Thought for February 28th. “SO NOW FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE ABIDE”

Todays’s readings… Leviticus 3&4, Psalm 104, 1 Corinthians 12&13  

              One of the problems in Corinth  Paul had heard about, was “concerning spiritual gifts” [1 Cor. 12 v.1]   This chapter and the next two show that the improper use of the gifts by some was a large problem.  Of course, with the Gospels not yet in circulation, the existence of spiritual gifts had real purpose.  Paul says that “the manifestation of the Spirit (was) for the common good.  To one is given the spirit of the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge, according to the same spirit, to another, faith …” [v.7-9] 

               We pondered the inclusion of “faith” as a gift – and recalled the times when Jesus chided his disciples “O you of little faith [Matt.8 v.26 etc] so we conclude that among that first generation of believers it was vital, on occasions, to have a man of firm faith, to steady the ecclesial boat when it was rocking and faith was weakening.  Chapter 12 ends by telling us, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts” – those named first would be in this category, they were of the most value for their spiritual health.   

               The last named gifts are tongues and the ability to interpret them (v.30) and Paul warns in Ch, 14 that if these are used in church “and outsiders and unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds” [v.24] – clearly they were to enable those who possessed them to give the message, when they had opportunity, to those of other languages. Acts 2 v.11 describes the impact of this on the day of Pentecost –  “”we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God”

               The final words in Ch. 12 are “And now I show you a still more excellent way” – this brings us to Ch. 13 and its oft quoted words praising the vital role of love.  “If I give away all I have …. But have not love, I gain nothing” [v.3] is one of the points Paul makes.  He says, “Love never ends … prophecies … will pass away … tongues, they will cease …” [v.8]  The final verse tells us, “So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 

                These words provoked a final thought – when Christ’s kingdom is established, faith will be turned to sight and hope fulfilled – but love will last forever.   Those who commit themselves to embrace the things that abide today and live with this wonderful future before them will, by God’s grace, live forever with love as the dominating factor in their lives..    

Thought for February 27th. “…. ON THOSE WHO FEAR HIM”

Todays readings.. Leviticus 1&2, Psalm 103, 1 Corinthians 11

     Psalm 103 is a very ‘popular’ Psalm because of its emphasis on the love and mercy of the LORD.  It is very encouraging for those who struggle to feel ‘right’ before God – and isn’t that all of us at some stage(s) of our lives! We feel in our hearts the urgent need, despite our failures, to feel God is ‘on our side’ – even ‘by our side.’   

     There is one factor that is repeated in the Psalm that must not be overlooked, otherwise the Divine message of encouragement this Psalm conveys will be distorted. “Bless the LORD, O my soul” is how the Psalm (which is ascribed to David) begins; “…. Forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” [v.2-4]

     The Psalm then takes our thoughts to Moses – “He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.” [v.7] that “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” [v.8]  The book of Exodus, which we have just completed reading gave us many examples of this. David certainly experienced this and he states, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.”[v.10-11]

     Those final words must not be overlooked!  The next verse says, as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us”.- and so, you can go east as far as you like – but you never come to the west!  The next verse repeats the qualifications given in v.11  “…. So the LORD shows compassion on those who fear him.”  

     Verse 17 repeats this for the third time, “the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.  Solomon comments on the strength of a “three-fold cord” [Eccl. 4 v.12], how much more a divinely inspired statement!  

     The word “fear” in the sense of being in awe of the LORD occurs no less than 26 times in the Psalms – it does not mean to be scared of God – but to be in awe in sensing his greatness and that he is present everywhere through his spirit. (Acts 17 v,27,28)  Let us sense how immeasurable great God must be!  

     Look back at Psalm 36, note David’s words, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. Oh continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright in heart” [v.9,10]

     We have more reason than ever, with the human discoveries of recent years, to contemplate the immeasurable greatness of the power that brought them all into being – that power is our Heavenly Father – and we address God in that way because we have taken on the name of his son, Jesus Christ. What  a wonder this is! 

Thought for February 26th. “A PARTICIPATION IN THE BODY OF CHRIST”

     Todays readings… Exodus 39&40, Psalm 102, 1 Corinthians 10

     In Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians we have come to where he refers to the memorial emblems, he stresses that their participation in these should be in a way that illustrates their unity.  Paul has made several points very strongly in earlier chapters addressing issues that were seriously undermining their unity in Christ: their lack of harmony worried him very much. 

     Their coming together to remember that Christ died for them needed to take place in an atmosphere of genuine unity – but it wasn’t.  To start with some were influenced by the surrounding spirit of idol-worshipping, but “…. beloved flee from idolatry” [10 v.14] wrote Paul.. 

     He appeals to them, “I speak to sensible people, judge for yourselves what I say.” [v.5]  Do we ourselves make sensible judgements? The situation for us is not completely different.  Paul says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body …” [v.15-7]

     The verses which follow indicate some had a problem leaving behind the pagan practices they had previously enjoyed, Paul says to them, “You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.  Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” [v.21,22]   In ch. 5 he made the point, “Christ is our Passover … let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven … of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” [7,8] 

     In Ch. 11 we will read that “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” [v.29]  He does not mean – discerning his own body – but the body of Christ and their responsibility to his or her fellow believers.  Paul told the Philippians he wanted to “hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit and one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” [1 v.27]  

     This precious oneness is demonstrated each time we meet for fellowship.  There have been the rare occasions when a member of another church has been present who has taken offence at not being offered the emblems! But this is an opportunity to lovingly point out that when the church was first established on the Day of Pentecost, those baptised  “devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching and fellowship and the breaking of bread …” [Acts 2 v.42] What is the Apostles teaching? Do they (do we) properly “discern the Lord’s body” when we participate? If we are of one mind as to that teaching and are baptised – our participation in the body of Christ will a great spiritual joy..  Let us make sure we ourselves are fully devoted to this teaching and the way of life it leads to.

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Thought for February 25th. “IF ANYONE LOVES GOD, HE IS KNOWN BY GOD”

Todays readings… Exodus 38, Psalm 100&101, I Corinthians 8&9

    Love is, above all, an active quality; genuine love causes us to do things: it motivates our heart.  Now, the things love causes us to do are not things we do out of a sense of obligation, there should not be occasions when we say, “I suppose I had better do …” especially when it comes to serving the Lord.

    Our meditations followed these lines as we read the start of 1 Corinthians Ch. 8.  Verse 3 tells us, “But if anyone loves God , he (or she)is known by God.”  When God, who sees all things through his spirit (Psalm 139 v.1-6) knows that our professions of love for him come right from our hearts – we are “known by God.”   But this is more than a one sided sense of knowing, to truly know God results in a two-way relationship, David’s Psalms show this, we read this morning, “Know that the LORD, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his” [100 v.3]

    We read a few days ago in Exodus, “Moses said to the LORD … you have said, ‘I know you by name … therefore if I have found favour in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you …” [Ch.33 v.12,13]    

     Knowing God comes through knowing his ways; leading to the realization that we are “working together with him” [2 Cor. 6 v.1].  One of the wonders of this, Paul told the Corinthians, is to realize that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10 v.13]  

    Many believers in Corinth experienced temptations to continue to enjoy the fleshly advantages of attending idol temples and feasting there on the food that had been offered to the idols.  The idol worshippers saw this food as special because it had been blessed by Temple priests: we have seen this happening in Indian temples.

    It is not difficult to see the modern equivalents, especially in prosperous countries in the things that the masses idolize.  In Corinth athletic sports were idolized, it is no different today – people call them ‘Stars’ – reflect on how much idolizing happens!  .  

    Finally we noted Paul’s point – “Every athlete exercises self control … they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” [1 Cor. 9 v.25] He tells believers, “So run that you may obtain it … I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” [v.24,27] 

    Disqualified!   How can we safeguard against that?  Does not the ‘oil’ which ‘lubricates’ all our understanding and ways of thinking result in success in our efforts to “run” effectively?  This is the reality of our love for God: supported by our reading of God’s word: these provide the awareness that we are “known” by God. Loving God creates our inner strength. How “real” is your love? 

Thought for February 24th. “TO SECURE YOUR UNDIVIDED DEVOTION TO THE LORD”

  Todays readings… Exodus 37, Psalm 96,97,98&99. 1 Corinthians 7

   Today’s chapter in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gives his views about specific situations occurring there.  However, it contains principles which apply to believers of all ages. He is responding to “matters about which you wrote” [1 Cor.7 v.1] and his words are like hearing one side of a conversation.    Corinth was a very immoral city and its idolatry and fleshly living created many problems and has many parallels with today.  The believers had been actively part of all this until they committed themselves to follow the way of Christ.

   They are commended to be faithful in their marriages, to avoid divorce and to be content with their situation in life, even if they were still slaves. (v.20,21)  “I want you to be free from anxieties,” he writes, “to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”  [v.35].

   Maintaining marriage relationships are most important says Paul, he makes the point, “because of temptations to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband  … do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self control” [v.2,5]  

    This reference to a Satan is to human tempters, just as, at one stage, Peter was a Satan to Jesus, as we read earlier this month in Mark 8 v.33.  At that stage Peter’s attitude was all wrong, similarly, many of the converts in Corinth would have contact with individuals whose values were all wrong and could prompt ungodly thoughts in them.  So it is with us today – indeed – more and more.  We have to say, at least in thought, “Get behind me Satan.”

    Today some criticise Paul, suggesting he is against marriage, even a woman hater! This is most unfair; he writes, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind, one of another … it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” [v.7,9]  There were problems because some who had accepted Christ were married to unbelieving partners. The believer should not seek a divorce. The believer should seek to influence the unbeliever to accept Christ, “but if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.” [v.15] writes Paul.

   Paul sensed that Corinth was facing an imminent crisis, just as we sense that this world is heading downhill with increasing rapidity – for that reason there are many points in this chapter which have special relevance to today and the need for us all “to secure” our “undivided devotion to the Lord.” 

Thought for February 23rd. “HE WHO IS JOINED TO THE LORD BECOMES …”

Todays readings.. Exodus 36, Psalm 94&95, 1 Corinthians 6

We have an intensely thought provoking set of readings today.  In Exodus we read how they start to construct the tabernacle in the wilderness and they are to “work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.” [36 v.1] The Creator had detailed every part of its’ construction to Moses on the Mount – it would be God’s Tabernacle. Our world is a wilderness! We must meditate on the challenge of making the spiritual Temple today –  that Paul writes about – as we read on Wednesday (1 Cor. 3 v.16,17) – and our role in constructing this tabernacle for our Lord to dwell in – in today’s wilderness. 

How wonderful to be among  “the people of his pasture” today! This is the phrase that occurs in today’s Psalm 95 v.7,8 “ …he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice,  do not harden your hearts …” 

How clearly are we hearing his voice as we read his word in today’s wilderness?  As the ‘desert’ of ungodliness around us increases – let us increase our consciousness and commitment to becoming a dependable part of God’s spiritual Temple.

Now in Corinth some believers were being influenced by the sexual immorality that surrounded them – and it surrounds us today – and we have the addition of the internet to distract us – and if we are weak spiritually – we can do this in private – and then become weaker and weaker. 

Paul puts before them a challenging vision of the spiritual realities their minds needed to grasp – that they must grasp! “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” [v.15]  Verse 17 should be highlighted and memorised in our minds! “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” 

We were bought with a price – and what a price!  The “blood” of our Lord!  

We will read in Corinthians next Tuesday how believers can “be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” [11 v.27]  Think of his agony of mind in the garden of Gethsemane!  Then meditate deeply on Paul’s words that we should aim to be “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” [Rom. 12 v.1]  

Let us be conscious – every day – indeed, every hour – that we “are joined to the Lord” and become more and more “one spirit with him”[1 Cor. 6 v.17] And with this consciousness we will also live in ways in which, as the last verse of today’s chapter says, that we will “glorify God in (y)our body.” 

Thought February 22nd. “EVERYONE WHOSE HEART STIRRED HIM”

Todays readings… Exodus 35, Psalm 92&93, 1 Corinthians 4&5   

     The drama of Moses in the mountain and then in dealing with those who made the golden calf is now in the past. We read today of preparations for making the Tabernacle: everyone had brought away from Egypt items of value  – remember what you read in Ch. 12 v,35,36! “They plundered the Egyptians.”  

Moses appeals to the people, “Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze …yarns and fine twined linen …” [35 v.5]  These will be the source materials needed to make the Tabernacle.  The people “departed from the presence of Moses.  And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments.  And so they came, both men and women.  All who were of a willing heart …” [v.20-22] 

     We will read in ch. 36 that Moses is told, “The people bring much more than enough …” [v.5];  so many willing hearts!  Now this was not tithing, these were freewill offerings.  The institution of tithing is detailed in the next 3 books of Moses, see for example Deuteronomy 14 v.22-29.  Tithing was for the running costs of the nation: the Levites duties were wide ranging  being required to act as medicos, policemen, administration, etc., tithing was the income tax of the nation.   The functioning of the tabernacle was the responsibility of Aaron and his sons and close relatives. 

     Many ‘Christian’ organisations demand tithes of their flock, claiming the Bible advocates this – and many become really wealthy – and its tax free! But there is no basis in God’s word for Christians to practice tithing – the evidence is all the other way!  

     There will be evidence of this when we come to Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians next month. Paul writes of the attitude of the believers in Macedonia “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity … they gave … beyond their means of their own freewill …” [8 v2,3]  “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not … under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” [9 v.7]

     Equally important is for believers to show the heart felt sincerity of their commitment to Christ by giving of their time and their abilities in different areas of service for Christ.  Can it be that some, well blessed in the needs of this life, think that it is enough to be very generous when the collection bags come round and appeals are made – but that is all they do!  We must each let our hearts stir us to use our talents (not just finances) in the service of the Lord wherever he creates opportunities for us – and there are many of them.

Thought for February 21st. “I … COULD NOT ADDRESS YOU AS SPIRITUAL PEOPLE”

Todays readings.. Exodus 33&34, Psalm 90&91, 1 Corinthians 3

    Our 5 chapters today were intensely thought provoking.  First, the utterly remarkable and challenging relationship of Moses (and the people through Moses) with the LORD (yhwh) who had delivered them from Egypt.

Second, the Psalms of Moses, 90 & 91; “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” [90 v.12]: then we were in heart-felt awe of the opening words of Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High … will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’.”  Moses is the ultimate Old Testament example of this – one who achieved an intimate relationship with God.

    And now in Paul’s heart searching first letter to the Corinthians we read Paul’s distress at their minimal progress toward real spirituality – so parallel to Moses’ experience with the God’s nation in the wilderness.

     In chapter 2 we read, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he (or she) is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” [v.14].  And then ch. 3 starts, “But I, brothers (and sisters – footnote) could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.”[v.1] He deplores their lack of unity, their failure to see the need to team together under the guiding hand of Christ as Paul had dedicated himself to do. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” [v.6,7]  

He goes on to state, “For we are God’s fellow workers”[v.9]. Visualise that!  As such we team together to build God’s spiritual house which is only seen by the “eyes” of those who have spiritual vision. 

    God laid “the foundation … which is Jesus Christ.” [v.11] “Let each one take care how he (or she) builds upon it” [v.10] whether it be “gold silver … hay, straw” –  then Paul challenging states, “the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”[v.13]

    What does v.15 mean? “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he (or she) … will be saved, but only as through fire.”  What is our work? It is the same as Paul at Corinth, to witness, to bring people to Christ beginning with our children. In 2018 the time appears to be very short; let us become more spiritual, more zealous to build – how close now is God’s building to being completed!?  How soon now before “our faith is turn to sight?”  Seventy years is a significant time period in the outworking of God’s plan!  Recall what was happening 70 years ago!

Thought for February 20th. “UNITED IN THE SAME MIND”

  Todays readings.. Exodus 31&32, Psalm 89, 1 Corinthians 1&2

     Once again we have an overflow of challenging thoughts in today’s readings.  Paul’s words particularly arrested our attention. “I appeal to you brothers by the name of our Lord that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” [1 Cor. 1 v.10-11].  

This is essential among those who follow Christ, but in Corinth they were in disarray because they were following leaders.  Paul stresses that the only way believers can be united is to follow Christ, and to do that they should seek to possess the “mind of Christ” [1 Cor.2 v.16] and Paul set them an example to follow.

    “God is faithful,” writes Paul, “by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” [1 v.9]   God is faithful to those who say they are committing their lives to him – and looks for faithfulness in response. A tragic example of failure is the situation we read today in Exodus 32: so utterly tragic after the people had witnessed so much evidence of the Divine presence at Mt. Sinai.  We must accept the lessons in our daily reading of the Bible of how, after evidence of divine presence and blessings has been given, God may put people to the test to prove their faithfulness. 

    Paul writes about the challenge of “the cross” [v.18]. The message of “the cross is folly to those who are perishing.”  The Corinthians had been attracted by the dynamics of the Christian movement and they “are not lacking in any spiritual gift” [1 v.7].  

So many in Corinth wanted the experiences the church offered but failed to put their minds to understand that Paul “preached Christ crucified, a message that was “a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles” [1 v.23]

     Paul’s understanding of God’s objective in his testing is this: “God chose what is low and despised in the world … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” [1 v.28-29]  

Where there is boasting and human ego, believers will never be united.  So often in serving Christ, those seeking leadership, or looking for leaders to follow, are elevating men: this attitude destroys unity. Our unity needs to be based, not on human wisdom, but on the wisdom that is from above (read James 3 v.17,18). 

     True wisdom is totally lacking in the world today in both material and spiritual things.  We must recognise the influence of this on us and Paul’s message to the Corinthians is full of encouragement for them to develop spiritual vision, for “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” [1 Cor. 2 v.9] and who are “united in the same mind.”

Thought for February 19th. “DO NOT BE ALARMED … TREMBLING AND ASTONISHMENT”

Todays readings.. Exodus 30, Psalm 87&88, Mark 15&16

Today we completed reading the gospel of Mark.  As with all the gospels, the death and resurrection of our Lord is its’ crowning message.  While he is on the cross there are mockers, in particular “the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” [15 v,31,32] 

We can see a comparison with today – there are many who mock at any suggestion that Christ will return. One of the facts of history that provides one of the rocks on which we base our faith is how Roman historians of the 2nd century reflect the impact of original Christianity on their culture and it “turned the(ir) world upside down. ” [Acts 17 v.6]  Sadly succeeding generations, in the centuries that followed, corrupted the message – but then when printing was invented and gospels such as Mark’s became available for all to read – a ‘reformation’ led to the original gospel being rediscovered – although there were ‘inquisitions’ that tried to destroy those accepting it. 

Sadly, today, this has been largely swamped by modern attitudes and pride in human inventions and  ‘knowledge.’ But this shows the significance of the question Jesus posed, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” [Luke 18 v.8] Let us make every effort to build up our understanding and resultant faith – so that He will “find faith”!

Looking into the last chapter of Mark’s gospel, we try to imagine the scene  – and the heart challenging feelings of those who came first to the tomb.  This, we suggest, has a comparison with feelings we, if we are still alive, and fellow believers will have – when it is evident Jesus is returning!  

“And entering the tomb, they saw a young man” (Matthew’s gospel says “an angel”)  who says, “”Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.” [v.5,6] But, “they went out and fled … for trembling and astonishment had seized them …” [v.8]  

What kind of reaction will “seize” us when it is evident Jesus is returning – and – as we read in Mark ch. 13, “the powers in the heavens (are)… shaken … And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect …” [v.25,27]  Is it not likely we will also be “trembling” but will then hear a voice saying, “Do not be alarmed.”