Exams 

2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”

This verse carries two vital commands. First, we are told to examine ourselves, then we are told to test ourselves. Both carry the idea of looking at our lives in the light of the Word of God, to determine whether or not we are truly saved. Not all exams are of equal importance, but this is a test we must not avoid, or fail. What is at stake is not a low-grade in class, or the possibility of summer school, but where we will spend eternity.

“Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”

The first question on the test is whether or not you have received Christ. John wrote, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, . . .” (John 1 :12). He went on to explain that we receive Him when we believe. It is vital to ask yourself: have you recognized you are a sinner, that your sins have eternally separated you from God, and there is no effort that can be made on your part to remove those sins? Then we must realize, Jesus Christ went to the cross in order to provide a way for sin to be forgiven and removed. If you will look to the cross, confess your sin, and believe Jesus died for you, then Christ is in you.

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19

Paul wrote to people who believed they were saved. Perhaps many of them went forward, responding to an altar call, or prayed with a prayer-team member after hearing a message of salvation. Some of those who prayed may have gone out the doors and right back into the sin-filled lifestyles in which they had been living. They may have placed their confidence for eternity in a raised hand or a walk forward. James reminds us, there is a faith that saves and a faith that does not save. Paul put it like this,

“ . . .that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

Believing with the heart is more than making a one time confession; it involves the surrender of a life to Jesus. Heart believing is ‘trust in and reliance upon’. The person who has truly believed on Jesus, is the person who is walking after Him, and being changed by Him. “By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” 1John 2:5b-6

Another important part of this exam is to look at your life before and after you made a decision to follow Jesus. How has it changed? John spoke of two very important changes that will take place in a person who is truly saved. First, he spoke of us “walking in the light.” Darkness and light are often used in the Bible to speak of sin and holiness. We are told to cast off the works of darkness or to have no fellowship with the fruits of darkness, while at the same time, being told to walk in the light. Since receiving Christ, what sins have you cast off? Are you still looking at the same things, going to the same places, drinking the same stuff? Or have you begun to exam your life in light of the cross? The best way to cast off the works of darkness is to look at the life of Christ, and to live for the things that are pleasing to Him.

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” 1 John 2:3

John mentions another vital question on our exam. He writes, the way to discern we know Him, is that we are doing what His Word says. As you read your Bible (which you should do daily) it is important, not only that you mark it, but that it marks you. You should allow the Bible to write on your life. How has your private life, family life, public life, and church life been changed by the daily reading of the Bible? Are you loving your spouse, raising your children in the things of the Lord, seeking to influence your neighbors, co-workers, and friends to follow Christ? Are you attending and serving at your local church? Simply put, are you letting God’s Word redirect your living? These are not things to take lightly. This is not an exam that you can afford to fail. It is critical that you honestly evaluate your life, not in light of what you think, but in light of what the Bible says, and ask yourself “Am I ready to face eternity?”

Pastor Jim

 

Visions Of Grace 

2 Corinthians 12:9
My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Every few years someone writes a book about how they died, went to heaven, and returned to tell about their experiences. The story usually includes something about radiant light, warm feelings, and the awareness of all their loved ones awaiting their arrival. The authors are heralded as experts on the subject of the after-life and their books often become best sellers. Two thousand years ago Paul had an experience where he was “caught up” into heaven. As he reluctantly relates his story, two things stand out to me.

2 Corinthians 12:4 “. . . how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

Rather than giving a detailed description of heaven, Paul explains that it would be unlawful to attempt to express even the sounds that he heard. Imagine your favorite song, let the sweetness of the singer’s voice enter your mind, then imagine what that song sounds like if we had church Karaoke night, and I was singing. You might say “he is murdering that song, that should be against the law.” Any attempt by Paul to relate heaven to earth would not do it justice.

Scarcely any of Heaven’s glories can be compared to earthly experiences. However, we do find a few. We read of streets of gold, gates of pearl, glorious thrones and a glassy sea. We are also told, heaven will be a place without sorrow, pain, death, sin, or the need of a sun, because the glory of God will be enough to illuminate the skies. Additionally, Scripture describes the inhabitants of heaven. The saints will be in their glorified bodies, and angelic beings, beyond any earthly comparison, will be there, and the central focus of eternity is a throne where God sits as King and Judge. It interests me, when people write of their supposed experiences of visiting heaven, they never seem to mention that God is sitting on a throne as judge. Perhaps what validates Paul’s vision more than anything else, is his unwillingness to talk about it.

2 Corinthians 12:7 “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”

When the revelation ended, Paul found he was afflicted with some sort of physical infirmity. What exactly it was he does not say. For two thousand years Bible students have been trying to piece together the puzzle and uncover to what he referred. While I do not pretend to know what he did not tell us, it is clear he is speaking of a physical infirmity that made life difficult for him. The suffering he experienced was so great he pleaded with the Lord to remove it, and he pleaded with persistence. Imagine the apostle on his knees crying out to the Lord to remove the infirmity which slowed down his progress in sharing the Gospel with a dying world. Then imagine as the silence of heaven is broken as God says,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Instead of receiving healing, Paul was given grace. He went on to describe how, in suffering, Jesus shows up to provide strength. For Paul, it became a common experience to be weaker than the task required, and to experience the grace of God, which would give him more than was necessary to accomplish what he was called to do. He uses two words that we do not usually associate with suffering. The first is boasting and the second is pleasure. It was not that Paul was a masochist who loved suffering, but he had found that in his weakness, he would experience God’s strength.

Perhaps it is not a vision of heaven that we need, but a realization that in our weakness God wants to show His strength.

Pastor Jim

 

Qualified

2 Corinthians 11:23
Are they ministers of Christ? —I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.”

Part of the reason for writing this letter, was Paul’s authority as an apostle was being challenged. When he came to Corinth, Paul chose not to receive a salary from the Corinthian church, instead he worked with his hands, and received support from the churches in Macedonia. He also chose not to use his great intellect or skills as an orator to persuade the people, but resolved to emphasize the simplicity of Christ, and relied upon the work of the Holy Spirit. As a result, after his departure, many ridiculed him and his teaching, calling his authority into question. Rather than responding to the criticism by referring to the seminary degree, the books he had written, or churches he started, Paul reminds them of the difficulties he faced in order to bring the Gospel to a lost world. This passage was admittedly difficult for the Apostle to write. He was not one who derived pleasure from boasting of his own accomplishments. As difficult as it may have been, I am glad he wrote it. For it reveals the hardships he was willing to endure for others to come to Christ.

“. . . In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.”

Notice the short list of Paul’s experiences: labors, stripes, prisons and death. In addition, he speaks in great length of perils and shipwrecks. To sum up, Paul was willing to endure great opposition in order to see others come to saving faith in Christ. Not every time Paul shared Christ was he met with beating, prison or threats of death. Albeit, even during those times, he was willing to invest the Gospel in the ears of others. He speaks of the difficulty of travel. The Jewish people were not known for being seafaring. In fact, it could be said of many, that they hated ocean travel. Paul was willing to set aside his fear of travel to bring Christ to others. He traveled to difficult places. He speaks of “peril”. This peril was due to the fact that not every road he took, or destination at which he arrived, was safe. Yet, he pressed on to bring Christ to a dying world.

Whether he faced threats, beatings or prison, Paul was willing to open His mouth to invite others to Christ. What are you willing to endure to see others come to Christ? Rather than living in the realm of theory, take a few moments to look back over the last few months and ask “What have I endured to invite others to Christ?” Perhaps today is the day to step out and take some risks for the Kingdom.

Pastor Jim

 

Weapons 

2 Corinthians 10:3
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.”

The word ‘walk’ is a common idiom in the New Testament used to illustrate the way we live. Paul is reminding us that whether we are believers or not, we live in the natural world. Believer and unbeliever alike, breathe the same air, eat the same food, and need the same rest. Having said that, Paul goes on to remind us that, although we live in the natural world, we fight a spiritual battle. He does not use the word WAR, as a hook for his sermon, instead he is describing the everyday life of the Christian. From the moment we rise each and every day, we are in the midst of spiritual battle. One of the factors making this battle so difficult, is that it takes place on two fronts. We all battle against our own flesh. We must fight to resist temptation, overcome sin, and live as godly ambassadors of Christ. At the same time, we are battling to see our friends, family, neighbors co-workers, and acquaintances come to Christ. These battles are not won by natural means, but with spiritual weapons.

2 Corinthians 10:4 “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds . . .”

Often, when we are stirred to share Christ with others, we immediately think we are not a good communicator, don’t have all the answers, or that we are too shy. While all those things may be true, Paul reminds us that the weapons useful in seeing others won to Christ, are not natural, but spiritual. That means our weaknesses do not weaken the message, or limit God’s ability to use us. Paul refers to three affects our spiritual weapons will have on those who have yet to surrender to Christ. First, he states they are mighty to “pull down strongholds.” A person who has not responded to Christ, is in bondage to sin. That sin is like a chain or a prison cell keeping them from Christ. The sin might be substance abuse, partying, fear of man, wanting to fit in, sexual misconduct, pride, or a series of other sins. Whatever sin it may be, we have been equipped with weapons to break down those strongholds and set the prisoner free.

Second, Paul instructs us, our weapons will “cast down arguments.” Upon hearing the Gospel message, many immediately respond with arguments against surrender to Christ. Some of those arguments are based on what they have been taught about science, religion and philosophy. Others, based on personal experiences, that cast doubt on the promises of God. While still others, are based on a misunderstanding of Christ and Christianity. Whatever the source of the argument that exalts itself above the Word of God, we have weapons that cast down those arguments, so they can honestly consider Christ.

Finally, Paul speaks of our weapons “bringing every thought into the captivity of Christ.” I cannot speak to every case, but I know before coming to Christ, I spent a lot of energy thinking, but none of that energy was spent thinking about eternity. My thoughts were consumed with what I was going to do that day to enjoy life. It was only after hearing the Gospel, that my thoughts were captivated by Christ. Suddenly, I began to consider things that I had never thought of before. Will I go to heaven? Am I living right in God’s eyes? For what purpose was I created, and am I living out that purpose? The Christian has been equipped with weapons that will captivate the thinking of the lost.

Paul does not go on to list those weapons here, but when we travel to Ephesians 6, we learn the weapons he is describing are the Word of God and prayer. If we want to see others set free from sin and open to the Gospel of God, we need to pray for them and share with them. Take time today to pray for those in your life who do not know Christ, or are backslidden. Then step out and invite them to come to church with you.

Pastor Jim

 

Giving 

2 Corinthians 9:7
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

As Paul was writing this letter, conditions in Jerusalem were very difficult. Persecution, famine, and perhaps a bit of mismanagement, had left the church in Jerusalem financially destitute. In order to help those in need, Paul assisted in organizing a financial gift from the gentile churches. This passage lays out the guidelines for the giving and receiving of that gift. The principles Paul presents should help to govern our giving, which we often refer to giving as tithing. The word “tithe” means tenth and refers to the Old Testament Law where the children of Israel were required to give a tenth back to the Lord. The New Testament, while not requiring a tenth, does clearly teach the need to “give back” to the Lord.

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart . . .”

Notice Paul writes, “each one give”. Regardless of our financial condition, we all must consider that God wants us to trust Him; part of that trust is to give from what He has provided for us. He adds, we should each give as we purpose in our own hearts. Rather than giving being a requirement of the law, Paul wants us to see it as an act of worship. Each Christian should sit down before the Lord, lay out his finances and determine what part will be given back. That can often be very difficult. For some, we fear giving because we are not sure how we will manage our budget if we give some of our income away. For others, it is complicated by the fact that we have been so touched by Jesus, we want to give it all away. We may even feel guilty about the portion we keep for ourselves. To help us in our decision, Paul gives a serious of principles that should govern our giving.

“. . . not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

If, when you give, you do it bitterly, then the best thing to do is go back to sitting before the Lord and determining why you are unwilling to give back to Him. Our giving should be joyous, as we celebrate all that God has done for us.

“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9:6

Paul compares giving to planting. At the end of the season, the farmer does not want to have a pocket full of seeds, but a basket full of fruit. When we determine what to give, we must consider that great spiritual benefits are derived when we give back to the Lord. In the previous chapter, Paul gives a few more principles. He writes,

“For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.” 2 Corinthians 8:12

While it is important that we trust the Lord and give in faith, believing He is able to meet our needs with less than 100% of our income, Paul warns us not to give what we do not have. If you don’t have the money to give, it would be foolish to give on credit. The value of giving is not in the amount, as much as it is in the willingness to trust the Lord. Perhaps we need to reevaluate the way we are spending, if we have nothing left to give.

“And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.” 2 Corinthians 8:5

Finally, those who gave to the church, first gave themselves to the Lord. When we give, we are giving to the Lord. We are trusting He will take the little we offer, and use it in a big way to accomplish His purposes. One of the great things about the church is, we are part of a much larger body. When I was in High School, I rarely had much cash.. I can remember going with friends to get pizza. We all pitched in and we all ate till we were full, but we did not all pitch in the same amount. I think I threw down fifty cents. Giving is a little like that. I take from what the Lord has provided for me, and give it back to Him; you do the same, and the Lord accomplishes His purposes with it. Perhaps today would be a good time to sit before the Lord, reevaluate your finances, and determine what He would have you give.

Pastor Jim

 

So Sad 

2 Corinthians 7:10
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

Unfortunately, sadness is a common feeling. We have experienced it in all its varying levels and intervals. We have had little things happen that caused us to frown and go quiet, and we have had deeper experiences that gripped us with sorrow and caused us to weep or even wail. Paul is speaking here, not of the sorrow that comes from your favorite team losing a game, or even losing someone you love, he is speaking of the sorrow that comes upon a person when they realize they have sinned against God. The Psalmist wrote of a time when he was overcome with that kind of sadness;

Psalms 6:6 “I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears.”

Often, when a person’s sin is exposed publicly or privately, they will show signs of great sorrow. It is not uncommon for people to come to the altar with tears streaming down their faces and confess they have fallen once again into an easily besetting sin. Like the Psalmist, they are certainly remorseful for what they have done, and are looking for a way of escape. Paul warns that although sin will often produce sorrow, not all sorrow will produce a change in behavior.

“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation…”

The true evidence that a person is remorseful for the sin they have committed, is not the tears that are produced, but the change of behavior that follows. Paul uses the word “repentance;” a word that carries the idea of turning, and involves a turning from sin to God. Too often, we are satisfied with tears, thinking that is enough to show that we are truly sorry for the wrong we have committed.

“What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication!” 2 Corinthians 7:11

Paul is describing what godly sorrow will produce. “Clearing of yourself” refers to the removal of the guilt and shame, that comes with sin and failure. It is not the byproduct of a good cry, but of a change of actions, that will clean our conscience. He speaks of the need to apply diligence to your walk with the Lord. This is often seen in building walls that will keep you from going back into sin again. “Indignation” is a word that speaks of intense anger. The person who is sorrowful over sin, is a person who is angry at sin. It has been my experience, we avoid people at whom we are angry; the same will be true of sin. “Fear” is often looked at as a negative feeling, and certainly there are things we are afraid of that are irrational and silly; however, sin is not one of them. The person who wants to succeed in walking with Jesus, must have a healthy fear of sin and it’s effects upon our lives. As long as you think you are immune to sin’s tempting hooks, you will not avoid it, and you’ll find you continue to fall.

Finally, Paul speaks of “zeal” and “vindication”. True turning from sin will create in us a new intensity to follow Jesus. Sadly, I often see people come forward weeping over their sins, only to see them for the last time. Instead of determining they will press on in their walk with God, they go out the doors of the church, right back into the lifestyle that led to failure. If we want the vindication, the victory, the freedom to overcome our constant failures, we must determine to increase the intensity we pour into our relationship with Jesus.

Pastor Jim

 

Temple Of God 

2 Corinthians 6:16
“For you are the temple of the living God.”

Although this verse is tucked away in a passage not well trodden, this portion of the text is fairly well-known. It is not uncommon to hear this verse quoted, even among those who have not chosen to surrender their lives to Christ. When donuts are on the table and we are about to indulge, we might hear someone say, “You know our bodies are the temple of the living God, we should not defile the temple.” While it is true, what we eat can have an effect upon how we feel, and thus distracts from what we are capable of accomplishing, that is not the primary message of this passage. Paul is talking about the danger of establishing relationships that will lead us astray. He wrote,

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14

Then he went on to quote from Isaiah,

“Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” Isaiah 52:11

The greatest pitfall for the children of Israel, was establishing relationships with those who did not follow the ways of God. Once those relationships were started, it was not long before the people of God were departing from the Word of God, and practicing the ways of the ungodly. While this is a danger in any type of relationship, it is especially deadly with romantic relationships. Too often, Christians who are single, will settle for someone who is not really committed to the Lord, rather than being lonely and alone.

Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

When it comes to relationships, this verse is especially critical. Instead of making a relationship our goal, and seeking to find someone, we should spend our energies seeking the Lord and trusting His promises to provide all that we need. I remember hearing Pastor Jon Courson sharing on the idea of trusting the Lord, when it comes to finding the right person. He used Adam and Eve as an example. When it came time for Adam to find his mate, the Lord had him go to sleep. There, as he rested, the Lord brought along the only person designed especially by God, just for him. Jon went on to say, “had Adam not rested, and ran around looking, he would have ended up with an ape.” Some are seeking a relationship, instead of seeking the Lord. Loneliness is pushing them to seek in places where they are only going to find the wrong person, and ultimately get hurt. Remember, you are the temple of the living God, and there are places where your feet should not take you, and relationships that should never start.

Paul is not suggesting Christians all huddle together and avoid contact with anyone who is not a follower of Jesus. In fact, Paul spent his life making relationships where he could share Christ with others. The difference is influence. We should establish relationships with those who don’t know Christ, and seek to win them to Christ (dating is not the way to do that.) At the same time, we should establish relationships with those who have committed themselves to Jesus, and seek to pattern our lives after them. Paul said, “follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Be careful!

Pastor Jim