Archive for June, 2010

Article: Is Pornography Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

Let’s begin by acknowledging “is pornography biblical grounds for divorce?” is either a heart-wrenching or awkward question to ask.  If you are reading this article, it is either because your world has been turned upside down by the issue or because you have been called on to help someone try to put their world back together.  This is not light reading and you cannot read with a light heart.

Even before we begin to examine the subject, let’s consider the large number of issues that domino from either answer: children’s futures, attorneys, finances, embarrassment, dignity, trust, endless questions about motives, tip-of-the-iceberg fears about other sexual activity, the long road of restoration if we work on the marriage, how can I discern true repentance, “you said you would change before,” and many other concerns.  Neither answer is easy (marital restoration or divorce), or really even easier.

With that being said, it is wise to pause at this point in the article and pray.  Pray for God to give you the ability to focus while reading (and not start having hypothetical conversations with your spouse or friend you are helping).  Pray for the ability not to attack your spouse with what you read when it affirms your hurts/fears and for the ability not to attack what you read when it challenges you.  Pray that this article would guide you to a wise, God-honoring decision in the midst of a situation where right answers will not result in easy paths or immediate confirmations of a good choice.

To read the entire article click here: PORN_MARRIAGE_article_Hambrick

For more help in for restoring marriage after the effects of sexual sin:

Giving God His Gifts – I Corinthians 12

For the Common Good (12:7)

We tend to think of our gifts as our own (to do with as we please, they were given to us after all).  Scripture challenges this mindset in two ways.  First, we own these gifts in the same way that children “own” the presents they give to their parents.  The present was purchased with parents’ money.  We have “spiritual” gifts through the indwelling Holy Spirit (I Cor 12:11) by the Father who bought us from slavery to sin by the death/resurrection of His Son (I Cor 6:20).  Let us thoroughly enjoy the gifts, but never forget whose they are.

Second, the gifts were given for a reason – to bless the Body of which we are a part.  Any other use of the gift is dishonoring of the Giver.  The very fact that God gives us gifts to bless others shows God’s heart to free us from our inherent selfishness and self-centeredness (Luke :23-24).  If you do not know what your spiritual gifts are, begin by looking at the ministry needs of your local church.  If God gifts believers to be a part of the Body and you are not currently using your gifts (because you do not know what they are), you can expect to find a vacancy in your area of gifting.

Reflection: Do we have the “mind of Christ” necessary in order to rightly receive and use the gifts God has given us?  Can you relish a gift that was primarily to bring you joy by blessing others? This will be examined further under the heading “All Rejoice Together” below.

Application: Give your kids a gift at Christmas or on a birthday to share with others.  This need not be their only gift.  For younger kids the gift and recipient should be very concrete (a box of food to deliver to the food bank). For older kids the gift and recipient can be more abstract and require more creative engagement (a gift card to be used to minister to others).

All Suffer/Rejoice Together (12:26)

While this initially may sound like a very “nice” thought, it requires something that can be quite uncomfortable – openness about life’s hopes and challenges.  People cannot properly rejoice together unless they know each other’s hopes before they’re realized.  People cannot suffer together unless they invite one another into their hardships.

In a physical body this is easier.  If my ankle hurts, my whole body knows it.  If I am trying to learn to juggle, my whole body is aware of the dream.  However, in the spiritual Body of Christ, we can hide if we want to.  Many of us want to.  Others of us lack enough concern for our fellow believer to even notice what is not being said.  Quite a few Bible study groups are so formal that “suffering” or “rejoicing” questions rarely get asked.  You can tell this is the case when people apologize for bringing up a more personal request for help or say “I hope this is o-kay” when they share a more personal praise.

Application: Read the blog post “Teachers Equipping Ministers Through Prayer Time

Reflection: Do you view vulnerability as a “good word”?  Consider the following definition of vulnerability. Vulnerability is a willingness to share any part of my life, joys or struggles, when my sharing can glorify God, edify a fellow believer, or serve in the process of evangelizing an unbeliever. How does that definition help you see what “healthy vulnerability” would look like?

Earnestly Desire the Higher Gifts

Saying that there are “higher” gifts does not mean that God plays favorites. It does mean the God has a purpose in using people.  God’s ultimate purpose is not our joy. God’s goal in gifting individuals is that we would take joy in seeing more people accurately know and enjoy Him. Some gifts or certain usages of a particular gift accomplish this purpose more broadly than others.

Secondly, we can see that we get some voice in our gifts. We are to strongly desire higher gifts. God wants us to have contentment without satisfaction in ministry.  Our great goal in life is to influence as many people as possible as deeply as possible for God’s glory.

Consider the following questions as you seek to “earnestly desire the higher gifts.”

  • What spiritual gifts do you have?
  • Where and how are you using them?
  • What priorities do you need to focus on and what sins do you need to avoid in order to be a clean instrument for God?
  • Who have you seen use similar gifts effectively? What can you learn from them?
  • Where would you see your gift influencing more people if given the opportunity?
  • How could you enhance the depth of influence you have where you currently minister?
  • How often do you pray for God to fan into flames the gifts God has given you (II Tim 1:6)?

Using your spiritual gifts boils down to having a passion to see God glorified as you influence others to find their joy in God. Live life as a scavenger hunt looking for the opportunities to accomplish this.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

My Prayer for Those Attending the Sexual Abuse Seminar

Lord,

I know Your heart hurts that this seminar is even necessary.  You care for Your people and despise abuse of all kinds.  I pray that in the seminar tomorrow that Your heart of compassion could be seen clearly by those aching to see it.

Father, probably no one but You can accurately sympathize with how hard it will be for those who need to come to actually muster the courage to come.  I pray that you would give them Your courage.  As their heart’s race while deciding whether to come, let each person be keenly aware of Your presence. Remind them as they feel like they are “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” that they can “fear no evil, for you are with them” (Psalm 23:4).

Lord, I pray for my words tomorrow.  I want to accurately capture the experience of sexual abuse so that those in attendance can feel less alone and see that the words of hope/guidance really are applicable to them.  At the same time, I do not want the presentation to be any more painful than is necessary to begin/continue Your work of healing in their lives.  Grant me the discernment to strike that balance.  Give me good words, full of grace and hope, as I speak.

Lord, I recognize that this subject is beyond the power of clever illustrations and penetrating insights to bring about change.  I ask that the seminar, in whatever way best fits the situation of each person there, serves as an introduction to You, The Great Physician and Wonderful Counselor.  Use the materials as a bridge from pain and shame to You.

Finally, Father, I pray that tomorrow would be a landmark day in Your work of restoration in the lives of many people; knowing that tomorrow will not “complete” the journey for anyone.  But I ask that it would be a day that many could look back upon and see it as a point where hope grew, lies broke, silence stopped, isolation ended, fear began to retreat, shame lifted, “normal” moved towards healthy, and peace peaked through the darkness as the God of Light displayed His great love for many of His hurting children.

Thank you, Father, for being willing to listen even as we bring you prayers that we wish did not have to be prayed.

 

Having a Corporate Conscience – I Corinthians 8

Good Understanding (8:1-3)

If there is something we know about Paul, we know that Paul was not anti-knowledge.  If Paul were anti-knowledge he would not have written so many letters with such penetrating insight.  If Paul were anti-knowledge he would not have repeatedly said, “I do not want you to be uninformed brothers (I Cor 12:1 and I Thes 4:13).  So as we seek to make application of these verses, we can safely conclude that Paul was not arguing for a simplified faith.

Paul was writing to a very gifted and proud church at Corinth.  He is countering their tendency to believe that sound doctrine (well-reasoned and clearly articulated) could supersede brotherly love.  Paul agreed with those who were willing to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  There was nothing about the meat that would violate any moral or spiritual principle.  Yet, Paul disagreed with how individualistically the Corinthians thought about their faith.  Paul urges them not to allow their “rights” or “freedoms” to blind them or be an excuse to hamper the walk of their fellow Christians.  Paul followed his advice at significant personal sacrifice (I Cor 9:9-12).

Reflection: How often do you think of the possible influence on other Christians when you are weighing out a difficult moral decision?  When you do think of others do you resent that they may “inconvenience” your decision?  If you do, repent to God for this self-centered mindset and ask God to give you a heart that recognizes that you live as part of the Body of Christ.

Application: Place a picture of your church (building, Sunday School class, church directory) in the locations where you make decisions (dinner table or quiet time location). Having a visual reminder of your church and knowing why you placed it there will help you develop a “corporate conscience.”

Weak Defiled Conscience (8:7)

This passage begs the awkward question, “Can you sin without sinning?”  It gives the even more awkward answer, “Yes.”  To see why Paul says this, let us begin with defining a weak conscience. A weak conscience is one that feels guilt for something that is not a violation of God’s Word or character.  Our modern tendency would be to call this a “strong conscience.”  But Paul cautions us against that label. It would insinuate that our new standard is better (strong usually being an adjective with positive connotation) than God’s standard.

Paul has already said eating food sacrificed to idols is morally acceptable.  His overall stance seems to infer that it was preferable (it was cheaper since it must be sold quickly in the market to prevent spoiling, hence making it good financial stewardship). Yet to eat without a clear conscience would be sin (Paul make the same point on the same subject in Romans 14:23). The sin is not in the eating, but in the willingness to compromise on what you believe is God’s will. In that light, you can sin (willingly compromise) without sinning (violating a moral principle in the particular action).

Application: When giving advice to a friend or younger Christian, you must not only consider what the Bible says, but also where their conscience is.  It is not “faith” to violate one’s conscience.  The appropriate order of advice is to abstain from the activity until one’s conscience is free to engage in what God declares permissible.  God is patient with us in our humanity and “dim mirror” thinking (I Cor 13:12). We show and model God’s grace to one another when we give advice with and submit to that same patience (see previous heading).

Me to We (Marriage & Church)

When you marry, you make a covenant that changes (or at least should change) your personal identity.  This change is frequently captured in the phrase, “You move from being a me to being a we.” You begin thinking as a unit rather than an individual.  You become a ya’ll.

In I Corinthian 8 Paul is demonstrating that the same thing happens when you become a Christian. You make a covenant that changes (or at least should change) your personal identity. You move from being a body to being part of the Body of Christ. You are no longer your own (I Cor 6:19-20) and the One who bought you calls you to live as member of His people with a corporate identity.

Before reading any of the application points below, pause and put into words why this concept makes you uncomfortable. What are the possible implications that cause you fear?

Consider the following points that demonstrate having a corporate identity.

  • At least 10% of my income goes to support my church (Matt 23:23).
  • My moral decisions are impacted by the effect on fellow believers (I Cor 8).
  • I confess my sins to fellow believers (James5:16).
  • My prayers devote significant time to other believers (Heb 13:18).
  • I am willing to devote myself to the hardship of others (Gal 6:2).
  • My love for fellow believers should be part of my reputation (John 13:35).
  • My fellow believers should regularly be in my home (I Pet 4:9).

Having a corporate identity is not just for certain types of Christians (spiritual gift or personality) any more than communication and honesty is for certain types of spouses. If you have lived as if this was optional, repent and pray for God to give you what He intended for all His children.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

Living in Light of the Gospel — Galatians 2:15-21

Chapter 2 Verse 16:

When you sin what do you do to “help” the “stink” of sin wear off? Often we treat sin like a bad perfume or cologne. We believe that God is turned off by its presence on us and we want to make ourselves more presentable before we come to Him in prayer. We develop our habits or rituals to make ourselves more presentable (i.e., spending time with our kids, being nice to our spouse, withdrawing from people that make us feel guilty, giving extra to the church, reading our Bible extra, beating ourselves up repeatedly, etc…). These are activities that when we use them to make up for our sin Paul would consider “works of the law.” What habits do you have? How did they develop? How have they replaced embracing God’s grace? How have they eroded your joy in things that should be a blessing?

Chapter 2 Verses 19-21:

“Handling Ongoing Guilt”

The question is frequently raised, “How do I handle ongoing guilt?” Often it is said, “You just need to forgive yourself.” There are at least two reasons to be leery of this answer. First, our sin is against God and a violation of His will not self (Psalm 51:4). Second, there is no passage in the Bible that commands, teaches, or provides an example of self-forgiveness. If forgiving myself was essential to good mental health, the Bible would not have left it out.

There are many things a struggle with ongoing guilt can reveal. This handout does not attempt to deal with them all, but to provide a general outline.

First, we deal with guilt by accepting God’s grace by faith. Our sin is as bad (or worse) than we think it is. However, the price has been paid in full. Rehearsing forgiven sin is like trying to make payments on a car that has already been paid off.

Second, we worship and accept/correct the consequences of past sin through our acts of faith and thanksgiving. We must not believe that the forgiveness of sin means the removal of consequences. Forgiveness means the relational barrier between us and God has been removed.

If we get these two backwards we are trapped. We begin to work in order to ease our guilt and then try to muster enough faith to worship. Because working off guilt is impossible we never feel like we are in a place to worship or good enough for God.

If you struggle with ongoing guilt, at first do not do anything. Action before embracing the reality of forgiveness will inevitably result in “works of the law.” Also, do not repent over and over again. Instead, pray thanking God for his complete forgiveness with a heart of “I believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” God is patient and more concerned that you understand the cross than His is needy (blasphemous word) for your service. Then, out of the relief and joy that emerges, love people, study God’s word, and offer the lost the hope you have found.

The Battle of the Christian Life — Galatians 5:16-26

Chapter 5 Verse 17:

What is the “fingerprint” of your flesh? A key word in this passage to express the function of the flesh is “desire.”  Our flesh expresses itself through desire.  This word should not (based upon its Greek meaning or the context of the passage) be given a strictly sexual or sensual meaning.  How would you summarize the two to three desires that most often lead you into sin? We should be able to answer this question as quickly as we give our phone number if we are serious about doing battle with our flesh (in a day of automated memory cell phones and PDA’s that buys some of us a little time).  Being able to answer this question will help us feel a bit less “ambushed” when the enemy’s attack comes over the same wall again.

Chapter 5 Verses 19-21

Eight of the fifteen “works of the flesh” mentioned are strictly relational sins (hatred, strife, jealousy, anger, selfish ambition, dissension, factions, and envy); many of the others are commonly practiced in social contexts.  Why would Paul’s list focus so much on the social aspect of life is the Christian life if a personal relationship with God (loaded question, I know)? Remember it was just five verses ago (5:14) that Paul said the whole law is summarized in the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  It appears that Paul is trying to bring conviction regarding the well used phrase, “You know that wasn’t really me talking.”  When I speak fleshly words it is “me” talking (Luke 6:45).  It is “me” following my flesh (see question about characteristic desires).  It is “me” saying my desires are more important than the Second Great Commandment.  Until we recognize that our words do reveal our heart we will spend most of our time trying to put to death the flesh of our spouse, kids, parents, family, friends, co-workers, boss, and acquaintances.  We will miss (or dismiss) the majority of what God intends to do in our lives.

For an interesting read on this subject consider the blog entry “An Interesting Quote from Eugene Peterson on the TrinityBCH_Gal5_Handout” for a page and a half reflection on the role of how our wants, needs, and feelings drive our relationships.

Chapter 5 Verses 24

“A Crucified Flesh”

“Maybe Paul doesn’t really know me after all.  My flesh doesn’t seem that dead.”  Has that thought crossed your mind as you read this verse?  If not, skip Galatians 6, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and read I John 1:8.

I believe there are at least two significant marks of 21st century American Christianity, which account for this struggle.  It should be noted every culture in every historic era has and will feed sin in some way.

First, we mistake shame for repentance because we believe we are good people who sometimes do bad things.  As I go through my day, it looks like most people have it together.  I know more of my “flesh” thoughts than anyone else’s.  [Note, some people use this to build pride instead of shame.]  From this when I “feel bad” for my shortcomings it is as much embarrassment as it is conviction.  I fear not measuring up to social norms and peer expectations more than God’s character.  Repentance is remedied at the cross.  Shame is remedied (unsuccessfully) with positive self-talk, denial, distractions, shopping sprees, and other shame-building activities.

APPLICATION: Embrace the freedom of repentance and faith over shame.

Second, we believe that we are supposed to crucify our individual flesh individually and therefore fight the majority of our battle in private.  The majority of the works of the flesh are social.  The fruit of the Spirit are most often expressed socially.  Why, then, do we try to engage the crucifying of the flesh and the feeding of the Spirit privately?  Read Hebrews 3:12-14.  Let it challenge how you seek to live out Galatians 5:16-26.

APPLICATION: The courage (faith) to live in the light (Body of Christ) is a key way God drives the darkness (flesh) from our heart (guiding desire).

The Christian Life in Community — Galatians 6:1-18

Chapter 6 Verse 1:

What are the errors that we fall into that prevent us (the church) from being as effective as we ought at restoring fallen believers? I believe there are errors on both sides of restoration which hinder the church.  On the aggressive or prideful side, we can tend to play “sin cop.”  We can become more focused on eradicating sin than upon seeing sinners redeemed.  This can take the forms of legalism or truth without incarnation.  On the passive or neglectful side, we can view those areas of life in which we feel are “no one else’s business.”  It is uncomfortable and awkward to address these areas so we avoid them or pretend they do not exist.

Chapter 6 Verse 1:

To see Paul develop the posture/attitude of those who seeking to restore others further, consider 1 Thessalonians 5:14, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

Chapter 6 Verse 3:

In how many ways can comparative thinking distract and/or distort the way we think about life, ourselves, and our relationship with God? When we compare ourselves to others we inevitably create some type of “scoring system.”  This system assigns value or usefulness to each individual.  From that point forward all of life is about what we have (or don’t have) to offer.  We lose sight of the fact that God created us to receive glory from how He uses our strengths and weaknesses.  Once we fall into comparative thinking we will either succumb to pride or insecurity.  It is only when we capture Paul’s mindset in Galatians 6:14 that we are able to live with a Christ-centered confidence that is neither prideful nor insecure because (finally) life is not about us.

 

Chapter 6 Verses 7-9:

 

“Becoming a Balanced Sower”

There is so much to sow.  Sowing to the Spirit involves everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).  There are more “good things” I “ought” to be doing than can be done in a single week.  And God is not mocked.  If I neglect sowing in one area of life, there will be a lack of harvest in that area.  What can I do?

It is important to maintain two key things: (1) priorities and (2) balance.  There needs to be a hierarchy to my relationships and activities.  There also needs to a breadth.  Too often we choose to only emphasize one of these wise sowing principles.  We become so committed to the top priorities that life loses balance or we are so diversified in our activities that priorities are never enacted.  And then the harvest comes.

Use the chart below (chart with grid lines available in PDF handout) to begin to think through the priorities and balance of your life.  Prayerfully consider how God would have you sow during your current season of life.

Life Area                                     Rank                             Hours/Week                           Key Changes            Bible Study/Prayer

Church/Fellowship

Marriage

Family

Work

Sleep/Rest

Hobbies

Financial Management

Evangelism

Serving Others/Giving

Household Chores

Other

A Christian View of Suffering — James 1:1-8

Chapter 1 Verses 2-4: 

“A Progression for Redeeming Suffering”

James 1:2-4 is very similar to Romans 5:3-5.  Paul and James provide an almost identical view of what a believer should expect God to do in the midst of suffering.  The following steps contain a guided reflection to assist you in using these passages to guide and encourage you in the midst of suffering.

Step 1:
Rejoice in Your Suffering

This rejoicing is not celebration.  However, our first instinct in suffering is often shame.  Shame is reclusive.  It excludes people.  Rejoicing is social.  It invites people.  Suffering is not our fault.  Suffering is bad things happening when it is not the consequence of sin.  Therefore, Paul and James are encouraging us to resist withdrawing in shame during suffering.

Step 2:
Simply Endure or Persevere

Initially victory is merely resisting accepting defeat.  Suffering usually begins with a body blow that wants to sap our will to endure.  The basic act of not giving in is an act of faith in the God who redeems.  At this stage we await our deliverer (Isaiah 40:29-31).

Step 3:
Develop Maturity (James) or Character (Romans)

Now God moves us from resting in Him to acting like Him.  We may have prayed for deliverance in step 2, but now we look for God’s methods of responding to our suffering.  It is wise at this time not to get lost in the “why” question.  God may not reveal “why.”  Questions that we can more profitably find answer to are “What would God have me do in this circumstance?” and “How can I serve God in the midst of this adversity?”

Step 4:
Experience Joy (James) or Hope (Romans)

The joy and hope are not stemming from the circumstance, but the activity of God and the opportunities to know/serve Him.  We have walked through this dark season with the Body of Christ (step 1).  We have seen God sustain us in more than we were capable of enduring (step 2).  We have grown in our ability to rest in and emulate God’s character (step 3).  The goodness of that progression energizes our heart (step 4).  We are now in a position to enter in with someone else at step 1 with the comfort we receive (II Cor 1:3-5).

Chapter 1 Verses 5-7:

What do you pray for most?  Is it wisdom? One way that we can determine what is most valuable to us is by assessing what we pray for.  James has just discussed the progression by which God redeems suffering.  If suffering is to produce endurance, then maturity, and finally joy, then it makes sense to pray for wisdom.  It is more in keeping with God’s purpose in suffering for us to pray for the wisdom to respond/steward the moment well, than it is to pray for God to remove the circumstance.  It is not wrong to pray for God to remove the circumstance, but if we are not maturing in wisdom then we missed one of God’s primary intentions.  Why was James so hard on those who doubted? Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  When we doubt God’s faithfulness in giving wisdom and redeeming suffering we distance ourselves from the source of our wisdom and redemption.  The problem with doubt is that it represents distance.  We begin to look for alternative answers to our dilemma.  We are no longer seeking God and wisdom.  We are seeking relief and escape.  These short-cuts are self-sabotage.

Chapter 1 Verse 8:

What are some common examples of being “double-minded”? Being double-minded is most often revealed in pursuing good things in unwise or destructive ways.  We are pursuing “Godly things” in dysfunctional, self-defeating ways.  Then we feel like God let us down (James 1:13).  One example would be demanding respect.  Respect is a good thing. But once we demand it, respect is less satisfying when we get it.  Another example would be begging for love or affection.  Love and affection are good things.  But once we beg for them, they are less satisfying when we get them.  We enter into a cycle of diminishing returns.  We feel like we are doing what’s right, but our methods become more severe, desperate, and unwise.

Living in Christian Freedom — Galatians 5:1-15

Chapter 5 Verse 1:

In what ways do Christians frequently think about the will of God that creates a sense of fear? Often we can think of God’s will as a needle in a haystack.  There are things we know that are outside God’s will (sin; negative commands; “do not”) and things we know are in God’s will (positive commands; “do”).  However, many Christians live in fear of missing something hidden within those parameters (which car, house, job, school, activity, etc…?).  Part of the Christian liberty Paul speaks of in Galatians 5 is the freedom (even the responsibility) to choose based upon our God given talents and interests those matters that are not delineated by God’s negative or positive commands.

Chapter 5 Verse 2

“A Yoke of Slavery”

Where there is slavery, there is a yoke.  Where there is a prisoner, there is a prison.  This is so much easier to grasp when the bondage is physical, but in Galatians 5 Paul is not speaking of a physical bondage.  The “yoke” was made of wood and placed on the neck of an ox, but the yoke made of guilt, fear, insecurity, or doubt (“yoke emotions”) is embedded in the heart of God’s children.

Galatians 5:1 echoes Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  The question we must ask ourselves is, “Do I experience condemnation in the form of yoke emotions?”

First, we should examine our heart, life, thoughts, and relationships to discern whether there is sin to be repented of (I Cor 11:28) or discord to be made right (Matt 5:23-24).  Based upon the context of Galatians 5 we will assume the primary problem is not here.

Second, we should examine the beliefs that undergird our yoke emotions.  This is where Paul was challenging the Galatians.  If certain laws and rituals are necessary in addition to faith in Christ, how do we know which ones and on what do we rely when we break one of those?

To assist in identifying this underlying belief(s) give attention to the emotional triggers: time, place, your actions, people, preceding events, etc…  What significance or history do these things have?  What “law” are you following in their presence or whose acceptance are you seeking / earning by keeping that “law”?

Third, we should understand how the Gospel transforms this belief.  Paul was not against circumcision as a Jewish custom, but only as a pursuit of God.  Chances are your “yoke” will either reveal a practice you have given undue significance in the pursuit of God or something / someone you have begun to treat as a god (idol).  Seeing this allows you to strip off the “yoke of slavery” (repent) and return to the freedom of Christ (faith).

Chapter 5 Verses 3-4

Why would getting circumcised obligate someone to keep the entire law? Imagine this scenario: a parent has a child with a 4.0 grade point average (perfect) and says to their child, “When you get your grades up I will buy you a new car.”  Nothing can be added to a 4.0.  There is no “up.”  If the obviously well-studied child tries to improve his/her grades, no amount of studying will result in any progress.  Nothing can be added, so the effort to improve will result in infinite exhaustion.  We have the righteousness of Christ by faith in His work on the cross.  If we seek to add to it, our efforts would be caught in the same exhausting trap of trying to improve upon perfection (see Isaiah 64:6 for another refute of salvation by works).

Chapter 5 Verse 7

Why would Paul ask a question that he and his audience already knew the answer to? Paul and the Galatians knew it was the Judaizers who caused the conflict.  In this case, the answer is found in Paul’s objective.  Paul was more concerned in this letter to win the Galatians than he was to attack the Judaizers.  The Judaizers were (or had been) friends to the Galatians.  Paul wanted to focus upon the Judaizers actions, values, and beliefs more than their persons.  If Paul were seeking to evangelize the Judaizers or writing a letter to them his purpose would be different.  Here Paul did not want to allow the allegiances that develop in relationships to cloud the evaluation of sound doctrine on a matter as important as salvation.  In what situations might we find ourselves in a scenario of being more concerned about winning one person than refuting another person or group (i.e., a teenager with questionable new friends) and what can we draw from Paul’s example in Galatians?

Paul on Hard Economic Times – II Corinthians 8

Wealth in Poverty (8:2)

Paul gives an incredible description of the churches of Macedonia. They were in “extreme poverty” but also “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” We tend to think of wealth as a commodity and generosity as a disposition. Paul seemingly reverses that mindset. He speaks of generosity as a commodity and wealth as the disposition.

In our current economic situation it is easy to become pessimistic, cynical, and tight-fisted. We tend to have this reaction when we think of money as our primary asset. When we begin to view our faith, relationships, love, and character as our primary assets, it is easier to maintain encouragement and generosity.

Application: What do I have to give? That should be a question that is on my mind frequently and the only response should not be money. When we are generous towards God and others with our time, encouragement, talents, homes, emotions, affection, compliments, and interests, then we will find (most often) that we have adopted a heart of generosity that transforms what we do with our money.

Jesus: The Model Giver

When Paul was discussing financial giving and the Christian faith (2 Cor 8-9) he places the example of Jesus in the middle of the discussion (2 Cor 8:9). There are many reasons given about why Christians are called to give. I think the most important is “to be like God.”

We serve an amazingly generous God and the pinnacle expression of this generosity is Jesus’ willingness to step out of heaven and bear the penalty for our sin. If we say we want to be more like Jesus, then generosity must be on our “to become” list.

Consider these truths to spur you towards greater generosity.

  • Life is a gift we could not earn.
  • Health is a gift we could not earn.
  • Love is a gift we could not earn.
  • Natural talent is a gift we could not earn.
  • Relationships are a gift we could not earn.
  • Faith is a gift we could not earn.
  • Hope is a gift we could not earn.
  • Heaven is a gift we could not earn.
  • The Bible is a gift we could not earn.
  • Salvation is a gift we could not earn.
  • Peace is a gift we could not earn.
  • Forgiveness is a gift we could not earn.

As we consider all that you have been in given and by Christ, let us be motivated to model His generosity as a witness to our great Savior.

Finish Well (8:11)

Paul recognized the temptation of not finishing well that becomes more prevalent during difficult financial times. During difficult times we become more dependant upon the “follow through” of one another. There is not as much margin to catch our slack. For this reason, it is clear to exhort the Corinthians to complete their proposed giving.

Reflection: What commitments have you made? Who is currently waiting on you to do what you said you would? Have you become nonchalant with your willingness to say “yes” to things? Have you made pledges to a church or ministry that set its budget based upon your commitment (BTW – Crossroads does not have a pledge-based budget so that is not a self-serving question)?

Application: Recognize that every time you say “yes” to something you are coming under Matthew 5:37, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”  This is a reminder that we need to take our word seriously. In the effort to have generous hearts (see above) this is only virtuous if we follow through and finish well.