Saturday, 27 May 2017

Lazarus and the Rich Man

“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried.” (Luke 16:22)
Many scholars believe that the episode reported in Luke 16:19-31 actually happened, that it is a true story. If it is a parable, it is not identified as such, and it is the only one in which the name of a participant is given. Christ related the story as if it were true. But whether history or parable, we can learn much from the contrast between these two dramatically different men, their deaths and destinies.
The rich man, of course, surrounded himself with luxury (Luke 16:19) while Lazarus struggled each day just to survive until the next poverty-filled and pain-wracked day (Luke 16:20-21).
No one can escape the grave, however, and in the passage of time, both died. But, rather than reducing those two different individuals to the commonality of death, their differences actually are heightened. The rich man, “being in torments” (Luke 16:23), was aware of the comfort of Lazarus in “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). The interchange between the rich man and Abraham, and the timeless instruction Christ gave, are well known.
Note also the contrast between “carried” and “buried” in our text. The beggar’s body was no doubt unceremoniously dumped into a pauper’s grave, while the rich man’s corpse was placed in a costly sepulcher and his funeral attended by many friends and mourners. But look beyond the earthly spectrum. While the rich man begs for mercy and relief from torment, the poor man’s eternal spirit is “carried” (literally “carried off” or “borne away”) by a convoy of angelic beings into the presence of God, where “now he is comforted” (Luke 16:25). For Lazarus, and indeed for all who die in the Lord, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). 

Friday, 26 May 2017

God's Grace

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Philippians 4:23)
The basic form of today’s verse appears 13 times in the New Testament. In Scripture, repetition is not for lack of something to say but the Holy Spirit’s intentional emphasis on something.
God extends His grace to the very creation itself by merely keeping the universe together (2 Peter 3:7), intending thereby to “speak” and supply knowledge (Psalm 19:1-4) sufficient to display His very nature and power in such a way that there can be “no excuse” about His existence and care for humanity (Romans 1:20).
In seven of the 13 times, this “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is focused on “you.” God’s grace is very personal. Everything that He has done is because He loves you and me beyond any grasp of our earthly imagination. No one is beyond the touch of God’s grace: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Once, in contrast, God says some will turn “the grace of our God into lasciviousness” and deny Him who has bought and paid for all the horrible sin that they embraced to spite such grace (Jude 1:4). No wonder the apostle Paul calls such people “abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).
The Lord twice focuses His grace on our spirits, indicating God’s intimate knowledge of our innermost thoughts (Romans 8:26). Paul noted that God’s grace is “exceeding abundant with faith and love” (1 Timothy 1:14), and he insisted that His grace is designed to be “glorified in you” (2 Thessalonians 1:12). Like today’s verse, most of the prayers for us end in “Amen.” And that’s the way it should be. 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

God's Complete Supply

“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
The key to this promise in today’s verse is the need that must be met by the riches of the great King as we render our service in His Kingdom. But how vast those needs can be and how different the supply is!
Millions of Israelites needed food in the wilderness, and the manna came fresh from heaven each day for 40 years (Exodus 16:35). Gideon needed victory over the innumerable Midianites, and God caused confusion to fall on his enemies (Judges 7:22). Elijah needed a powerful demonstration of God’s authority, and fire came down from heaven (1 Kings 18:38).
In the New Testament, a crippled man needed a new hand (Mark 3:5), a blind man needed new eyes (John 9:5-6), and a dead man needed life (John 11:43-44). Jesus made the best wine anyone had ever had when the party needed supply (John 2:10-22). He calmed the sea when the disciples needed freedom from their fear (Mark 4:38-39). And He pulled Peter up from the sea when he needed rescue (Matthew 14:30-31). No matter the size of the need, the resources are more than sufficient.
More often than not, however, the need is spiritual. We all need God’s forgiveness from the “sickness” of sin (Mark 2:17). When we first come into His Kingdom, we need the “milk” of the Word (Hebrews 5:12). We all need the wisdom to “walk honestly toward them that are without” (1 Thessalonians 4:12).
And our great God has the resources to supply all our needs. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Sweet-Smelling Sacrifice

“I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:18)
The reference in this text goes back to the “sweet savour” that God smelled when Noah offered his initial sacrifice after disembarking from the year-long Flood. That offering triggered a promise from God that He would never again curse the earth or destroy every living thing with water, as the Flood had done. Furthermore, the Lord promised to maintain the seasons and functions of the earth until the end (Genesis 8:20-21).
Later, Moses would bring the Lord’s instructions for those laws of Israel that would keep the nation separate from the rest of the world and constantly remind them of the very personal relationship that the Creator of all things was establishing with them. Some of the sacrifices would be an “offering by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, or a sacrifice in performing a vow, or in a freewill offering, or in your solemn feasts, to make a sweet savour unto the LORD” (Numbers 15:3).
It is interesting to note that the twice-born are “unto God a sweet savour of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Our very existence as His children smells good to our heavenly Father! We are also compared to living stones that are being built into a spiritual house that is “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Our bodies are to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) that render the “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15), while God Himself is making us “perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:21). 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Communicate Well

“Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.” (Philippians 4:14)
“Communicate” is one of the older words from the era of the King James Version that takes some re-connecting in order to clarify the term. Our use today normally means speaking, understanding one another, or simply passing on instructions. The Greek word is sugkoinoneo, a compound of the preposition “with” and the primary word for “participation.”
The basic term is often translated “partner” or “partake” and frequently is connected with the act of sharing finances in the ministry of others. That is the application in the context of today’s verse. Paul commends the Philippian church for partnering with him over his journeys and recognizing time and again the needs that were necessary to fulfill for the success of the ministry.
Today, there are a vast array of charity-based organizations, from large hospitals and universities to local food and clothing distribution efforts. Most of those, by the way, were started by Christian groups as a way to “communicate” to the “affliction” of many. But how do we determine who among the many, or at what ratio, to attempt to distribute “to the necessity of saints?” (Romans 12:13).
Two main principles must guide our “communication” in the Kingdom. First, it is clear that our New Testament responsibility is first to the church in which our Lord has placed us. Some disagree, but “storehouse” tithing appears to claim our first priority. Then there is opportunity to follow the specific leading of God among those ministries with which we are familiar and of whom we are confident that first seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Christ's Strength

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)
This little verse gets quoted out of context a lot. It is used to justify bizarre plans and dreams, as well as to suggest that every Christian should be rich and healthy all the time. Not only are such applications without any support in Scripture, they are completely out of the context of this passage.
In the previous verses, Paul lists a variety of circumstances that he had faced, from poverty to wealth, learning to be “content” in each of these developments. Then he notes that he “can do all things” through the strength that the Lord provides during conflicting circumstances.
The “do” of this text is the prevailing of the power of God in which and by which we minister. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).
The early church experienced a stunning growth in converts as it preached and testified of the resurrected Christ. This result, however, is due to the fact that the Word of God grew “mightily . . . and prevailed” (Acts 19:20).
Our fight is not a physical one. We wrestle against the great spiritual powers of wickedness that have their source in the heavenlies. The history of God’s people is replete with the battle that was begun in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve lost because they sought to deal with the issue on their own. We win or prevail only when we arm ourselves with God’s armor and become “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Be Content

“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
The English word “content” can bring up thoughts of indifference and mild temperament. Modern usage tends to give “content” a negative connotation, as though such an attitude has little ambition or drive.
Not so of the Greek term that the Holy Spirit chose for this passage. It is composed of the pronoun for “self” and the noun for “sufficiency.” Both in Scripture and in secular Greek literature, the word demands an ability to conquer whatever circumstances that may oppose one’s purpose or goal and to continue through in spite of difficulties.
The context of our text is a prime example. Paul had experienced hunger and satisfaction. He knew what it meant to be obscure and to be a celebrity. There were times when he had more than enough resources to accomplish what he understood God had called him to do, and other times when resources were very scarce. In whatever state he found himself, Paul had learned to be self-sufficient.
Our problem is that we often are looking only at the physical and circumstantial issues and have not learned that our Lord Jesus provides grace that “is sufficient for thee: for [His] strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The resources of the omnipotent Godhead are enough for us to “be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).
The self-sufficiency of the twice-born rests on the eternal fact that God “worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).