He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

2 Corinthians 9: 10

Paul understood working, and he was very familiar with the direct relationship between the effort that a person puts out and the productivity of the day. It would have been easy for him to connect those earthly concepts of labor and result with the world of the spiritual. He was raised in a system where works of various kinds were required and were even essential. Righteousness was not something that came to people without adherence to the system and absent personal, committed effort. Yet, this is not the way that he had learned about Christ, and this was not the way that the Lord had conveyed salvation and a renewed calling to Paul. In Christ, Paul was set free from the compulsion to labor in order to achieve acceptability with God.

In this new freedom, Paul could go into the world around him and live out Christ’s calling without reservation or concern for the propriety of what he did or said. He was able to confront where that was necessary and embrace those who were in pain. He could share God’s word of salvation and healing with people from every corner of the world and from each of its many walks of life. Christ personally called Paul out of service to a form of false god that people had contrived out of the holy foundation of truth that God, Himself, had provided for them. Now this newly formed and sent out evangelist, teacher, and shepherd of souls was out in the world, and he saw opportunity to proclaim truth and life all around him. In order to engage fully in this work, he required an endless supply of God’s grace, love, and the gospel of salvation. That is exactly what Christ gave to him.

This follower of Christ was blessed with all that he needed in order to go into his world and do what Christ asked of him. There was nothing lacking and there was also not a thing that Paul was required to supply out of his own labor beyond a willingness to do anything that Christ asked of him. We, too, are blessed with this same abundance of provision of all that we will need to answer Christ’s call to follow Him into service to God’s kingdom come to earth. Although Paul was sharing an aspect of his own experience in telling of God’s bountiful provision, he was saying these things so that we would see and accept the reality of this same supply of all that is needful in order to fully and continually proclaim Christ in our world as our own gift from God. Christ has done all that is required for each of His people to be sowers of saving grace, truth, love, and redemption in our world. We have no bill to pay at the supply house, but we have an endless abundance of life to spread in a world that knows only death and its pain without the Savior that we have come to give to it as our life’s true work.

Advertisements

For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9: 9

 

In at least one sense, Ezra is speaking truthfully about our lives today; for, we are slaves. It seems to me that living in this world and the effects of being surrounded by what often seems to be a relentless assault by evil can cause us to feel as if we are just as enslaved as were the Israelites during the times of foreign captivity. It often feels like our thoughts are being held captive by our culture. We perceive that it is unsafe to express what we really believe in public. We live with concerns that all forms of entertainment are likely to be infused with dangerous lies or with harmful images. It is easy for followers of Christ to come to the conclusion that there is no righteousness to be found in our world.

 

Yet, Ezra’s calling to stand firm and to shout out the truth of the Lord’s calling to His people in a very oppressive public environment is also our calling. The Lord does not want us to remain enslaved, trapped, and made ineffectual by the forces of evil that try to take away our freedom. God is not silent in these times; for, He speaks continually to the hearts and into the minds of anyone who will seek Him out and who will listen. God wants us to proclaim our freedom in Christ. In so doing He also wants us to bring restoration to the world around us.

 

We can stand up with courage before the rulers of this world, and we need to stand firmly for the freedom that Christ has given to us. We do this most effectively by refusing to buy into the lies and the deception that evil uses to divert us from our true calling and to frighten us into submission to its mission of destruction. Truth is spoken very clearly in God’s Word, and we are called by Christ to proclaim that truth without reservation, hesitation, or compromise. Our Lord also calls us to love all others with the same passion that He holds for relationship with all people. As we do this we become agents for restoration by bringing the love of Christ and His grace into the lives of people who are caught in the trap of bondage to this world. So, as we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in our hearts and in our communities, we can reclaim important parcels of territory for the Kingdom of God.

 

Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toll, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works in me.

Colossians 1: 28, 29

 

Paul was a man of rather singular focus. His primary purpose for almost every day that he lived after that moment when Christ had interrupted his life’s work and faced him down with the truth of his own complete sinfulness was to bring people everywhere into this state that he called maturity in Christ. Now there were steps that were necessary along that journey into deep faith. First and foremost among them was for a person to recognize the sinfulness of her own life and turn to Christ as its answer. But I think that even that initial step was secondary to the calling that Paul perceived for himself as a teacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

The message that Paul proclaimed was that of the risen Christ, and the new life that Christ would bring about for those who followed Him. This message of reconciliation with God was one of hope, peace, and love, but it also had a very sharp edge to it. This razor-like surface is the place where God’s truth intersects the vagaries and compromises of this world’s view of truth. It also works to demonstrate and to separate out the ways that each of us enter into the delusion and acts of deliberate rebellion that form the core of our own sinfulness. Paul knew that the peace and love that God offers were at odds with the world where we all live so that our only hope of entering into them fully was through facing honestly into the areas of our own lives where we fall short of Christ’s standard of righteousness.

 

This honest discussion of God’s truth and of the ways that each of us falls short of living it out is the platform from which Paul’s idea of warning is launched. If we desire to be people who are mature in Christ, it is essential for us to face the reality of the ways that we act and think differently than God’s Word tells us to do. When we encounter the conflict between God’s truth and our own lives, we can confess our sinfulness and submit ourselves to the restorative work of Christ. Each of us, like Paul, is tasked with living as Christ in our world and with proclaiming His truth without compromise in the process of so living. Both aspects of this form of life are possible only by the strength of Christ and with the powerful energy that His life within us provides.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3: 17

 

Freedom is a complex idea. What might seem free to one person can look like restriction to another. The forces of culture that set one of us free may stifle and constrain another. In our world there is little that constitutes true freedom. Everything comes at a price and carries with it the burden of responsibility and obligation. Yet, God has promised freedom to all people, for as John says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

 

True freedom is not defined as a state of being, a location, or the ability to do as one pleases. Freedom as God sees it is ours regardless of physical circumstances, bodily limits or any other form of restraint or restriction. In Christ our souls are set free from the oppression of sin and death. Still, we do desire more, and this desire is also a part of the character and the nature that God has given to us in His design of the human creature. People desire to live in the full experience and expression of our relationships with other people, with our world and with God. Anything that diminishes our ability to live in this manner is troubling to our hearts and to our minds.

 

As people who are free in Christ we are called upon by Him to be concerned about and to work for the freedom of others. First of all, we are to bring the truth of our freedom to the attention of the world around us in actions and words that proclaim Christ and His salvation. Also, as a means of engaging in that proclamation, we are to diligently and continually seek after justice in our world. Oppression is a human characteristic that is the outworking of evil in our midst. Followers of Christ are free in and through Him to speak out against the tyranny of slavery and imprisonment of all sorts, to pray for physical and emotional freedom for captives, and to open opposition to oppressors. In all of this our purpose and intent should be to lift up our Lord and to set both the prisoners and their jailers free.

This is a special prayer request:

This afternoon ( Wednesday, January 21st) Naghmeh Abedini will have the opportunity to meet one on one with President Obama in order to appeal for his and our government’s intervention in seeking the release of her husband Pastor Saeed Abedini from prison in Iran where he is being held because of his faith in Christ. Please pray for favor and for God’s Spirit of freedom to prevail. Thank you.