Giving Myself Away

“From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering” Exodus 25:2

Contrary to the world’s conception of giving, the above is the biblical base for giving. The world’s conception of giving in the church is derived from people who falsely profess to be Christian and who reject teaching from the Bible for their own material gain.

The Apostle Paul affirms the Old Testament teaching in 2 Corinthians 8 in reference to the churches in Macedonia, “For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing” (v 3). The reason behind their willing giving is given by Paul, “They first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (v 5).

Key here is that they first gave themselves to the Lord. This is where we may fall short and fail the test of faith by placing limitations on how much we will give to the Lord. In my first year of learning to walk with the Lord I came across the following and I believe it depicts accurately what Christian giving really is. It was written in the front cover of the Bible of teenager Elizabeth Alden Scott on August 3, 1925.

“My Covenant

Lord, I give up my own purposes and plans, all my desires, hopes and ambitions (whether they be fleshly or soulish), and accept thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to thee, to be thine forever.

I hand over to thy keeping all of my friendships, my love. All the people whom I love are to take second place in my heart.

Fill me and seal me with thy Holy Spirit. Work out thy whole will in my life, at any cost, now and forever.

‘To me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ Philippians 1:21

Why don’t you reread her covenant and pause to speak with the Lord Jesus. Tell him whether you will accept or reject this covenant as your own. Your carefully and prayerfully considered response from your heart will be a defining moment for now and eternity.

Of course, having made such a covenant you can expect the Lord Jesus to take you on a path to test your heart as to the genuineness of your desire. Then He will lead you to fulfilment. As for anyone walking with Jesus life will be anything other than what is expected. As He did with Israel (Exodus 24+), the Lord will deal with our heart relationship with Him first, not our behaviour. Behaviour is shaped by our heart, never the other way around.

Elizabeth (Betty) Scott Stam and husband, John, missionaries with China Inland Mission, were murdered in China by Communist revolutionary soldiers on 8th December 1934 when she was just 28 years old. Her baby girl was rescued. For more of her life story click the link below.

Biography: Elisabeth (Betty) Alden Scott Stam

Know His Comfort

“To wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” 1 Thessalonians 1:10

In this letter Paul expresses considerable affection for the Christians in Thessalonica (2:7-8). Many of his intended readers had turned from either Judaism or idols to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as a result of his earlier visit (1:9).

There were others who were jealous of the affection of the Christians toward Paul and they attempted to discredit him. They accused him of proclaiming Christ for financial gain and for prominence and power over people. However, this was more likely the motivation of his accusers.

Paul reminded them of his first visit. At that time he provided for himself so he had not been preaching for financial gain. Also he proclaimed the plain truth of the Gospel that produced conviction of sin so he wasn’t seeking a following for himself by deceit (2:5). Further, he accepted the persecution that followed preaching of the Gospel (2:2). On reflection the Christians in Thessalonica could readily see that the accusations against Paul were unfounded and false.

Another concern of these Christians was the return of Jesus Christ to establish His earthly kingdom. Fortunately for us, in correcting their confusion, he also corrects the confusion that is about now.

To keep his readers rightly focussed he pointed them to Christ’s return and kept that expectation alive throughout his letters. It is this expectation that keeps our minds on Christ. Key to the church’s future is that it will not endure the Tribulation. Jesus will deliver the church from this time of trouble on the earth (1:10). Paul’s words in 5:13-18 regarding the process of deliverance were intended to bring comfort. There would be no comfort if this was not to be taken literally (v 18).

To affirm what he has already written, Paul writes, “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ: (5:9). That Christians would not endure the Tribulation is intended to bring comfort and encouragement (5:11).

As Paul poured out his love and affection he asked them to remember how they first received the Gospel. He then asked them to look forward to when they will meet the Lord (2:19). In closing and to sum up his letter Paul writes, “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (5:24). Remember when we responded to the Gospel; keep our minds steadily fixed on the day we will see Jesus, and trust Him to do all that He has said (cf. Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 1:6; 3:20-21). Then we will know His comfort.

Interest Bearing

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit …”

“Let each of you look out … for the interests of others” Philippians 2:3, 4

The first part of this quote is a description of the character of our world. What we observe is a society that manipulates people, their environment and circumstances for their own personal gain and advancement. Paul makes it clear that this attitude has no place in the Christian life.

Paul exhorts Christians to take an active interest in the welfare (physical and spiritual) of others and gives three examples in this chapter of this principle in action: Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Among the saddest words in the Bible must be Paul’s lament, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Jesus Christ” (v 21). He is writing this of Christians. His experience was that most Christians were living as the world lives, being ambitious for advancement in the world. Paul’s sorrow was that many of the Christians with Him were immersed in the worldly culture around them instead of being immersed in Jesus Christ.

In contrast Epaphroditus had so given himself to ministry that he had become sick. Perhaps in attempting to make up for the lack of other Christians he had overdone it. That is a picture we see frequently in the church. A few give themselves in sacrificial service while the majority care primarily for their own interests.

In Galatians Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (6:2), and also, “For each one shall bear his own load” (6:5). Those who do minister need to be careful that they are not taken advantage of, too much, for too long; otherwise, they may come to a point where they cannot minister at all.

Those who minister need to be careful not to exceed the burden they should carry for another because it may be a burden God has given the other person to achieve His purpose in their lives. In our willingness to serve, we may actually hinder the work of God.

Evidence that Christians are seeking their own interests and not those of others may be seen in the way they evaluate a church. Quite often a church is evaluated on the basis of whether our needs are or will be met. We would do much better to evaluate a church based on prayerful consideration as to whether Christ would have us minister to others in that church. It is not my need that is under consideration, but the need of others.

Pursue Love

“So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken?” 1 Corinthians 14:9

This chapter begins with the words, “Pursue love” and follows a chapter describing the characteristics of God’s kind of love. This in turn follows a chapter describing the nature and purpose of spiritual gifting to the church through members of Christ’s body.

The Corinthian church regarded spiritual gifts as a thing of which to boast as if they merited the gift. Further to this they argued that their particular gift was better or more important than others. The focus was on exalting themselves in the eyes of others. There is no shortage of such people today and, unfortunately, we contribute to their pride when we idolise them.

Pursuing love is described by Paul in this chapter. It means to develop and exercise our spiritual gifting in order to edify other members of Christ’s church. This is accomplished through communicating understanding of God and His word in a language easily understood by the hearers. The key words in this chapter are edification and understanding. Rather than attempting to proclaim Christ in a language his hearers did not understand Paul writes that in the church he would rather speak five words with understanding than ten thousand words in a language not easily understood (v 19).

Love will demand that we minister to others and that means building up, strengthening and encouraging other believers. Apparently a spirit of pride had overtaken the Corinthian church and self exaltation had erroneously become recognised as a spiritual blessing. Paul corrected this attitude to spiritual gifts when he wrote, “Since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (v 12). This is love in action.

To other Christians Paul described the difference between the spirit of manipulation and the spirit of ministry. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” That would be manipulation of others to serve one’s own pride. “But in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” This is the right attitude of mind. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” This is ministry to others out of love (Philippians 2:3-4). In the same chapter, commending Timothy for this right attitude and ministry, he comments of others, “For all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ” (v 21).

Paul gives to the Corinthian church, and to us, the principle to be applied, “Let all things be done for edification” (v 26).  He concludes his letter by writing, “Let all that you do be done with love” (16:14). That is how we pursue love.

Sharing Life Experiences

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” 1 John 1:3

John wrote this several decades after Pentecost and we notice that he writes that his fellowship with Jesus and the Father is still current. His desire is that all believers grow in appreciation the abiding presence of both the Father and Jesus Christ. In his Gospel John records Jesus’ words, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). We know that on trusting the Lord Jesus the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer but we may be less aware that the Father and the Son also want, not only to indwell, but also to make their home with us. That means living together as one sharing life’s experiences.

The nature of pride will attempt to divert us from personal intimacy with Jesus in a way that may appear spiritual but is not. It is possible that we may hide behind Bible knowledge, theological correctness or even ministry enthusiasm so that we appear spiritual but in fact have little if any intimacy with Jesus Christ. Bible knowledge, theological correctness and passion in ministry are very important but they are not an end in themselves.

When a young man is attracted to a young woman or a young woman attracted to a young man they would never be satisfied with just gaining knowledge about the other person. Knowing their likes and dislikes and other personal details may be helpful in the relationship but they are only a means to knowing the other person intimately, not the goal. An intimate relationship will require sharing time and experiences together and this will be the desire of their hearts.

I have known several Christians who are genuinely born of God and have a love for Jesus but when the conversation comes around to intimacy with Jesus they revert to Bible knowledge, doctrinal accuracy or ministry enthusiasm in an attempt to express their spirituality. These are the people to whom John has written this letter. No marriage would be at all satisfactory if the two parties never spent time together and shared life experiences. Neither will Christians be satisfied unless they are walking with Jesus, spending time and sharing life experiences with Him.

This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10). This is only possible by spending time together and sharing experiences. We must resist the temptation to hide behind Bible knowledge, theological correctness or passionate ministry when we claim spirituality. They are not the measure. Abiding in (sharing our lives with) Christ is the measure (John 15:5).

“And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4).

A Faithful Ambassador

“This is the twenty third year in which the word of the Lord has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened” Jeremiah 25:3

There are probably many people who share the Gospel who identify with Jeremiah. For twenty three years he had been a prophet of the Lord faithfully passing on what the Lord had given him to speak yet the people of Jerusalem and Judah had taken no heed. The Lord retained a remnant in Israel so the rejection was not total but successive kings of Judah had turned the hearts of the people away from the Lord. There were many other voices proclaiming what was supposed to be the word of the Lord but they were liars who deceived the people by telling them what they wanted to hear rather than the truth (27:10, 14-16). The same tactic is employed by some today. They proclaim a false Gospel while claiming it is from the Lord.

Jeremiah seemed alone in proclaiming the true word of the Lord yet he refused to compromise to appease kings, priests, other prophets or even to save his life (26:8). He would rather be an offense to people than offend the Lord.

The world might judge him as being unsuccessful but the Lord judged him otherwise. Successful in ministering the word of God is not determined by whether hearers receive God’s word. Success is measured in whether one is faithful to the Lord’s word and calling.

Jeremiah had to withstand the wrath of kings, accusations from religious leaders and stand face to face, in the presence of witnesses, with one who claimed to speak for the Lord but was a liar (28:1). He did this knowing that there was a strong movement among the false prophets to have him killed. He would not compromise the word of the Lord to save his life. His words to them were, “I am in your hand; do with me as seems good and proper to you” (26:14).

Like Daniel’s three friends, he knew that whether he lived or died he would not compromise the word of the Lord (Daniel 3:18). Like the apostle Paul he knew that, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

The church needs people who will proclaim God’s word as He gave it and not how people want to hear it. In the days of Jeremiah the false teachers were in the majority and they ridiculed, mocked and threatened Jeremiah. They deceived the people who then suffered the Lord’s chastisement. By rejecting the faithful word and believing a lie they set themselves against God.

A person may spend twenty three years as Christ’s faithful ambassador but whether they are successful or not is not in the numbers of people who respond and follow Christ. False teachers more readily gain a following because they speak what fallen people want to hear. The successful ambassador of Christ is the one who stands firm and faithful to Christ’s word even in the face of threats and persecution. The acclaim of people and numbers are no way to measure success. Faithfulness and obedience to Christ are the only measure and Jesus Christ alone is able to measure that.

Nipping At Our Heels

“Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” Isaiah 38:1

In my teenage years I frequently and often worked in my neighbour’s dairy in school holidays and weekends. He had a black and white border collie dog named Rastus that had a particularly useful skill for rounding up the cows. At considerable risk he would nip the heels of a cow and then drop flat on the ground to avoid the inevitable hoof flashing over his head. For extra fun he would also have a swing on a cow’s tail. He lived to a ripe old age without ever being hit by a hoof. King Hezekiah had a dog nipping at his heels as well, a dog called pride.

The apostle Paul would later write, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain … I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:21-23). Paul’s desire was to be with the One he loved but he was willing to postpone that joy for the sake of the mission Jesus had given him. Let us compare that with King Hezekiah.

When Hezekiah was told of his impending death he went to the Lord asking for more time. We can discern his motive by his prayer. It was quite different to Paul’s desire. His request was based on his earthly position. He wanted to enjoy and boast of the earthly blessings God had given him in preference to the joy of actually being with the Lord. There is no suggestion that he wanted to remain for the sake of God’s will or God’s people.

This becomes even more obvious when the messengers from Babylon came to visit. He showed them “the silver and gold, the spices and precious ointment, and all his armoury – all that was found among his treasures. There was nothing in his house or in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them” (Isaiah 39:2). The dog named pride was nipping at his heels guiding him to a gate called “Stumbling” and he did not resist it. He boasted as if he had obtained all he enjoyed by his own effort. Pride will dog us all of our earthly lives so we need to learn how to recognise it and make our resistance effective.

We need to regularly check our motives as to whether we love Jesus Christ or just the blessings He gives. Hezekiah loved the worldly blessings in preference to the Giver of the blessings. Consequently he desired a longer life on earth absent from the Lord. In the end he lost it all and all the good he had previously done for Israel unravelled after he died.

What if the Lord should say these words to you today? As we consider our response we will discover whether it really is Jesus we love or whether it is just the blessings He gives. Will you respond like Paul or like Hezekiah? When it is Jesus we love we will readily receive His command to come home and ask for no delay. His timing will be perfect.