Posts Tagged 'gifts'

God’s Best Gifts, Part 1

There are many verses in the Bible, especially the New Testament, that speak of what God has given man – His gifts. Our Lord talked about this in the Gospel of Matthew:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11 | TNIV)

That’s an interesting verse that deals with prayer. Part of the believer’s walk with God is walking in prayer. You can think of prayer as a kind of fellowship. The kind of prayer Jesus is talking about here is not the kind of prayer that your pastor or priest prays while standing in front of the church. That kind of prayer is usually prayed using flowery language and sometimes in the King James version: “Our great and glorious Heavenly Father hear, thou, our prayer as we lift up our hearts…” But who prays like that on a Tuesday afternoon, at work, with deadlines looming, or during a situation where a choice must be made but the direction isn’t clear? At times like that, you don’t think to translate your words into 1611 language! You need help, and you need it now! And it’s God’s help you need. You need God to break through His world into yours in a special way to meet the need that burdens your heart.

That’s what Jesus is talking about here. And because most of us have these kinds of needs constantly – some of them may be “big,” and others not so – we pray like this, or we ought to pray like this, constantly throughout our day, not just when we go to bed at night. That’s the idea behind this famous sentence:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 | TNIV)

Jesus wants us to pray persistently, and that doesn’t necessarily mean praying about the same thing over and over again. It may sometimes, but what He’s getting at is praying about everything. It seems like a done deal with Jesus: Ask, and it you’ll get what you ask for. What you’re looking for you will find. The closed door will open. All this positivity is predicated on prayer. Jesus’ brother half-brother James fleshed this out even more when he wrote:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6 | TNIV)

I guess that part goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many Christians go through the motions of prayer without their brains engaged. The one praying has to be focused; he has to truly believe that the Lord is listening and will come through with an answer. That in no way means that your belief triggers God to act or that the power of your belief will cause what you want to come to pass. Life isn’t Hallmark movie. God wants you to trust Him; to rely upon Him; to depend completely upon Him. If that sounds like a ongoing thing, that’s because it is.  Prayer is – or should be – an ongoing activity, like breathing! It’s all part of a relationship with God, your Heavenly Father. And the very fact that Jesus correlates the natural feeling between father and child and child and father suggests that those are the feelings God has for us and, therefore, that’s how we should feel about God. And what dad would withhold anything beneficial from his son or daughter?

God, our Heavenly Father hears our prayers and answers them. He gives us what we need and often, even what we want. Jesus calls answers to prayers “gifts.” But God is always giving us gifts. All the time, whether we notice those gifts or not. And, remarkably, God even gives gifts to those who don’t belong to His family. Here’s an example that kind of gift.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9 | TNIV)

With respect to Calvinists, God sent His Son – the very Love of His Heart – into our sinful world for the express purpose catching the attention of all those who were dying in their sins. This was a theme of John’s which he first mentioned back in his Gospel:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16 | TNIV)

Because real love is so rare in the world around us, man, steeped in sin and bound to a loveless world, needs to experience it. Condemnation, however, is all around in abundance. Condemnation is plentiful. That’s why Jesus came in love; He came so that man would notice Him and want what He was offering: God’s love.

Reason for another gift

John begins the fourth chapter of his letter encouraging his readers to exercise another gift they had been given.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 | TNIV)

John doesn’t call this gift by name, but he’s referring to the gift of discernment, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit that all believers possess, since he encourages his “dear friends” to exercise it. It’s not just the clergy or the Pentecostals who are to “test (or discern) the spirits,” it’s all believers.

The primary reason for writing this letter was to warn its readers to beware of false teachers, whom John refers to as “antichrists.” They were all over the place in the first century of the church’s existence, and they’ve only multiplied since then. His warning is applicable more than ever today.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18 | TNIV)

False teachers claim to be representing “the church” and preaching “the truth,” but in reality they aren’t. They’re hard to spot, which is why believers need to exercise their spiritual gift. John’s readers and we are not to be credulous when it comes to every teacher and teaching. We aren’t to “believe every spirit,” or buy into every teaching we hear because it sounds good. The word “believe” here really mean “to place your trust in.” That’s a tricky thing not to do when a teaching really sounds good! But if your desire is to remain true to the Lord, you have to stick with His teachings and avoid the rest.

John uses the word “spirit” but what he’s really referring to a person’s personality. In the case of one who teaches – or professes to teach – the Word of God, their personality will eventually be revealed by their words and actions.

The real test is a simple one:

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:2, 3 | TNIV)

That’s a completely objective test, involving an objective standard: Does this person acknowledge the divinity of Jesus Christ and His Incarnation? In other words, does this teacher hold to the basic teachings of the Gospel. It’s important to note here that Christians are not encouraged to apply the test that is popular in our day: look into the person’s heart. That far too subjective a test. Besides, no man can know another’s heart!

But John doesn’t stop there. He provides a sort sub-test that involves how the truth is received by others from us:

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:5, 6 | TNIV)

These are very important verses for Christians to know and understand. The false teachers’ teachings, no matter how clever sounding or deep those teachings appear to be, are worldly in origin. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that kind of teaching, but when a teacher claims his worldly teaching is from God, that makes him a false teacher. And the proof is in who is clamoring to hear his teaching. If his teaching is readily accepted by the world and the unsaved clamor to hear it, then the odds are pretty good that teaching is a worldly teaching. By way of contrast, the Christian – the true teacher – draws from a higher Source than the world: God Himself is the Source of his teaching. And the odds are pretty good that teaching won’t end up on the New York Times Bestseller list any time soon.

We belong to each other in love

Obviously, Christians are not to have fellowship with false teachers; the more you rub shoulders with them, the greater the chance that their bad ideas and behavior will rub off on you. We are, however, to be in fellowship with other believers. As far as John was concerned, we belong to each other in love. Love is the common bond between believers.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7 | TNIV)

In a very broad sense, all love is from God. The ability for the unsaved to love each other; for an unsaved parent to love their child, for example, is an ability given human beings by their Creator. So, in that broad sense, all men are capable of receiving and giving love on some level. What John is really writing about is “this love.” The article, “this,” is present in the Greek but not in our modern English translations because it sounds awkward. It’s too bad, because that word is vitally important in this particular case. The love that exists between believers is that special kind of love. As a matter of fact, the presence of “this love” in the believer makes it possible for him love his neighbor, who may not be a believer. It’s unfortunate that Christians don’t consciously think about this or realize its significance. We are in possession of a divine love that enables us to love the Body of Christ as He loves us.

And that brings us to verse 9,

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9 | TNIV)

God is love, and God expresses His love for His creation in concrete ways. First among those ways was sending His one and only Son into the world. The Son is the expression of the Father’s love. The purpose of sending Jesus was so that sinful man might believe in Him and obtain eternal life. But the word that captures my attention is “showed.” God “showed” His love – He put His great love on display for all the universe to see by sending Jesus into the world. That’s a deeply moving and profound thought. In a world so desperately short on real love, God sent a gift of love. Sadly, most people won’t notice that gift.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 | TNIV)

Now, our own experience and the fact that churches even have members shows us that God’s gift of love – the light of the gospel – has been seen by at least some unbelievers. This is because of the unrelenting work of the Holy Spirit in the world around us. He is drawing sinners to faith in Christ. Some will respond to that drawing power, many will not. But thank God He sent His gift of love into the world. True, divine love. A gift from God you can’t live without.

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The Master Multiplier, Part 1

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7 | NIV84)

God is a giver. The most famous verse the Bible confirms this fact:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 | NIV84)

It’s an amazing thing, this grace of God. We sing about it. We talk about it. And we thank God for His amazing grace. God, in His grace, gave us a Savior. But even after we’re saved, God just keeps on giving:

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:16, 17 | NIV84)

Every good thing in our lives comes from our heavenly Father. He gave. He keeps on giving through all the days of our lives. But God is also able to do something else very interesting: He multiplies the good things in our lives and He multiplies the good things that we do in His Name. God is the “Master Multiplier” Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at this idea of God as the Master Multiplier and what that means for us.

A church in trouble

Paul founded the church in Corinth, the church to which this letter was written. It was a struggle from the very beginning for Paul. He had to support himself by making tents with a Jewish entrepreneurial couple, Priscilla and Aquilla. They had been kicked out of Rome when Claudius’ edict requiring all Jews to leave came into effect. While Paul’s reputation as a first-rate teacher of the Scriptures got him into the local synagogues to preach and teach, the more converts he won, the harder it got. Doors began to close. Opposition within the Jewish community began to grow. Not one to be told what do to, Paul simply turned his attention to the Gentiles in Corinth with Gospel. For two years, Paul and his business associates built up a strong, large church made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

Think about this. By the time Paul wrote this letter, the church was still very young, with no member in the faith for more than six years. With so many immature Christians, it’s no wonder the Corinthian church had so many problems. The Jewish-Christian members of the congregation were morally and ethically grounded in their Judaism, but they were in the minority. Most members of this large church were Gentiles who came straight out of paganism and were, essentially, starting all over again. These believers had NO relationship with the kind of morality and ethics that Judaism and, now, Christianity preached. For these Gentiles, immorality was the norm. Questionable business practices were expected. Their idea of marriage was not even close to the Judeo-Christian concept.

There wasn’t a lot of persecution going on in Corinth, and while that may have been a welcome change, the big problem in Corinth was one of ignorance. And make no mistake, it was a huge problem. Just think about how much of the Christian faith you knew about before your conversion. Most non-Christians have a pretty good idea what a Christian looks like; how they conduct themselves; even how they speak – the words they use and, of course, the words they don’t. The genuine Gentile believers in Corinth had no idea about Christianity, from either a cultural, linguistic, or theological standpoint. They were really struggling to “get it right,” in a very sensual, materialistic society, which is why Paul took so much time to pray for them and to write a series of letters to them, of which we have these two preserved for us in the New Testament.

Worldly Christians

As honestly ignorant as many members of the Corinthian church were, there were others who did get some things about the faith right.

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. (1 Corinthians 1:7 | NIV84)

Even in their immaturity, the Lord blessed these people with the full gifting of the Holy spirit. But the problem was, as you might expect, their ignorance. They thought themselves very spiritual people, and because they had such an exalted view of themselves, they had actually begun to shun God’s wisdom and were just beginning to fall back into their worldly ways. They hadn’t grown in their faith.

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:1 | NIV84)

There’s an important lesson here for Christians in any church, in any age. Maturity doesn’t automatically happen to any believer. God saves you, and He gives you all the tools you need to grow in grace and in the faith, but it’s up to you to use the tools at your disposal. You need to become a good steward of what God has given you. God has given you His Word, the Bible, for you to read and study; that’s your job. God has given you the Church, a place where you can go and be taught and to learn, not only from Bible teachers and pastors, but from other members as you fellowship together. This is so important to grasp: Growing in the faith is YOUR responsibility. And if you’re not becoming a mature Christian, then shame on you. You’re no better than these lazy, deluded Corinthian Christians who thought they were “all that” just because God had blessed them with the Holy Spirit.

I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:2 – 4 | NIV84)

For the two years he had been with them, Paul gave them “milk, not solid food,” as he should have done. New believers aren’t ready for hard teaching. But now, after the passage of even more years, they were still on the milk! They hadn’t progressed to the solid food yet and he was disappointed. They were still acting like worldly people – like the people they were before – and this worldliness had manifested itself in jealousy and strife. It was because of this worldly behavior that they were not mature enough for the “solid food” he was hoping to give them.

Here’s another lesson for the Christian today who is the member of a church: Problems in the church are always – without exception – caused by immature, worldly members. They don’t know how to behave; they are not becoming Christlike. They are still worldly. We today use the word “worldly,” but the word Paul used looks like this: sarkikos, which previous generations of Bible translators translated as “flesh,” because the Greek word as Paul used it means, “under the control of the fleshly nature instead of being governed by the Spirit of God.” How strange a situation was this in the Corinthian church? These believers had been filled with the Holy Spirit, yet they weren’t paying attention to God’s Spirit; they were bypassing Him and listening only to their sinful nature. None of them had to live like this, they chose to. They were worldly – fleshly – by their actions, which were determined by what they wanted to do.

Part of this worldly behavior was choosing sides: Some were all in for Paul and his teaching, others were wanting more of Apollos and his teachings. These were false loyalties brought on by the fact that these worldly, immature Christians had no clue about leadership in the church or how God works through His servants. In fact, Paul and Apollos were not gods to be served. They were servants of God, just like all Christians are. They were the instruments God was using, not the objects of anybody’s faith. And the truth is, what God gave to Paul and Apollos He has given to every believer: a witness to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are you a good steward of that? Paul was. And so was Apollos. Both men were saved by grace and took their stories to the lost; to people they used to be like. And that’s really all every believer is supposed to be doing. Being a good steward of our salvation is sharing it with others; it’s telling the lost and dying of what Jesus has done for us.

But, we can’t do that if we’re immature, baby believers. Over in Ephesians 4, we read something very interesting:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 | NIV84)

That brief paragraph gives the purpose of the Church, which is essentially to build up its members, helping them to become mature in the faith. That word “mature” comes from a Greek word that has the idea of “complete, lacking nothing.” That should be the goal of all believers. Sadly for the Corinthians and for so many believers today, that’s not the goal at all.

God makes us grow

The controversy in the Corinthian church was over Paul or Apollos and who was the better servant of God. Sounds ridiculous to us today, but then all church controversies are ridiculous. The modern “cult of personality” continues to exist in the church today and is manifested in various ways but it all boils down to the same, immature behavior of members. Paul used an agricultural example his readers would have understood:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6 | NIV84)

There are a couple of very important aspects to that verse. First, the obvious one: God’s servants all work together. That reminds us of this famous passage:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 | NIV84)

Some people in the Church are gifted Bible teachers. Some couldn’t teacher their way out of a kindergarten classroom, but they’re generous to a fault. Others may be hospitable to the point where there are no strangers to them. The Church needs members with all kinds of gifts if it is to do its work in the community. So Paul and Apollos were two servants of God with differing gifts but God was working in and through both of them. That’s important: Men come and go, but God is the One working through all of them to the benefit of the Body of Christ.

And the second point is the key point: God causes each man’s work to increase. That’s a very comforting thought. As we work for God, God makes us successful. We do what God tells us to do, and He’ll do the rest. Some of us are prone to discouragement because we think we are doing the work of God in our own strength. We aren’t. All we can do is all we can do, but all we can do is enough because God will take our best efforts and make them do even more.

That’s what stewardship is all about. We take what God has given us, whether it’s our talent or our time or our money, and if we use it for His glory, He multiplies it; He makes it do more and go further. He makes our talents touch more lives. He somehow makes it possible for us to do more in an hour for Him than what we can do in an afternoon for ourselves. He can take a $10.00 dollar donation and make it do the work of a $100.00. God is the great multiplier. All we have to do is be good stewards of what He has given us, and He will do the rest. It’s what stewardship is all about.


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