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“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 37: AUGUST 28
2 CORINTHIANS 1 – COLOSSIANS 4:18
As I’ve mentioned numerous times in these reflections and elsewhere, the read-through was called to get you immersed in God’s Word. It wasn’t meant to be a Bible study or a close reading of any particular part of scripture. The purpose was to get the Good Book into your hands and God’s Word into you. What you chose then to chew on was between you and God.
(Whatever jumps out at you during the readings is what God wants you to chew on.)
I hadn’t planned on writing a daily reflection after each reading. That just kind of evolved. I thought it would be a good idea to give a wave every day to say “Here I am! I’m reading along with you”. So, here I am. 😀
It’s highly likely that what jumps out at me doesn’t jump out at you, and what I chew on isn’t always to your taste. I don’t know how many souls have joined in the read-through or if I’ve just been doing this by myself, but it doesn’t matter. What you choose to do or not to do is between you and God.
Here’s the thing about God – when he asks you to do something, he asks YOU, and you only are responsible for saying “yes” or “no” (insider’s tip – always say “yes”). So I put out the invitation for the Bible read-through because God asked me to, and I’m doing the read-through because God invited me to, and I’m doing the reflections because they just kind of happened and took on a life of their own, and here we all are.
But what you choose to do or not to do is between you and God. Our free will is inviolable, no matter what anyone tells you. Even God won’t override it unless we give him permission. Imagine that! The Creator of Heaven and Earth needs your permission to override your free will. If even God needs your permission to override your free will, who possibly on Earth can override it?
Of course the answer is no-one. If you want to do God’s will or not to do God’s will, it’s up to you. It’s between you and God. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
- Today’s reading takes us deeper into Paul’s letters. I like Paul. If I make it to Heaven, I’m looking forward to sitting down with him and having a drink. I don’t drink anymore on Earth, but I have a feeling I’m going to be having a few in Heaven (no hangovers in Heaven!) with all the visits I’ll be making and all the visitors who’ll have a standing invitation to drop by my place any time.
- Being in Heaven won’t be a problem (again, no hangovers!), but getting there takes some doing. Paul talks about everything we (might) have to endure to get to there. He even makes a list of sorts. For instance, in 2 Colossians 4:8-9, he says of believers in general:
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair’
Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.
Then later in 11:24-27, he details his own experiences:
Of the Jews received I forty stripes save one.
Thrice I was beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered a shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep.
In journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
- Paul went through all this (with worse to come), and yet it only made him more adamant to give everything he had to God and more committed to preaching the Word. Why is that? Why didn’t he give up after the first shipwreck or beating with rods? Most people would have. But Paul didn’t give up for the same reason that Jesus didn’t give up or any of the others didn’t give up – because God was always with Paul, no matter his circumstances, and God (not Paul) was the source of Paul’s strength. Rather than make him angry or resentful or self-pitying, each trial entrenched him deeper into God.
- We need to learn from Paul’s trials and how he dealt with them. I’m not sure if we’ll have to endure the same level of persecution as he did, but we’ll certainly face persecution and we’ll be forced to live as outlaws. Jesus warned us it would be like that. At the same time, he also said he’d be with us the whole time – he and God, through God’s Holy Spirit. And that’s how we’re going to get through our trials like Paul got through his.
- There’s a wonderful passage in the same letter about what is expected of us as ministers of God. It’s another list of attributes we’re expected to have. See which ones you have and which ones you need to work on. Remember, if you’re born-again, you should be actively preaching and teaching the Word, or preparing to do so. There are no seat-warmers in the Kingdom of Heaven!
Giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed:
But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,
In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;
By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,
By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true;
As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed;
As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.Colossians 6:3-10
- A few other passages jumped out at me in Colossians. One of them was about Moses, and how he always unveiled in face before God. I wrote a blog about this last year, about how we should never cover our face before God, and that we’re always before God if we’re genuinely born-again. This directive is inviolable. That means, no-one can override it, not for any reason.
- In Galatians, Paul spends most of his letter talking about the dead-end factor of the works of the law. Remember that he’s talking about the laws that I call fly-over scripture, not the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are definitely not dead works. Paul finds himself arguing again with people who want to hang onto the dead works (like circumcision) instead of leaving them dead and buried, where they belong. Yet again, he argues for the primacy of faith over works of the law, but he still reminds us that we’ll someday have to stand before the Judgement seat to give an account of all we did or did not do in the service of God. Those works count; the works of the law no longer do.
- Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are a compilation of sorts of his teachings on how to follow Jesus. One line in particular jumped out at me today:
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.Colossians 3:23
- It’s a reminder that whatever we do, God sees us. It doesn’t matter if anyone else acknowledges us or not, appreciates our efforts or not: God does. Jesus tells us to do our prayers and alms in secret, and that God will see us and reward us openly. Paul echoes this in saying to do everything as if unto God. Do it to the best of your ability. Do it with a cheerful heart. And do it knowing that if no-one else cares or even sees, God does. And surely that’s enough.
As we wind down (or power up, however you’re seeing this) to the final few readings, I hope you know that God is reading to you (if you ask him), opening your understanding and highlighting what you need to see and learn for your trials ahead. Our trials may or may not be as spectacular as Paul’s, but we still need to face them as he did, knowing God is ALWAYS with us to bring us through. That’s his job. That’s what he promised: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
And God never breaks a promise.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 36: AUGUST 27
ROMANS 1 – 1 CORINTHIANS 16:24
We’re now in the final stretch of our 40-day run. If you’ve been with us from the start, you’ll know it’s been quite a marathon. We can see the proverbial light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but the road ahead is still rocky and long. We need to keep our focus now more than ever. It’s tempting to slack off when you think you’re almost at your final destination, but remember that Jesus was tempted by the devil not at the beginning of his 40-day fast, but at the end. So keep going, my friends! This is where your prayers for strength and endurance will kick in.
- Paul’s letter to the Romans makes a clear distinction between those who were born genetic Jews and those who are reborn spiritual Jews by the will and grace of God. This is the context for his teachings on faith. Paul explains that in God’s new covenant with his new people, as expressed in Jesus in the New Testament, you no longer have to be genetically Jewish (that is, children of Israel) to live the promise of God. Since the time of Jesus, the promise of spiritual rebirth and admission to God’s Kingdom is given to all people, whether genetic Jews or not.
- You have to imagine how revolutionary this concept was at the time Paul wrote it. Most genetic Jews were still stuck in the mindset that they were God’s chosen and that gentiles were shut out of the prophesied promise by virtue of their genetics. But Paul had already experienced first-hand that gentiles were being reborn and filled with God’s Spirit, and God also gave him the vision (as we saw in yesterday’s reading) showing him that God put no distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals, and by extension “clean” (i.e., Jewish) and “unclean” (i.e., gentile) people.
- Faith, then, in this context, was not presented as a contrast to works but to genetics. Paul argued that genetics no longer mattered, as it was through faith (not through genetics) that we become children of God. This was clearly prophesied in the OT, but it was also just as clearly overlooked or misinterpreted by those who stood to lose their exclusivity status with God.
- The theme of justification by faith rather than genetics continues in Paul’s insistence that circumcision needs to be of the spiritual heart (that is, the core of our being), not of other parts of our body. God looks at the hearts of people, not at their outward words and deeds. This, too, is scriptural, and this, too, was clearly overlooked in scripture (and is still overlooked) by those who stand to lose from it.
- Pau’s description of becoming a follower of Jesus compares it to dying and coming back to life. I think we can all agree that death is a major life stage. If spiritual rebirth in a person’s life is as definitive and monumental as death, then it is by far the most significant and defining event we will ever experience on Earth.
- If your spiritual rebirth does not look like Paul’s or like the disciples at Pentecost, you’re not genuinely reborn. This is not an accusation or a judgement; it’s just a spiritual fact. Rebirth comes over you like a spiritual earthquake that is off the Richter scale. There is no “I think I’m reborn” or “my pastor says I’m reborn” or “I was reborn at baptism when I was three weeks old” in genuine spiritual rebirth: It’s as definitive as death and as earth-shattering as a mega-earthquake.
- Also in Romans, Paul assures the Jews that they’re not all entirely cut off from God’s grace, but that they will have to overcome their dependence on “dead works”, that is, keeping the statutes and ordinances of Jewish law, and look instead to making their hearts right before God. What constitutes making one’s heart right before God is described towards the end of the letter and can be summed up as putting God first in everything you do and treating others as you want to be treated.
- The letter to the Romans also includes a long list of the sins of the age. Not much has changed over the centuries. Sadly, Paul could be describing Western culture today.
- Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has a completely different tone than his letter to the Romans. That’s because the Corinthians were facing different issues than the Romans, mainly squabbles and divisions among themselves and spiritual immaturity. Already, believers were forming into camps, adopting this or that doctrine while disputing the validity of others. We suffer from the same issues today. The only way to resolve them is to be in good standing with God and Jesus, know scripture, and apply what you’ve learned to your everyday life, regardless of the circumstances.
- God doesn’t expect or even want us to get everything right (“mistakes keep you humble”), but he does expect and want us to keep doing our best to follow the example of Jesus, which is what Paul always strived to do. God rewards half-efforts with a half-reward. But if you give it everything you’ve got, even if you’re wrong in some aspects, you’ll get your full reward. God looks to your heart and to your efforts; not to what you say you’ll do, but to what you actually do. To God, the effort you make to do his will is what counts, not whether you’re right or wrong about this or that doctrine. The direction of your will towards him is all that ultimately matters. Even so, we should rarely be wrong about doctrine if we’re following Jesus as our example and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
- In 1 Corinthians, Paul also explains the difference between living in the world and living in God’s Kingdom. The wisdom we receive from God as his child and follower of Jesus is “foolishness” to those who haven’t received it. I certainly thought it was foolish before I was reborn. I thought everyone who believed in God was an idiot. Little did I know that I was, in fact, the idiot.
- Make note about Paul’s teaching on lawsuits. Believers can use the threat of a lawsuit as a kind of weapon, but it should never be taken any farther than a show of force, just as a weapon should never be used to kill or wound, but as a show of force to deter violence. Paul says it’s even better to suffer being defrauded than to take someone to court before a worldly judge. Just before I was reborn, I had three lawsuits before the courts. The day of my rebirth, God showed me that I had to drop them all, and I did.
- Scripture is words in a book, but not just words in a book: it’s guidance for a course of action. Use lawsuits as a show of force, just as you would use a weapon as a show of force, but never follow through with lawsuits or violent acts. We don’t do those things anymore. In nearly every case, a show of force is sufficient as a deterrent. If it isn’t, Paul says let yourself be defrauded, and Jesus says give them double what they ask, and turn the other cheek. Again, this looks like foolishness to the world, but it’s God’s economy, and it will all work out to your benefit in the end. Do what’s right in God’s eyes, not the world’s.
- 1 Corinthians also includes two major teachings about caritas (God’s love working through us) and the use of speaking in tongues (that is, in a new holy way or in a foreign language that you haven’t learned). I’ve written here about caritas and here about speaking in tongues. Both gifts are supernaturally given from God; caritas is a selfless love that enables you to love your enemies, and tongues simply means speaking in a language you haven’t learned or speaking with words you haven’t spoken before. TONGUES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BABBLING ON IN INCOMPREHENSIBLE GIBBERISH, unless you think Greek or German is incomprehensible gibberish. Tongues, in scripture, either refers to speaking a foreign language or speaking in a way that radically differs from how you used to speak (which is what happens when you’re born-again and start preaching and teaching the Word). Do not be fooled by people who tell you that speaking demonic utterances is speaking in tongues. They are lying to you, whether purposely or not. Be fools for God, not fools for deceivers.
Like the Gospels, Paul’s letters are dense and difficult to discuss in a read-through approach. Even so, God wants us to grab whatever jumps out at us now and hold onto it, because those are the things we’ll need to put into practice in the weeks and months to come.
What jumped out at you in today’s reading? How do you think you’ll be putting it into practice in the rough and rocky road that lies ahead? Whatever it is, maybe you should start practicing it now, so it will be second nature to you by the time you really need it.
The BIBLE READ-THROUGH schedule is presented in PDF directly below.