Now concerning the collection for the saints … on the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Paul here instructs the Corinthian church to lay aside funds before he comes to visit them. Why lay aside funds? “So that there will be no collecting when I come.”
In a worship service in which I recently participated, we sang this beautiful hymn by Charles Wesley. I believe it was my first time to be acquainted with it and the words struck me powerfully. Too little thought is given, and too few messages and songs are devoted, to the marvelous and gospel-centering truth that salvation now and forever is found only in the substitution of Christ on the cross, for sinners.
While knowledge of the truth is very important, it is possible to put so much emphasis on the letter of it that the application is forgotten. Paul reminds us that knowledge alone just puffs a person up, while knowledge according to love actually builds up. So here is a thought for pastors, especially, and by implication the people in the pew as well.
Allow me to make one last new year’s observation, with the help of George Whitefield. As we enter into this new year, many resolutions will be made regarding better diets and more exercise. But what we need most — as always — is to feed on Christ and to exercise ourselves unto godliness. The preeminent preacher of the Great Awakening in America, George Whitefield reminded his audience in a New Year’s message entitled “A Penitent Heart, the Best New Year’s Gift” that “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Not exactly your typical warm and fuzzy holiday
We wish to see Jesus (John 12:21). These were the words of the Greeks who approached the apostle Philip when they came to the feast at Jerusalem. It is interesting to observe that these Gentiles were seeking Jesus while the Jewish leaders were plotting to put him to death. Their appearance points to the bringing in of the Gentiles and the blessing of the gospel they would soon enjoy.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). How much do your worldly friends really love you? Movie or music stars you look up to? The employer who wants you to devote your life to climbing the corporate ladder? The cars, gadgets, carpet, or designer outfits you spend so much time dreaming about or delighting in?
I was blessed some time ago by Greg Gilbert’s book What Is the Gospel? This quote in particular struck me as helpful for Christians to consider, as we contemplate our motivation and message when it comes to evangelism:
In studying through a difficult passage of Scripture recently, I came across a quote from Charles Spurgeon that applies to every passage of Scripture: “My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater.
Although we often think and talk about God being good, loving — and even wrathful — the truth is that God is also supremely, perfectly, and always happy. One of the best modern equivalents for the idea of “blessedness” in the Greek language is “happy.”
My wife and I were struck by this recent devotion from C.H. Spurgeon’s Checkbook of Faith — so much so, in fact, that we’ve printed out a copy, framed it, and hope to make it a regular part of our prayer life. Nothing is more potent or refreshing than praying God’s promises back to him! From Every Sin “He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Puritan pastor Richard Baxter took an old Latin phrase and popularized it in his day, in English. It is simple, but profound: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Why was Baxter so concerned to see Christians publicly, charitably, doctrinally unified? Baxter, writing in 17th century England about the evil effects of division in the church, made this observation:
George Muller, the great nineteenth-century English preacher, fed over 10,000 orphans during his lifetime — on nothing but prayer. Refusing to solicit donations or perform fundraisers, Muller famously found God more than sufficient for all the needs of the orphanages as he daily prayed for their provision (read an excellent article here for more on that). Countless Christians since Muller’s day have discovered there are life lessons to be learned from God’s grace in and through this man’s faithful ministry.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords … to him who alone does great wonders (Psalm 136:3-4). The authors of Scripture are unanimously in awe of the God about whom they are writing. And here the psalmist explains why: God alone does great wonders. “To him who by understanding made the heavens … to him who spread out the earth … the sun to rule over the day … the moon and stars to rule over the night” (Psalm 136:5-9). God is the God of creation.
Imagine you are about to move to a new area. Not just a new location, but a whole new part of the world—surrounded by a new culture and new faces, and without any familiar friends or contacts. Besides the personal, emotional challenges of such a move there would obviously be some significant spiritual challenges to anticipate. Whatever spiritual habits you have in place will be changed or challenged; the fellow Christians by whom you’ve been encouraged and to whom you’ve been accountable won’t be nearby to help you.
What does the church of Jesus Christ really look like? Of course, I am not talking about the architectural style of the building in which it meets, but what a local body of believers looks like. We know the church should be sound in doctrine and zealous in proclaiming the gospel. But how does a sound church really function?