Persecution and Grace – Part 2

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

I never cease to marvel at the grace that was given to the Macedonian church. It is, simply, indescribable. That is why we cannot say, ever, “Enough talk about these Macedonians!” I am sure their story will echo on into eternity.

The area of giving is one area in which nearly all of us struggle. The issue of giving is a real problem with many of us. Normally, when someone asks us for money or some material thing (but mostly money, since money is the god of this world), our immediate knee-jerk reaction is to feel something akin to an invasion. There is a certain privacy about our material possessions that we don’t like people intruding into.

But that is the flesh. When we are walking the road that Jesus walked, these attitudes are the kind of things that we battle against in the Spirit. And it is when we achieve victory over such attitudes that we can experience the joy of giving. In those rare – or not-so-rare – moments when God touches our hearts and we allow the grace of God to have its way in us, we receive that very rare blessing of giving freely and joyfully, and we come away much more fulfilled in our spirits.

But with these Macedonians there was so much grace in their lives that they gave as if with a primeval instinct – in other words, with a power that was not of this world.

Some time ago I read about some people in England or the U.S. (I can’t remember clearly where) who engaged in bitter brawls as they fought to buy discounted goods in shopping malls.

The Macedonians did the exact opposite. They fought to give! I believe it is not that they did not need the things that they were giving away, but they were overcome with compassion for their brothers in need. And, having an enlarged heart, they saw this as an opportunity to make very good use the power of the grace of God in their lives.

The Macedonian example is an illustration of the extremities to which God’s grace can take us. That these people had literally nothing; but when they heard that their brothers were undergoing a period of want, they gave out their hearts. “Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”

That is a heart that we all need to have.

There are people who love talking about tithing. But in tithing one is trying to give to God in quotas! Can you imagine giving to God in quotas? It is the most tiresome exercise in the world.

And, pray, can you imagine trying to tell the Macedonians about tithing? At the very least, they would have regarded you with of utter confusion in their eyes! How can you talk to someone who has given away everything about now giving a percentage?

The Macedonians were so rich in grace that the ‘lesson’ of tithe would have have flown right over their heads.

But notice also that all this was accomplished at the time that this church was going through a period of “great trial of affliction” and “deep poverty”. It was in these difficult circumstances that their faith was tried and refined to produce these extremely fine examples of Christian-ity.

Whether through persecution or not, when we take the road that Jesus took – denying self, taking up our cross daily and following Him – we will always come up with this kind of life – a life of incredible grace.

[The Macedonians rejoiced greatly at the opportunity to give]

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Grace! – the Macedonian Example (Part 3)

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

In this final part, we will include verse 5 of this portion of scripture, which is the foundation upon which all that is written therein is built. This discourse would be incomplete – indeed, it would be meaningless – without an understanding of this verse. Verse 5 reads: And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.”

But first, let us consider verses 3 and 4. These verses tell us about the practical outcome of the grace of God that was bestowed upon the Macedonian churches. This is so important for us to understand.

These churches were very poor materially, but when they heard about the physical lack that the Jerusalem church was undergoing, because of the richness of the grace of God in their hearts, they immediately decided to share whatever they had with the brethren who were in need.

There is something very important that I want us to realize about what went on here. The Bible says: “3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift…”

I want us to arrive at the astounding conclusion that the Bible brings up here, which is that the Macedonians gave until they were left with nothing.

Paul says, “For to their power… and beyond their power”, they gave.

What do you think that means?

I believe it means these brethren gave as much as they could give. But then, because of the richness of their generosity, which was a result of the joy that was in their hearts, they decided, ‘No, that’s not enough.’

They then went back inside their houses and took the little they had put aside for themselves and their children and told Paul and the apostles, “Take even these!”

They were left with nothing.

I am sure they were preparing to pull out even their door frames and put them on the donkeys that Paul came with, and Paul was overwhelmed with the sheer incredulity of it all.

Why would they pray Paul “with much intreaty” to take of their goods? It is not common to see people imploring you to take their goods. In churches today, hundreds of programs have been promulgated to make people to give. Actually, it is a form of arm-twisting – and where this fails incentives are brought in!

Have you not heard, in church: “With your gift of a hundred dollars, you can become the proud owner of such and such a souvenir”, or, on the internet, “Click the link at the very top of this description, ‘like’ this site, and you could win great prizes…”

Such a language with the Macedonians would have been as alien as a Martian talking to a man from Earth.

The Bible says the Macedonians gave of their goods willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. “…they were willing of themselves”.

But the Macedonians were rich! They were rich in grace. They could afford to give liberally, almost luxuriantly.

I am sure the Macedonians intreated Paul because he most likely refused to take more of their goods, realizing that these people would be left with literally nothing!

But the consequence of the grace that they carried in their hearts is that they were more concerned about the poor saints in Jerusalem than they were about themselves. They were ready to go without, just so their brethren could have.

These Macedonians were willing to sacrifice themselves that others could live.

Elsewhere, Paul talks of Priscilla and Aquila, Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Rom. 16:4).

Finally, let us look at the most important verse in this scripture, verse 5.

And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.”

This is talking about revelation. Anyone can give, but if it is not a result of the revelation of the cross in their lives, such giving is not of the Spirit. This is so important for the church to understand, the fact that we need to give in the Spirit.

There are people who do things for worldly glory, or to satisfy their egos or, as we just saw, to profit in other ways. The gospel, on the other hand, has to do with losing our lives. Hence, the cross.

The revelation of the cross is the heart of the gospel. When we catch this revelation, we are willing to lose our lives for Christ. That is why the Apostle Paul would not preach any other gospel other than the gospel of the cross of Christ. The revelation of the cross in our hearts brings the grace of God into our hearts, and we can live the resurrection life, which is a life that has died in the natural, but is alive in the Spirit.

[Below: The Macedonians gave liberally!]

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Grace! – the Macedonian Example (Part 2)

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

Grace is the church’s inheritance. The Bible says: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).

Grace is the inheritance that Jesus gave to the church. Isn’t it wonderful to have, or to own what Jesus bequeathed us?

That is why we cannot lightly “fly past” this scripture about the Macedonians. We must encamp there and see what went on with these blessed brethen.

Y’know, today, to a large extent, we do not have preachers of the gospel in church. Today what the church has is mostly worldly-minded motivational preachers. (In this group, unfortunately, there are also fraudsters and scoundrels of the basest sort). Now, motivational preachers will not talk to you about the grace of God. Grace is heavenly business and these men and women have nothing of heaven in their hearts. So they talk of this world. They will talk about the things of this world. They will talk about money and such-like things.

But I think it would have been rather stupid for Jesus to leave behind the glories of heaven and to come to earth to become a billionaire in some church! It would have been extremely ridiculous, and I am glad Jesus did not do that.

There were only two things that Jesus owned when He was here on earth. Jesus had nothing of this world, but He had something else. He had grace and truth. I don’t know about you but me, I want what Jesus had.

These noble Macedonians certainly did.

Today let us look at verse 2 of this wonderful scripture.

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”

We read in verse 2 that when the Macedonian brethren were going through tribulation and suffering for the gospel’s sake, their joy was increased!

There is something called ‘diametrically opposed’. We all know that suffering and joy are diametrically opposed. So these Macedonians accomplished a mathematical formula which even Einstein could not achieve: the marriage of two diametrically opposed experiences, suffering and joy.

That is something that can only be attained through the grace of God.

The Bible says that in rejoicing through suffering, the Macedonians demonstrated the grace of God that was in their lives!

One thing I can tell you for sure is that I am not like these Macedonians. In all sincerity I cannot say that I am happy when things are going all wrong in my life. When things are not “working” for me, I tend to fret and there are even times when I have known myself to become absolutely grace-less (and probably even plain hostile) when the pressure became too much to bear!

But the Bible states here that when the Macedonians were going through trouble, it was all song and dance in those churches. That’s the one experience I sure would love to have and to own in my life! That’s grace.

No amount of writing could exhaust the riches to be found in this tiny portion of scripture.

Let us take a peep at the second part.

“… their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”

Here we find another set of diametric opposites: poverty and liberality.

It is generally assumed that the rich should give to the poor. I also subscribe to that belief. He who has should give to him who does not have. That is Biblical.

But that has nothing to do with a generous heart. You can give away all your wealth until you scratch yourself like Job, but that does not mean that you are generous. I know of people who give of their worldly goods, but they are not generous. You can see it in the way they give. They will put you to an interview, where you can feel all the condescending fog from them descending upon you…

Let me put it this way: grace enables us to do things the way God does them. God does things willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. When you have the grace of God in your heart, therefore, the natural outcome is to do God’s will willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. When it comes to giving, you will give in exactly in that manner – willingly, joyfully and cheerfully.

God is generous. I have been saved for a long time, and I can attest to the fact that God is generous. There was a time when I thought that I needed to be financially rich in order to affirm God’s generosity. But I have learned to appreciate God’s generosity towards me, a generosity which does not necessarily have to do with him blessing me financially. Money, as the saying goes, is not everything. That is especially so with the gospel.

What God gives us is a rich heart, a heart rich in grace. This is all that matters with the gospel. A heart rich in grace will accomplish everything God needs it to accomplish.

When the Macedonians received the grace of God, they became rich in generosity.

Let us take time to examine our hearts and to see whether we are rich in grace or not. Today, let us forget for a moment our nicely-trimmed bank accounts. Let us instead look into our hearts. Are we rich there or not?

Tomorrow we will take one final look at this exciting scripture.

[Below: Grace – free as a bird!]

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Of Worldly Wealth And God’s Kingdom – Part 1

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Mat 19:21

We all know the sad ending to this story. The Bible says that the rich man went away sorrowful, “for he had great possessions.”

Actually, I think Jesus ought to have called that young man back. He ought to have called him back and worked out a bargain with him. That is what I think. I mean, you can’t be too tough on a man! The problem, I think, was that Jesus had never owned wealth, and He had no idea how difficult it was for people to make money. And for Him to casually ask one to go throw all his life’s savings into the lake was a bit insensitive, to say the least.

But, anyway, considering that Jesus did not call the young man back, let us see how we can handle His words. The words appear a bit difficult to carry out exactly as set out here, so let us look at the options. The good thing about scripture is that you can turn it any way you want, so let us turn it slightly sideways and see whether we cannot arrive at the conclusion that probably Jesus wanted this man to sell his property, keep the money, but to make sure no poor soul ever passed by his door without getting help from him? or any other conclusion except that Jesus wanted this young man to go SELL HIS PROPERTY, GIVE ALL THE PROCEEDINGS TO THE POOR AND REMAIN WITH ONLY THE CLOTHES ON HIS BACK – and then he could come follow Jesus.

There is nothing as frustrating as missing the nail’s head when you are hitting it. If you keep missing, the head becomes bent and from there on the hammer will keep slipping off the head.

Jesus never, ever made that mistake. He always made sure to hit the nail on the head.

I remember also one time in school we had an archery competition. I was in one of the teams and as the competition got underway, the situation gradually inched towards the point of near-certainty that none of us would be picking the prize because half the arrows landed everywhere on the target board except where they were needed. The other half missed the target board entirely. The spectators had to be pushed way back to a safe distance when it became clear the arrows could land anywhere!

And then, by a stroke of luck, one of my arrows hit the bulls-eye, dead in the center. The rest, as they say, is history. Had I won the presidency of the United States of America, I doubt I would have won the recognition that I did that day…

It is not easy to hit the bulls-eye. Nor is it easy to hit the spiritual mark, either. But Jesus always hit the mark. In this case He hit it big. In fact, He hit it so big that His disciples, on hearing His words, “were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” verse 19:25. In other words, they were astounded beyond belief.

But Jesus was not seeking to make ‘history’ by His statements. The fact is, He could scarcely have said anything different. He spoke those words only because there was nothing different for Him to say. Had there been, He would have said it. Had there been a ‘softer’ way for Jesus to show this rich, young man into the Kingdom of God, you can bet your last dollar He would have said it.

The lure of money is formidable and few people are willing to tamper with this powerful force! It is not easy to hear these words of Jesus spoken in any pulpit today. That doesn’t mean there are not men of God who can and who do stand up against the god of money. But it is an uphill task.

Jesus’ words are bad news to our flesh, just as it was bad news for the rich young ruler. In essence, Jesus was making the point (both to the young ruler and to His disciples) that worldly wealth has no place in the Kingdom of God. “Go ditch it and come follow me”. That was the unfortunate news He was ‘leaking’ out.

Jesus was showing this young man the way of the cross. But it proved just too hard for him.

And Job said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither… In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” (Job 1:21-22).

The Apostle Paul says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Rom. 8:35-36).

Do I see the word “death” there? I am convinced that God has a few more things He wants us to give up in order to gain His Kingdom. Maybe even our very lives! We just aren’t aware.

Alas! I, too, am all too human. There are times when I find myself dreaming of ‘all that money’ and I have to kick myself awake. Money can easily blind one to the things of the Kingdom of God.

It is a great day indeed when I can find myself going through any slight hardship or discomfort for the Kingdom and to rejoice therein. There is no greater indicator for me that I am in the perfect will of God.

If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

What’s Important?

Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.

And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil. 2 Ki. 4:1-2

Everything appears dark in this account, but I see only light.

In the first place, I admire this woman. She could say of her husband, “thy servant did fear the LORD”. There could be no greater testimony to the piety of this man of God than such words coming from his wife. (Now, right here and as an aside, let me point out that today there are people who will publicly talk well of their spouses but, alas! it is only that – a publicity stunt! This was not the case with this woman.)

Back to our man. This poor servant of God died poor. He died leaving nothing in his house “save a pot of oil”! On top of that, he died in debt. And the creditor was coming to sell his two sons to regain his money!

We can’t begin to imagine the anguish of heart that this man must have gone to the grave bearing for the life of deprivation that he knew he had left his family with!

Well, the man died poor all right, but I like what his wife tells Elisha about him: “thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD”.  This meant that even Elisha knew and could testify about the God-fearing life of this man. I like that. I like the fact that this man died fearing the Lord. That clicks with me. I am sure that was enough for God, too. This man was a great man in the sight of the Lord. I can easily tell you what happened to him when he died. He was immediately ushered into the presence of his Master where he was warmly told (by God Himself), “Come and sit by my side, thou good and faithful servant!”

Actually, the important thing in all this is that this man lived a God-fearing life. His state of need in this world did not lessen his piousness in the sight of God. You know, people today are trying to convince you that possessing material wealth is the sure marker that God is with you. They tell you that you will not borrow, but you will lend. In a rather hush-hush manner, poverty is now officially on the list of church ‘sins’ today. As a result of these damaging hyper-beliefs Christians are visibly struggling to keep up with the Joneses. They do not want to appear they are not blessed. What a futile race!

But here we see a righteous man who died not only poor, but in debt. This was a man who was running a different race. In his deep poverty, he could actually serve God in true liberty!

I don’t care one little bit about all the teachings about how wrong it is to be poor and in need, or even to be in debt. All I care about is that this man died in the fear of the Lord. I think I like it that way far much better than if he died rich. It beats all the pride and arrogance out of anyone, particularly those who put their trust in worldly wealth.

And actually, with regard to this, some people are completely out of touch with reality. I think they need to get out of their mansions and move around a bit. There are people in my part of the world who live in such abject poverty that all these stories about prosperity are so much confetti to them. These people live by faith. They literally trust in God for their very next meal. But in their state of want they are serving God in the Spirit. Someone who lives in ‘cloud nine’ or wherever, filled to the brim with the fat of this world, will turn over in their soft beds and claim, “I thank you, God, because I am not like these fellows who have no faith.”

But I can assure you that they have faith. The fact that this man died poor and in debt but walking in the fear of the Lord makes the point that money or worldly riches is nothing in God’s Kingdom. Money is not what comprises serving the Lord.

Someone almost had us there! Are you safe?

I can answer that question for you. It all depends on the gospel you are hearing. When you are hearing the right gospel, you will know what is important with God. True prosperity is the fear of God that a man carries in his heart.

By the way, do you see any signs of the cross in the life of this humble man of God?

Love Never Expects Anything Back

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. 2 Cor 8:9

We could hardly claim to know the full implications of this scripture. For Jesus even to consider leaving Heaven to come to earth, that thought itself was an unimaginable sacrifice on His part. It was an affront to Who He was; but He allowed it. Praise be to Him!

But the Son of God would go beyond thinking it. He would actively carry out that thought, and carry it out to its fullness. He would perform it to perfection. But that would require Him to go all the way, and the road was long indeed. But go it He would; and He did.

He stepped out from His throne and put off the Body of His glory. Next He took up the body of our flesh and put it on. He then came down to earth and lived among fallen humankind, enduring the lowliest life that any man could ever know, beginning with His birth in a cowshed.

He knew hunger, he knew physical fatigue. He knew sleeplessness. In His adult life, He had nowhere to lay His head. He knew human-ness as any human being can claim to know it.

In His altercations with the Jewish leaders, Jesus endured the impossible as man stared God in the face and ridiculed the Law of God that He carried in His heart.

Ultimately, Jesus would suffer incredible physical humiliation and abuse at the hands of the Jews and the Roman soldiers; and finally He would die an ignominious death of crucifixion, alone, abandoned even by His closest associates. Jesus carried out God’s plan to its bitter end.

And yet there is a hidden mystery in all this…

When you read Hebrews 12:2 it talks of Jesus thus: “…  who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”. Here you get the idea that Jesus would be rewarded for His sacrifice.

But when you read Jesus’ prayer in John 17:5, you get a completely different view of what Jesus hoped to get from His sacrifice. He says, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was”. In other words, after Jesus had accomplished His mission on the Cross all He was asking of His Father was to restore to Him the same glory that He had before the world was created.

Jesus would be rewarded as a man, but not as God. That is astonishing, to say the least. It means that Jesus (as God) was not receiving anything more than what He had before in return for His sacrifice. He would simply be going back to His old glory. The Bible says that Jesus was God. Even after all that suffering, there was nothing more He could become or gain as God apart from what He already had been. God cannot possibly become anything more than what He already is – GOD.

In other words, Jesus came down to our level for one purpose: He came for us, not for Himself. He came to make us to be like Him. The first Adam could never be God, because He was made from dust. The Bible says, “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” (1 Cor. 15:45) In other words, Jesus came to make us in the image of God Himself. Thus is fulfilled the scripture in Psalm 82:6, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”

The Bible says that Jesus came to reconcile us with Himself. That is all He suffered and died for: that we might become like Him, and be united with Him. Then He would go back and sit exactly where He had sat before.

The incredulousness of Jesus’ sacrifice lies in the fact that he did it all for us. All He accomplished was for us. Jesus did not do it to receive anything back. He did all He did out of love. Love never expects anything back. That is the incredible mystery of God becoming man.

The Psalmist, beholding and understanding the truth of Jesus’ sacrifice in the spirit marvels, “LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!” Psalm 144:3

In another place he asks, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?  For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” Psalm 8:4-5

Jesus, though He was rich, became poor, that we might become rich. This is the greatest love story ever. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Jesus sacrificed Himself selflessly to purchase for Himself something He loved dearly: man.

Dear reader, what thinkest thou? Knowing who man is, it is an incredible thought indeed. But, more incredibly still, as we partake of the nature of God, we also begin living the sacrificial life that He lived. This is the true blessing.