Archive for November, 2021
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain: but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
The three-fold use of the word “grace” is telling. Not only is it the dominant theme of the New Testament, it is the prevailing argument for Paul’s life and ours as followers of Christ. What you are now, and what you are becoming all the more, day by day, has been accomplished by Christ Jesus. As the beneficiaries of his grace, might we labor for him with a greater diligence than the law would ever require.
“For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9).
Just as Paul knew he wasn’t fit be called an apostle, neither are we worthy to be called followers of Jesus. It matters not who I once was, but who I am now in Christ Jesus. The church is not a “cancel culture” that seeks to define individuals on the basis of their past. Who you are now is defined by Jesus and your relationship with Him.
“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).
While scripture gives clear directives on certain sinful practices and behaviors, there are other matters left to the conscience of the individual believer. For instance, today’s verse is set in the context of such conscionable issues as food, drink, and the observance of particular days. Paul’s guiding word to the church is that even if one has the freedom in Christ to partake, consideration and not judgment should be given to the weaker brethren. To flaunt one’s freedom is arrogant, prideful, and immature. The strong in the faith recognize that freedom in Christ is a responsibility and never a license to do as one pleases.
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
In this broken world it is inevitable that life will bring an event of such pain and intensity we would have never thought it possible. In contrast to what God is producing in his eternal glory, this present suffering will be only for a little while. This isn’t to diminish our very real pain but, rather, to encourage us to be prepared and disciplined enough to persevere when the unexpected fiery trials come upon us.
“and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthian 15:8).
While listing himself as the final one to whom the post-resurrection Christ appeared (v.5-7), Paul’s emphasis is that it matters not when you were born, what opportunities you might have missed out on but, rather, where you are now and what you are becoming in Christ Jesus. Time is in the hands of God, who did not even send forth his Son into the world until the fulness of time had come (Galatians 4:4). The joy of life and salvation is not dependent upon when you entered into Kingdom life, but that you are now in the Kingdom.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for His mercy is everlasting” (Psalm 107:1).
My only hesitancy in writing a Thanksgiving day devotional about being thankful is the risk of perpetuating the notion that giving thanks is limited to an annual observation. It’s akin to the “hype” surrounding Easter Sunday when, in fact, the church has a 2000 year history of gathering EVERY Sunday for the purpose of worship and celebrating the resurrection. In a world that has never failed to prove itself as unpredictable, uncertain, and unreliable, only those trusting in the everlasting mercies of God will live lives characterized by an unceasing spirit of thanksgiving, and display with rhythmic consistency gathering together with God’s people to commemorate the resurrection. Never cease giving thanks, and I’ll see you Sunday.
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Sadly, Christ has many followers who understand that, by the grace of God, they are forgiven of their sin, yet struggle to move forward from their past because they cannot forgive themselves. The only deliverance from this malady is the reliability of scripture, and the claims found therein regarding the work of Christ, and the sufficiency of his death upon the cross, for the atonement of sin. Is it trustworthy, or not? And, if true, how much ego does it take to think the biblical claims of scripture apply to everyone else but not oneself?
“For whoever keeps the whole Law, yet stumbles in one point, has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).
Human tendency is to differentiate between particular sins; assigning to each a varying degree of severity. Nowhere is this more evident than in our thinking that someone has a “powerful” testimony if they have had a more reprehensible past. A biblical understanding of sin, however, recognizes that the grace of God required to save the most wicked is the same grace needed to save the most respectable. There is no greater or lesser in the eyes of God; sin is sin.
“Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost sinner Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
Paul offers himself as Exhibit A of how a person’s past does not limit the work of God. That Paul was the worst thing imaginable—a blasphemer and persecutor who sought to destroy the church—reveals that the salvation God has accomplished in Christ Jesus is never about our “badness,” but God’s graciousness. Your past isn’t the centerpiece of the salvation story; it is but a demonstration of God’s goodness.
“So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects” (Acts 17:22).
For the greater part of American history, church and culture benefitted from a symbiotic relationship. They were the strangest of bedfellows…no one really caring what the church preached as long as it was “Americanized.” Thus, the church was an accepted institutional presence; we were “insiders.” Our steeples beckoned the masses to come…and they did. Unfortunately, the result was we became keepers of the aquarium. Today, such is no longer the case, and we, like the Apostle Paul before the Athenians, are on the outside looking in. We have become a counter-cultural presence; pushed to the margins; voices crying in the wilderness. Finally, we must once again become fishers of men.