In God’s Care

Psalm 31:15

My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me (NIV).

We are now in the second half of the year 2020. So, here comes a stupid question. Has this year been what you anticipated it would be on New Year’s Day? I don’t think anyone seriously expected a worldwide pandemic and the medical, societal and economic consequences it has spawned. Who ever talked about “social distancing”, “shelter at home”, or the despised phrase “the new normal” prior to 2020? Who ever thought we would be required to wear masks in public places, including banks? I have had to wear a mask into my bank. I would never thought about doing that prior to the pandemic! The bank personnel would have asked me to remove it or to leave. Our times seem to be out of control, and that reality makes us all feel uncomfortable to say the least.

However, my times and your times are not out of control. They are held firmly and directed fully and finally by our Sovereign God. The living God is in absolute control. One of my college history professors used to refer to this verse many times when he prayed to open our classes. That I can recall his prayers nearly fifty years later reveals how much he must have lived by this verse. Reading God’s word and praying it back to him is a commendable practice. My professor modeled that before me in class before I ever heard that concept stated. Our examples ought to influence others (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-8).

My times and your times are not out of control. They might look out of control and feel out of control but they are not. We must learn this truth from this verse. My times are in your hands…. Five years ago this month, it was easy for me to feel that my life was out of control. But when I would start to think that way, God showed up through his people to assure my wife and I that our times were in his hands. We received financial help, a cabin to get away to where we could pray and talk, a day trip to the Statue of Liberty with friends, and when my mom died, two friends cut their vacation short to drive with us to go out to be with my dad and to provide other assistance. Others provided words of comfort and assurance that were just as necessary. God was with us, holding everything in his care, to bring us through the crisis that most of 2015 was for us. My times are in your hands….

It is too easy to look at the world during troubled times with eyes of despair, abandonment, and desolation. The psalmist David lived through fear and anguish for years. He had to run for his life as a cruel tyrant (his own father-in-law) pursued him in order to kill him. People he tried to help turned on him. His own men talked of killing him. Enemies killed faithful people because of him. His life was worse than the proverbial train wreck. But he learned through every situation My times are in your hands…. And then he wrote this psalm so that others could sing the same truth.

These words call us to faith and hope in God, and also to love God. Sadly, we can become proficient in talking about trusting God and waiting expectantly for God to work, while we neglect speaking about loving the Sovereign God when everything seems against us. To say, “My times are in your hands,” is an opportunity to express our love to the God who is in charge of our times. Examine your heart. Are you upset, even angry, that God is guiding the troubled world in its current direction? Do you want to tell him… to demand… that he controls all things according to your pleasure. Let us learn to pray again your will be done (Matthew 6:10 NIV, my emphasis).

My times are in your hands….

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 123 (Part One)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal. Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy, for we have had our fill of contempt. We have had more than our fill of the scoffing of the proud and the contempt of the arrogant (Psalm 123:1-4 NLT).

Next in the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) is this short song. The human writer and the time of the writing of this song are unknown. Neither is important to understanding it. Like the others in this collection, it was composed for the worship of the Lord during the physical journey to Jerusalem, particularly at the required Festivals. Envision large groups of God’s old covenant people walking to the chosen city together. The very journey is celebratory and exciting. They move from the regular events of life to focus on the true and living God.

Like the previous psalm, it begins in the singular, but quickly moves to the plural. I lift my eyes to you… We keep looking…. Both singular and plural are important in the worship of the living God. Each believer must seek the Lord with his or her heart; all believers must join together in seeking God. One encourages the many; the many inspire the one. We can feel apathetic alone, and the zeal of others ignites a fire in us. A whole church might be listless, but the joy of one new worshiper can stir the existing ones to pursue God anew. While many of us have been able to gather digitally during the Covid-19 governmental restrictions against gatherings of many people, it has not been the same as meeting in person. We are glad for how we’ve been able to meet, but I wonder if some have begun to forsake the gathering of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). What will church gatherings look like in a couple months? You can be part of leading the way back to wholehearted worship.

The writer of Psalm 121 had to learn to lift up his eyes higher than the mountains to God. This lesson has been learned and the writer of this song lifts his eyes directly toward the Lord. In our day of religious confusion, many think it spiritually chic and sophisticated to lift up their eyes to nature, due to their pantheistic views. (By the way, what a deceptive term pantheism is, because if everything is god, then nothing is god. “God” or even “god” means a supreme being or deity of whatever conception.) Biblical teaching rightly directs us to the Lord God who is supreme over all people, forces, and things.

As the pilgrims journeyed toward Jerusalem and the temple, they sang of the one true God who reigns above the earth: O God, enthroned in heaven. The sovereignty of God is a major theme of the Bible. God tells us in the true story of his glory that he reigns, he rules, he is in charge of all things. This is a great comfort to the people of God, because this present world seems out of control. God reassures our troubled and confused hearts that he is still on the throne. The Spirit inspired the writer of this psalm to make that theme the first line of this song as they approached Jerusalem.

When we draw near to God, it is good that we remember that God is on the throne of the universe. We easily become overly familiar with the Holy One. We come to our Father, but he is in heaven. We might struggle to hold these two truths together. We need to view God as King while we also see him as Father. Our God who loves us is also holy and the absolute monarch. This provides us with much comfort and encouragement, when we acknowledge both in our lives. Together, these truth can transform our lives. Our Father-King is a reason to sing!

Before we leave verse one, we ought to notice our responsible action. I lift my eyes to you…. These words call us to refocus on the Lord (cf. Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:1-2). The purpose of the song is to rekindle adoration for the Lord in our worship. This cannot happen until we deliberately set our thoughts on him. O Lord God, use this song to refocus our hearts on you!

Grace and peace,
David

A Verse for Our Times

Psalm 56:3

When I am afraid, I will trust in you (CSB).

People can have many fears at all times. At times, a relatively few people share the same fears. Those who share the same fears probably don’t have the same degree of fear. For example, some people have a tiny fear of heights; in fact, they’re simply cautious as all sane people are. Others are terrorized by heights, almost sure they are going to fall and die. Others might get paralyzed by their fears. Once in my construction days, I had to help a carpenter with forty years’ experience down off a roof, because he became paralyzed with fear. Yes, I, who have a rather healthy respect for heights, had to do this. (My wife and children are no doubt laughing as they read this!) Yet, I had to help him, and after about fifteen minutes, he was able to inch himself over to the ladder, and I held it securely for him, as he came down under his own power. Needless to say, it was the last time we allowed him to go up on a roof.

I don’t know where you are on “the fear spectrum” concerning Covid-19, the latest corona virus. Some people need to gain a healthy respect for it and act circumspectly. Others might be terrorized or paralyzed by fear. Many are in the middle or at some other point on the spectrum. No one can simply tell another person not to fear. We need to confront our fears with truth, and then replace them with faith in God.

David wrote this psalm. He had experienced strong, serious fears nearly his whole life. Many enemies tried to kill him. Yet escapes from possibly fatal encounters did not make him arrogant. Some people have that reaction after a brush with certain death. Arrogance is never wise.

The condition of his heart was complex. He was afraid, yet he trusted at the same time. He did not allow his fear to immobilize his soul. “It is possible, then, for fear and faith to occupy the mind at the same moment. We are strange beings, and our experience in the divine life is stranger still. We are often in a twilight, where darkness and light are both present, and it is hard to tell which predominates. It is a blessed fear that drives us to trust” (Spurgeon, Treasury of David, on this verse).

If you are afraid of what consequences Covid-19 might wreak in our nation and world, you are thinking. But don’t let your fears stop you from an active, growing, vibrant trust in the Lord. At the very moment you feel overwhelmed with fear, remember that God is in our situation. He is not far away and unconcerned. He is sovereign and ruling for the good of all believers in one way or another.

What David does is to encourage himself in the true and living God. If he had put his trust in idols and false gods, his faith would have been futile. But it was not. His faith was in the Lord of the covenant, in Yahweh (56:10-11), in the Great I Am Who I Am. His name, the Lord, is the hope of his people, the brightest star during the darkest night, the refreshing breeze on the hottest day, the one who is able to supply all our needs in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Let us not be like the unbelievers in the wilderness. They demanded food from God, but immediately questioned if he could provide (Psalm 78:17-22).

To trust God, you need correct ideas about him. The right beliefs come from his word. Read Isaiah 42-55, Mark 1-8, and the Gospel of John to fill your soul with the truth about our God. Then you must replace your fears with faith in the true and living God, the Almighty, the Ruler, the Sovereign God over all. Where is your heart today? Are you filled with fears? Or are you filled with the Holy Spirit, who makes Christ present in your heart, the same Christ who healed the sick and calmed the troubled seas. If the Lord can do that, he can be with all of us through this pandemic.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV).

Grace and peace,
David

Elijah: A Man of Courage (Part One)

1 Kings 17:1

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (NIV).

The situation in Israel was desperate. In little more than a half century, the visible people of God had turned from the living to idols. Ahab had led the way into deeper spiritual darkness. This was a “reverse conversion”, in contrast to what had happened to the Thessalonians: For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God… (1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV). Baal worship was substituted for the worship of the Lord, and it looked like no one was living for the glory of God. Years of isolation strengthened that impression in Elijah’s soul.

How did God respond to this challenge to his authority? Did he destroy those people? He could have, as he put to death an entire generation of their forefathers. Did he turn away from them forever? No, because his relationship wasn’t based on the nations faithfulness to him but on his to his promise and oath. Did he send them into exile? That was a real possibility, but God first sent a prophet to testify to his reality. He sent Elijah to speak for him, and the Lord acted powerfully through him. In a new time of spiritual declension in the western world, we need this account of Elijah to arouse us to live for the Lord our God, and to rekindle our faith in his all-ability.

Elijah was convinced of God’s existence. The Lord was the foundation of his world and life view. He confessed that the Lord is alive and able to act in this world. “God” is not merely an idea for troubled and confused people. Nor is the living God and the story of his glory in Christ intended to be a manipulative metanarrative. (We do not deny that evil people abuse and misuse others with their perverted version of the Bible’s message. But that is not God’s intent.) God is the Almighty, the Creator and Controller of all things. The existence of our Sovereign God has been vigorously denied for generations in western thought. We, his people, need to vigorously assert his sovereignty.

  • Our God is in heaven and does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3 CSB).
  • The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths (Psalm 135:6 NIV).

Elijah confessed that the Lord is the God of Israel. As an Israelite, he called his fellow Israelites to agree to this fact. They may have walked away from the Lord, but he was faithful to the covenant. We can be confident, because the Lord Christ is faithful to his people. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). God was shortly to lead Elijah down a most unusual path teach him contentment and the greatness of his love for his people Israel.

Elijah lived a way of life separate from the viewpoints and practices of others. He was faithful to the Lord, though many others had fallen away. Elijah would come into repeated conflicts with idolatrous Ahab and his followers. This was no easier for Elijah than it is for us. As James wrote, Elijah was as human as we are… (James 5:17a NLT). We too often act on the false assumption that people in the Bible were persons of “super-faith” and suppose that it was rather easy for them to do their exploits. I have called Elijah “a man of courage”, but courage is something that you’re forced into when you lack other alternatives. He will act courageously, because of his obedient faith in the Lord. Elijah remained godly in his lifestyle, in spite of the growing wickedness of the nation. This would lead him on a spiritual adventure.

Grace and peace, David

A Ray of Sunshine (Part One)

Genesis 39:1-6

Many Christians have read or have heard about Pilgrim’s Progress. Its author was John Bunyan, a well-known preacher in seventeenth century England. But few have heard of his daughter, Mary. She was born blind, and her mother died when she was five. Her father was in prison for many years because he preached the gospel, and as his child she endured many years of poverty. She fell in love with a young man, but he was executed for taking part in a political plot. She died of a broken heart. Where were the rays of sunshine in her life? There were not many, but God was gracious to her, first blessing her with godly parents and then the gift of salvation.

At the current point in Joseph’s life there were not many reasons for cheer. But the Lord was about to break through with a ray of sunshine. Let’s watch God’s plan unfold. Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there (Genesis 39:1 ESV).

What was God doing in his big plan? God sent Joseph to Egypt to preserve his chosen people during the famine. We learn that at the end of the story of Joseph. The human side of the event was the action of the Ishmaelite merchants, but the Lord had his hand in the incident. They were ignorant of what God was doing; they were in it for the money. God mailed the letter and the Ishmaelites were the mail carriers. God does not usually begin his great works (Psalm 105:5,16-17) with spectacular signs and the sounding of trumpets. Nevertheless, he sent Joseph to the exact place he wanted him to be. Compare what is said of John the Baptist (John 1:6). Where did God send John to begin a great work? To the wilderness of Judea. Who would have thought that was the beginning of the gospel age? God sent Joseph to Egypt to fulfill part of his plan as he had revealed it to Abraham (cf. Genesis 15:13-14).

God also acted in the small details of his plan. Joseph was not placed in the fields as many slaves were, but in the house where Potiphar’s eye could observe his good work. Joseph was placed in a situation where he is trained in the duties of supervision. The Lord did a similar thing for Moses, who was brought up in Pharaoh’s court. The Lord usually invests part of his servants’ lives in places where they gain just what is needed for their greater work. We ought not to despise those training places. We need to learn to be faithful in little matters prior to doing great tasks. The hand of God is also apparent in this fact. When Joseph falls from his master’s favor, he would be placed in a royal prison. To get there, he must go through this intermediate step.

Remember that if you were Joseph, you would not know any of this. It would not have seemed like a ray of sunshine to him. Neither do we know how the small details of our lives will be part of God’s larger plan for our lives and for the greater story of his glory. Sharon and I met through the arrangement of chapel seating. On September 9, 1970, I had no idea that my future wife was sitting two seats away from me. But it simply wasn’t about us. Through bringing our lives together, he acted that others might come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. When I went to Grand Rapids, God provided a job for me through a person I sat next to in apologetics class my first day of classes. I had no idea that God was working out his plan to provide for my family, when Tarry came and sat next to me. The Lord directs our lives in many seemingly insignificant ways to accomplish his will in our lives.

God’s ray of sunshine was on Joseph that day. He did not and could not have known what the Lord of human history would accomplish through a few small choices made by other people. Make time this week to reflect on little events and decisions, some by other people like your parents or teachers or work supervisors, that God has used to bring you to where you are today. Then bow in worship and thankfulness. Who knows what ray of God’s sunshine might even fall on your life today?

Grace and peace, David

The Cry of the Powerless

DSCN34112 Chronicles 14:9-15

God brought Asa and his people to the time to act in faith (14:9-15). God constantly does this. Part of his purpose for his people is to declare his praises (1 Peter 2:9), and we do this when we trust God and demonstrate his surpassing glory by a life of faith. Do not be surprised when trials come when you must rely on the living God. Be ready to believe; be expectant of God’s grace.

I repeat, in a fallen world, times of crisis and fear will come. This world is not heaven. The people in it are marked by rebellion against God. Therefore, they do not love God or people. They are greedy and lust for what others have. Those who have worldly wealth try to get more at the expense of those who are weak. Those who lack worldly wealth assume they are right in trying to take from those who already have. How did this happen to King Asa and his people?

An attack came from the area southwest of Israel. Zerah led a very large army against Judah. Although Asa had prepared wisely, he could not absolutely prevent the greed of others who wanted to rape and pillage. Do not think that if you follow Christ, then others will join with you or respect you for doing so. If you stand in the way of their lusts, they may try to ruin you to enrich themselves.

The approaching attack required Asa to lead his army to a defensible position southwest of Jerusalem. Mareshah had been fortified by Rehoboam years before (cf. 11:8). It was wise to put his army in the best forward place for defense, before the enemy could do additional damage.

In a time of fear, Asa exercised faith in the Lord (14:11). Though he acted responsibly with his army, he did not rely on his own strength. Instead, he also did the best thing he could do. He prayed to the living God, who rules over all.

  • In humility Asa confessed the Lord’s holy power. There is no one like the Lord to help the powerless against the mighty. Here is theology (the right teaching about God) put in action.
  • In humility Asa confessed their dependence on the Lord.
  • In humility Asa asked God to remember his covenant relationship with Israel and to defend his honor and his people.

What happened? Many in our time are not convinced about the significance or prayer. Yes, I know that people ask for prayer when they think there is no other hope. But do they actively seek the Lord as able to act in space-time history as a usual part of life? What do even most Christians do? They strategize; they put out calls for action from like-minded; they dream of political solutions. But pray? Faced with Zerah’s army, would today’s western Christians call out to the Lord in faith, or would they melt away in fear. My friends, the “armies of Zerah” are coming, they will always come, and the followers of Jesus Christ must call upon Lord in faith!

In his faithfulness, the Lord defended his people (14:12-15).

  • The Lord acted against the attackers in some unstated way. Whatever the action, God struck them so that they could not recover. Fear overtook them and they fled.
  • Since armies in that time carried a great deal of wealth with them, the victory also provided Judah with a great deal of worldly wealth. And so the Lord completely reversed the intentions of Judah’s enemies. Not only were they safe, they were also wealthy.

We serve the living God, who is able to do much more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). If we consider only our own resources and live according to opinion polls, we can get very discouraged. But if we trust in the Lord and call on him, as Asa did, then we may see him act in unexpected ways for his glory and our good. Now is the time to exercise strong faith in the living God. Desperate situations call for fervent prayer to the Lord of all. We might be powerless, but we serve the all-powerful, Sovereign Lord. Let us call upon him now.

Grace and peace, David

For the Glory of God

DSCN0790Isaiah 42:5, 8-9

“We need to see first and foremost that God is God—that he is perfect and complete in himself, that he is overflowingly happy in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity, and that he does not need us to complete his fullness and is not deficient without us. Rather, we are deficient without him; the all-sufficient glory of God, freely given in fellowship through his sacrificed Son, is the stream of living water that we have thirsted for all our lives” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, pp. 18-19, his emphasis). Obviously, what Dr. Piper writes—and more importantly, what the Bible teaches, is completely at odds with the so-called wisdom of mankind and all its ideas, attitudes, words, and actions. Yet only in the glorious God can defeated, debauched, and dying people find real hope. The truth revealed in these verses serves to exalt God’s Servant as Matchless Redeemer, and so this brings more glory to God. This is the best thing that can happen to people, because when we know the glory of God in Christ, then we can enjoy eternal life and all the overflow of his glory to us.

In our previous articles on this passage, we saw that verses 5-9 of Isaiah 42 are a unit, put together something like a sandwich. And we have already considered the innards of the sandwich, the great Servant of the Lord and what he does. But the outside, the “bread” of the sandwich is just as important and provides us with a clear view of the glory or value or shining brilliance of the Lord God.

God identifies himself as the Sovereign Creator (Isaiah 42:5). We hear three couplets in which God describes his creative acts. First, the Lord God talks about his creation of the heavens. In Biblical thought, God’s creation of the vast, spectacular heavens reveals his majesty in a special way (cf. Psalm 19:1-6). Anyone in their right mind who looks at the sun, moon, and stars, and ponders their immensity and the great display of light connected with them begins to wonder. A sense of awe strikes them. And when we think from a Biblical perspective that the Almighty God made them all, we are humbled and stirred to worship. Also when we think of heaven, we think of the place that speaks of God’s throne (Matthew 5:34), of his absolute rule over everything (Daniel 4:25-26). God’s throne was made by God alone. His sovereignty flows from his most excellent being.

Second, God talks about his creation of the earth. He made the earth; in poetic language, he spread it out, like he was unrolling a map. Picture it, as God spread it out. “Hmm, let’s put a large inland sea in the midst of three continents, and while we’re at it, let’s have two large continents cut off from the others by two mighty oceans. Now, where should we draw the rivers? And mountains, hills, and valleys can also show our glory!” God also made what comes out of the earth, like vegetation and animals. To use our picture again: “And we need to make fertile places from which people can get food and build their civilizations. And let’s give them animals and their environment to rule over wisely; then they can reflect our glory in the way they live. When they are wise, caring rulers of creation, they will show our surpassing glory.”

The Sovereign God talks about his creation of people. God created people, too. He made mankind, men and women, to bear his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). This is what gives every person value and significance. This also means that we must respect everyone (James 3:9-10). This is why every word we speak must be spoken in order to build others up (Ephesians 4:29).

Someone might object, “But there is so much that is wrong with that person’s attitudes, words, and actions!” I answer, “Perhaps that is true, but we’re talking about how you must please the Lord. You please him by building others up by your words. And if you can’t think about how you can do that while you disagree with them, then clearly you ought not to get in conversations with them until you learn how to talk godly and wisely.” God gives life and breath to all people. Therefore, all are dependent on him! And it should generate a great deal of holy reverence when we realize that the God to whom we must all give account has such total control over our lives.

All this is not isolated truth; we should admire it, learn it and submit to it. Here, God tells us this in order that we might exalt God’s Servant, who is our covenant and liberator. The Sovereign Creator’s power was displayed in his Son. We are wise to submit to him by living for his glory.

Grace and peace, David

God at Work

Thoughts for a Monday on 2 Corinthians 7:5-7

Every disciple or learner of Jesus Christ desires to experience God at work: in the world, in one’s nation and community, in one’s local church, and in one’s own life. We want to see God glorified, people coming to the Lord, and God changing us and providing for us. What we may not want is the way our Father in heaven carries out his activity in our lives. We want God to just speak a word and all will be well. We seem to prefer that the Lord would do it the easy way and act apart from his chosen means, such as the good news about Jesus and the efIMG_0547 (2)forts of his people, especially the latter. Getting people involved means that there will be a mess involved of some sort or another. Since God has chosen to use means in a fallen world, pain will also be part of the process, and we’re simply not happy about pain and suffering and troubles. Like the rest of us, the apostle Paul had to experience troubles as he served the living God. Here he tells his dear brothers and sisters in Christ in Corinth about what he experienced, so that they can know how God is at work in their lives.

God worked through troubling circumstances (7:5). We require reminders about God’s sovereignty. God is always in charge of every circumstance of life (Rm 8:28). Nothing happens apart from his will of purpose, though he permits much that is against is will of precept. God will achieve his plan to bring glory to his name through Christ and his people. But in the day to day accomplishment of his plan, a lot of sinful mess happens. As God’s plan progressively occurs, the Holy Spirit constantly acts with the Scriptures, and in and through followers of Christ to produce the successive steps of change that God has willed. As we are in the midst of the macro, meso, and micro events that the Spirit uses, we can become quite perplexed (cf. 4:8). But our perplexity and troubles do not mean that God has lost control. From our place in the middle of swirling events, it is impossible to see the whole picture, apart from what God has revealed in his word.

Paul, like us, was caught in the middle. And it hurt! It is not easy to be pressed against the grinding wheel as the Lord of heaven and earth sharpens his instruments. God has predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29). Paul says that this affected his entire person, both inside and out. There might be a slight emphasis here on toll this was taking on his body. Since we are a functional unity of physical and spiritual, what affects the one affects the other to some degree.

On the outside there were conflicts. (Notice the plural.) It is impossible to know exactly what these conflicts were, since Paul does not say. He was somewhere in Macedonia at this point, and in that place he had experienced persecution. He seemed to always be in come conflict with false teachers. But at this time, he only mentions conflict in general. Not all our troubles are of our own making. We should realize that Christ’s people may encounter opposition of various kinds from those outside because of Christ and the gospel.

On the inside there were fears. (Notice the plural again.) From the letter we can discern that at least some of these involved Titus and the Corinthians. How was Titus received at Corinth? How had the Corinthians reacted to the painful letter he had sent? Had he caused them too much pain? Had Paul boasted too much about the Corinthians to Titus? Had Titus fallen into physical harm on the trip to or from Corinth (cf. 11:26, travel at that time could be very dangerous)? How extensive was the influence of the false teachers at Corinth? How widespread was the ungodly conduct in the Corinthian believers (cf. 12:20-21)?

I used to build homes. One of the great joys of doing that was that you could watch the steady progress from the site work to handing the keys to the new owner. Each day you could usually start from where you had the previous day. Problems from the weather or vandalism were relatively rare. But not in the gospel ministry where we have an enemy who daily seeks to ruin all we’ve accomplished. For this reason, we need to rely on the Lord in prayer constantly

God worked to comfort Paul (7:6). Here is one of the great “but God” interventions that we see in the Bible (cf. Ephesians 2:4). We need to know these, because we are in ongoing predicaments that would be hopeless, if not for the truth of “but God….”

Here is a reminder about God as the believer’s comforter. This is one of God’s characteristics; the present tense uses shows that it is one of God’s timeless attributes. Who is God? He is Sovereign and he is Comforter. God breaks into the unpleasant, painful, perplexing circumstances of his people to produce comfort. This is who God is. Paul experienced God this way. So will all who reach out in faith to him. This is God’s agenda during the new covenant age. As you read 2 Corinthians, you can see that the book of Isaiah was on Paul’s heart. It tells of the restoration of the God’s people through Christ and the gospel. And now in Christ, the new creation is here, and God is bringing comfort to his renewed people (Isaiah 49:13).

God worked through Titus to bring comfort to Paul. Christ’s people are God’s coworkers, not only in spreading the gospel and doing good works in the world, but also in comforting and strengthening one another. This is why as the temple of the living God (6:16) we should be acting to benefit other believers. God gave comfort through Titus’ presence. Titus was one of the gospel partners closest to Paul, serving as the apostle’s envoy or representative on many occasions. When Titus was on the scene, it was like Paul was there. Now Paul was glad because his dear friend was with him. Sometimes friends just need their friends with them. God gave comfort through the report Titus was able to give about the repentance of the Corinthians. As Paul’s emissary, he was able to give Paul a correct gospel evaluation of their spiritual condition. And it was good news (Proverbs 25:25).

Observe that Paul’s sorrows and joys were not limited by the boundaries of himself. He found joy in what God was doing in the lives of others. This is how our lives ought to be in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26). Christ’s followers must not live for their own benefit! Others ought always to be on our hearts.

God worked in the Corinthians to produce change in them (7:7). Can people change? Yes, by God’s grace we can! People in Christ can change because Christ lives in us by the Holy Spirit.

So then, what happened in the Corinthians? They expressed their longings, which showed that their hearts were opening up to some extent, whether towards Paul or in a far reaching change of mind. They had deep sorrow, which Paul will speak more about in 7:8-11. They developed zeal. The nature of this zeal is unspecified at this point, but he will mention it again in 7:11. Clearly, Christ desires zeal in his churches; he has a distaste for lukewarm people (Revelation 3:15-16). We ought to examine ourselves. Do we have these three characteristics? If not, we are in a worse condition than the church in Corinth.

What their change produced in Paul—joy! Here is hope for those serving Christ. Because God is at work, he can bring joy out of deep sorrow. But there’s more; his joy was greater than before. See the change that God can bring in his people. Paul confessed his conflicts and fears, and those experiences were painful. But now he has a greater joy. It’s a strange path, isn’t it?

In Christ we can know the greatness of God, who comforts the downcast. Yes, our present condition might be filled with conflicts outside and fears within. But God uses them as opportunities to make his surpassing comfort known to us. Troubled believer, through faith in Jesus Christ draw near to God today. Cast your burden on him, and he will sustain you.