Saturday, November 19, 2016

"The challenges of ministry …"

Day #325

Scripture Reading:  II Corinthians 1 - 3 …

Those who are engaged in Christian ministry today in any capacity understand the challenges serving Christ brings … and since Christ calls every believer to "minister" to others in His Name, everyone who believes in Jesus and who desires to serve Him experiences, to one degree or another, the same challenges.  Ultimately, the challenge comes down to this:  being faithful to Christ, loving people and fulfilling all that God calls you to do.  It is, in every way, an impossible task … if attempted by our own wisdom and strength.

But we are not alone!!  While many call the Apostle Paul the greatest of the apostles, he certainly did not consider himself to be so.  He spoke with authority because he knew he bore the authority of Christ.  He faced persecution with the strength that the Spirit of God gave him.  He endured because he knew he was not alone.  As he offers comfort to the Corinthians at the beginning of this second letter to them, he relates some of the hardships that he and those with him had faced during their journeys throughout Asia, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He says, "In our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God" (1:9).  Do you think prayer matters?  Paul did.  He gave thanks "for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many" (1:11).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth Paul had pointed out their "issues," their sins.  They were a young body of believers and remember, they did not yet have the New Testament writings of the apostles.  There was sin among them that was being tolerated and Paul spoke firmly about what they needed to do to honor Christ.  He explains in this second letter that he did not come to visit them again in order to spare them further reprimands.  He wanted to see if they would be obedient to God in dealing with the immorality that had surfaced in the church.  Now he tells them to forgive the one who had sinned (apparently there had been repentance), saying, "forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him" (2:7-8).

Church discipline, which is rarely exercised today, is intended to restore the one who has sinned, not to punish.  Awareness of our sin is necessary if we are going to repent, to turn from it, and pursue righteousness by the strength of God within us.  As Paul said in 1:21:  "It is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ."  We ALL need Christ.  The problem in the church today is that sin is tolerated rather than confronted, leaving those who are living in sin, and who are weighed down with guilt inside, without a remedy.  A guilty conscience is Satan's playground!  Confession, repentance, forgiveness and restoration brings freedom and joy!!  Those who take Jesus’ words out of context when He says, “Do not judge, or you, too, will be judged” (Matthew 7:1), wrongly believe Jesus was telling us to overlook sin.  That leaves people with no hope of repentance or forgiveness!

Paul goes on to explain the difference between the Old Covenant of the Law and the New Covenant of the Spirit that he is proclaiming.  First, he makes it clear that not all people are going to receive the truth of the Gospel and be saved.  He says, "We are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death, to the other, the fragrance of life" (2:15-16).  God's Word at the same time pronounces judgment on those who reject it and salvation to those who believe.  It is our responsibility to offer God's grace and forgiveness in the Gospel and to trust God to work through His Spirit to accomplish His purpose in the lives of those who hear it.

Because many of the Corinthians had believed, Paul could say, "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God" (3:2-3).  How awesome is that?!  Imagine your life as a letter from Christ to the world.  What does it say?  When people look at you, what does your life tell them about Jesus, about our Father in heaven??

The power of the New Covenant is the Holy Spirit.  Jeremiah spoke about this new covenant in Jeremiah 31:33, when God declares, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts."  This New Covenant is more glorious than the Old Covenant (the Law) because it carries with it the power to fulfill it.  Paul speaks of the "veil" that covered the glory of God as it shone from Moses' face and as it was revealed in the Law itself.  The old nature of sin within us does not want to look at the Law because we know we can't keep it and it makes us feel guilty … because we ARE!  But the New Covenant is different and so is even more glorious.

In the New Covenant God declares that Jesus bore the penalty for our sins and that we now have access, by grace, into the very presence of God.  God now lives within believers by His Spirit, transforming us into the image of His Son.  "Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away … and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM!  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (3:16-18).

Praise the Lord for His marvelous grace!!  Here is true comfort in all our trials and sufferings in this world!  Here is hope and joy in the Lord that lifts us up and gives us boldness to declare to others that there is grace and forgiveness available at the foot of the cross for all who come.  As Paul greeted the Corinthians, so we can say to those who come, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!" (1:2).  May you know this comfort that comes from knowing God's grace and experiencing His peace.  Jesus Christ is risen!  Hallelujah!!

"Our Father in heaven, to You belongs all the glory for the message of salvation through Your Son Jesus Christ.  Thank You for sending Jesus to be my Savior.  Continue Your work in me so that I may be a minister of Your love and grace, offering forgiveness and restoration to all who believe.  May those who see Your light in me be drawn to You so that they, too, will experience the comfort, hope and joy that comes only from You, our God, our Savior, our Lord.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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