Archive for March, 2012


As a pastor, I have seen many acts of kindness in the ministry. Often the person who is receiving the attention is embarrassed and some even decline offers of help because it is so difficult for them to be on the receiving end, so to speak. This is a problem caused by pride, although we don’t usually think of our reluctance to receive help in this way. Declining the assistance of those in the Body of Christ because we are embarrassed is a foolish response; moreover, this kind of behavior leaves the need untouched. Consequently, the only thing accomplished is the preservation of a façade.

Of much greater significance, however, is the fact that resisting the help of our brothers and sisters interferes with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the giver. The kindness and generosity of believers is one of the primary ways in which God cares for us. When the Holy Spirit creates in us a sense of compassion, we become the means of God’s ministry to one another.

During the past eight months, our family has depended on the kindness of other believers for the essentials of life. It is true that receiving so much from so many has been tremendously humbling, but we have not been embarrassed at all. If we had let pride guide us, we would have declined help even though it was desperately needed. But by receiving the gifts of God’s people graciously, we have been part of God’s design to bless those who have helped even as He provided for us. We have had a ministry of receiving.

There is no shame in having to depend upon the gifts of your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is, as I just noted, a humbling position, but our difficult circumstances have created opportunities for God to bless the many who have responded in kindness. The time will come, Lord willing, when we will again be able to provide assistance to others, but for now, it is our place to honor the ministry of receiving that God has given to us at this point in our lives.

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At the beginning [of the Sermon on the Mount] stand the Beatitudes, engraven in golden script upon its portal, reminding us that we are not received by Jesus into a school of ethics but into a kingdom of redemption. It is blessedness that is promised here, and the word does not so much signify a state of mind, as that great realm of consummation and satisfaction, which renders man’s existence, once he has entered into it, serene and secure for evermore. And again, foremost among the the Beatitudes stand those that emphasize the emptiness, the absolute dependence of man upon divine grace. At the dawn of the gospel Mary sang: “He has put down princes from their thrones, and has exalted them of low degree; the hungry He has filled with good things and the rich He has sent away,” so here those pronounced blessed are the poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, and they that hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is in no wise to the self-satisfied mind that the Lord addresses Himself; His call is not a call to exertion, not even to exertion in holiness; it were too little to say that it is an invitation to receive; it goes farther than that; it amounts to the declaration that the consciousness of having nothing, absolutely nothing, is the certain pledge of untold enrichment. So much is salvation a matter of giving on God’s part that its best subjects are those in whom His grace of giving can have its perfect work. The poor in spirit, those that mourn, the meek and the hungry, these are made to pass before our eyes as so many typical forms of its embodiment. And because this is so, they are here also introduced as having the promise of the infinite. To be a child of God and a disciple of Jesus means to hold in one’s hand the treasures of eternity.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!

(Phil. 4:4)

Notice that Paul commands us to rejoice in all things and at all times. He does not say that we should be joyful as long as we are content and free from worry or as long as we are not facing challenges to our faith. As a matter fact, the apostle doesn’t even mention circumstances; he simply orders us to rejoice in the Lord always. It is as though he is telling us that we don’t have another option. You are a Christian, so you are filled with joy. You are in Christ, so your days are flooded with joy.

The word translated “rejoice” (chairo) refers to more than just the emotion of gladness. It refers to a quality of life. The term is sometimes translated as “thrive.” In such cases, the writer is saying that believers flourish with joy. Being joyful is not something we have to become, it is of the essence of what it means to be a Christian. This notion is perfectly understandable if you take the time to meditate on what it means to be born again and dwell on what God has given us now and prepared for us later as children in His household.

We may, indeed, face harsh conditions in this life or we may encounter significant opposition in our efforts to live according to the Word of God or we may have to overcome various obstacles that block the path on which God has placed us, but none of this destroys our joy. And none of these things can diminish our delight. We have been born-again as jubilant creatures.

Our contentment and sense of security do not depend on a life free of hardship. Our confidence and hopeful expectations for this life and the life to come do not require a pain-free existence or a journey on smooth and straight pathways. Because our identity and destiny are bound up in our Savior, we can remain confident of our safety regardless of what the adversary throws at us. And we can remain hopeful, believing that all of those tremendous promises that have been made to us as God’s people are as dependable as God Himself no matter what challenges we have to face.

And here is why: We are not defined by circumstances; we are defined by position. And our position is that of children of God who have been delivered from death and given eternal fellowship with God in His Son, who is our glorious Savior. We are saved and we are going to heaven even if all the inhabitants of darkness should turn against us. Christians are no longer subject to the tyranny of the devil or the wicked behavior of people. We can make our way through this world without fear or doubt because we have been seized and we are being held by a power greater than any power that might be found here on earth or even throughout the entire universe.

The difficulty you are facing and the worry you have in your heart today must be analyzed in reference to what we have as believers. We must not consider our trials apart from the truth of our standing before God in Christ. From that wonderful perspective, we can eagerly receive and respond to the apostle’s exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

(2 Corinthians 7:1)

In a recent sermon, I used the verse above as my primary text to encourage the congregation regarding our obligation to seek after holiness in order to honor the Lord. In the context of this verse, Paul speaks frankly to the Corinthians, telling them that they were no longer what they used to be, morally speaking. He also quotes a promise made by God that He would dwell in them and walk among them as their God and they would be His people. For this relationship to prosper, the recently born-again Corinthians had to rid themselves of the influence of the sinful nature and give increasing expression to the new life they had received in Christ Jesus.

I imagine that this must have been an overwhelming challenge to those who lived in the culture of the first century. Corinth was a major center for commerce. All of the negative influences that could be found throughout the Empire would be present in this city. Idolatry, for example, was universal; self-gratification was the primary concern of most people. The environment encouraged rebellion against the Law of God. In time, however, the gospel was preached and the Corinthians were regenerated by the Holy Spirit. They are told that they are called to be the opposite of what they had been all their lives.

Regardless of when in history the people of God exist, this command from the apostle is always paramount. The gospel changes us by giving us a new disposition, one that is oriented toward Christ and holiness. This orientation must be nurtured and guarded and I would suggest that there are three essential and highly effective elements involved in “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

First, we must fill our hearts with the truth of God given to us in the Bible. Bible reading, Bible study, listening to Biblical sermons, and reading Biblical literature are a few of the ways in which we can saturate our minds with the principles of righteousness. With the help of the Holy Spirit, these principles soon began to produce fruit. Another way in which to establish holiness in our hearts is through interaction with other Christians. These relationships produce an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth and the development of wisdom.

Second, we must battle against every influence of our previous nature. This requires us to avoid certain habits, perhaps, or particular places where we know temptation awaits. Relationships that will not contribute to our growth in Christ must be abandoned. Again, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will develop discernment as we become more sensitive to the contrast between the holy Word of God and the many potential transgressions that we encounter every day.

Third, we must pray. We must seek God’s help so that we can walk peacefully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must ask God to identify those areas in our lives that are weak and need to be strengthened. We must call upon Him to reveal those subtle sinful tendencies that we might overlook.

What are you reading these days? Do you find gladness in a sermon that is true to the Word? How often do you pick up your Bible simply to read for a while? Are you being built up by Christian friends? Do you fortify yourself through prayer each day? Much grace is needed to live honorably before God in this fallen environment. It will never be easy, but it will always be our calling. Be assured that the mercy of God is abundant towards those who desire to honor Him through thankful and joyful obedience.