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Monday, February 3, 2014

How Much Do You Give to God?

Luke 21

            Have you heard of the story of the widow’s mite? I heard it enough so often  that I lost count. Because of this, I was tempted to skim over the story and move on to another passage when I read Luke 21. One verse stopped me, though. Verse 19 says, “By your endurance you will gain life” (NASB). The NIV states it, “By standing firm you will gain life.” Does this mean we can earn our eternal life? Certainly not! We must read this in relation to Jesus’ teaching on the widow’s mite and the prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction, the end times, and the second coming of Christ. Jesus implied a question with His teaching about the widow’s mite. He strengthened the question with verse 19. He asked, "How much of your life did you give to God when you decided to follow Jesus?"

            The widow, as Jesus stated, gave more than the other people. She gave everything she had. The other people, Jesus said, gave out of their surplus. They gave only a part. This reminds me of the parable of the seed and the sower in Luke 8 and Matthew 13. Remember that the seed sown on the path, thorny ground, and rocky ground did not take root and died quickly. Wind, weed, and thorn unsettled the proper grounding for the seed, like cares, trials, and troubles come for people, including people who profess to follow Christ. The widow, who follows with everything she has, is most like the true believer. Jesus meant this when He said, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” In the midst of talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that was to come, which we know occurred in 70AD, Jesus warned them to continue growing in their faith so they would stand firm and endure. Jesus ventured further into the future and spoke of the end times – death, fear, destruction, desolation, and hatred. He spoke of His return to Earth after these desolations, when He will come in power and glory, fulfilling the hope of His followers because He brings in God’s kingdom and their redemption.

            These four parts of Luke 21 are not isolated. They entwine and hold promise for the true followers of Christ. Let us look at verse 19 closer. Luke 21:19 says, “By your endurance, you will gain your lives.” Enduring is not a passive verb, as if any verb could be. Enduring, though, requires mental and physical strength. For Christians, whose spirituality reflects in their lives, enduring also shows spiritual strength, which comes from spiritual growth, growing deeper in their faith daily and becoming more Christ-like. Spiritual growth comes from God’s love and from a person’s absolute essence, their soul. These four are the areas of a person that Jesus spoke of in the greatest commandment and God told the Israelites, found in Luke 10:27 and Deuteronomy 6:5, respectively. These passages say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might.” Jesus added the element to love God with your mind. Jesus knows actions come from inside a person, from his or her mind and desires. Added to these, Jesus often told His disciples they would be hated because they follow Him. However, Jesus said, the one who has endured to the end will be saved (vs.19). He stated this in Matthew 10:22 and 24:13. “Endurance” in these verses comes from the Greek word “hupomeno,” which means to preserve under misfortunes and trials; to hold fast to one’s faith. The “gain” in verse 19 is “ktaomai,” which mean to acquire or get. “Lives” is the Greek word for “souls.” When put in context with the other things Christ told the people that day, it means when we persistently and steadfastly endure, we will acquire and get from God our souls. When we apply endurance to our Christian belief in Jesus, we grow stronger in our belief and prove we are true followers of Christ.

 As we continue to grow more Christ-like, the seed He planted within us shows in which soil our faith grows. If when we go through tribulations and trials we persevere in our belief in Jesus Christ, we grow and produce character and hope (Romans 5:3-5). James and Peter spoke of this as well. James carried it further and said to count it joy that you do encounter trials because it tests your faith and grows your endurance, which produces perfect results, your salvation in God’s kingdom. Peter in 2 Peter 1:5-8 showed the progression of Christian growth – applying diligence to your faith (purposely relying on what you are taught), growing moral excellence, increasing in godly knowledge, attaining self-control, persevering, acquiring godliness, becoming kind, and sharing love. Peter stated if you possess these qualities, then you are not useless or unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus.

            Obvious and active faith is the point. If you hear the Word and intentionally, with determination, step out on what you heard, your faith will grow as James and Peter stated. If you hear the Word, saying you are a follower of Jesus, but do not act upon this supposed faith you claim, you are not a follower. You do not have an eternal reward, eternal life with God in heaven. The widow enacted her faith when she gave her small offering of a mite. It was all she had and she trusted God to give all she needed, physically, spiritually, and eternally. She believed with all she had - her heart, soul, mind, and hand (strength). By putting into action the faith you claimed when you heard the Gospel message, you develop and grow in your faith. Faith is like that old saying, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Those who step out intentionally holding onto the spark of faith God puts within them are the ones who will gain eternity. They are the ones who will grow, show God’s love, and prove their faith to themselves and others. These believers, too, will be the ones persecuted for following Jesus, for being Christians. The trials and persecutions Christians endure come because of their obvious faith. These trials and persecutions also make the believer stronger. Non-believers will not taunt or persecute minor followers because they have not proven they are true followers of Christ yet, to themselves or to others. When believers venture their lives to follow Christ, when they step out on their faith, they prove their Christianity. If a person decides after that first step into faith that the Life is not for him, then he never was a Christian anyway. These kinds of people are the seeds that fell on rocky or thorny soil. Seeds sown in rocky and thorny soil, upon meeting trial, do not endure. These people represented as the seed in rocky and thorny soil will not gain their lives/souls, because they were not true believers. They were only hearers. God stirred the minds of these people, but they chose not to let it affect their hearts and souls for Christ.

            Jesus gave one final admonition to His followers at this point in time. He said, “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Jesus said, "Remember, pray to me, call upon me, so that you will have the strength to stay strong during these trials now and through the end of time." Christians do not have to stand in their own strength. Jesus came to give life abundantly. He has all authority and power in heaven in earth (Matthew 28:18). Growing in Christ means we follow Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It means we rely upon Him. If we could have saved ourselves, Jesus would not have been necessary. However, the power of Satan bound us to our sinfulness and only the power of God is greater. Because of God’s love for us and by His power, He provided the only way we can be saved from the sin by which Satan entangles us. We cannot defeat Satan in our own strength just as we cannot save ourselves. We call upon Jesus to save us when we hear of His grace, love, and mercy. We must call upon Him for His strength to help us stand strong and endure. He is our strength and shield. He is our salvation. David said these in the Psalms. Jesus reminded His followers in verse 36.

            We have heard it said, “It will all come out in the wash.” This thought carries over into our faith. When we hear the Word, do we dig deep roots and steadfastly endure because it has become our faith, what we hold tight and in what we have our hope? Or, do we, when trials come, step back, rethink it, and let go of a tentative possible faith? During the wash of trials and persecutions, people see the faith we have, be it in Jesus Christ or in something else. I urge you; do not throw away that initial confidence you had when you heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not, having walked this early path, decide that believing in Christ is not for you, that it is not a real faith in your life. Endure. Step out for Jesus, one step at a time. Keep going forward with Him. As you do this, your tentative, beginning steps develop into a stronger faith, not just a spark of possibility. From this, true belief comes, along with patience, trying, testing, and persecutions. By your endurance through time and testing, your faith grows and is proven and you will receive what God promised, eternal life.

We return to Jesus’ implied question to His listeners:

How much of your life did you give to God when you decided to follow Jesus?

Did you give Him only a part from your surplus or did you give Him everything?