The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!” (Proverbs 26:13).
As I think of sloth and laziness, my mind turns first to the sluggard’s lack of vision, and the corresponding lack of energy. Well does Proverbs 26:15 describe this one: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.” Gluttony and sloth have long been bedfellows.
The claim of the sluggard quoted above suggests something else. It may be that the sluggard is declaring that there is a lion in the streets as a cover for his lack of energy and an excuse for not venturing out to work. But perhaps he genuinely fears there is a lion in the streets. The effect is the same—whether the sluggard is covering over his laziness with an excuse or whether he is genuinely afraid, in either case he stays home. In either case he is a sluggard.
God’s servants deal with fear. Jeremiah, the subject of the Old Testament lessons for the last month, is a good example. He was told from the beginning of his call that there were going to be lions in the streets (Jeremiah 1:17-19). The solution was not to refuse to go into the streets, but to believe that God was with him. For God has not given us a spirit of the sluggard, but rather a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Obviously I have never been a nursing mother. But I have lived with one long enough to know that a nursing mother does not simply feed her child. Amid the sweetness of nursing a baby, there are long hours, pain and soreness, the drain of energy and lack of sleep even though life continues apace unconcerned. Feeding a baby does not do justice to what a nursing mother does. She gives herself.
Paul uses the image of a nursing mother to describe the relationship between these early missionaries (which included, at least, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy) and the Thessalonians to whom they were sent. Rather than seeking to take from them or making demands upon them, “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).
It is one thing to be ready to share the gospel. It is perhaps another to be ready to share oneself. After all, the gospel can be spoken from a distance. But often it is not received from a distance. For in the end, the gospel is not simply about imparting information, but rather making plain the love of God for the world in Christ Jesus. And love is expressed nearly, through people who love. It does no disservice to preachers and evangelists and writers to remember that, just as the Word became flesh, coming near to dwell among His people, so God still reaches a lost world through His people who draw near. Though a people who share not only the Gospel, but themselves.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven (Colossians 1:3-5).
It is difficult to underestimate the importance of believing in heaven. I seriously doubt that it is possible to follow Christ faithfully apart from it. That appears to be Paul’s claim in the above verses, where he makes the very arresting claim that faith in Christ and love for the saints is rooted in the hope laid up for God’s people in heaven. Why are faith in Christ and love for the saints rooted in the hope of heaven?
When Christ calls a man, He calls him to Himself. There is a bond between Christ and His own that extends from now to eternity. As Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also” (John 12:26). While Jesus is speaking to his disciples as he is looking to the cross, his presence with his disciples extends beyond far beyond into heaven. In fact, it is precisely the hope for heaven with Him that Jesus uses to encourage their faithfulness as they enter a dark time:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3).
Likewise Paul speaks of heaven as an encouragement to faithfulness on earth: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4). Note the end—with him in glory. Faith in Christ is believing that we are His and He is ours, both now and in glory.
So it is with loving the saints. Consistently in the Scriptures, the call for practical generosity, which is always the test of genuine love, is rooted in the hope of heaven. Hear, for example, Jesus’ invitation to the rich young man: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). It is the promise of heavenly treasure that enables God’s people to loosen their grip on earthly treasure, and therefore to make it available to one another. We cannot love one another and mammon.
Hold onto the hope of heaven. Bring it often into your vision and into your prayers. Even Jesus depended upon the hope of heaven, for it was for the joy set before him that He endured the cross and despised the pain, laying himself down for the love of His God and His neighbor.
2 Corinthians 8:1-15
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4).
In the end, God wants only one thing—that we love him, and in loving him, that we love our neighbor. This is why Jesus, when asked what the greatest commandment was said there was one, to love God, and another like it, to love neighbor. If we love God, we will love our neighbor. If we love of neighbor, it is evidence that we love God.
But how do we know if our love is genuine?
Paul raises this very issue with the Corinthian church, using the example of a fellowship of believers in Macedonia. Despite their own poverty and affliction (or perhaps because of it?), the Macedonian church begged Paul for the opportunity to give to others. Ponder this, for it may strike many of us as counterintuitive. We would expect the opposite—a church in grave poverty and affliction would be expected to beg for relief, and we wouldn’t begrudge them for it. But this church, apparently realizing that no one would expect them to contribute, begs for the opportunity to give.
Paul is not requiring the Corinthians to give. He is not interested in anyone giving under compulsion. Rather, he gives them a test to see if their heart is right, if they really love. And this test is the Macedonian church, a poor church that has learned to love, and that has internalized the truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
So, here is the question for us. How do we handle matters of practical generosity? Are we governed by the question “how much do we need to give?” Or are we governed by the question “where and to whom are we able to give?” Often questions concerning stewardship, particularly tithing, are governed by the former question—what am I required to give—rather than the latter—what may I give. This is not to denigrate tithing—tithing can be done in a spirit of great generosity—but it is to raise the question of why we do what we do. For not all giving is the fruit of genuine love. In the end, genuine love draws us beyond precise boundaries of what we are required to do, and into an arena where we ask what we can do. Because we want to. Genuine love always issues forth in practical generosity.
Trust in the Lord and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security (Psalm 37:3).
The call to do good is a scary call, for it stretches me beyond where I want to go. Doing good is costly, and there is much I may lose. It requires trust.
When praying to trust the Lord, get specific. Trust him for what? Trust him in what? What do I need to place firmly in his trust? Money? Relationships? Health? Purpose? Children? When you get specific in prayer, you begin to realize that everything that you would trust the Lord for is already his. My money? I am a steward, not an owner. My health? I have no life in myself—my life comes from God. My purpose? It is God who has given me my days, and the ability to serve him as he deems fit. What do I have that I can call my own? What do I have that I have not received from the good hand of God?
In the end, I trust God not for what is mine, but for what is his, and he will care for what is his. And, so trusting God, I can get about the business of doing good.