satan” for chastisement in 1 Tim. 1:20!
Several specifics are given concerning the witness of these two men. It is obvious that their most egregious infraction was their mishandling of the truth found in God’s Word. In other words, they had deviated from the path and abandoned the truth. They went around testifying that the resurrection had already taken place (2:18). The heresy of Philetus and Hymenaeus probably involved the idea that resurrection was a purely spiritual affair which occurred at conversion or baptism. But bodily resurrection is the keystone of Christian doctrine, as Paul showed (1 Cor. 15). Without it, the entire edifice of the gospel collapses. Such a lack in perseverance in the truth reveals that these two were grossly mistaken at least or unsaved altogether.
Their misrepresentation of the resurrection upset many who clung to the hope of the resurrection of the body in the future as demonstrated by Jesus following the cross. In fact, Paul reveals that some even left the faith following heresies like this (1Tim. 1:19)!
Though ineffective or misinformed witnesses in the church may not show up informal heresies like this, even minor infractions steal focus away from the truth of God’s Word and can deter people from wanting Jesus.
Never underestimate your witness before men and women both within these walls and beyond this campus.
You may be the only representation of Christ that someone encounters in their life. When people see your witness are they turned onto Jesus or turned off? Do people appreciate you because of the grace of God in your life or do they avoid you like the plague? In order to maximize your witness, cut out the dead tissue, leaving only the glorious truth of the gospel.
III. THE IMPETUS-2:19
Paul completes his call for an effective witness by describing the impetus or motivation behind living rightly. Though the situation at Ephesus was difficult and problems were at hand, Paul encourages Timothy to remain steadfast on the firm foundation of God, the church. Though Timothy might have been tempted to compromise or abandon his witness altogether given the situation and circumstances he faced, Paul reminded him that the church will never be destroyed. Instead, it will prevail. The church of God, that is, all who are believers, will be triumphant as Jesus promised. “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18).
The same confidence and steadfastness needs to be reiterated today. The victory that God has promised the church needs to infuse our witness with every hope of victory in the end. Though the world may laugh and people may undermine the work that God is doing both at Crystal Spring Baptist Church and elsewhere, we must remind ourselves that God and His church will be left standing at the end. Constantly reminding ourselves of this will result in a witness that can be used in powerful ways.
On the solid foundation of the church is written two eternal principles. First, “the Lord knows who are His.” Though this might seem like an inconsequential remark, consider what God does for who He knows.
Philippians 1:6-For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Isaiah 40:31-Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary
2 Corinthians 9:8-And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed
Timothy could take comfort in the work that God had for Him because he knew that God knew Him. Because God knew Timothy, Timothy could enjoy the promises, protections, and provisions of God!
Does God know You?
Paul reveals how to figure out if God knows you be giving the second principle forever inscribed on the foundation of the church, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness” (2:19). Do you act like you know God? If we have been promised the same promises, protections, and provisions of God, why does our witness suffer? Those who know God and are known by God abstain from a life of wickedness. To “abstain” means to rebel. Though rebels are often understood in relationship to something good or noble, Paul is commanding the church to rebel against wickedness. In other words, those whom God knows are holy rebels, abstaining from wickedness and enjoying fellowship with God.
Unfortunately, many within the church are rebelling from the wrong things and thereby harming their witness. Some rebel from purity into lust, integrity into gossip, peace into discord, and the like. Their pattern of wickedness is unbecoming of the church and may reveal that they are do not even belong to the Lord in the first place. The worst witness of all is someone who names the name of the Lord and does not act like Him!
I end with the same question I began with, “If you were the only representation of Christ in this world, would the cause of Christ have any hope?” Though this question may seem like a hyperbolic hypothetical, it is not too far from the truth. In a world that grows darker and darker, the light of the gospel is becoming scarcer. Church doors are closing, morality is becoming relative, Christian TV and radio is going out of business, etc. In this world of wickedness, you may very well be the only representation of Jesus Christ that someone engages. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you and me to maximize, or make the most of, our witness for God! We do this by becoming approved workman who accurately handle the truth by living it out in such a way that we belong to God and not to this world. But how do we do this? We can’t! It is only through the incomparable grace of God that anyone can become anything good, let alone an effective witness to His truth! Allow the same God who saved you to inform your witness. He has called you and me to go into a dark world on His behalf. Are you making the most of this monumental task? Are you representing Christ well?
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The phalanx is an ancient Grecian military formation that was used in the warfare of years past. It was comprised of a company of men armed with shields, spears, and other weapons that organized themselves in a rectangle formed by identically situated rows of tightly packed soldiers. This formation allowed the phalanx to move in the midst of heavy opposition toward its target and to this day remains one of warfare’s most important innovations in history. The phalanx’s success allowed the Grecian empire to remain a world power and was even adopted by other city-states as the best way to achieve military success. However, its success depended on the involvement of each and every soldier situated in its configuration. One weak link could compromise the whole formation. Such a formation needs to be revisited in the church today. In our war for the souls of men, too many have become un-involved in the battle, have broken ranks, and have contributed to weakness in the body of Christ. This is why we must understand how to maximize our involvement, so that we might be used to press God’s kingdom forward in our world today as an impenetrable force. Paul provides the church in Galatia with six ways to get involved in the church that can be illustrated by the six occupations below.
I. OCCUPATION #1: DOCTOR-6:1
As Paul brings his letter to the church in Galatia to a close, he gives a series of encouragements intended to correct wrongdoings, bring resolution, and promote good behaviors. Here, Paul begins by immediately calling to mind those within the church that have been “caught in any trespass.” The context suggests that Paul might be speaking of a specific kind of trespass that was common in many to the church plants of his day. After Paul established a church, preaching a gospel of grace and freedom in Christ, Jews would often come in after he left, supplementing the good news with religious activity. These were called Judaizers and they demanded that those who wanted to be truly saved be circumcised and follow specifically Jewish commands. Many in the church would have been caught up in this clandestine form of legalism and at this point in Paul’s letter, would have received their share of this corrective word.
So what was the church in Galatia supposed to do with people who had been caught up in this mess? Those who were spiritual were to restore them. The “spiritual” label assigned to these restorers suggests that they, unlike their troubled counterparts, were filled with the Spirit of God and understood the true nature of the gospel. This teaches that no matter what the trouble may be, legalism, habitual sin, heresy, etc. those who are filled with the Spirit in the church must be used to restore its members into right fellowship. This is not always the easiest assignment and can sometimes prove painful. In fact, the word “restore” in its most literal sense means to re-set a broken bone. However painful it may be, restoring those who have fallen is necessary in the life of the church.
However, those who restore others must do so with all humility, “looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (6:1). The one who is used of God to restore a brother or sister in Christ must watch out, lest they fall into the same sin that they are addressing in the restoree. No temptation is beyond anyone and everyone, given the right scenario in a moment of weakness could fall prey to any number of things.
Therefore, spiritual restorers are those who understand this risk and are careful to watch out! Such a mindset places the helper alongside the one helped (not in front of or behind) as they cooperate in their journey back to right fellowship.
II. OCCUPATION #2: MOVER-6:2-3
The next challenge that Paul gives the church involves bearing burdens. Here, the burdens are not to be considered as bad weights that the world or sin thrust upon the individual. Instead, these “burdens” are responsibilities (see 6:5, 17). Such burdens are heavy for a reason. They are not heavy for the sake of being heavy.
God thrusts enormous responsibilities on His children for the expressed purpose of delighting in watching them work together to achieve the impossible. Their commitment to each other and cooperation also satisfies the heart of the entire law (i.e. to love God and love others). The responsibility the church in Galatia and the church today has been given of spreading the gospel to a lost and fallen world is the greatest of all responsibilities, not to mention the most difficult. However, as the church works together to accomplish this mission, the church reveals its love for God and love for their fellow man.
This truth makes what Paul says in verse three so applicable (6:3). Anyone who goes through life on their own is kidding his/herself. Similarly, anyone in the church working to fulfill the mission of God all on their own is sorely mistaken. The burden is too great and you and I on our own are too small. Again, this is by design. God does not task the Christian with something huge so that he or she might figure out a way to accomplish it on their own. Instead, he makes things hard so that believers are forced to work together to get things done. Therefore, it was not appropriate for individual groups to have formed factions in the church of Galatia, standing alone to do what they felt was right. The same is true today. No one who thinks they have everything going on has anything going on.
III. OCCUPATION #3: SOLDIER-6:4-5
The next challenge Paul issues is directly related to the previous encouragement given. Something must be laid aside if a believer can assist others in championing the mission of the gospel and that is conceit (i.e. an attitude that breeds intolerance of error in others and causes on to think he/she is above others). The cure for this is found in self-reflection, “but each one must examine his own work” (6:4). Instead of comparing one-self to others, the believer is instructed of Paul to take an objective look at his/herself and what God has used them to accomplish.
This reflection will allow the believer to be content with what God has done in and through his or her life. This is not to say that the believer can become prideful in a sinful way, but rather boast privately in God’s grace demonstrated in his or her life.
In his address of spiritual introspection, Paul identifies the responsibility of all believers. Spiritual people are responsible for their own needs. The word “burden” found in verse 5 (translated “load” in the NASB) is a different word than the one used in verse 2. Here, it calls to mind a soldier’s backpack. Paul adopted this idea to encourage the Galatians to see themselves as soldiers of Christ, setting out on their march and taking care of their business instead of comparing themselves to others and promoting competition. If every soldier takes care of their own supplies, the entire troop can accomplish the mission set before them most effectively. Ultimately, each believer is responsible for his or her “pack” (life and service) before God.
This image need not be lost the church today. Truly, the church is still at war and we are soldiers in the Lord’s army, each given our own pack of supplies (talents, resources, etc.) to use in the battle for souls. However, these spiritual packs are not intended to prop up ourselves so that we might be the war hero—that position has already been awarded to Jesus Christ. Instead, they are to be used for the good of the church in its mission.
IV. OCCUPATION #4: BENEFACTOR-6:6
In the next challenge for involvement, Paul describes something that was discussed at length in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. One responsibility or way to be involved for every believer is to financially support the ones who teach them the Word of God. In Galatia, the Judaizers had influenced some of the believers to slack off in their support of the teachers, a special group who were giving their full time to this ministry and who reimbursed for their labors (1Cor. 9:7-14). Therefore, this admonition was a clear correction for them to share all good things with those who share the Word of God.
V. OCCUPATION #5: FARMER-6:7-8
Before the audience had an opportunity to respond to this fourth challenge, Paul challenges them further with “do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Though the connections to the previous verse and challenge are unmistakable, Paul is expanding this challenge to introduce a more broad principle. Each sower, or church member in first Baptist Galatia, will decide what his harvest will be. Collectively, the church of Galatia would decide what they would reap as a harvest by what they were willing to invest in the field. The same is true in any church today.
If people in the church sowed seed that pleased their selfish and sinful nature, they would reap a harvest that would quickly dwindle and fade into oblivion. This seed comes in many varieties: greed, pride, division, entitlement, comfort, etc. No one wants to plant this kind of seed in the fields of ministry. This leads only to corruption (6:8).
Instead, people in the Galatian church were encouraged to sow seed in keeping with the Spirit. Such seed, whether financial or otherwise, would be used to grow a crop that would last into eternity and no doubt show up in the life of the church as the fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,…”
Want to be involved in the church? Be a nurse repairing broken people, a mover who helps with the heavy lifting, a soldier who takes care of his pack to move the mission forward, a benefactor who supports the ministry, a farmer who plants good seed in preparation for a glorious harvest.
VI. OCCUPATION #6: CHEERLEADER-6:9-10
Paul embodies the final character that he encourages in this passage in verse 9-10—the cheerleader, “let us not lose heart in doing good.” Paul knew, as many understand today, that believers can become discouraged as they go about their jobs because no matter how hard they work and how much they sow, the harvest may be a long way off. In the face of this reality, Paul charges the Galatians with this word of encouragement which simply says, “Don’t give up!
But why shouldn’t the church in Galatia give up? Why should any church ever give up? Because the reaping will come at God’s proper time. Though believers may not be involved when the harvest comes in, God awards perseverance with results in His perfect timing. Though He might pull us out of the game before it is over, victory will be ours if the team does not give up!
Therefore, “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (6:10). In other words, while we are in the game, let us work our tails off until God calls us out. The way believers were to contribute in Paul’s day are encouraged to contribute today is through good works, especially for those in the church! These include anything you could ever imagine that shows God’s love to others and points them to Christ. Deeds like this are like line received passes in the end zone!
There are so many ways that each of needs to be involved in God’s kingdom building work. The doctor, the mover, the soldier, the benefactor, the farmer, and the cheerleader illustrate that we all need to do our part in partnering with God in achieving His mission at this church for His glory. Every church is its own phalanx, moving forward in God’s mission in the battlefield of this city for the souls of men. Each church member stands shoulder to shoulder with their own set of gifts, talents, and abilities, working to move the mission ahead in the midst of the heat of war. However, when we fail to involve ourselves in the mission, the whole configuration is compromised as weaknesses in our formation are exposed. Don’t be caught idle! There is battle underway, a war to win, and a goal to reach. It is time to get involved!
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Over the last several weeks we have been learning about maximizing what God has given us for His glory and purposes. We have learned about maximizing our faith by doing things to see God’s will accomplished in our context and we have learned about making the most of our prayer lives by appreciating what God has done to allow us access to His infinite supply of wisdom and power. Today we are going to learn how to maximize our giving. A sermon on giving to the church is one of the most difficult to sit through and most tedious to prepare for in any community of believers. However, passages associated with giving and finances are among the most prolific in the Scriptures and must be addressed by any Bible believing church. With that said, let me immediately set your minds at ease by getting me off the hook. First, in no way am I made aware of who gives or how much any one individual or family has given to this church. Second, I will be using the Bible. In other words, the ideas, principles, and message you will hear are not from my own mind but from the mind of God. This means two things. On the one hand you can rest easy, knowing that I am not targeting any one person in this room with this message. However, on the other hand, whatever challenges or convictions you may or may not receive will most certainly be from God by means of His Word and through the Holy Spirit. In other words, my agenda (as it is every week) is to preach the Word. God’s agenda may be to instruct, challenge, and correct as necessary. Therefore, without further ado, let us take a close look at a profound series of verses from 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.
I. PRINCIPLE #1: GODLY GIVERS GIVE AND RECEIVE PROPORTIONALLY-9:6
In giving, the harvest is always in view. In order to illustrate this, Paul asks the Corinthians church to consider a farmer. Although Corinth was not known as a primarily agrarian region, ancient societies like Rome in Paul’s day had closer ties to farming than the West does today. Their familiarity with the field came also with familiarity with common-sense growing principles. Therefore, the image of a farmer sowing seed in the field, harvesting, and bearing his produce to the marketplace would have been a no brainer for the original audience.
With this in mind, Paul presents two scenarios for the church’s evaluation. First, Paul simply states, “he who sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly” (9:6). In other words, if a farmer only puts a few seeds in the ground, he is only going to yield a small crop. To sow sparingly means to sow a limited or even negligible quantity of seed.
On the flip-side, in scenario #2 we learn that “he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (9:6). The word “bountifully” actually means “blessing” or “benefit,” suggesting here that those who put lots of seed in the ground are going to take in a huge blessing come time for the harvest. Such sowing involves great giving and a great reward. These two scenarios work together to give Paul’s first principle for giving, “godly givers give and receive proportionally.”
If you are getting lost in the fields, consider this modern day analogy. In our world of 401K’s, IRA’s, Stocks, etc. we grow wealth by the same general principle that the farmers of ancient Rome did. The more you invest in these different assets or ventures, the more you are going to receive. Giving to anything always takes into consideration the return. The farmer does not plant seed and then walk away, saying, “Well, I’ll never see that again.” Although it is out of sight and given away to the ground, he knows he will someday see the harvest. Similarly, not one contributes to their IRA thinking, “well there is more money gone.” Instead they have the big picture in mind, knowing that one day there are going to harvest a big return. Though this might seem overly obvious, people fail to recognize that this same phenomenon exists in the practice of giving to the work of God.
However, how do we know Paul is talking about money and giving to the church? At the beginning of this chapter, Paul mentions an anticipated gift. This gift would be used for the ministry of spreading the gospel message and was expected to be big, “So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness” (9:5). Therefore, in order to encourage the biggest and best financial gift possible, Paul gives these three principles to the church in hopes that its members would apply them whenever they go to give to God.
Studies reveal that the average church attendee gives 2.56% of their income. That is not a whole lot of seed going in the ground. That is not a whole lot invested. What this church (or any church for that matter) is going to experience at the end of this year, next year, and ten years down the line is going to be a direct reflection of what is given today. If everyone gave the same percent you did to your church, could the church expect great things? Godly givers give and receive proportionally. The more we invest, the more God will accomplish.
II. PRINCIPLE #2: GODLY GIVERS GIVE WITH INTEGRITY AND CHEER-9:7
The second principle Paul gives concerning gifts involves integrity and cheer. Though Paul desired a “bountiful gift” (9:5) (i.e. a big check), what was more important to Paul was an honest and willing heart. Honesty in giving begins with being honest with oneself. People ought not give out of compulsion, obligation, manipulation, or guilt. Instead, they must give in compliance with the will of God in their lives. They should not give more because their proverbial arm is being twisted. They should not give less because they are holding back and lacking faith for God to provide.
But how much should people give? Exactly as much as God wants them to and in keeping with the Spirit’s leading in their lives.
With that said, the Bible does provide some guidelines for godly giving elsewhere. The Old Testament is clear that a tithe (that is 10% of one’s income) is an acceptable gift to God (see Gen. 14:20; Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:28-29; Deut. 12:11). But wait, you say, if tithing is such a big deal in the church today, why didn’t Jesus have much to say about it. I thought we were free from the Law?
The New Testament confirms that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to dismiss it (Matt. 5:17-19). Also, tithing is addressed by Christ in the New Testament, though not as you might expect.
Matthew 23:23-“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these (tithes) are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
In this verse, Jesus addresses tithing as something so understood that it’s almost unworthy of a mention. Perhaps Jesus did not discuss giving as much as we would expect because most Jews of His day gave far more than 10% already! We are free from the law, yes; but we have been called to live by the higher standard of grace. A tithe was considered a starting point not an end goal. If anger was taught to be on the same level of murder and lust equal to adultery in Jesus’ eyes (raising the bar in these areas), does it not stand to reason that the tithe is now considered a base-level command—a minimum expectation.
“I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” –J.D. Rockefeller
Under the grace that we enjoy, the average, modern-day Christian gives only 2.5 percent of his or her income (not even a tithe). In Money, Possession, and Eternity, Randy Alcorn writes, “When we as New Testament believers, living in a far more affluent society than ancient Israel, give only a fraction of that given by the poorest Old Testament believers, we surely must reevaluate our concept of …giving….”
Not only must a believer give with integrity, he or she must give cheerfully, “God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). Motives play absolutely no role in the farming analogy Paul used earlier. It does not matter what kind of attitude the farmer had while he was sowing seed. If he sows good seed and has good weather, he will reap a harvest whether he is working for profit, pleasure, or pride. It makes no difference how he plans to use the money that he earns; the harvest will probably come just the same.
This is not so with giving in the church. Motives matter to God. As one commentator says, we must not be “sad givers” who cry as they see the money leaving their hands or “mad givers” who give because they feel like they have to. Instead, believers ought to be “glad givers” who cheerfully share what they have because all that they have is a demonstration of God’s grace. God loves a cheerful giver.
Ask yourself these questions. How much do you give? Is it consistent with God’s will as expressed in His Word and according to His leadership in your life? Also, How do you give? Is it with great joy for your Creator and eagerness to participate with Him, or is it grudgingly? Godly givers give with integrity and cheer.
“Giving should be an outward, material expression of a deep, spiritual commitment…an indication of a willing and obedient heart.” –Larry Burkett
III. PRINCIPLE #3: GODLY GIVERS GIVE OUT OF ABUNDANCE AND BLESSING-9:8
The third and final principle in these few verses reflects Paul’s understanding of God’s grace. Ultimately, Christians can only dispense of what they have received. All that the believer has received is a gift from God, who is capable of making every grace available to the believer at all times. The universals of this verse are incredible. First, “God is able to make ALL grace abound to you” (9:8). Every grace of God is available to the believer. This speaks not only to the grace afforded to the believer at salvation, but the grace that is afforded to the believer for their everyday needs. This first set of universals reveals that potentiality of God’s giving capacity to the godly giver.
The second “all” statement comes next, “so that ALWAYS having ALL sufficiency in EVERYTHING…” (9:8). Here, Paul communicates that the Christian who practices godly giving will have what he or she needs when he or she needs it. This does not mean that God awards giving with wealth and material possessions. Instead, it means that God blesses those who give with what they need to do what He’s called them to! No one who gives to the Lord in a godly way is lacking anything to do all that God desires for them.
Finally, Paul concludes by saying, “you may have an abundance for EVERY good deed.” God’s grace seen in the time, talents, and treasure He has bestowed on His people do not exist for the benefit of those who already have much. Instead, they are to be used to do good works for others. In other words, the reason God has been so generous with us is so that we might be generous with others for His kingdom-building work!
Our church is all about doing the best work that there is, seeing souls saved by Jesus Christ! God’s grace will provide all that is necessary for us to be effective in seeing this happen in our city. However, we have some needs that need to be addressed in order for this good work to be made manifest.
The good news is this—we have all of the money necessary to do all that God has called us to do in making this place a place where people can come to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world. There is just one problem. It is still in our pockets!
Godly givers will always give and receive proportionally, give with integrity and cheer, and give for good. What do we do in response to a message like this? Malachi 3:10 might have an answer.
“’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’”
This week’s task is simple. The next time you go to give, test God! That’s right! (Don’t worry, the Bible gives permission.) Test God and see how He will bless you and this church because of your godly gifts. If you have not been tithing, I challenge to test God by beginning to give a tithe. If you have been faithfully tithing, I challenge you to test God by giving an offering. If you have been giving an offering, I invite you to test God by giving even more so that we can do more for the cause of Christ in our context! Crystal Spring Baptist Church must not only be a church of maximum faith and prayer; it must also be a place that maximizes its giving. Let us test God and wait for Him to pour out His blessing on us until it overflows!