Thursday, May 21
Paul mentions the “firstfruits of the Spirit” in Rom.8:23. The term “firstfruits” is used a number of times in the New Testament, with a variety of nuances. In this case, the implication is that the Holy Spirit is a pledge or a down payment for a future heritage, a truth which is verified in other passages. The Holy Spirit is the beginning of a host of eternal benefits that will become reality after this life is over. In a sense, we are getting a taste of our future life in heaven. The indwelling Holy Spirit appears to be a permanent condition that will continue throughout eternity. It’s awesome to think that we have in this life a little bit of eternity. It certainly puts an exciting spin on the word “firstfruits.” “Firstfruits” is associated with harvest. At the end of the millennial period, the heavens and earth will be renewed and eternal bliss begins. That’s the reaping time. For the first time, all saints of all time will be gathered together. The weeds will be separated from the grain and destroyed. Satan, death, and every vestige of evil will be forever vanquished. It will be a bountiful harvest. Maybe we’ll have a new and exciting Thanksgiving banquet.
Wednesday, May 20
Romans 8:26 is an interesting verse and difficult to understand. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” The Greek word for “groans” has shades of meaning—sighs, murmurs, as well as groans—a little confusing. By context, we can conclude that the interceding has to do with heart issues, feelings and desires that leave us in doubt as to how to pray. It goes back to the groaning of v. 23. That groaning is a desire to leave this world and get to heaven. Paul himself had that dilemma. “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to dies is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far [for me]. But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” This is a dilemma for us as it was for Paul. We look forward to heaven with great anticipation, yet we are still living in a world that is evil and getting worse. We have a job to do, but we would prefer to have it over with and get on to our new home in heaven. Do we pray for endurance? patience? worldwide revival? for the Lord to come tomorrow? This is where the groaning of the Holy Spirit comes in: “because the Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will (v. 27).” The Holy Spirit’s “groaning” is to modify our prayer to fit both our heart felt needs and God’s agenda It’s encouraging to know that God reads our hearts and responds appropriately.
Tuesday, May 19
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Rom. 8:22. John Piper makes a critical distinction here. It is easy to think that the groaning of all nature is because of the downward spiral of the world. Increasing evil, tribulation, and judgment at the end of the age is not the cause of the groaning. Paul is not talking about the throes of death, but the joyous pains of childbirth. We are experiencing “labor pains,” a temporary period that will be replaced by exquisite joy. The end of the age ushers us into a new and sinless eternity. Heaven, a new earth and a sinless state is something to rejoice about. Birth pains are worth it. The new life will be glorious.
Monday, May 18
“Elders should be tending the flock, not petting the sheep.” You won’t find this statement in the Bible, but the message is. Paul tells Timothy: “Preach the Word . . . correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Tim. 4:2. It’s so easy to console a wayward brother and neglect the “correct” and “rebuke” part. We can rationalize this in any number of ways. “I’m a sinner, too; I don’t want to come across as ‘holier than thou.’” Or, “He will be offended and will not accept correction.” Or “If offended, he might leave and go to another church.” The above passage has to do with the one doing the rebuking. Other passages deal with the one being rebuked. Heb. 12:5-6 says “do not lose heart when he [God] rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves.” Rev. 3:19 says “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” The point, of course, is to perfect us, to make us more like Christ. Patting someone on the back that needs correction doesn’t do that. In fact, it’s counter productive. It encourages him to ignore his problem, to reject correction, which obviously thwarts the sanctification process. Please note that love is the motivating force behind correcting and rebuking a fellow believer. That means that when we refuse to help a person with a sin problem, we don’t love him. It’s like parents who don’t want to deal with a rebellious child. Paul notes that rebuke needs to be done with great patience, instruction, and encouragement. Patience softens the heart so the message can be received. Instruction explains why the rebuke is needed. Encouragement motivates the person to change. All of this is necessary if the counsel is to be successful. By the way, this truth is not just for elders; it’s for all believers. Gal. 6:1-2. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Sunday, May 17
“Intercessory prayer can penetrate the hearts of those we cannot open and shield those we guard. It can teach where we cannot speak, and comfort where our hearts have no power to soothe. Prayer, with its unseen hand, can enter where we cannot.”— Lila E. Torres in Guideposts, April, 2015. This succinct and powerful statement should compel us to change our prayer lives. If you need a little added incentive, remember that God repeatedly tells us in the Word that we need to pray, that we are powerless without it, and that nothing of importance can be done without it. Please take a minute here to evaluate your prayer life. Then compare that with your effectiveness in ministering to others. It’s not that we don’t pray; it’s just that we don’t pray enough. Being fruitful for God without prayer is like trying to drive your car without gas in the tank. You might say that prayer is the fuel of an effective ministry. If you are not satisfied with the results of your service to God, maybe you should check your gas gauge. As for me, the needle in my gas gauge is closer to empty than full. If you want to start to change your prayer life, maybe you could start by praying for mine.
Saturday, May 16
“Verba movent, exempla trahunt. (Words move people, examples compel them.”—Latin proverb. I’m not into Latin, but thankfully, someone translated it into English. I’m often emotionally “moved” by words, whether it’s “Lead On, O King Eternal” or “American the Beautiful.” There are times in church when I can’t sing the hymn because of the words. And yes, I get emotional about patriotic stuff, too. But it’s really rare when I am moved to the degree that I DO anything. But when someone leads by example, I am more apt to take action. When I was in high school, a retired missionary who served years in Haiti, joined our little church in Kettle Falls, WA. I wanted to be like him. His example really motivated me. He was a quiet, dignified man, didn’t say much, never sought me out, and I never said much to him. Whether he knew it or not, he was a role model for me. I was further motivated to action by godly men with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship while in college. All of these people were great examples that had profound effect on my life. You probably had people in your life that moved you, too. But did they move you to action? I don’t know who this Latin guy was that coined the proverb, but he had it right!
Friday, May 15
Now let’s put all this together. The situation was getting critical. The populace was more and more infatuated with Christ and His teachings, but there was strong opposition by the Jewish leaders, who were out to kill Jesus. The disciples were loyal to Christ, but did not understand that Jesus had to die and be raised from the dead in order to redeem man. The disciples were crucial factors in the establishment of the church and the spread of the gospel, and were not really prepared for what was coming. At this point, about midway in Jesus’ teaching ministry, several things needed to be done. The populace needed to be kept from crowning Jesus as their king. The Jewish leaders needed to be kept from killing Jesus until He had time to prepare the disciples for their future ministry, and the disciples needed to radically change their mind sets. Their affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah and the revelation that Jesus was to die were major issues. They still didn’t get the full picture, but the transfiguration laid the groundwork for it. They finally got it all put together after the crucifixion and resurrection. And then were empowered by the Holy Spirit to embrace their leadership roles. All of this in the capable hands of a loving God.