Friday, November 30, 2012


“as grieving yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:10 HCSB)

Jim Elliot and four comrades were killed by the Auca Indians they were seeking to reach with the Gospel.  Still a young man, with so much potential when he died, yet the impact of his life continues to be felt, will follow him to eternity and issue in vast reward.  It was such an understanding that led him to sacrifice his all in order to secure all God had for him.

These words he spoke drive the point home: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

This is the Biblical principle that Paul the Apostle underscored in his message we examine today and it was the passion that undergirded his ministry.  There is the miraculous effect and joyful experience of having nothing and yet holding everything.

When we have nothing—that is, when all is surrendered to Christ—then we cannot be tempted with selfishness or alarmed by fear.  We see ourselves as mere stewards of God’s treasures.  We manage them according to His wishes and what He wants and when He wants it is His right—if He desires to take everything, we say with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life.  The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Praise the name of Yahweh.” (Job 1:21)

What can Satan threaten us with?  He pounces on us with a roar, “I will take everything you have!”  Our answer, “You can’t—I don’t have anything.”  Even more fiercely, He responds, “I’ll take your life!”  We can say, “You can’t!  My life is hid with Christ in God.  Christ is my life.  If you destroy this body, I’ll just go to heaven, and that’s where I want to go!”

But, here is the other side—we hold everything in our hands that we need, to do all that God wants.  We are children of the King—all our Father owns is ours—and that is everything!  In the words of the old Gospel song, “I am a poor, poor rich man!”

We must think in terms of making an investment.  We are managers of God’s assets placed in our hands—allocated according to His sovereign wisdom.  We then seek to make a return on that investment by using our time, talent and treasure for eternal purposes.  The end result will be fruit that remains and faithfulness that is rewarded—and all redounding to the glory of God!

Jesus put it this way:

Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt.6:19-21)

This Scriptural principle is worth a closer look.  What happens when we surrender all to Jesus?

Let’s begin by noting THE GOAL OF THIS GLAD SURRENDER in 2 Corinthians, chapters five through seven.  Here is a focal verse: “Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to Him.” (2 Cor.5:9)

Our goal is TO LIVE FOR ETERNITY, and that is the thrust of chapter five.  “For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless.” (5:10)

 Paul reminds us that one day we will all face the judgment seat of Christ.  What is going to matter then?  John Piper powerfully illustrates this in his book, “Don’t Waste Your Life.”  Here is the quote,

I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader's Digest: A couple 'took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells. . . .' Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: 'Look, Lord. See my shells.' That is a tragedy.

“God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.”

Our goal is TO LIVE WITH INTERGRITY, and that is the theme of chapters six and seven.  The goal for reward in eternity can only be met if on earth our goal is for living with integrity, “Therefore, dear friends, since we have such promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, completing our sanctification in the fear of God.” (7:1)

Paul typically was scrupulous in avoiding defending himself.  2 Corinthians is an exception—he does so throughout.  But, it wasn’t a personal matter.  It wasn’t because of “hurt feelings” though the accusations made against him were sharp and stinging.  What Paul detected is that the Enemy was using these lies to undermine his credentials as God’s messenger to ultimately undermine the credibility of God’s message—and this he could not allow.  “We give no opportunity for stumbling to anyone, so that the ministry will not be blamed.  But as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything” (6:3-4).  He wasn’t worried about his reputation, but the revelation—this was an assault on the Gospel which Satan’s minions were mounting.

His defense of his life and ministry was to point to what he suffered for the Lord and on behalf of the church.  It ought to have been apparent that he was not self-seeking, or he would not have manifestly embraced such a burden.

He takes the standard he has set and presents it as the goal for the church to strive to follow (6:14-7:1).  This is a life of integrity.  Paul believed the Corinthians would follow through on the challenge, “I rejoice that I have complete confidence in you.” (7:16)

We can be confident of reaching the goal of glad surrender, if we recognize THE GRACE OF GLAD SURRENDER as described in 2 Corinthians, chapter eight.  Repeatedly Paul refers to our giving as a “grace.”  He launches into the discussion with this verse: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia” (8:1).

We see grace IN ITS PATTERN, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” (8:9)

This is the perfect pattern modeled by the Master.  He had nothing and held everything.  Jesus left the splendor of heaven for a stable in Bethlehem.  The Infinite became an infant.  He set aside His Sovereign robe for swaddling rags.  From being surrounded by cherubim, He would be encircled by cattle.  The worship of seraphim would be replaced by the adoration of shepherds.  Jesus steps out of Heaven’s boundless plenty for humanity’s abject poverty.  In the bliss of eternity, Jesus had been in the bosom of the Father, and now as a babe on earth, He will nurse at the breast of a virgin.

But, though fully man, He would never cease to be fully God.  That is the message of Christmas—the doctrine of the incarnation.  Jesus gladly surrendered everything and yet by this possesses all things.  Here is how Paul put it elsewhere:

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.  Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.  And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death —even to death on a cross.  For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow —of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth —and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil.2:5-11)

What an example of grace!  That is grace at its pinnacle and set forth as our pattern.  Paul tells us that the churches of Macedonia had expressed this grace of giving and so exhorted the Corinthians to do likewise. 

But, surely this is beyond us—how could we attain such lofty heights?  We may laud such idealism, but think it impossible in reality.  That is true, from a human perspective, but misses the point of grace. 

Grace is seen IN ITS PROVISION.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia: 

During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity.  I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability, they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will.  So we urged Titus that just as he had begun, so he should also complete this grace to you.  Now as you excel in everything — faith, speech, knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love for us — excel also in this grace.” (8:1-7)

These saints gave plenty out of their poverty and were not limited by their ability, but gave beyond their ability.  They did it with a glad generosity!  How?  The same way a little lad can place his lunch in the hands of Jesus and find five loaves of barley bread and a couple of pickled fish increase to feed five thousand men, plus who knows how many women and children!  That’s grace!  Grace finds hands that are empty because what they had was surrendered to Him, and then God fills them with abundance from His treasury to dispense to meet needs wherever found.  The only hand God doesn’t fill is the clenched fist that holds covetously to its meager portion.  Dear friend, He could pry those fingers open and take it anyway.  He is a fool to hold what he cannot keep and lose what He might have gained.

We begin by setting the goal of glad surrender and reach it as we experience the grace of glad surrender, so that all ends with THE GLORY OF GLAD SURRENDER as described in 2 Corinthians, chapter nine.

“For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God.  They will glorify God for your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with others through the proof provided by this service.  And they will have deep affection for you in their prayers on your behalf because of the surpassing grace of God in you.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (9:12-15)

The glory is seen IN ITS EAGERNESS.

Now concerning the ministry to the saints, it is unnecessary for me to write to you.  For I know your eagerness, and I brag about you to the Macedonians: ‘Achaia has been prepared since last year,’ and your zeal has stirred up most of them.” (9:1-2) 

This has to do with motive.  Their zeal was for the glory of God in their giving.  Although Paul portrayed these Christians as examples to encourage others to generosity, they were not motivated by a desire for publicity.  They had enthusiasm about making an impact on souls for eternity and thus had enjoyment about offering a sacrifice to God for His glory, “Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (9:7)

God’s reward isn’t determined by the amount we give but the attitude behind what we give.  He really doesn’t need our money.  It is His, and He has the power to take it when He wants it.  But, what God desires is our heart.  He wants us to surrender all gladly, not grudgingly.

The glory is seen IN ITS EFFECTIVENESS.

And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.  As it is written:

He scattered; He gave to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.

Now the One who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us.” (9:8-11)

This has to do with ministry.  Of course, God gets the glory.  Apart from Him, we could do nothing.  With Christ, we can do all things.  There is abundant blessing available to those who surrender all to Jesus.  We have nothing of ourselves and yet hold everything in our hand to excel in every good work!

As we sow bountifully, so we reap blessedly!  Ultimately, blessings rise to God from whom all blessings flow!  We speak of making sacrifices to God, but we only give to Him what is His already.  Here is sacrifice: God gave His Son so we might be saved.

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (9:15)

Thursday, November 29, 2012


“We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 HCSB)

The saving life of Christ—that is a phrase that captures our attention and calls for a question: “Wait a minute; what do you mean? I thought it was Jesus’ death that saved us."

That is true.  Forgiveness of sin was secured through the death of Christ.  But, it is sustained through the life of Christ.  Both concepts are connected in Romans 4:25, “He was delivered up for our trespasses” (His crucifixion) “and raised for our justification” (His resurrection).  In dying for us, He redeems us as our Ransom—a finished work accomplished in the past.  In rising for us, He represents us as our Mediator—an ongoing work occurring at the present.  The latter is “the saving life of Christ.”  Again, the Apostle presents both in his letter to the church at Rome, as he goes on to say, “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, [then how] much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!” (Rom.5:10).  This is the saving life of Christ.

I cannot claim the title of this devotional message as mine.  In the formative years of my  walk with God, I came across a thin paperback written by Major Ian Thomas that bore the arresting title, “The Saving Life of Christ.”  I drank in its material, and it made an impact much larger than its small number of pages.

Being raised in church, I heard preached many times about the death of Jesus that saves from sin.  I don’t recall ever hearing an emphasis how the life of Jesus saves.  What I discovered was a dimension of truth as old as the Scripture, but as new to me as though the ink on the parchment were scarcely dry.

There was a transforming power in that truth.  It can do the same for you.  This work of Christ will continue in you, as you exchange your old life of sinfulness for a new life of sanctification—a gradual decrease of who you are and a growing increase of who Jesus is, until in glory we become just like Him, “because we will see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2).

It will be the look that consummates the work of the Spirit making us like the Son perfectly in that Day.  But, it is also a look that continues the work of the Spirit making us like the Son progressively in this day.  That’s the thrust of Paul’s teaching in our text concerning the saving life of Christ.  Salvation commences with redemption as we look back by faith to Christ lifted up to atone for us on Golgotha.  It continues with sanctification as we look up in faith to Christ raised up to appear for us in glory.  It concludes with glorification as we look forward in faith to Christ returning to take us to Heaven.

This is the saving life of Christ and we note ITS OPPORTUNITY, “We all, with unveiled faces”—that is, the privilege we enjoy.  It is the privilege of every child of God to have the Risen Christ abiding in them, with all His resurrection power available to them.

This provides A GRACIOUS INCLUSION.  The “We” is set in contrast to the “Israelites” in the preceding verses.  The privilege that Christians enjoy of coming before the Lord with an unveiled face in the New Covenant is set in contrast to those whose minds are veiled to the truth of the Gospel under the Old Covenant (v.13-17).

Paul was a Jew and had a great burden to reach his people.  But despite all his efforts, there were few who received Christ.  Yet, he saw many Gentiles respond.  The time had come when, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom.10:13)

The gracious inclusion led to A GENEROUS INVITATION “all with unveiled face.”  As Paul described the contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, he takes us back to the time Moses spent with God on Mt. Sinai.  Only Moses was invited to enter God’s glorious presence—everyone else, except Joshua, was forbidden to even touch the mountain, much less ascend it.

When Moses came from God’s presence His face shone—reflecting the glory he had experienced.  But, Moses noticed the glory began to fade when he was away from God, so he put a veil over his face, so the Israelis would not see the diminishing radiance.  Yet, in the New Covenant it is the privilege of every Christian to approach God with boldness and a glow that grows.

Because He lives we can enter the Holy of Holies in heaven.

“Now the main point of what is being said is this: We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord and not man.  For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; therefore it was necessary for this [priest] also to have something to offer.  Now if He were on earth, He wouldn’t be a priest, since there are those offering the gifts prescribed by the law.  These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle. For God said, ‘Be careful that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain.’  But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises.” (Heb.8:1-6)

And we observe the practical implications of this:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled [clean] from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.”  (Heb.10:19-22)

This leads us to our next consideration of the saving life of Christ in ITS OPERATION, “looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image”—meaning the process we experience.  The Christian life isn’t about informing the natural man through education, or reforming the outward man through ethics, but transforming the whole man through experience--an intimate, abiding relationship with the Risen Lord.

This process rests on CONTEMPLATION, “looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord.”  The mirror is a symbol of the Word of God.  As we contemplate the truth of the Word of God, the Spirit of God reveals to us the Son of God.  As we respond in faith and obedience, the life-changing power of Christ is unleashed within us.

A mirror is given to look in and see what needs to be cleaned and corrected.  If you don’t look in a mirror, it’s not going to help you.   The Greek tense of the word “looking” is present, continuous action.  It isn’t a glimpse, or a glance, but a gaze—steadfastly looking.

We can’t put a veil over our face.  We must be transparent.  The hypocrite “wears a mask,” for so that is the meaning of the word hypocrite taken from the Greek theater, where someone concealed their face as they pretended to be someone they were not.  You cannot grow spiritually until you are willing to tear the mask away in transparency.

This process results in TRANSFORMATION, as those who are looking, “are being transformed into the same image.”  The Greek word is "metamorphoo", from which we get the word, “metamorphosis.”  This describes the process that transforms a creepy caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.  It is the same word that is used to describe the transfiguration of Jesus when the veil of His flesh was pulled aside and His inner glory was revealed on the mountain.  It is a process that works from the inside out.  In this process we are being changed into Christ’s image.  Is that what you see happening as you look into the mirror of God’s Word day by day?

If so, then we may be assured the saving life of Christ will bring us to ITS OUTCOME as God intends, “from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  This is the product we evidence.

Again, I remind you of where John says the child of God ends up--the finished product of the Spirit's craftsmanship.

“Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

Every child of God is guaranteed to be just like Jesus one day.  But, what does this mean to us now?  It means we have HIS LIFE INDWELLING which is stated in this phrase, “this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  Christ is formed in us.  When a sinner places their faith in Christ, receiving Him as Lord and Savior, the most incredible thing happens—we are born again by the Spirit of God.  Christ Himself takes up residence within us.  This gives us the wondrous potential of daily displaying His glory.

This leads to HIS LIGHT OUTSHINING “from glory to glory.”  Christ is seen through us.  The ESV renders this, “from one degree of glory to another.”  That pictures growing in glory—increasingly displaying Christ in our life.  If people are to see Jesus today, they will see Him in us.  The way Christ works in our world is through His Body—the church.  God has called us to let our light shine.

Will you be like Moses—with a diminishing glory?  Remember how he veiled his face so that none would see the glory fading as he was farther removed from the time spent in God’s presence on Sinai.  But, that was the Old Covenant, and in the New Covenant everything is taken to a superlative level.  Rather than a fading glory, we can know an increasing glory.  The light of Christ can grow brighter and brighter as we spend more and more time in His presence.

Don’t fail to come before Him in His Word today with transparency and expectancy.  Jesus is waiting to meet you in the quiet place and as you kneel before Him in submission, you can rise in transformation.  Let your light shine!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


“Death, where is your victory?  Death, where is your sting?  Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”  (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 HCSB)

I don’t know any other way to break this to you, but to just come out and say it: I have a terminal illness.  I’m not trying to depress you, but it’s something you need to know.  Now, for some more bad news—you also have this disease—it’s called life, and it’s 100% fatal! 

We contracted this terminal condition at birth.  The Bible says, “It is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment” (Heb.9:27).  Death runs in my family! 

The reason we may be squirming right now is that we don’t want to face the Grim Reaper—and after that, to stand before God!  It bothers us to think about it.  Did you notice how we try to evade the topic—the euphemisms we use: “She passed away.  He’s gone on.” 

We try to soften the hard edge of reality.  Bluntly—we die; we all die.  The monitor flat lines, breathing stops, tubes are unhooked, the family walks out of the room and a sheet is pulled over our head, while the body grows cold and rigid.  I’ve been in a room numerous times when Death marched in, grabbed someone by the throat and squeezed out the last breath.

Is that it?  Then what? 

These are questions as old as the human race.  Job asked, “When a man dies, will he come back to life?” (Job 14:14)  How do we answer that question?  Is there an answer to death? 

Thank God—yes!  Jesus answers, “Because I live, you will live too.” (John 14:19)

The glorious hope is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  His empty tomb guarantees His followers the same future.  This vital doctrine is set forth in 1 Corinthians 15 perhaps better than any other place in Scripture.  Let’s examine how Paul presents his case for the answer to death. 


But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (v.20). 

Paul begins this chapter as an attorney presenting compelling evidence of the reality of Christ’s resurrection.  He brings into the court of human opinion, eyewitness after eyewitness—including his own experience—to testify that Jesus is alive.

All of our faith hinges on this fact.  Jesus’ promise, “Because I live, you will live too” is an empty promise, unless His tomb is empty.  Yet His resurrection assures us of victory over death.  It is well attested—an historical reality.

The answer to death is also in THE RESURRECTION SALVATION.

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.” (v.17-18)

There is no salvation apart from the fact of and faith in the resurrection of Christ.  The Christian faith is founded on the resurrection of Jesus. His death on the cross cannot save unless He arose, for the Bible says He died for our sins and “was raised for our justification.”(Rom.4:25)

We are not given eternal life in heaven because we deserve it.  It isn’t by the practice of a religion or the membership in a church that saves us.  The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.’” (Rom.10:9-10)  Do you have a personal relationship with the risen Savior?

Death is answered in THE RESURRECTED SAINTS. 

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ.”

One day Jesus is coming for His people and He is going to give them a new body—a resurrection body like His. But what about our loved ones who have already died?  Where are they right now?

Scripture is clear: “and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor.5:8) The real you is not the body we see, but who lives inside that body.  Our flesh is the house we reside in.  Death for the Christian is just moving day! The dead in Christ are safe, enjoying the bliss of heaven, waiting until a new body is fashioned to inhabit for eternity.  You see, even the eternally living saints have not attained their final destination and glorification.  As wonderful as paradise must be for our loved ones who have died in faith, the best is yet to come!

There is more.  Death is answered by THE RESURRECTION STATE

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come? ” (v.35). 

As we answer the question of death, this leads to more questions.  That was true of the Corinthians who were struggling to get a handle on this doctrine, and may be said of us.

The answers to the questions about the new body may not tell us all we want to know, but they sure tell us what we need to know.  What is most crucial to understand is that the resurrection body is real—we will not be ghosts—and that it is life on the highest plane.  The glorified body of Christ establishes the prototype for our final form.  His body was not limited by time and space, but he could be touched and could sit down and eat food with His followers.

We are in the process of dying as a result of the curse of sin.  But, Christ came to reverse the curse—to restore to us all that Adam forfeited in Eden due to disobedience.  That includes physical health.  It demands the redemption of the body.

“Old age is not for sissies!”  That’s a sign I read in a fast food restaurant.  The older I get, the more I understand this.  I told one of our aging saints who gave a litany of aches and pains, “There’s nothing wrong with you that the resurrection won’t fix!” 

That’s true for all of us.  The new body will be perfect, not subjected to sickness, suffering, sorrow or—and this is best of all—sin!   Look at this:

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead:
Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (v.42-44) 

These bodies can become prisons.   Bars of bone incarcerate our soul and we yearn to break free.  The resurrection will liberate us, finally and fully.
We look at death and answer with THE RESURRECTION SONG.

“When this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Death, where is your victory?  Death, where is your sting?  Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (v.54-57)

Hallelujah!  We sing in triumph over the tomb!  We go out—not succumbing to death with resignation, but singing of deliverance in resurrection! 

“Death, where is your sting?”

I recall as a child, running barefoot through the yard with the carefree joy of a boy of summer.   The grass of our lawn was intermingled with patches of clover.  Honeybees loved those little white flowers, but they did not like barefoot boys stepping on them.  Suddenly, I felt the pain of the bee’s wrath, and with a howl, went hobbling off to mother.  She reached down, extracted the stinger, hugged and consoled me with these words, “You don’t have to worry about that old bee anymore.  He has lost his stinger.”  It is the honeybee that dies when its stinger is torn away.

Jesus took the painful sting of death Himself, and now we need have no fear—death has lost its ability to harm us—its stinger is gone!  The venom of the curse burned in Immanuel’s veins, but it was death that died that day!

So, I can proclaim the answer to death as Paul did with THE RESURRECTION SERMON.

Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (v.58)

Paul bases his exhortation to the living on the reality of the resurrection.  He presents three practical applications.  “Therefore”—based on the resurrection reality—be faithful, fearless and fruitful.

Because death is defeated, there is a call to FAITHFULNESS “steadfast.”  Be faithful to the finish. Don’t back up and don’t back down.  At the judgment, you’ll be glad to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Because death is defeated, there is a call to FEARLESSNESS “immovable.”  We will not flee from the foe in fear, but face him in faith.  What is the worst the Devil could do to you?  Kill you?  Then, you would just go to heaven—and isn’t that what we want anyway?  Our fearlessness is grounded on the bedrock of biblical convictions.  In these days when hurricane winds of heresy assail us, we can dig in our heels and not be moved.

Because death is defeated, there is a call to FRUITFULNESS “always excelling in the Lord’s work.”  Life rushes by.  Death may come unexpectedly and swiftly—but it will come sooner than any of us anticipate.  In light of eternity, what are you doing that is going to outlast your time on earth and be worthy of reward in heaven? 

We can know what Paul knew, “your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  In funeral after funeral, I have challenged the living as they were uncomfortably looking at a casket to measure the brevity of mortality and weigh the gravity of eternity.   Most of the time, I will close with these words which were the motivating motto of my mentor, the late Stephen Olford, “Only one life; ‘Twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last!”

His words still speak to me from beyond the grave.  That preacher’s mortal tongue is silent, but his influence lives on in me and through me.  In audio recordings, I can revisit his sermons.  In books he wrote, I can reapply his teaching.  As is said of Abel, “even though he is dead, he still speaks…” (Heb.11:4b).  It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. 

It is a wonderful thing to be able to share at a funeral service, words from beyond the grave—a heritage of hope that helps the broken hearted.  People may write notes in their Bibles.  I have one of our good old deacon’s Bibles, and Joe Brown’s black Bible is full of poems and sayings—still speaking to me when I open it.  Others keep journals.  Another godly deacon, Marvin Mathews left a narrative of the all-sufficient grace of God experienced through his battle with cancer, and I was blessed to read those encouraging words.  Speaking of encouraging people, the prayer journals of the late Margaret Stamey are inspiring.  Reading them, you can still see her face and hear her voice.  I was speaking with her daughter, Peggy about that just last night.

Then, I also remember one of my sons-in-law, Logan Phillips, and his brother and grandmother.  Logan’s brother, Rory, was a strong young man who died as a result of a tragic fire.  At his funeral, the church was packed—standing room only.  The service was long, and yet felt brief.  Tears were shed, but joy was overwhelming.  The Risen Savior showed up and as the invitation was given, many responded to the Gospel.  That funeral resulted in lives transformed forever.  On the opposite end of the age spectrum, I did the grandmother’s memorial service, and she had left a message she wanted shared.  Here it is from a decade ago:

“I would say to those attending the funeral to live every day as though it were your last.  There is nothing so important and nothing that will give you as much joy, peace, happiness and contentment as living a Christian life.  Put away jealousy, strife, and the sinful insignificant things of this world and put on the whole armor of God, for when you come to where I am today—nothing matters but being prepared to meet God.  It’s the life you live, the way you treat your fellowman and what you have in your heart that is really important.  Accept Him today is my prayer if you don’t know Him!”

(From the funeral of Mary Lou Phillips, July 26, 2002)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


“Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 HCSB) 

The message of the Bible is not difficult to understand.  I can sum it up in one four letter word: love.  From Genesis to Revelation, it is a love story—the romance of redemption.  I can distill all our responsibility down to one commandment: love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said that the essence of discipleship is our love for one another.  This is the heart of Christianity. 

Although it’s a simple message to express, the implications are profound.  Understanding this is easy; applying it is hard.  Yet, Scripture is clear, that out of the three essential virtues of the Christian life: faith, hope and love—the greatest of these is love.  It is foundational.  It is fundamental.  Love is the heart of Christianity.

There is no better passage to define the character of love, describe the conduct of love, and demonstrate the conquest of love than 1 Corinthians 13.  Those who practice such love have the heart of Christ transplanted in them.

The Apostle Paul begins by stressing THE PRIMACY OF LOVE (v.1-3)

Love is the main thing.  It transcends everything else in the Christian life.

LOVE TRANSCENDS ELOQUENT SPEECH, “If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (v.1) 

We can speak about love without showing it.  I can sing with great enthusiasm, “O how I love Jesus…” but unless I am devoted to obedience it is only noise.  I can passionately profess to love an unseen God, but if I do not love those I can see, who are made in His image, then it is just sound. 

I do think it is important to tell people we love them, but our performance exhibits the reality of the claim.  Actions do speak louder than words. 

LOVE TRANSCENDS EXPLAINED SCRIPTURE, “If I have [the gift of] prophecy” (v.2a)

We can be orthodox in doctrine and not have love.  The Pharisee is the poster child for loveless theology.

Prophecy is the spoken word of God.  We would never deprecate that—Paul does not.  He’s just saying that without love, the Bible can be used as a hammer.  It is often used to condemn—to beat down rather than build up. 

Don’t get me wrong, the prophets were forceful in denouncing sin and we should be.  But why?  Love motivates the message of repentance: our love for God and people compels us.  We recognize the assault on God’s holy character and the hurt caused to people by sin.  So, Jeremiah was characteristic of all the prophets, as a weeping prophet--a broken-heart of love. Paul said it elsewhere of, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph.4:15)

LOVE TRANSCENDS EDUCATED STUDY, “and understand all mysteries and all knowledge” (v.2b)

We can be educated and evil.  There was probably not a generation more cultured and yet more cruel than the Germans of the early twentieth century.  The Nazis could listen to Wagnerian opera and ignore the whistle of the trains taking Jews to the gas chambers.

Education is fine so far as it goes—but, it doesn’t go far enough. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  You can know the Bible story of the Good Samaritan and never take a risk and bear the expense of reaching out to someone in love.  You can know the Gospel and never tell a lost soul about Jesus.  You can know every stanza of Amazing Grace and not be amazed—never truly worshipping God nor extending grace to other sinners.  The demons know about God and tremble!  Yet, their hearts are filled with malice and not love.

LOVE TRANSCENDS EXTRAORDINARY SIGNS, “and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.” (v.2c)

Satan has supernatural power, but no love.  People are easily impressed and swayed by the faith healers and so-called miracle workers.  They pack the auditoriums like people going to the circus.  Meanwhile, the preacher is packing his wallet or her purse with money, building multi-million dollar homes, flying around on his or her personal jet, living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, while some desperate little widow on fixed income sends her last dollar to him or her hoping for a miracle. 

Did you know that one of the means by which false prophets deceive people is by supernatural signs?  The Bible says that the Antichrist will deceive the world by his miracle power—power that comes from Satan himself.  Miracles are not enough unless the ministry is wrought in love.

LOVE TRANSCENDS EXCEPTIONAL SHARING, “And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor” (3a).

We can be motivated to give alms out of pride rather than love.  As has been well-said, “You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.”  There are people who will need money.  Sometimes they require something more costly: our time and energy.  Love should be the compelling force.

LOVE TRANSCENDS EXTREME SACRIFICE, “and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”  There are those who become martyrs—not motivated by love, but by hate!  So a Muslim extremist straps a bomb to his body, explodes it in a crowded marketplace, causing murder and mayhem.  They do it to kill the enemies of Allah.  Innocents—including women and children--die in this unholy war.

Paul not only proclaims the primacy of love in this thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, but he presents THE PRACTICE OF LOVE as well (v.4-7).

Love isn’t just an emotion, it’s an action.  Paul doesn’t try to define love so much, as to describe it.  In the Greek text each of these terms is a verb.  They are in the present continuous tense which means attitudes and actions that have become habitual, ingrained by constant repetition. 

Love is the fruit of the Spirit as we respond in faith and obedience.  This is becoming like Jesus.  He is the only man to exhibit these perfectly.  We could insert His name in the place of love and accurately describe Him.  Being a follower of Christ means we take deliberate and decisive action to develop these qualities.

Let’s dig deeper and we discover that Paul points to MINISTRY: The Positive Disposition of Love.  This is WHAT LOVE IS.

Patient, “Love is patient.”  There is one kind of patience that puts up with difficult problems, but this kind puts up with difficult people.  It was a term used in the ancient world of a physician treating a chronic illness.

Peter came to Jesus, thinking he had this love thing figured out.  “Lord, how often should I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Seven times?”  He seemed to expect a pat on the back.  Jesus, instead, challenged him, “Seventy times seven.”   That suggests an infinite number.  It is like the patience of God toward we who are so undeserving.  What if God treated us like we treat others?

Kind, “love is kind.”  When we love, we reach out to help others with deeds of kindness—even to our enemies.  Jesus said that loving those who love us isn’t a big deal.  Sinful people do that. We bless those who curse us.  We do good to those who hate us.  We pray for those who persecute us.  He said that marks us as children of God.  Is that how people would identify you? Someone has well said that, “The greatest thing a man can do for his Heavenly Father is to be kind to some of His…children.”

Balanced, “rejoices in the truth.”  Literally, it rejoices with the truth.  They are friends—so there is actually no conflict between love and truth.  Love without truth isn’t real love, it is liberalism.  Truth without love isn’t real truth, it is legalism.  This is a life of balance.

Protective, “bears all things.”  The NIV renders this, “It always protects.”  Literally, it means, “to cover over in silence.”  Love doesn’t delight in a scandal, but confronts the sinner privately in order to win them, not publicly in order to wound them.  Someone has well said that the church is the only army to shoot its own wounded.  Too often it’s true!

Trusting, “believes all things.”  Greek scholar, James Moffatt, translates this, “always eager to believe the best.” Love looks for the good in others.  It believes the best about others.  We refuse to be cynical and critical.

Hopeful, “hopes all things.”  We not only look for the best in others, we seek to bring out the best in others.  Someone looks at an old hunk of rock and sees worthless stone, but an artist sees the potential there and works to unleash his vision. People often live up to our expectations.  So, Jesus looks at Simon and calls him, “Peter.” He was anything but that at the time, but Jesus saw he would become a “rock” when He got through with him.

Enduring, “endures all things.”  People can disappoint us.  They may fail repeatedly—but love does not fail.  This is a picture of a soldier who will take the hill, even under heavy enemy fire.  He will not stop until he wins. 

A Christian is known for his ministry—love serves others—it is a positive disposition that leads to practical deeds.  Yet, there is another dimension and that is MASTERY: The Prohibited Distortion of Love. Here we learn WHAT LOVE ISN’T. 

By yielding to God’s Spirit, we can master these vices contrary to love. We must deliberately renounce them.

Love is not Envious, “love does not envy.”  This had become a real problem in Corinth as they were envious of one another’s spiritual gifts (see the context of chapters twelve and fourteen).   This problem remains in the church today.  We may envy another church’s growth. Preachers envy another pastor’s success.  Singers envy some other soloist’s applause.  Love rejects that self-centered spirit.

Love is not Boastful, “not boastful.”  It doesn’t put itself on parade.  Now, I love a parade…but not in church—not when it’s a parade of the flesh.  We live in a culture of Christian celebrity.  Churches are striving for, “The Greatest Show on Earth” and degenerate into a carnival.  It’s about entertainment, not worship, and is an abominable stealing of glory that belongs only to God!

Love is not Proud, “is not conceited.” Other translations render it, “is not puffed up.”  I think about a bullfrog puffing up before he croaks.  I heard about a frog who wanted to fly.   Watching some birds, he came up with a brilliant idea.  Two birds would hold a stick in their beaks, while the frog would be in the middle of them, holding the stick in his mouth.  So, the birds took wing and lifted the frog with them.  Spotting this marvel soaring aloft, an old farmer in amazement asked, “Who thought of that?”  The puffed up frog opened his fat mouth and said, “I did”  and down he went.  Hitting the ground--he croaked!  The Bible warns, “Pride goes before a fall.”

Love is not Rude, “does not act improperly.”  Rude rhymes with crude and lewd.  Love is never that.  It makes a fellow into a gentleman—and that is what he is: a “gentle man.” Love is polite; it is well-mannered.  Ladies, this applies to you too—and modern women seem increasingly given to being rude, crude and lewd.

Love is not Selfish, “is not selfish” This is the essence of sin, and that is the opposite of love. Love doesn’t ask, “What’s in it for me?”

Love is not Touchy, “is not provoked.”  Touchiness is too often tolerated in the church today—seldom seen as antithetical to love.  It is a spark from hell that can ignite a confrontation that leads to a conflagration and all that is left of the church’s unity and testimony is ashes!

Love is not Resentful, “does not keep record of wrongs.”  This is an accounting term.  When love forgives it writes off the debt and the book is closed!  Love will not bear grudges.  Love rejects bitterness.  Revenge is refused.

Love is not Self-righteous, “finds no joy in unrighteousness.”  It is tempting to find delight when others fall, in that it makes us feel superior.  People today enjoy hearing and repeating scandals.  Church folk are not immune to this.  Often “prayer requests” are shared about some moral mishap of a member and it is nothing but glorified gossip!

So, we have seen thus far the primacy and practice of love.  The third stanza of this beautiful love song points us to THE PERMANENCE OF LOVE (v.8-13). Life may end, but love lives on.  Since God is love, love is eternal. 

There is THE VICTORY THAT OVERCOMES ALL, “Love never ends.” (v.8a) The Greek word literally means that love never “falls” or “collapses.”  Love stands its ground.  It never withers under the heat of hate.  It never wavers in the face of hostility.  Not only does love stand the test of time, but it endures through eternity. “Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon, 8:7a). 

People will sometimes fail—they may reject our love no matter how relentlessly we reach out to them, but love never fails.  We are always the better for it.  Still, it is often the case that such love will break down even the hardest heart.  We may not even realize this side of eternity the legacy of love we have left behind.  Seeds sown in what seems barren soil today, may lie dormant for years, apparently wasted effort, that years later sprout and flourish. 


“But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.  For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.  But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put aside childish things.  For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (v.8b-12)

When you measure the value of things in the scales of eternity—love outweighs them all.  Everything that we value in this world is fading away—it will all perish.  The precious metals will tarnish, the palatial homes will crumble, the luxury automobiles will become a heap of rust, and our designer clothing will wear out and be discarded.  The temporal we treasure will become trash.  Paul stresses here the transitory nature of this life compared to love.  These temporary things are not bad things—prophecy and tongues—those are not sinful things.  Yet, the Corinthians had acted sinfully concerning them because of their abuse of these gifts and the threat to the Body the conflict over them was causing.  Love was, and is the best gift.  There comes a time when prophecy and tongues give way and love remains.  Love, then, merited their focus.

LOVE IS THE VIRTUE THAT OUTLASTS ALL, “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.” (v.13)  The Bible elevates love to the highest station.  Paul tells us it is the greatest thing in the world—it is a virtue unequalled by even faith and hope.  That isn’t a put-down of those great virtues—it’s just that love occupies the pinnacle. It is the crown jewel that adorns the believer’s head. There will come a day when faith will give way to sight.  There will come a day when hope will be fulfilled.  But love lives on.  Throughout the boundless ages we will revel in the love of God, exploring its fathomless depths and scaling its limitless heights.

If there is a chapter to memorize and apply in all the Word of God, this one should claim priority.  It is the heart of Christianity!