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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Are You Following-Through for God?

2 Corinthians 8
          Upon reading 2 Corinthians, I came upon the passage of 2 Corinthians 8. I know I have read it before, but I mulled the passage for many days and resolved I must delve into it. While reading 1 Corinthians last month, I found Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth to be one of censure and disappointment in them. While reading 2 Corinthians, I find censure and disappointment are not the reasons Paul was writing to the Corinthians then. In 2 Corinthians, we find Paul writing commending them on having disciplined the disobedient and becoming unified. Paul tells them he has heard this good news from Titus whom Paul sent to Corinth.
            Paul had a couple of other reasons for writing to the Corinthians again. One of those reasons was to express his regret at not returning to Corinth yet. Another is to spur them on to complete that to which the Corinthians pledged themselves to God and the apostles. Chapter 8 is the crux of the latter point. This one made itself very visible in my mind this week.
            What was Paul writing to the Corinthians with his letter to them called 2 Corinthians 8? Paul was writing to spur the Corinthians finally to give as they had pledged of themselves for the poor in Jerusalem. There is no definitive cause of the poverty in Jerusalem. Some people have conjectured that because Jerusalem had so many pilgrims arriving each day, the hosts and other residents were impoverished from having to give food and shelter to them. Another conjecture put forth for the poverty of Jerusalem is a famine which may have occurred in Palestine around 46 A.D. Whatever the cause, the Christians in Jerusalem asked Barnabas and Saul to encourage Jesus' followers in the Diaspora (the areas outside Judea) to contribute toward the poverty of Jerusalem and either bring the funds back themselves or have it sent to the leaders in Jerusalem. (see Acts 11:29-30)
            Before, Paul had spoken to the Corinthians concerning the need in Judea and Jerusalem. (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-3) They had responded to the plea by Paul over a year before this letter (vs. 10). Paul encouraged them to complete this collection and send it on to Jerusalem (vv. 6 & 11). What caught my attention was what Paul said next to them. They abounded in everything, faith, utterance, knowledge, earnestness, and love. Yet, they had not done the next step and given money to the poor in Jerusalem.
Why had they not acted upon the desire God placed in their hearts? We are not exactly sure, but we know that Paul mentions what they did have. The Corinthians had these graces from God: faith, utterance, knowledge, earnestness, and love. They had faith to believe God had sent the Messiah. They had the Holy Spirit in them and so were able to teach and preach the Gospel. They had knowledge of the God of Israel, His promised Savior, and God’s provision of the Savior through His son, Jesus. The Corinthians were earnest, convicted, regarding the need to provide for the poor and they expressed their love for the apostles and other believers. Why then does Paul not only exhort them to complete this action, but holds up the action of the poor Macedonians as an example of those who had less than the Corinthians yet had already given to Jerusalem? The Macedonians gave not just of their surplus but of their own poverty to be able to help their impoverished brothers in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 8:1-5). What the Corinthians did not appear to have was the ability to put their inward heart’s desire into action.
This brought to mind the question: How can they say they are believers if their faith does not have actions? It was James who said in James 2:17-18 (NASB), “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Christ spoke of this kind of faith as similar to the Pharisees faith, the men who knew the Law so well, but who were not practicing what God really required in their lives. Jesus said that true faith had to surpass the faith of the Pharisees to be considered children of God (Matthew 5:20). Jesus did not mean that our actions would win our way into heaven, but that the faith that came from truth, which when enacted, would show we are truly the children of God. True faith brings with it actions of love by us that shows God’s love for Him and others.
This is what kept prodding my thoughts this week. Paul was comparing the Macedonians to the Corinthians to prod the Corinthians into action, the action to which they committed from a heart full of God’s love. In the fervor of hearing about the plight of the believers in Jerusalem, the Corinthians pledged themselves to aid them. In the year since the Corinthians heard this message, their earnestness did not result in action. This made me wonder how often we are caught in this trap for one reason or another. How often do we fail on our follow-through to do the thing that we pledged as service because of God’s moving in our hearts? We may have faith, utterance, knowledge, earnestness, and love as the Corinthians. Unless people can experience God through our faithful actions, unless we follow-through on that which we committed to do because of God’s moving in our hearts, how will others know or hear of God’s love? Faith without works is dead, James 2 says.

Consider it another way, when you believe, the Holy Spirit, whom Christ promised to give to His followers, comes to live in us. As we grow in Christ, in our relationship with God, the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts and helps us grow them. As we exercise these gifts, we will bear fruit of the Spirit. You can see now, that unless our lives, as followers of Jesus, bear fruit, we show to others around us and ourselves that we are not growing more Christlike. One of two possibilities may have occurred for this to be so. Either we were never taught how to be more Christlike and grow more in our relationship with Him, or we never truly had accepted Jesus into our hearts and lives. If the latter is the case, we may be comparable to the packed dirt, the rocky ground, or the thorny soil upon which the seed fell. In any of these places, the roots could not be firmly established and the seed would not have taken hold in a person’s life (see Matthew 13). I pray none of us were any of these latter.
I pray that we are all growing to be more Christlike so that His fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, meekness, and self-control are seen in us and experienced through us (Galatians 5:22-23). I pray that our faith leads to actions quicker than the Corinthians’ expressed the love which God moved in them toward the poor in Jerusalem. Paul’s gentleness when he approached the Corinthians’ delay in action relieved me. I am grateful that our Father in heaven is also gentle, merciful, and forgiving toward us for our delay in action. Yet, now that God brought our inaction to our attention, we must no longer delay in acting upon His prodding of our hearts and minds.

What is it that His Spirit in you compelled you to commit to do for God? You may not have even spoke your commitment aloud, but you and God both know what you promised Him you would do when He stirred your heart. Now is the time to act upon the gracious gift of faith God has given you by putting your faith and love to work. May we each join with Christ to do whatever He has pressed upon our hearts, not only so we can have completed that task, but so that the recipient can receive the gift God had planned to give them through you. Someone may be waiting upon your action and promise to God. What is keeping you from following through with God to them?