‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9).
There are an infinite number of terms we could use to describe Jesus. Terms come to our minds as we try to contemplate who it is that we worship: holy, mighty, righteous, loving, compassionate. Entire sermons can and have been given, entire books can and have been written on these aspects of Jesus’ character.
One term which may not come immediately to our mind is ‘generous.’ As Paul says in this verse, Jesus gave up the riches he had in heaven, all for us. Just imagine the riches of heaven. Not that Scrooge McDuck image, with a vast vault of gold to swim in! (Though unlimited resources of gold, and other precious metals and stones clearly belong to him.)
Far beyond these things we consider riches, there is something far greater and valuable belonging to Jesus: the eternal glory he had with the Father from the very beginning. Once he was unencumbered by a physical body, free from pain and various cravings.
But in his incarnation, when he took on flesh, he ‘made himself nothing’ (Phil 2:7). ‘He became poor’ for us, as the one who is infinite took on a finite body, all so we could become rich through his poverty! All so we could have forgiveness of sin, escape the judgement of God, and live forever with God as Father. So we could be resurrected as he has been resurrected, never again to taste sin and disease and death.
Our Lord has been so generous to us. Have you considered how you could better imitate him? What could you do to be more generous?
Few words are as powerful as ‘why?’ When it comes to what our neighbours think, ‘why?’ helps us understand. When discussing issues of importance with our neighbours without a Christian worldview, it also helps us, and maybe them, to see that the worldview they hold is founded on shifting sands.
Consider your average secular Aussie. They believe people are the result of millions of years of chance mutation and natural selection. In this worldview, we are no different from the animals, simply more highly evolved.
But if that is the case, why do they believe people have value? It is still innate in our neighbours to believe that people should be treated well, and they are outraged (rightly) by the abuse and violence they see. They are horrified by atrocities like child sexual abuse, rape, murder, and other acts of violence.
In the issue of abortion, there are women out there offended that their ‘rights’ over ‘their bodies’ are even being discussed, that abortion is still something to be debated. They believe that they should have bodily autonomy.
But why believe this? They have strong moral beliefs (some of them right, and some – like their commitment to abortion – is tragically wrong). But where do these come from?
According to their worldview, we are a random collection of molecules. Our thoughts are random chemical reactions in a random brain. So why do they act as if their belief about morality is so right? How can they trust it?
Their instinct that there is a true morality we should uphold (even if their understanding of it is woefully wrong) only makes sense in the Christian worldview, where people are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26). The next time you speak with someone and they make a morality claim, try asking them why.
‘One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple’ (Psalm 27:4)
What is your greatest love? What are you living for; longing for? The great problem with humanity could be described as our disordered loves. We love some things too much, others not enough. We have many loves: children, a good meal, restful sleep, company, independence, travel, and on we could go. There is much in our world to love, and they are good to love because they are gifts from God to enjoy (1 Tim 4:4, James 1:17).
But, in our sin, we love the gifts more than the giver. Often we are happy to accept good things from his hand, yet instead of our hearts swelling with love, our focus is on the gift. Like a child at Christmas, our attention is gripped by the shiny new toy making sounds instead of the one who has been so generous.
But David knows what is best. His greatest desire is not the gifts from God’s hand, but God himself. He seeks to dwell in God’s house all his days, to gaze on his beauty. He wants to know God more than he ever has. He always wants to be with him.
Is that our desire? Are we regularly focussing our attention on him, seeking after more of him in his word? Considering his glory and majesty? Do we cry out in wonder and praise at what we find?
Do the words of Augustine in 400 AD resonate with you? ‘You made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.’
‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor 15:26).
Our culture has a very confused understanding of death. Ask if they’re afraid of death, and some will say they are not. Is this true? This week there was panic in Times Square after a motorbike backfired. Everyone was on edge with the recent shootings, and they were scared to die.
Our culture, without even realising it, fears death. It has been hidden away. While once the body was in the home, now it is removed to the funeral directors. Once it was normal for a casket to be open for people to see the body, but now some provide warnings on the rare occasion an open casket is requested.
And yet, despite this fear, it is a culture of death. Death, and the ability to legally kill, is celebrated. We’ve just seen a bill to decriminalise abortion pass the NSW lower house. We’ve also seen the first person to be legally killed on request in Victoria. Death was seen as better than pain.
Tragically, they have forget that death is an enemy; our great enemy, dragging guilty sinners before the courtroom of God’s justice. There is no escape in death, and we shouldn’t be eager to kill our most vulnerable – the youngest of children and the terminally ill.
But for those in Christ, it’s an entirely different matter! While we should not hasten our death, we can rest assured that death has been dealt a death blow by his resurrection, And that victory will be completed by his return. We can remember that death ‘is far better’ (Phil 1:23), because it brings us to Jesus’ side.
What a joy to be found in Christ and be able to rejoice that the great enemy is and will be defeated.
‘Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit’ (James 5:17-18).
It is easy to feel insignificant. As individuals, we might feel past our prime, unable to contribute in the ways we once did. Our resources; money, time, energy, may all seem depleted.
Even when we look beyond ourselves to the community of believers to which we belong, we feel small and insignificant. Finances are tight. Our influence feels negligible. We long to see people saved, but it has been some time since that happened.
But what an encouragement we have in these verses! How surprising, seeing the great Elijah compared to little, insignificant us, and to find ourselves on level footing! He was a man with a nature like ours!
There was nothing in him that made him powerful. Nothing in him gave him authority over the skies and the rain. Yet he prayed, and God answered, God acted.
The power was not in Elijah, but the God who responds to the prayer of his people. We call on the God who reigns over it all. The God who does not divide his people into those he will listen to and those he won’t.
So, let us pray. Let us pray bold prayers. Outlandish prayers! Prayers for ourselves, the church, our nation, the world. Even if we struggle to believe it could ever happen, let us pray, remembering that we are just like Elijah, and God listened to him. He ‘is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think’ (Eph 3:20). Let us devote ourselves to prayer.
‘I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints’ (Rom 15:30-31).
Paul is a Bible hero. It’s easy to read his story, to read his wise, challenging and caring words in his letters, and think he was self-sufficient. He could travel place to place, endure stoning and ridicule and arrest, and based on his own strength he could knuckle through it all: alone, and strong.
But this is to misread him. For one thing, he was a team player. He was always with others, and when he was alone he longed to have friends with him. Read Acts and you see Barnabas, Silas, Timothy and others. Read through his letters and continually you’ll come across names of his fellow workers.
More than this, however, he never relied on his own strength. He always asked churches for prayer. Paul knew his dependence on God. He knew that God was in control of all circumstances; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Are you in prayer for the ministry in Eaglehawk? That not only will we be delivered from unbelievers – from antagonism and unjust laws – but also that those unbelievers would become believers? Are you praying that the ministry would be acceptable to the saints here, that we would all be unified in the truth, loving one another and proclaiming together the mysteries of the gospel?
Would you like some guidance in your prayers? Join the prayer team, calling on God to work in and through our church, knowing that you are joining with others praying the same thing.
‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ … that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak’ (Col 4:2-4).
One of the great tragedies of the modern church, and many modern Christians, is our prayerlessness. When you consider the great moments of the Christian church, there’s always at least one thing they have in common – God’s people were praying.
And how could it be any other way? Christians have always known that God is absolutely in control. All things – whether the affairs of nations or the concerns of our own lives – are completely in his hands. And because God’s people knew he was in control, they turned to him.
In our day and age we love being independent. We fool ourselves into thinking we can do it ourselves. How easy so many of us find it to go through our entire day without a word of prayer! We forget how dependent we are on God for everything – even our very next breath.
But Paul was very aware of his need, and so he called the Colossians to prayer. He wasn’t too proud to ask for prayer because he knew that without God, he was powerless.
Are you praying for our church? For the people in it, its ministries, the people around us? Without God we can do nothing.
Are you feeling unable to contribute to the life of the church beyond attending on Sundays? Don’t! You can still serve! Be part of what God is doing among us – join the prayer team we are forming. Devote yourself to prayer, and see what God does through you, for his glory.
What is your place in the church?
The sad reality is that many are spectators, watching others doing the work of ministry. They might feel as emotionally involved as those watching the footy, but not actively involved.
Others, consciously or not, behave as consumers. Even more detached than spectators, they come and go, feeling ‘topped up’ for another week in the world, but lack the emotional engagement of even the spectators.
Is this our calling? Consider what Peter calls Christians scattered throughout the regions in the Roman Empire: ‘You are … a royal priesthood’ (1 Pet 2:9).
This is a high calling; to be a priest of God, under the High Priesthood of our brother and Lord, Jesus Christ (Heb 2:17). What does it mean to be a priest?
In the Old Testament, priests cared for the temple. Playing music, singing songs, performing sacrifices, teaching and praying. Theirs was a busy life, full of worshipping God and serving his people.
Our role is different than theirs, of course. The church building is not a temple; there is nothing sacred there. It is merely a meeting place. The sacrifice for sin has already been made.
But there is a pattern for us to follow. Priests are actively engaged in ministry. They are not spectators or consumers. They are workers, joining together with the rest of the church to actively worship God and serve one another and the world.
What might your priestly service look like?
Could you be involved on Sunday? Welcoming others, helping at the sound desk, reading the bible, praying, preparing morning tea?
Outside the service, could you commit to praying daily for the ministry and people of the church?
We are all called to serve. If you are not yet serving, what one thing could you take on?
‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone’ (Eph 2:19-20).
Jesus said he would build his church (Matt 16:18). But what is he building his church upon? There have been many so-called churches that have not been built on the correct foundation and so have been found not to be true churches at all!
What is the foundation Christ is building upon? ‘The apostles and prophets’ (Eph 2:20). Who are these apostles and prophets?
While in one sense all Christians are apostles of Jesus, when it is used in its more formal, specific sense it refers to the 12 who were directly chosen by Jesus (Judas Iscariot replaced by Matthias), and also Paul (the exception to the rule, one ‘untimely born’ (1 Cor 15:8)).
In one sense all Christians can also be called prophets; ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Rev 19:10). Obviously there are prophets in the Old Testament. But in Ephesians, prophets always refer to a specific group of Christians, gifted to speak new revelation from God to guide the church.
Are there apostles and prophets (with those specific definitions) today? No. They were the foundation, bringing direct revelation from God to lead God’s people. Now the foundation has been laid, and is being built upon.
Jesus is building on their testimony, as recorded in the New Testament. This is why we are devoted to God’s word – a true church is not built by attraction or motivational speeches, but by God’s word. Specifically, God’s word about Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. He builds his church as she calls people to repentance and faith in him.