Favoritism 

MTS-3353

Favoritism

“…God does not show favoritism—they
added nothing to my message.”

                Gal 2:6

 

The Lord did show favoritism toward the apostles Paul was referring by choosing them, didn’t
he? If that wasn’t the case, how about the chosen people the Lord had elected
among all the nations in the world? There were many people in the land of Ur
who might have been equally devout as Abraham, yet why was the patriarch the
only one who was picked to leave the land of the Chaldeans? Did the Lord show
partiality by choosing some and not choosing all the others?

God does show favoritism by the sheer fact that he predestines some to be saved and others to
be damned. That does look a lot like favoritism to you and me, doesn’t it?

God is entirely sovereign and he is free to choose to do anything according to his
will, and whatever he chooses to do is righteous and good, even though it may
not look so good to us. Being an omniscient Sculptor, the Lord has complete
liberty to make whatever he desires out of a lump of clay, and we have absolutely
no right to criticize or to scrutinize. Being a poet, I am completely free to
choose to compose whatever I feel like and to determine to choose one is to
exclude all the others. I do have preferences and likes and dislikes which are
personal, and they should not be subjected to criticism as if I had done
anything unjust or wrong.

I don’t think Paul was feeling that he was slighted in any way. He was simply saying the Lord
showed favoritism to the three “pillars” of the church by assigning them a job
to do. “Favoritism” may not be the word to use in this context, for it does not
mean preferential treatment at all. God favors all of us by appointing us to do
various works and to fulfill different missions. Being human, we tend to value
some work over others, and categorize them by their importance. This is,
however, not the way the Lord perceives things. All things, be they big or
small, are equally significant, and what he expects from all us is nothing but
faithfulness.

The Lord expected the apostles to be the best apostles they could have been and he also
demanded Paul to be the best evangelist and missionary he could possibly have
been. There was no need for Paul to evoke Peter’s or James’ name or authority
in order to fortify his position, to enhance his status as a servant of God, or
to make his message more powerful or effective. “They added nothing to my
message,” Paul wrote in the letter. He was merely saying that there was no need
for him to inject the church pillars’ names or reputations into his gospel
ministry to give it extra credence. The message of the cross was sufficient to
save people, Paul firmly believed.      

 

Friday, September 28, 2012 6:43:00 AM Categories: Devotional

High Esteem 

MTS-3352

High Esteem

“As for those who were held in high
esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me…”           Gal 2:6

 

Paul was probably referring to three pillars of the church, namely James, Peter, and
John. This verse may strike us as a little critical, but surely Paul didn’t
mean to sound that way. He had the utmost respect for those three and didn’t intend
to degrade them in any way; he was merely saying that he needed no
recommendation from men as far as his ministry was concerned. It was the Lord
who gave his work creditability and it was Christ in whom he placed his trust.

Paul was going to carry on what he was called to do with or without the support of the
other apostles. Indeed he craved their approval and blessing, but he it wasn’t
essential to him; the Lord’s approval was what was absolutely essential.

As far as evangelistic work was concerned, Paul seemed to have chosen a path less
travelled and far more difficult. Had the man had any ambition to become
prominent in the early church, he would have chosen to work among the Jews, who
still remained the majority within the Christian church. Ministering among the Gentiles
didn’t seem to enhance Paul’s status among the Jews; indeed, it might have
brought him down a notch in their perception of Paul as a person.

Paul had no intention of making a name for himself within the early church. What he had
been was indeed a thing of the past and the man was thoroughly converted. He
didn’t consider all the repercussions he might encounter by turning to the Gentiles
with the gospel message; he simply went to the Greeks and Romans out of
necessity, to avoid being persecuted and stoned by the Jews.

Human esteem was becoming less and less significant to Paul as time went by, and suffering
and persecution seemed to have stripped away whatever self-esteem remained in
him. Paul had learned to labor for God’s sake and to earn God’s approval alone
in all he did.

I sin whenever a sense of self-pity surfaces in my heart for being unnoticed and
unrecognized. People pity themselves for receiving less than what they have
invested, their returns pale compared to their output, or they fail to get what
they think they rightly deserve. What do I want to get from the church
ministry? Fame and fortune? If not, why do I even feel self-pity for not
achieving them? Am I hypocrite or a wolf in sheep’s clothes?

Paul didn’t have any envy for those who were held in high regard in the church; he was just
stating that it made no difference to him whether he was highly respected or
not. His main concern was preaching the gospel. He would have been preaching
and promoting himself had his concern been fame and fortune.          

Thursday, September 27, 2012 6:32:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Give in 

MTS-3351

Give in

“We did not give in to them for a
moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”            Gal 2:5

 

The situation in the church was fluctuating at this time and there must have been many voices
competing for people’s attention and adherence. There were different versions
of the gospel books circulating among the believers and the words and actions
of the Lord Jesus were still fresh in many people’s memories, which were
subjected to various interpretations.

It was quite a challenging time when the believers were likely bombarded with
newly-formulated doctrines, which they must choose to believe or to
dismiss.  

All the apostles were Jewish and they couldn’t help but perceive the message of
salvation through a Jewish perspective. The Lord appeared to have made it clear
to them that salvation was for all people, but it would take quite a while for
the Jewish Christians to digest this. It took Peter quite an effort to explain to
them how he was led by the Holy Spirit to the house of a Roman centurion and I am
afraid there were still some listeners who found this unconvincing and
unacceptable.

Being an apostle to the Gentiles, what was Paul to do under such tense circumstances?
From his understanding of the Lord’s words and actions, he was convinced
without a smidgeon of doubt that redemption was based on God’s grace through
Jesus’ death on the cross, not on human merit at all. Therefore, he considered
it totally unnecessary for the Gentiles to observe the Jewish law to be saved.
Such was the pure gospel message he had been preaching among the Gentiles and
he would never, ever compromise what he believed to be eternally true.

The purity of the gospel was at stake here and Paul would guard it with all his might from
any outside assault. To give in to the pressure from the Judaizers concerning
this issue would have demolished what he had been trying to build. There was
absolutely no need to revise what he considered to be a “heavenly vision.”   

Are we compromising the gospel by adding something to it or taking something out? To
do so is to surrender to the demands of this age and to be fractured under the
weight of the golden image of this world.

I sometimes feel a little apologetic about the gospel message and feel the urge to dress it
up with human learning and decorate it with men’s logic. With its simplicity
and originality, the gospel message is neither ornate nor flowery; therefore we
may feel the need to make it more appealing and attractive to sinners. We seem
to have great difficulty stepping out of the way and letting the Holy Spirit do
his work through the simple proclamation of the simple gospel. Giving in and
compromising the purity of the gospel takes many shapes and forms, and we may
be guilty of doing just that without knowing it.      

     

 

   

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 6:36:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Circumcision 

MTS-3350

Circumcision  

“Yet not even Titus, who was with me,
was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.”         Gal 2:3

 

Circumcision has nothing to do with one’s salvation. If that were the case, Paul would have
had Titus circumcised when he was converted. Titus was baptized, but he wasn’t
circumcised when he became a Christian.

Paul argued repeatedly that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to be saved. By the
same token, they didn’t have to observe the law to be justified; the basis of their
justification was Christ’s death apart from the law.

This idea became a contentious point between Paul and some of the Christians from the
church in Jerusalem, and it wasn’t really resolved until a church council was
held at a later date. Even though the issue was finally settled, the
ill-feeling between Paul and some Jewish Christians might have lingered.

Evidently Paul wasn’t about to coerce Titus, a Greek, to get circumcised when he was visiting
Jerusalem. Had he done that, the action might have been misconstrued by some
people, presuming that Paul had yielded to pressure and changed his view
concerning the doctrine of salvation.

It could have happened, however. Paul might have allowed Titus to get circumcised for some
“weaker” brothers.

It was one of those things that people seem to care so much about without sound reasoning
behind it. The issue might have been more emotional than spiritual for some
Jewish Christians, who were attempting to bring the tradition of their
ancestors into their new found faith and to pour strong new wine into old worn
out wineskin.

Ancestry worship has never been sanctioned by the Protestant churches in Taiwan, but
such wasn’t the case with the Catholic churches, which permitted their converts
to participate in their old practices in some form and fashion. It was indeed a
compromise on the church’s part, since ancestry worship is akin to idolatry.
The issue has been debated over the years, but it remains one of the major
hindrances for some Taiwanese from embracing Christianity.

Had Paul allowed Titus to get circumcised under pressure, it would have created a great
repercussion among the Gentile believers and he would have a lot of explanations
to give to them. It was a battle Paul must have considered worth fighting for
and he remained consistent to his conviction until the end of his earthly
ministry. He was known as a man not easily persuaded to compromise his Biblical
principles.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 6:48:00 AM Categories: Devotional

The Gospel 

MTS-3349

The Gospel

“I wanted to be sure I was not running
and had not been running my race in vain.”           Gal 2:2

 

Paul and his companions took another trip to the holy city. Fourteen long years had elapsed
and Paul had become a more mature person, both in his faith and practice. He
knew what he believed and wasn’t ready to make any compromise if he was
challenged by the Jewish Christians who were still very zealous about the law.

The law was good, but no one could be saved by observing the law alone. Paul was thoroughly
convicted of this absolute truth and would defend it at all costs. This was
something that could never be compromised, for the purity of the gospel was at
stake.

That was the gospel which he had been preaching among the Gentiles over the years and he
wanted to settle the issue once and for all. People are justified by faith in
Christ alone.

The message is as ancient as the sun and yet it’s as fresh as the morning dew. It brings me
great joy when I meditate on the gospel, knowing that the message of salvation
that I preach is exactly the same as Paul’s when he spoke to the Greeks and
Romans over two thousand years ago.

We are fond of revision, aren’t we?

Times have changed; therefore we feel the urge to change the eternal message to match the
philosophy of the current time. Human beliefs vary from time to time; therefore
our perception of truth should be up to date, as well. All things are fleeting;
so is the truth. Very few people would argue against this, right?

We dare not challenge the law of nature by jumping off a cliff, yet we seem to constantly take
chances by violating another set of natural laws governing our thought and
actions, acting as if we will never suffer the dire consequences of such violations.
The Creator, who has founded the external laws to govern the outer world, also
created a set of stipulations to govern the inner world. There is a universal
morality which we all agree to be valid and true. The ones who deem morality
relative are by and large amoral, for morality is something they create to
justify their actions. Whatever is convenient for them is moral. There is no
progress made if the absolute goal which we strive to reach is missing.

A gospel that has been revised is no gospel at all, and we preach in vain if that is the
message we deliver. I can stand behind the podium week after week, fully
assured that the word that I speak will not return to me void, for the messages
are time-tested and eternally valid. The Greeks and Romans were saved by
listening to Paul’s message two thousand years ago, and in the same way, the
Americans and Chinese are saved by listening to the same message, both ancient
and contemporary, as old the mountains and as fresh as a new blade of grass in
the field.       

 

Monday, September 24, 2012 7:27:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Unknown 

MTS-3348

Unknown

“I was personally unknown to the
churches of Judea that are in Christ.”

              Gal 1:22

 

Paul had no intention of making a name for himself at the time. He might have had the
ambition to become great in men’s eyes before he was converted, but that was a
thing of the past. He was relatively unknown to the churches in Judea, and he
had absolutely no problem with that.

He would become well-known later, but that was after many years of laboring in the
field. The reputation Paul earned through his faithfulness to Christ didn’t
instantly transfer into fame, which is mostly the case in our time, as well.
When people become well-known by doing something spectacular, they often
quickly cash their fame in by writing books or shopping for endorsement deals.

Such wasn’t the case with Paul, however. In fact, had he had a choice at all, he would have
preferred remaining anonymous so that he could preach the gospel without
hindrances. Indeed, “great trees attract all the headwind (樹大招風,)”
as a Chinese saying goes, and Paul seemed to get all the unwanted attention
from the Jewish authorities, which made his evangelistic efforts difficult.

People often get promoted when
they become famous. Celebrities are on demand these days and they get to charge
large appearance or speaking fees. I don’t think all these things ever entered
into Paul’s mind.

It’s far better to remain
unknown unto men and known only unto God. Without a doubt this would have been
Paul’s preference.

”I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.” This should
not be taken as a complaint; Paul was merely stating a fact. Being a recent
convert who wasn’t a part of the inner circle of the Lord Jesus, Paul’s
prospects of becoming a leader of the early church were indeed very minute.
Very few Christians knew who Paul was at the time and, even after years of struggling
on the mission field, he seemed to have become well-known for all the wrong
reasons. He was known in Jerusalem for being a man who degraded the law in his
teaching and propagated the idea that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised
to be saved. No wonder Paul found the Christians in Jerusalem somewhat hostile
toward him the few times he visited the city.

Many changes would have had to
been made had Paul had the slightest idea of becoming famous. Politicians get
elected into office if they watch the polls diligently. “Turning the sail with
the wind (見風轉舵)” is something they must do in order
to please the majority. Indeed Paul desired to become “all things to all men,”
but that does not mean that he would sacrifice all his principles to do so. He
could do his best not to be offensive to people, but he could do nothing about
the offensiveness of the gospel. There is something seriously wrong if someone
becomes rich and famous preaching the gospel.

    

 

Friday, September 21, 2012 6:46:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Then What? 

MTS-3347

Then What?

“Then after three years, I went up to
Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephasand stayed with him fifteen
days.”       Gal 1:18

 

For a while Paul’s life seemed to be in limbo since he was still seeking for a place to
land where he could kick off the ministry he was called to do. After spending a
few years in the desert, Paul thought he was ready to take the gospel to the
unbelieving world.

He was probably hoping the trip to Jerusalem would be profitable for him and his
future ministry would become more crystallized after he consulted with Peter
and James, who were the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. He had an ample
amount of time speaking with Peter since he stayed with him for fifteen days.

Things most likely didn’t work out as Paul had expected. He was glad that he had the opportunity
to get acquainted with Peter and the Lord’s brother and to learn from them, but
it became clear to him that there simply wasn’t a landing place for him
Jerusalem. Besides, Paul felt strongly the Lord was leading him to leave the holy
city and to go elsewhere and he did exactly that.

Paul was disappointed since he wasn’t on demand at the church like he had hoped and,
unfortunately, there were more than a few brothers in Jerusalem who seemed to
look at him with suspicion. The apostle was saddened by it, but he could hardly
blame them for feeling that way, considering what he had done to persecute the
Christians just a few years prior. It would take him a long time to earn their
trust and respect.

After visiting with a few friends and relatives in the city, Paul knew it was time to
bid farewell to his beloved town, the fair place that brought him both joy and
sorrow.

It was back to square one now and Paul really had to cry out to the Lord for guidance. Even
though he had received his heavenly vision, he was yet to locate his earthly
direction. He thought about going back to Tarsus, which was the easiest route
to take since he knew the place well, but he wasn’t sure that was the place the
Lord was calling him. Besides, he would like to start everything new and there
might be hindrances for him in his own hometown. A rift might have occured
between him and his loved ones when he decided to abandon the promising career
path he had mapped out for himself and to follow the Way instead, which was,
from their point view, a far more unattractive and dangerous proposition than
the former. His parents, if they were still alive, could not have been too
happy about such a decision.

“Now what?” Paul might have been a little anxious at the time, and asked himself this
question. He could have followed his impulse and taken the first offer he
received, but thanks to the years of relative isolation he spent in the desert,
he had learned to wait on the Lord for guidance. Unlike what he was in his
youth, Paul had learned the important lesson of not following his carnal
instincts when there was a critical decision to be made.          

 

 

   

Thursday, September 20, 2012 6:44:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Arabia 

MTS-3346

Arabia

“I did not go up to Jerusalem to see
those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia.”             Gal 1:17

 

Paul must have thought about going to see the other apostles, but decided against it. He
was anxious to see them, since he was a new convert and was in need of some
encouragement from those who had been with the Lord and more advanced in the
faith.

He decided it was not a good time to do it, for he would have been perceived with great
suspicion. Besides, he himself was still processing what had occurred to him
and it would take a long while for him to reconcile the differences between his
past and his present and to make sense of all the things that had taken place
at such a rapid speed. The man needed time alone.

He could have sought spiritual nurture and instruction from men, but the Lord had a different
idea for his servant. He was led to the desert of Arabia, probably spending
three long years there, and he seemed to have a lot of theological issues
worked out when he emerged from the wilderness.

What did the apostle do during those years? I wonder.

He must have gotten a hold of the various versions of the gospels that were circulating
among the believers, and spoke to as many disciples as he possibly could to
take down what they had to say about Jesus. I am sure he had gathered more than
enough material about the life and actions of the Lord Jesus to digest during
those years.

Paul also spent plenty of time meditating and praying when he wasn’t studying. Knowing what
the Lord had in store for him to do, he must have felt compelled to equip
himself both intellectually and spiritually as much as he possibly could.

In the meantime, Paul waited.

For a long while things didn’t seem to be happening and Paul, being an impatient man who
was used to a life of action, might have gotten a little restless. No one from
Jerusalem was seeking him out and he felt like an outcast wasting away in the
desert heat. He knew very few Christians and most of them were men of very
little influence who had no connection with prominent church leaders. For a
while Paul might have had some doubts concerning his calling and was resolving
to lead a life of relative anonymity. He did have some connections in Damascus
and that was the place he visited. After he encountered some trouble in that
city, he decided to go back to his home town of Tarsus.

Nothing appeared to be happening after his Arabian experiences, where the man of God
received all his training. “Why?” Paul might have questioned. We would have
done the same thing, wouldn’t we?

We might have gone through our Arabia and things seem to remain basically the same. There is
no earth-shattering mission waiting to be accomplished and we continue to do
the little things that don’t seem to amount to anything. We have no idea how
long Paul remained in Tarsus before Barnabas found him. It must have been a
long while and the man of God had to exercise his patience.

The problem is: our Barnabas may never surface and we will continue to sojourn in our Arabia
that stretches on endlessly.    

 

 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 6:58:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Consulting 

MTS-3345

Consulting

“…my immediate response was not to
consult any human being.”

            Gen 1:16

 

It wasn’t something that could easily be explained. In fact, Paul himself was still a
little dazed and confused and it would take him a long while to process what
had happened to him on the desert road.

If the dramatic event could be explained and be viewed as a natural phenomenon, Paul
would have done so.

There is no denial that he saw a bright light and heard a loud voice speaking to him, but
this could have happened to anyone who travelled in the desert heat for a long
time. He could have been hallucinating and imagining things. O yes, he became
blind, but that isn’t all that uncommon when people are blinded by extremely
bright light.

Did the apostle ever make an attempt to treat the supernatural event as a mere natural occurrence?
He could easily have done so, for all he was pursuing and aspired to be would
come tumbling down, if he accepted that what he saw and heard was indeed from
the Lord.

Paul was a serious young man and he must have taken the vision seriously. “My immediate
response was not to consult any human being,” he recalled years later.

Other people’s interpretation of the miraculous sign could easily have muddled its meaning and
turned the clear divine sign into some sort of philosophical discussion, with
no hope of finding the truth.

“Well, you could have been too tired after such a long journey. Take a rest and your mind
will clear up. Don’t rush into any decision,” some might have suggested.

“Think about your future, Saul. You have earned universal praise by venturing into Damascus
and when all is said and done, you will be sitting pretty as a member of the
Sanhedrin in no time. Don’t make such a silly mistake by following the
Way.”  Sound advice such as this would
have been given to him by his friends.

“Son, I have invested a lot of money in you by giving you a first rate education. Remember
under whom you have been mentored!” This would have been the fatherly advice he
would have received from his dad.

“Be careful! He is dangerous man. That guy was there, witnessing the event, when our Stephen
was stoned.” He would have been viewed with great suspicion had he turned to
other apostles for spiritual counsel. 

At that critical juncture, Paul had no one to turn to but God. That was exactly what he
did. The Lord had revealed himself to him through a spectacular vision, and
surely he would continue to unveil himself if Paul continued to seek him. The
Lord started the work in him, and he would finish it. Instead of seeking human
advice, the apostle turned to God for divine guidance.    

 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 7:00:00 AM Categories: Devotional

Set Apart 

Set Apart

“But when God, who set me apart from my
mother’s womb and called me by his grace…”           Gal 1:15

 

I was almost given away for adoption as an infant, for according to a fortune-teller, I
would grow up to be someone “unfortunate” to the family and my grandparents
seemed to have taken the warning seriously.

“I would never let them do that to me,” my mother told me when I was visiting her for
the last time before she became gravely ill.

That was the first time I heard about this, and I found it hard to believe since I was the
first grandson in the family and was supposedly to be treasured. Could my
mother have been wrong?

When I was growing up I never felt that I was pampered by anyone within my rather large
family of thirty-some members except by my parents. I guess my fate was sealed
by a fortune teller, who most likely knew nothing about what I was going to
turn out to be. Or was it likely that he somehow had the foresight to see that
I would become the only Christian in my family, which would be considered quite
“unlucky” for my entire household.

Indeed I was set apart from my mother’s womb to be God’s son and servant.

I was never abused physically as a child, but verbal abuses I have endured aplenty. I never
felt that I truly belonged in the family and often had a sense of alienation,
which caused me to run away from home at the age of thirteen. My parents were
very loving to me, yet I seemed to have great difficulty identifying with my
family and with its customary practices of idolatry. I was indeed an alien and
an outcast in my own family.

The apostle Paul had no such problem, I presume. He must have been treasured by all people
as a boy and was universally lauded as a young man, yet he was set apart to be
God’s chosen vessel just the same. All the things he experienced were merely
preparations for what he was going to do as God’s servant. Paul considered
himself “the chief of all sinners,” yet he believed the sovereign God had a
hand in all that transpired in his youth, and he was able to proclaim with
confidence: “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”

We must embrace our past, no matter how undesirable and atrocious it may have been,
knowing that God preordained all things to take place, be they good or bad from
our perspective, to fulfill his perfect plan for our lives. I would have
preferred to have an entirely different family background, a more superior physical
appearance and intellectual ability, a more prestigious educational background,
and the list goes on. But what we consider best for ourselves may easily turn
out to be the worst.

Some of the members of my extended family actually have become rich and are the envy of their peers, but
would I trade what I am with who they are? Not in a million years. To be
anything other than what the Lord desires and designates for me is to descend
into utter nothingness.

Monday, September 17, 2012 6:37:00 AM Categories: Devotional
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