From Glory to Pain

When you continue to read about the amazing privilege Paul had to enter into the very presence of God, the story turns out much different than you might expect. Instead of Paul using that experience as some springboard for greatness in ministry, God gave Paul an ailment he calls “a thorn in the flesh.” Notice what it says in 2 Cor. 12: 7-10,

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Instead of basking in the glory of his experience, Paul says he was given an infirmity to keep him humble. God knew that his experience was so grand that pride was inevitable if Paul did not have a something in his life to keep him humble. As a result, Paul’s prayers for deliverance from this ailment were not granted.

What was this thorn? There are many theories. Here are a few suggestions by scholars: it was his physical appearance, epilepsy, severe headaches, eye trouble, or recurring attacks of malaria. The problem is the text does not say. Whatever it was, it appears to have caused him great pain and weariness, but it did not prevent him from continuing in ministry. The word for “thorn” is also commonly translated as “stake.” Paul may have used this term to describe the intense pain he experienced. Barclay notes, “Sometimes criminals were impaled upon a sharp stake. It was a stake like that that Paul felt was twisting in his body.”

Whatever it was, it kept him dependent upon God and made him aware of his weakness rather than focus on his privileges. Paul learned that the best way to live life is dependent upon God.

Father, thank you again for the amazing life of Paul. What a great example of how to live life well. Thank you as well for your concern for Paul and the intentional intervention in his life that allowed him to be a great man of character even though the path included pain. Help me to trust you when life is hard and live dependently upon you as Paul modeled for all of us.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

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Paradise

How would you describe Paradise? What would it be like? Paul has been there and his experience is described in 2 Cor. 12:2-4 which says,

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.”

The third heaven is referring to the unseen realm where God dwells. Paul said that somehow, he was taken into the very presence of God and he called it “paradise.” Barclay notes that the word “Paradise”,

“Comes from a Persian word which means a walled-garden. When a Persian king wished to confer a very special honor on someone specially dear to him, he made him a companion of the garden and gave him the right to walk in the royal gardens with him in intimate companionship. In this experience, as never before and never again, Paul had been the companion of God.”

The experience for Paul was so overwhelming he was not allowed to tell what he saw or heard! WOW! Paul was in the presence of God and grasped some of what eternity will be like. He walked with God as his intimate companion. He saw and heard things that we will not experience until we die.

Father, I thank you that the destiny for those who have embraced Jesus as Savior and God is Paradise! Paradise is life in your presence forever as your intimate companion. Our minds cannot even comprehend what that will be like but our hearts long to experience it.

Thank you for being such a great God and someone we long to be near. Help me to live with the boldness of Paul because of our certain destiny.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Battle Plan

One of the things I have noticed about our culture is how quickly we are fleeing from the Christian faith in America. I am sure that observation is not news to anyone. Paul gives clarity as to his approach to this problem when the Romans ruled the world 2000 years ago with similar issues. Notice what he says in 2 Cor. 5:10,

“We destroy arguments and every elevated structure that rises up against the knowledge of God. And we lead captive every thought to obey Christ.”

Paul is using military terminology to share his plan for bringing obedience to Christ. Kistemaker observes,

“for the conquest is to subdue not people but thoughts. There is no mention of bloodshed and killing on this battlefield. Rather, all the theories are captured and brought into obedience to Christ. The culture that is conquered for Christ remains intact, but its components are transformed to serve him. These are the captive thought patterns that are brought into conformity with the teachings of the Lord.”

Paul is talking about much more than my personal thought life in this passage. I need to know the teachings of Jesus well enough that I can tell when a philosophy or teaching is not in line with the Bible. If it is out of line, I need to be able to explain why and bring it captive to obedience to Christ.

Father, Paul was an amazingly gifted man. You gave him the great ability to confront opposing thoughts to the teachings of Jesus. Help me to understand contrary teachings to Christ and give me the ability to know why they are wrong and the ability to help others understand the truth. Finally, give me the courage to speak up when given the opportunity.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Hidden Motives

This morning I was puzzled by the actions of Ahithophel. If you remember, he was David’s most trusted advisor when David ruled his kingdom. Ahithophel’s counsel was so highly regarded, it was as thought his words came directly from God (2 Sam.16:23)! But, he is the same man who became a traitor to David when he helped to lead the revolt by David’s son Absalom! In fact, notice what his counsel was to Absalom as David and his men fled for their lives in 2 Sam. 17:1-3,

“Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, ‘Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.’”

What had gone so wrong between David and Ahithophel that he hated David to the point that he joined the rebellion and volunteered to be the one to kill the king?

Unfortunately, the text does not answer this question directly. Was he one of those guys who just wanted to be connected to the new man in power? I don’t think so. As I contemplated this question I found two verses that I think give great clarity as to what went wrong between David and Ahithophel and why he wanted David’s head. Notice what it says in the following two verses,

“And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’” (2 Sam. 11:3)

Eliam the son of Ahithophel of Gilo.” (2 Sam. 23:34)

Eliam was the son of Ahithophel and Bathsheba was Eliam’s daughter which means Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba! WOW! Now this whole story makes sense!

What went wrong between David and Ahithophel? David’s sin against his granddaughter and the killing of her husband! Ahithophel was waiting for a chance to make David pay and supporting Absalom gave him that opportunity.

The more I have thought about this the more these facts fit the story. Why was David secretly trying to figure out what to do with the the pregnancy of Bathsheba? I think it could be because he was trying to hide this information from Ahithophel! At the time, I don’t think he was worried about Uriah (obviously because he had him killed), or what the people of the nation would think of him. I think it is very possible that he was afraid of how Ahithophel would react to his actions. It appears then that Ahithophel was enraged at what David had done to his family and he wanted to make David pay.

Father, your Word has amazing truth in it. The story of Ahithophel is not something to be read without trying to put ourselves in that setting to understand what was going on. Ahithophel was a real person with real feelings. He was enraged at what David had done to his granddaughter and her husband. He wanted to get even! His anger was out of control.

This story also shows the foolishness of sin and how self-centered our will is. At any cost, David wanted his way with Bathsheba. At any cost Ahithophel wanted revenge. Father, help me to see the foolishness of sin and make me aware of my self-centeredness so that I remain under your leadership and do not try to have my way at any cost.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

When In Deep Trouble…

David penned a great prayer in Psalm 69. Parts of this Psalm are often quoted in the New Testament. The question is how does this Psalm and prayer of David apply to you and me today?

The ESV Study Bible has this insightful comment, “David was the representative for the people of God, and in that role he wrote this as a prayer that is well-suited to each of God’s people in analogous situations, providing the ideal response to such trials.”

This Psalm expresses the heart of David as he struggles with those who are seeking to harm him. The verse that really hit me is verse six which says,

“Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord GOD of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.”

Even in the midst of great trial, David’s first concern is that he not cause other God followers shame or scorn because of how he lived through those trials. What a great reminder of the importance of living a life of faithfulness on a moment by moment basis. Not only because it is good for me, but I am leaving a model for others and I do not want to lead them astray through my poor decisions or cause them to be treated poorly as a disciple of Jesus because of me.

Father, thanks for this reminder! I love how David expressed his heart, and yet knew his imperfections and his potential influence over others. May you help me live this day with my focus on walking with you so that my faithfulness can be a positive influence on others. Help me to never bring dishonor to your name.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Sin Has Consequences

One of the saddest sections of scripture is 2 Sam. 15-16. In those chapters we see the fulfillment of God’s punishment for David’s sin. In chapter 12 it says,

“This is what the LORD says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.”

David is betrayed by his son Absalom when he established himself as the king of Israel instead of his dad and then took David’s wives publicly to show that a transition in power had taken place. In this section we see David, a broken man leaving his palace in tears and fleeing for his life from his own son. What a mess his sin has caused for himself, his family, his reign and the nation of Israel! And yet, when sin presents itself to us, it hides the consequences of our actions. If we could see the consequences our choices may be different.

In addition to the betrayal of Absalom, David’s most trusted advisor also sided with Absalom. This is most likely the person David was referring to in Ps. 49:9 which says,

“Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”

In many ways, this is about as bad as it can get for David. The pain of experiencing such betrayal is almost unbearable. Ps. 49:9 happens to also be the same passage Jesus quoted at his betrayal by Judas in Jn. 13:18! David experienced betrayal for his sin while Jesus experienced betrayal for our sin!

Sin can have consequences that even confession cannot alter. David had confessed his sin to God, but that did not stop the discipline he had to experience for his disobedience. This reminder should also make us think of Heb 12:5-6,

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’”

Father, I cannot imagine the pain David and Jesus experienced when they were betrayed. I see in the story of David that sin has consequences and you discipline your sons and daughters as any loving father would. I also cannot fully understand the depth of your love for me because you allowed your son to be betrayed and punished for my sin. Thank you for loving me as you do. Help me to see sin for what it is so that I can choose obedience out of love for you.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Godly Grief

Paul makes an important statement in 2 Cor. 7:10 which says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

What struck me today was the comparison of Godly grief and worldly grief. Godly grief produces repentance without regret because it leads to salvation, whereas worldly grief simply leads nowhere of benefit, it leads to death. What does Paul mean by this statement?

I think the expanded translation of the NLT helps clarify what Paul is saying. This version translates it this way,

“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.”

In the previous verses, Paul was discussing how pleased he was at the response of the church to his previous letter. They had repented from their poor behavior. When confronted with their sin, they grieved and changed. Grief that comes from God leads to repentance. Repentance is describing a change of mind and action knowing that sinful behavior loses God’s approval. Worldly grief is missing the step of repentance. Worldly grief may produce remorse and despair at being caught or at the circumstances which a person finds himself or herself in, but it doesn’t lead to repentance toward God. Worldly grief leads to a self-focused life that has no way out and ends in death.

Lenski powerfully describes this difficult situation when he says, “There is nothing ‘according to God’ in this grief, nothing according to his good and gracious will, no outcome that in any way tends toward salvation; everything about this grief points directly to death. The world’s grief is already death’s shadow closing down.”

Father, I pray that my heart is always soft enough to respond properly to an awareness of sin. Help me to want to confess it to you and not avoid the truth that sin is ultimately against you. Help me to want to repent of my sin by changing my mind and action to be in harmony with your will. Thank you that you are willing to restore me to fellowship with you through confession because of what Jesus did for me as my Savior and God!

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Amazing Grace

Most of us are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba as it is found in 2 Sam. 12. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then tried to hide it. When Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) would not cooperate with David’s plan to let him think he was the father of the child, he contrived a way to have Uriah killed in battle. Chapter 11 ends with David taking Bathsheba as his wife as though his secret sin would never be discovered. David must have been greatly relieved and thought he had gotten away with it! But, God would not let David go unpunished for his actions and sent Nathan the prophet to confront him. The price of David’s sin was significant, First, the child would die and then David and his kingdom would begin to experience significant trouble including the prediction that David’s family would fall apart before his eyes.

In the midst of this tragedy though, the grace of God is clearly seen. Notice what it says in verses 24-25,

“Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. The LORD loved the child and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means ‘beloved of the LORD’), as the LORD had commanded.”

Wow! Solomon was born to Bathsheba? This text implies that Solomon was the next child born to Bathsheba, but 1 Chronicles 3:5 tells us that Solomon was the fourth child born to her. The point in our passage is the focus on God’s grace to David because Solomon would be God’s new chosen servant. God was able to use even David’s horrendous sin to accomplish his purposes! That is amazing grace!

Father, we all sin and often think our sin has no consequences. We can fall into the trap of trying to figure out ways to keep our sin hidden. The story of David is one that shows us that you, as a loving Father, may discipline your children for their sin. We also can clearly see your amazing grace in the midst of David’s failures. Help me to be like David when confronted with sin and repent humbly and quickly as he did. Make me unlike David by helping me to stay close to you and your Word so that I do not fall into sin as David did. Thank you for the reminder of how gracious you are to your children even in the midst of our failures.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

The Paradox of Suffering

A passage that caught my attention this morning is 2 Cor. 4:10-12. The NLT version makes Paul’s comments a little easier to understand. It says,

“Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.”

What is Paul’s point? Suffering is normal for the disciples of Jesus and can be used by God for a purpose. Barclay wisely observes, “Life is designed to keep a man from pride. However great his Christian glory he is still a mortal man; still the victim of circumstances; still subject to the chances and the changes of human life; still a mortal body with all that body’s weakness and pain. He is like a man with a precious treasure contained in an earthen vessel, which itself is weak and worthless. We talk a great deal about the power of man and about the vast forces which he now controls. But the real characteristic of man is not his power but his weakness.”

The first benefit of suffering is that it keeps us from pride. It shows us how frail we are and that we were designed by our creator to be dependent upon him.

The second observation is that if we want to share in the life of Jesus we will share in the death of Jesus on earth. In other words, suffering in the flesh is normal for the believer and should be expected.

The third statement Paul makes is that others can see Jesus in us when we suffer. He is the source of our strength when we have to suffer for him. We should not try to endure on our own strength. He is the one who can enable us.

Finally, Paul shows us that the fruit of suffering can lead to eternal life for others. The price of eternal life for those who have not yet believed the Gospel is my willingness to suffer if need be to get them the message.

As Barclay also observed, “Paul could go through what he did because he knew that it was not for nothing; he knew that it was to bring others to Christ. When a man has the conviction that what is happening to him is happening literally for Christ’s sake he can face anything.”

Father, as much as I do not want to suffer, I understand that suffering is normal for me as a disciple of Jesus. Thank you that you give me the strength for being faithful through times of trial and showing me that the fruit of my suffering can result in the salvation of others.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Driven Back To God

For those of us who have read about the life of Paul, we are not surprised at his suffering because it seems to happen all of the time! Today though I was challenged by the description of some of Paul’s suffering as it is described in 2 Cor. 1:8-9 which says,

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

In this passage Paul is so overwhelmed with intense suffering that he despaired even of living. He had come to the end of himself and felt as though death was knocking at his door. The amazing thing is that we have no record of this suffering and therefore have no idea what this was all about. In a sense, Paul suffered in silence. He did not parade his troubles for others to see. He learned to endure by depending on God alone. His suffering drove him back to God.

Barclay adds great insight when he says,

“Paul saw that the terrifying experience he had gone through had had one tremendous use—it had driven him back to God and demonstrated to him his utter dependence on him. The Arabs have a proverb, ‘All sunshine makes a desert.’ The danger of prosperity is that it encourages a false independence; it makes us think that we are well able to handle life alone. For every one prayer that rises to God in days of prosperity, ten thousand rise in days of adversity. As Lincoln had it, ‘I have often been driven to my knees in prayer because I had nowhere else to go.’ It is often in misfortune that a man finds out who are his true friends, and it often needs some time of adversity to show us how much we need God.”

There is much to learn from Paul and Barclay’s insight. I really do not want to hear it though! When things go well it is easy to live independently of God. I need to learn how to live as dependently upon God in prosperity as I do in adversity.

Father, forgive me for my lack of dependence upon you! I often live in my own strength and ask for your enabling only in trial. May I walk today in prosperity as dependently upon you as I would in times of trouble. I need you and your constant source of strength in my life.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff