Lessons from The Apostle Paul: Paul Was the Real Deal

Lessons from The Apostle Paul: Paul Was the Real Deal
Rembrandt as Paul
Rembrandt self portrait portraying himself as the Apostle Paul 

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

“… Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV. 

The above passage from 2 Corinthians blows me away. Paul is writing to a church that had shunned his authority and instead turned to false teachers. Paul calls these teachers “super-apostles” and does so rather sarcastically. In chapter of eleven of 2 Corinthians he acknowledges that compared to these “super-apostles”, he isn’t a gifted speaker. He acknowledges that he humbled himself so that the Christians in Corinth could be elevated.

He then, rather reluctantly, tells them of a time he was “caught up into the third heaven” into the very presence of God and “heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Paul could have grown conceited or arrogant because of this vision he received from God, but instead, he was humbled by a “thorn in the flesh” that God allowed him to suffer from. Why? Just to make sure Paul didn’t grow conceited.

Paul was humbled by a thorn in the flesh. He prayed and prayed for God to remove the thorn but God refused; choosing instead to teach Paul the lesson that “[His] grace is sufficient … and [His] power is made perfect in weakness.” I relate to the lesson Paul learned from this thorn because God is teaching me something similar. 

Not all of the Corinthians, however, appreciated Paul’s thorn. They saw Paul’s weakness and held it against him. They chose the  “super-apostles” who were just a little too perfect. Some members of the church preferred a “different gospel” (see chapter 11) preached by fake apostles because those apostles looked the part.

I wonder if the modern church does the same thing at times. We need to be wary of church leaders who are “too perfect.” If our teachers and preachers never struggle, it might be a red flag. Paul was the real deal. He had been called by Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus. He had been called into the very presence of God to witness things most people will never see on this side of eternity … but the church chose fake, super apostles because they spoke well and looked the part. I can only imagine they were good looking, wore fancy clothes, and had perfect hair.

The Corinthians had been duped.

Too often, we are quick to metaphorically crucify church leaders who make mistakes. We  expect them be perfect even when God doesn’t. Paul’s thorn in the flesh made it apparent that any success he had in ministry was solely because of God Almighty … and that’s exactly how God wanted it. God used a flawed man with a checkered past to accomplish mighty things in order for God Himself to receive all the credit.

Be wary who you follow. If they are too “perfect”, there will be no room for God to move. We don’t need “super apostles.” We need humble leaders who constantly point to God as the source of their strength.

In the church, humility, transparency, and honesty should always be preferred over false perfection and self promotion. Paul compared the false teachers in Corinth to Satan who “masquerades as an angel of light” ( 2 Corinthians 11:14). It is imperative that we don’t allow ourselves to be fooled.

If it looks to good to be true, it probably is.

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Godly Sorrow

On occasion, I’ve written about my weight, type II diabetes, and running. If you wanna get caught up, check out this post. I’ve even written about how food and weight loss is a spiritual issue for me. To make a long story short, I was diagnosed with diabetes and decided to fight back. I lost around a 120 pounds and developed a fondness for running, or at least the slow shuffle I refer to as running. I’m ashamed to admit that my old-self has fought back somewhat. I suffered some nagging injuries and started a new desk job last year. Admittedly, these are poor excuses, but the end result was gaining back about 60 pounds. My last trip to the doctor led to an ultimatum; get control over this or go back on medication for your diabetes. So I am once again fighting back. I rejoined Weight Watchers in January and have lost 13 pounds or so since. Something about paying for my weight loss inspires me to stick with it.

But the point is, I’m fighting back. I even ran today. It sucked, but I did it. I could have chosen to give up and allow myself to be characterized by my many, many past failures. But I chose instead to do the best I could.

It occurred to me today that we often face the same choice in our spiritual walks. Too often Christians allow themselves to be characterized by their past sin and failures. We never experience the abundant life Christ offers us because we simply can’t let go of our past. Time and time again I hear the same cry, “I just can’t forgive myself!” 

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Sin is nothing to take lightly and sorrow is the natural reaction to it. Sin should break us and bring us to our knees. But at some point, we have to look up. The Apostle Paul wrote that Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). There is a reason for the pain and sorrow that sin causes. It causes us to reach out for Christ. Paul also wrote that a worldly sorrow brings death. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin are death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. When we neglect repentance, our sin is all pain and all sorrow with no gift. Godly sorrow lead to repentance, worldly sorrow leads to death; it’s our choice.

My sinful relationship with food has lead me to struggle with maintaining a healthy weight and to diabetes. Where has your sin led you?

More importantly, how will you respond? 

Personal Accountability in the Book of Amos

Bible Backgrounds: AmosThe first four chapters of Amos are gut-wrenching. Amos is a prophet delivering God’s Word to the nation of Israel. He is not happy. Nor does Amos beat around the bush; he calls Israel out in a very explicit way. He begins by preaching judgment on the nations that surround Israel. With each pronouncement he moves closer and closer to Israel like a noose tightening around their neck. Midway through Chapter 2, the full judgment of God is being preached on the nation of Israel and their sins are many.

The prophet tells Israel that their days are numbered because they are taking advantage of the needy. The Israelites  “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6), “turn aside the way of the humble” (2:7) and “a man and his father resort to the same girl” (2:7). Amos paints a picture of Israel that is disturbing. It is a land that is built on the backs of the poor and is characterized by sexual immorality. What’s even more disturbing is that Amos preaches that the Israelites do these things to “profane [God’s] holy name” (2:7). 

Amos is suggesting that the Israelites take delight in their sin. They take pleasure in flaunting their sins before God and they mock Him with their disobedience. Their disobedience is not cause by ignorance; rather, they have gleefully chosen to live in sin.

What’s even more disturbing to me is that I can see this in our own culture. We live in a world that often celebrates what God has called out as sin. Our world mocks those who attempt to be loyal to God’s Word. Our world often profanes the Holy name of God.

The first four chapters of Amos are difficult to swallow because the prophet is preaching to Israel collectively. He is dealing with them on a corporate level as a nation and things appear to be hopeless. Amos preaches that “flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground, the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. Even the bravest among the warriors will fly naked in that day” (2:14-16).

God’s wrath is going to crush Israel. They are going to be punished for their sins.

There’s a shift in the fifth chapter of Amos. The prophet takes a break from proclaiming doom on the nation and begins speaking to individuals within the nation. He tells them repeatedly to “seek the Lord so that [they] may live” (5:6). Amos is writing a dirge for the nation of Israel (5:1), however, in the midst of the nation’s funeral he is preaching life. Amos preaches:

“Seek Good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” Amos 5:14-15, NASB.

In the midst of a doomed nation, Amos offers a prescription for life. He speaks to individual hearts and tells they must swim upstream to avoid the current of their culture. They must hate evil and love good. They must seek and establish justice. They must look to God for life!

The same is true for us. Jesus stands in stark contrast to our culture. Much of what He preached seems upside down to us. He taught that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16) and that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also taught that He is the only path to God, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus taught a message that is often ridiculed, distorted, and even profaned in our culture … and it is left up to the individuals within our culture to embrace Christ’s message.

Amos preached that individuals needed to seek good and not evil. Jesus is the good they need to seek. Jesus says that if we know Him, we know God and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God (John 14:7).

In the midst of a culture that is sinking under the weight of its own sin, Jesus is the answer. 

 

Reflections on John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34, NASB.

Bible2This verse from the Gospel of John is one that has been resonating in my brain over the last few days. It’s not necessarily hard to understand, but it seems most of us are unwilling to put it into practice. Jesus issues this command to His disciples, “Love one another like I loved you!” It’s a practice that is supposed to go hand in hand with following Christ, in fact, it’s so necessary that Jesus goes on to say others will know we belong to Him because we do it (verse 35).

Yet so often we don’t do it. Rather, we pretend to do it. We love our fellow believers as long they don’t ruffle our feathers, hurt our feelings, disagree with us, or let us down in some way … but the first time we see their flaws, we cut bait and run. Most conflict between believers is caused because they fail to love one another as Christ first loved them, or worse, they stubbornly refused to.

When I think of how Christ loved me there’s no escaping the image of the cross. Christ loved me so much that He when to the cross in my place. Scripture teaches that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners”. He didn’t demand that we clean ourselves up before He went to the cross. He died for us in spite of all our flaws and imperfections. And He commands us to love one another in the same way!

Ever wonder how to respond when a fellow believer hurts your feelings or lets you down in some way? Christ tells us to respond in love … and He role-modeled that love for us on the cross. When you love your Christian brothers and sisters and remain devoted to them through thick and thin, the rest of the world will know Who it is you belong to.

John 13:34 isn’t a suggestion … it’s a command.

 

Your Body is a Temple: So Why Live in Chains?

ky1w7eac5em-maarten-van-den-heuvelYour body is a temple. Everyone loves to quote this passage of Scripture. You’ll likely hear it anytime someone is encouraging you to work out or eat healthier. In it’s original context, however, Paul is talking about so much more than just exercise and diet:

12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Paul begins this passage by pointing out that not all things are profitable for us and that we shouldn’t be mastered by anything. And while Paul is talking about food, specifically the levitical dietary laws of the Jewish people, he is encouraging his readers to live morally in all areas of their life. He writes that the body is not meant for immorality. This passage echoes the words of Peter that encourages us to “… be holy for He (Christ) is holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The believer is to strive for holiness in all areas of their life; including their diet and fitness.

The line that speaks to me the loudest from this passage is, “but I will not be mastered by anything” (v. 12). When it comes to food, I am easily mastered. At 368 pounds, food was my master. And I must confess that even now, it tries repeatedly to put me back in chains.

Paul is calling on all believers to glorify God in their bodies. He tells us to flee immorality and not be mastered by anything be it food or sexual sins. Why does he specifically mention these two areas of our lives? Maybe he knew these would be the two areas most of us would struggle with the most.

We live in a world where we are constantly tempted toward sexual and dietary immorality. When you’re watching tv tonight, count the number of commercials that appeal to your desire for food, sex, or both. In our culture, you can’t watch a prime-time sitcom without seeing commercials featuring bikini-clad models eating bacon cheeseburgers. The world wants us to trip up and wants to place us in chains.

Paul writes, “I will not be mastered by anything.”

We need to embrace the notion that our bodies truly are temples of the Holy Spirit.  If God has called us to be holy in all aspects of our lives than what we eat and what we think about matters to Him. I’m not saying we’ll go to hell for eating pizza and cheeseburgers, but I am saying we need to foster a healthy relationship with the foods we eat.

If God has called us to be holy, we have a higher calling in diet and fitness than just looking good and feeling good. We are honoring Him when we eat healthy and exercise. 

I’m still striving for holiness when it comes to my diet. I’m thankful I’ve lost some weight, but I’m aware that I’m not there yet. I’m trying to embrace moderation in diet and regularity in my exercise. Why? Because I’ve been bought with a price and I want to glorify God in my body.

If your Body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, why live in chains!

Food is a Cheap Replacement for God

g6g93jtu1ve-aaron-burden“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35, NIV).

Certainly, Jesus is speaking about spiritual matters when He calls Himself “the Bread of Life.” Jesus is declaring that those who believe in Him will never hunger or thirst spiritually. However, I don’t think it’s a coincidence He speaks in terms of food.

Too often, we look at food and drink to find satisfaction. In this way, a glutton is much like a drunkard. We have a deep longing for something, and we are looking for it in the foods we consume and the beverages we drink.

There is a quote that is often attributed to Pascal that says we all have a God-shaped void or vacuum in our hearts. I believe this is true. When we face adversity, loss, anger, suffering, and trials we become even more aware of that void in our spirit. It’s at this precise moment we should seek God.

Too often, however, we try to fill that God-shaped void in our hearts with food.

Food shouldn’t replace God. We shouldn’t look to food for comfort. When we do, we are in essence making food our God. Why is it so easy to make that mistake? Perhaps it’s because we do find temporary comfort and solace in the foods we eat. For a moment, we do feel better. But that temporary satisfaction is always followed by regret, weight gain, and remorse. The temporary satisfaction we find in food is a cheap replacement for the eternal satisfaction that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said whoever comes to Him will never go hungry again. We need to let our food be food and our God be God!

 

Junk Food is the Porn of Our Diet

fgyekt1e6hc-brandon-morganMy last post explored the spiritual side of food addiction, diet, and weight loss. In my case, my relationship with food and gluttony had reached a point where it was sinful. I suspect I’m not the only one in this boat. What we often mistake as a simple struggle with health and exercise is often a spiritual battle. God’s Word says:

12For Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).

We often make the mistake of thinking weight loss, health, and fitness are merely physical battles when they are actually spiritual. When I was sick with diabetes and high blood pressure, I was often depressed which inflicted spiritual damage on me that went beyond the physical. I believe the enemy knows this. If Satan can attack us through food addiction, gluttony, weight gain, and lethargy, he knows it will eventually impact us spiritually and damage our relationship with God.

Satan is known as the deceiver (Revelation 12:9). His modus operandi is to take the good gifts of God and twist them into something sinful. He does it with sex all the time. What was meant to be a gift from God to a man and his wife has been twisted into pornography, adultery, rape, promiscuity, and deviance — the same is true with food. Food was meant to be a good gift from God and consumed with thanksgiving to the One Who Provides. In my life, however, it became twisted. I became addicted to fast food and junk food. I became a glutton. My physical being began to suffer, which led to my mental being suffering, and ultimately my spiritual relationship with God was damaged. Point for Satan.

Junk Food is to Food what pornography is to sex. When we settle for an unhealthy relationship with our food and choose fast food and junk food over the healthy and nutritious foods God has provided us, we are buying into Satan’s lies.

We have to recognize this fact. We have to see the spiritual side of the issue if we hope to overcome it. If we attack our struggle with weight loss and food addiction in a way that is purely physical, we may enjoy temporary success. It may even look like we’re winning the battle but, if I’m being honest, I’ve seen many people beat obesity and food addiction only to form a sinful and unhealthy relationship with fitness and health. Both issues are flip sides of the same coin and can damage us spiritually.

Once we recognize our battle is a spiritual one, we must fight it spiritually. That passage from Ephesians continues:

13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17, NIV).

If weight gain, food addiction, gluttony, and obesity is a spiritual attack, we better fight it spiritually. If not, we have no chance to truly beat it.


Note: I am currently reading through a devotional plan called Food is Not The Enemy: Overcoming Food Struggles using the YouVersion Bible app on my phone. The Scripture referenced in this post coincides with the devotional. I highly recommend it.