Giving Ourselves

For according to their power, I bear witness, yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints: and this, not as we had hoped, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in life is learning how to do what we ought to do with the spirit in which we ought to do it along with the proper motivation for doing so. This is especially true in the “religious” sphere of existence. It is quite easy to fall into the trap of empty ritualism, or for people to work with the intent to earn merit. Too many are only willing to do the commands of God that are comfortable for them; many treat religion as they perhaps treated high school, trying to figure out how to do just enough to “get by.”

While all of these forms of religious service are popular, they are not what God intends, and they cannot lead to a saving faith. If we really desire to be saved, we will have to do as the Macedonians did so many years ago: we must first give ourselves to the Lord. If we are able to accomplish that, then everything else can fall into its proper place.

Yet, as with many things in life, such is easier said than done. Giving ourselves entirely over to Jesus is a challenging proposition. It requires us to be crucified with Him, making the decision to no longer live in sin (Romans 6:1-7, Galatians 2:20). We must then live as His servants, seeking His will in every facet of our existence (Ephesians 5-6). The cost is high– the path of Christ involves sacrifice, suffering, and persecution (Romans 12:1, Acts 14:21, Romans 8:17-18). The reward of eternal life, however, will make up for it and beyond (cf. Revelation 21-22)!

It is easy to understand why the temptation is always there to promote or to live a half-hearted religion, a belief system in which you go along with God as long as it is comfortable and does not infringe too terribly strongly in one’s life. Yet we must understand that a religion without cost tends to be a religion without benefit. Jesus came to the earth not to be served but to serve, and He gave fully of Himself for us (Philippians 2:5-11). If He gave Himself fully for us, how can we expect to get away with only giving a little bit for Him?

Jesus Himself makes it quite clear in Matthew 10:35-39 that becoming His disciple is an all-or-nothing proposition. You either put God in Christ first in your life or you do not. You are willing to allow the Lord to dictate for you through His Word how you will conduct yourselves toward your parents, spouse, children, employer, friends, and others, or you are not (cf. Ephesians 5-6). You either allow God in Christ to dictate how you will use the blessings of material abundance, time and talents for His purposes, or you do not (Romans 12). Half-hearted service, empty ritualism, or reward-based work is not true service to God, no matter how much it may feel as it is (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). It is only when we first and foremost decide that we are going to give ourselves over to the Lord that we can finally begin serving Him.

Thankfully, no matter how we have lived in the past, as long as we live, we have the opportunity to give ourselves to the Lord. Let us do so and become full servants of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, knowing that if we glorify His name, we will share in His eternal glory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus and Our Weaknesses

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, establish thy brethren.”
And he said unto him, “Lord, with thee I am ready to go both to prison and to death.”
And he said, “I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, until thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me” (Luke 22:31-34).

We appreciate the enthusiasm and bravado of Simon Peter. As a disciple, he is a bit impetuous; you can always count on him to chime up when something needs to be said (or doesn’t need to be said). He may not have the best understanding of how Jesus is the Messiah, but he certainly believes it.

We can only imagine how devastating this idea was to him. He was going to deny the Lord? Never! He was going to go even to death for the Lord! He had come this far with Jesus, and he was not about to abandon Him!

The story, however, is all too familiar. Peter sees Jesus taken away by the guards. Initially, his strength does not fail him, for he follows Jesus afar off (Luke 22:54). And then, the moment of crisis! As he sits around the fire, three individuals notice who he is and recognize him as being with Jesus. Satan is sorely testing Peter. Peter knows that if he confesses Christ now, he likely will end up right next to Jesus in front of the Jewish authorities, and will share the fate of His Lord.

Peter’s fears get the best of him. He denies his connection with Jesus all three times (Luke 22:55-62). Satan sifted him like wheat, and he did not withstand it. All Peter can do is go out and weep bitterly.

None of this was new for Jesus; He knew that it would happen. Jesus’ petition was for Peter’s faith not to fail, and while his faith proved too weak this time, it was not entirely defeated. Jesus knew that Peter would “turn again,” and His wish was for Peter to establish his fellow believers.

Had the story of Simon Peter ended here, all would seem to be lost. John 21 records how Jesus restores Peter to Himself and His work. The book of Acts shows how Peter stood up and preached the first Gospel lesson before the Jews in Acts 2 and then boldly stood before the very Jewish authorities who killed Jesus and spoke in His name in Acts 4 and 5. At a later opportunity, Peter would again be called upon to confess Christ and risk death. He would do so and pay the ultimate price (cf. John 21:18-19). Satan tried to sift him like wheat again, but this time he failed!

We may not be in the exact same position as Peter was, but many times our faith is tested. Unfortunately, many times we fail the test. Our faith may not be dead, but it proved too weak for the temptation. As terrible as those moments are, they do not have to be the end of our story. We can repent of our failures, get up, and keep trying (1 John 1:9). Over time, our faith may grow and mature like Peter’s did, and the next time the temptation rears its head, we could stand firm!

Jesus knows our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) and can sympathize with them. He knows that we will not succeed at overcoming every temptation at every time. Nevertheless, His prayer for us is that our faith will not fail, and that we should turn again, encourage one another, and keep growing in our faith (1 John 1:9, Hebrews 10:24-25, 2 Peter 3:18). Let us be like Peter and grow in our faith!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fertilizer

And he spake this parable; “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit thereon, and found none.
And he said unto the vinedresser, ‘Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground?’
And he answering saith unto him, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down'” (Luke 13:6-9).

Agriculture provided plenty of fodder for Jesus when it came to His parables.  Jesus perceived that there were many parallels between how plants develop and grow and how His Kingdom would develop and grow, and people readily understood matters of agriculture.  Here we have one such parable– one that you may not hear about as often as the others.

We expect fruit trees to produce fruit.  Yet we ought not expect excellent fruit to come immediately after such a tree is planted; according to the Law, the Israelites were to consider the fruit of a tree during its first three years as “uncircumcised,” the fourth year devoted to the LORD, and afterward the fruit could be eaten (Leviticus 19:23-25).

The master, therefore, comes to see the fig tree after its three years, and it has not produced any fruit.  Without fruit, the tree has no value, and ought to be cut down in his eyes.

Yet notice what the vinedresser tells him.  He confesses that the tree has not been productive, yet before any permanent decision is made, he makes a request to have one more year to “dung” it– provide fertilizer– and then see if the plant will produce its fruit.  If so, well and good.  If not, it can be cut down.

Parables generally have application to Christ’s Kingdom, and this one is no exception.  There is much to be gained here!

When people come to belief in Christ, it takes time for the proper fruit to be manifest (Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:14).  It takes time to grow in the faith.  Therefore, we should not expect mature “fruit” from immature “trees.”

Yet fruit is still expected.  What happens when there is no “fruit”– no indication that there is any growth in a young believer?  Should they be immediately cast out?

Absolutely not– we must apply the “spiritual dung,” that is, proper encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Sometimes growth does not take place because the proper nutrients are not present, and when nutrients are provided, the growth will come.

This is why it is so important for believers to encourage one another, building up the Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-28).  Yet it is not limited to believers.  Do we know people who are struggling to get through life, and who do not seem to be getting very far?  Consider how to encourage them.  Are there people in despair?  Seek to encourage them.

Encouragement is the fertilizer of life.  Use it bountifully among others, and see how much fruit can be borne!

Ethan R. Longhenry