Jun 17, 2017
Sent to spend the summer on a remote and mysterious island, brothers embark on a thrilling treasure hunt to restore their family’s lost fortune.
Jun 17, 2017
Sent to spend the summer on a remote and mysterious island, brothers embark on a thrilling treasure hunt to restore their family’s lost fortune.
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 2 Corinthians 3:2
My mother and her sisters engage in what is increasingly becoming a lost art form—writing letters. Each week they pen personal words to each other with such consistency that one of their mail-carriers worries when he doesn’t have something to deliver! Their letters brim with the stuff of life, the joys and heartaches along with the daily happenings of friends and family.
I love to reflect on this weekly exercise of the women in my family. It helps me appreciate even more the apostle Paul’s words that those who follow Jesus are “a letter from Christ,” who were “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:3). In response to false teachers who wanted to discredit his message (see 2 Cor. 11), Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to keep on following the true and living God as he had previously taught. In doing so, he memorably described the believers as Christ’s letter, with their transformed lives a more powerful witness to the Spirit working through Paul’s ministry than any written letter could be.
How wonderful that God’s Spirit in us writes a story of grace and redemption! For as meaningful as written words can be, it is our lives that are the best witness to the truth of the gospel, for they speak volumes through our compassion, service, gratitude, and joy. Through our words and actions, the Lord spreads His life-giving love. What message might you send today?
Lord God, write the story of my life so that I might reflect Your love and goodness to those I encounter today.
We are Christ’s letters.
Our Lord Jesus said we are the salt and light of the world (Matt. 5:13–14) to illustrate the impact believers have in their community (v. 16). We are not saved by our good works (Eph. 2:8–9), but once saved what we do and how we live are a witness to the power of Christ to change lives.
A physical prison is built brick by brick. Similarly, a spiritual prison can be erected one sin at a time without a believer noticing. Ensnarement happens slowly, beginning with a thought. Over time, unless the thought is eradicated, contemplation turns to action. With Satan falsely promising happiness as the reward for giving in to temptation, sin gains strength through repetition until our conscience is finally overpowered. One day we discover the devil holds our will in bondage.
But we can avoid spiritual chains. Our first step is to acknowledge two basic truths: All sin enslaves, and bondage begins in the mind. We cannot maintain a healthy relationship with the Lord while indulging sin. When a wrong thought creeps into our consciousness, we have the choice to expel it or to entertain it. Through the strength of the Holy Spirit, every believer possesses power to change his or her mind.
A strong antidote to temptation is a long-term view of disobedient behavior. A second step, then, is to ask ourselves, Is the pleasure of this sin worth the consequences of enslavement? Inevitably, the answer is no. What alcoholic would claim that his next drink is worth the powerlessness he feels against the bottle?
Third, we order our life according to Scripture. That is, we make the choice to place ourselves in bondage to the Father because we find true freedom in Him. His Word trains us to recognize sin and excises wrongdoing from our heart. Ask God to speak through the Bible today, and see what He reveals about your life.
“Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 5:5)
This is a fascinating concept and a wonderful reality. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is said to be an “earnest”—that is, a pledge or deposit—on an ultimate fulfillment of a magnificent promise from God Himself. The word translated “earnest” (Greek arrhabon) is essentially a transliteration of its Hebrew equivalent (arabown), translated “pledge” in the Old Testament (see Genesis 38:17-20).
Now if the guiding presence of God, through the Holy Spirit, is merely an earnest payment, the fulfillment must be glorious beyond comprehension. This “selfsame thing,” as our text calls it, is a wonderful “house which is from heaven,” the spiritual body we shall receive when we go to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).
The phrase also occurs in 2 Corinthians 1:22: “Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” In context, the earnest payment here is associated with the “sealing” of God and the assurance that “all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen” (v. 20).
The third and last use of this word in the New Testament is in Ephesians 1:13-14: “In whom also trusted . . . after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” We are “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), and He is to inherit all things.
Thus, the Holy Spirit, a present possession of all who have received Christ as Savior, is also God’s pledge of a glorious future—a perfect body, a great inheritance, and the certain fulfillment of all of God’s gracious promises. HMM
2 Samuel 1:10
The probabilities are that this hypocritical fellow had visited the battle-field for the purpose of plundering the dead, soon after the close of the battle. Either he found Saul dead, or else the monarch’s suicidal wound had not yet ended fatally, and the Amalekite finished the deed. His story was told in the hope of winning the thanks of David and a corresponding reward. The crown and bracelet were worth something, but this adventurer hoped to earn a far higher prize by bringing them to the rival leader. He reckoned cunningly; but little did the Amalekite know that he was not dealing with one like himself but with a man of God. Instead of ingratiating himself for life with the new king, he excited David’s indignation, and, being condemned by his own story, he met with a speedy doom.
2 Samuel 1:11, 12
The man of God felt no joy in his enemy’s death, neither will a gracious heart ever rejoice in the misfortune of others, however cruelly they may have acted.
2 Samuel 1:15
Whether he spake the truth or not, the sentence was just. As there was now no king in the land, David as captain of the host exercised the office of judge and condemned the man out of his own mouth.
2 Samuel 1:16
Thus will all wrong courses sooner or later bring down punishment upon those who enter upon them. The plot looked fair. Who was to discover the falsehood? Were not the plundered ornaments conclusive evidence? David would be sure to ennoble the bearer of such good tidings! The cunning sinner had made one error in his reckoning, and it proved to be a fatal one. Let us take warning and never leave the path of truth. We should abhor every form of deception, for the Lord will not endure liars and will surely overthrow them.
The Lord is wise and wonderful,
As all the ages tell:
O learn of him, learn now of him,
That all he does is well.
And in his light shall we see light,
Nor still in darkness roam,
And he shall be to us a rest,
When evening shadows come.
1 Corinthians 13:4
During the next six Sparkling Gems, I want to speak to you about Paul’s words in First Corinthians 13:4-8, where he speaks of love. These powerful verses are like a mirror. If you will be brave enough to look honestly into that mirror, you will find that Paul lists fifteen powerful points about the love of God and how it behaves. By peering into these verses, you will be able to determine if your life is a reflection of the high-level kind of love God wants you to exhibit toward others.
If you discover that your life is a reflection of this love, you can praise God for the great growth and maturity you have attained in your life. But if you find that your life does not reflect the kind of love God wants you to possess, take it as a signal from Heaven that you need to change and become more like Jesus!
Paul wrote, “Charity [God’s high-level agape love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
In these verses, the apostle Paul tells us fifteen primary marks or characteristics of agape love. We are going to be looking at all fifteen of these points; however, before we get into the specific manifestations of agape love, let’s first look at the word agape itself, for this is a very special kind of love, unlike any other in the world.
In First Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul uses the word agape to describe the highest level of love in this world, which is also the kind of love God expects every believer to demonstrate in his or her life. This word agape describes a love so completely different from what the world offers that it is only used in the New Testament to describe God’s love and the love that should flow from the hearts of believers.
Agape is a divine love that gives and gives and gives, even if it’s never responded to, thanked, or acknowledged. You could say that agape is a love that isn’t based on response but on a decision to keep on loving, regardless of a recipient’s response or lack of response. Because agape is such an unconditional love, I call it high-level love. It is the highest, most noble, purest form of love that exists.
In First Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul describes the characteristics of agape love. God designed these verses to help you determine whether or not you are walking in this kind of high-level love in your own life.
As Paul begins his description of the conduct of agape, he first writes, “Charity [agape love] suffereth long….” The words “suffereth long” are taken from the Greek word makrothumia, a compound of the words makros and thumos. As noted earlier (see July 25), the word makros means long. The word makros may indicate something that is long distant, far, remote, or of long duration. The word thumos means anger, but it also embodies the idea of swelling emotions or a strong and growing passion about something.
When these two words are compounded into one, it forms the word makrothumia, which pictures the patient restraint of anger and therefore longsuffering. It can be translated as the words forbearance and patience.
The word makrothumia (“longsuffering”) is like a candle that has a very long wick. Because its wick is long, it is prepared to burn a long time. It is ready to forbear and patiently wait until a certain person finally comes around, makes progress, changes, or hears what you are trying to communicate or teach him. This is the picture of a person whose feelings for someone else are so passionate that he doesn’t easily give up or bow out; instead, he keeps on going and going and going, even though the other person doesn’t quickly respond to him.
So when Paul says, “charity suffereth long,” his words could be rendered:
“Love patiently and passionately bears with others for as long as patience is needed….”
Dear friend, this means agape love doesn’t throw in the towel and quit. In fact, the harder the fight and the longer the struggle, the more committed agape love becomes. Like a candle with an endless wick, it just keeps burning and burning and burning, for it never knows how to quit. This, of course, is contrary to human nature, which says, “I’m sick and tired of waiting and believing. If that person doesn’t come around pretty soon, I’m finished with this relationship.”
Are you in a relationship that tests your patience? Are you tempted to throw up your arms in exasperation? If so, you need a good dose of agape love to be released in you!
According to Romans 5:5, the agape love of God has already been “shed abroad” in your heart by the Holy Spirit. This means you don’t have to come up with this supernatural love by yourself. The words “shed abroad” are from the Greek word ekcheo, which denotes a pouring forth, a discharge, a spilling out, or something that is dispersed in abundance. In other words, God has magnificently bestowed on you sufficient love to be longsuffering in any relationship or situation.
God’s love has literally been poured forth, dispensed, and shed abroad in your heart. So when you ask the Holy Spirit to help you, He will release a river of this divine love to flow forth from within you and cause you to be supernaturally longsuffering toward that person who has frustrated you so much.
It’s just a fact that human nature is short-tempered and intolerant, but agape is slow to anger, slow to wrath, and doesn’t know how to quit! It supernaturally becomes stronger and more committed the longer it takes to get through to the heart of the one who is loved. This is a miraculous love—a love that transforms and changes people’s lives.
Second, Paul tells us that love is “kind.” The word “kind” is the Greek word chresteuomai, which means to be adaptable or compliant to the needs of others. When agape is working in your life, you don’t demand that others be like you. Instead, agape makes you want to bend over backwards to become what others need you to be for them! Thus, the word “kind” portrays a willingness to serve and to change in order to meet the needs of others. This is completely opposite of selfishness and self-centeredness.
So when Paul writes that love is “kind,” an expanded interpretation of this phrase would mean:
“… Love doesn’t demand others to be like itself; rather, it is so focused on the needs of others that it bends over backwards to become what others need it to be….”
If this is what Paul means when he says that love is kind, we must look into the mirror and ask ourselves: Do I become what others need me to be, or do I demand that others be like me? Real agape love doesn’t think of itself first. Instead, it is always reaching out, thinking and focusing primarily on the needs of others. The person walking in agape love adapts to those around him in order to touch them, help them, and impact them in a meaningful way.
Third, Paul tells us that “… charity [agape love] envieth not….” The word “envy” is the Greek word zelos, which portrays a person who is radically consumed with his own desires and plans. This is a person so bent on getting his own way that he is willing to sacrifice anything or anyone to get it. You might describe this person as being ambitious and self-centered. He is so consumed with himself that he doesn’t ever think of the needs or desires of others. His own plans are paramount in his mind, and everyone else come after him.
Therefore, when Paul says, “charity envieth not,” his words could actually be rendered:
“… Love is not ambitious, self-centered, or so consumed with itself that it never thinks of the needs or desires that others possess….”
I long so much to see this terrible flaw uprooted from all our lives! You see, real agape love doesn’t think of itself first but is always looking outward, thinking of the other person rather than itself. So examine your relationships at home, at church, and at work, and ask yourself: Am I committed to seeing others blessed and successful, or am I more committed to my own cause than anyone else’s? If you’re walking in agape love, your greatest concern is that others succeed!
When all these Greek words and phrases are translated together, this could be an expanded interpretive translation:
“Love passionately bears with others for as long as patience is needed; love doesn’t demand others to be like itself, but is so focused on the needs of others that it bends over backwards to become what others need it to be; love is not ambitious, self centered, or so consumed with itself that it never thinks of the needs or desires that others possess….”
This is what it means when the Bible says love is patient; love is kind; and love is not envious. Now you must look into God’s “mirror” and see what it tells you about your own life today. Do you demonstrate these characteristics of divine love in your life? Are you passionately patient with others? Do you bend over backwards to be what other people need you to be? Are you more focused on people around you than on yourself?
If your answer is yes to these questions, then praise God for the great growth and spiritual maturity you have gained in your life. But if you see that your life is not reflecting these attributes of God’s love, you still have something to rejoice about—you can be thankful that God has revealed this deficiency to you. Now you can ask Him to help change you and make you more like Jesus!
Lord, I ask You to help me open my heart so that agape love can flow up from within me. I realize that I’ve allowed myself to get clogged up with my own self interests far too often. I need to be more focused on the needs of others than I am on myself. I realize that the only way I can become this selfless is to yield to the Holy Spirit so He can do a deep work in my life. Holy Spirit, I am asking You today to do whatever is necessary to teach me how to regularly walk in this high-level, agape love of God.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
I confess that I walk in the agape love of God. I am patient with other people. I am also very slow to anger or to get upset. I am so concerned about the welfare of others that one of my chief priorities in life is to become everything I need to be to meet their needs. Other people see me as a friend who wants to help them succeed. Although God has given me my own dreams and desires, I never neglect to help others achieve their dreams and aspirations as well. Because high-level love works in me, I am becoming more and more like Jesus Christ!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
LOVING AND SERVING CHRIST WITH A PASSION
“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… We proclaim him… so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Philippians 3:7, 8; Colossians 1:28, 29)
LIVING AND MINISTERING IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
“Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature… My message and my preaching were… with a demonstration of the Spirit‘s power… ” (Galatians 5:16; 1 Corinthians 2:4, 5)
LIVING BY FAITH AND OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S WORD
“I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me… Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me… ” (Acts 27:25; John 14:21a)
SHARING THE GOSPEL BY LIFE AND WORD
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5, 6)
MULTIPLYING SPIRITUAL LABORERS
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
POSSESSING A VISION FOR THE WORLD
“He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.‘ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.‘” (Genesis 15:5)