In life there is always an abundance of things thrown our way that are cause for complaint. Habakkuk knew this all too well. He was weary of witnessing oppression. While the lives of the oppressed got much worse, the lives of the wicked got better. Habakkuk complained, “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:3-4 ESV).
What’s even worse is that Habakkuk noticed that righteous people are like the fish of the sea. . . helpless to save themselves when the wicked cast their nets, swallowing them up and making offerings to their dragnet. The wicked profited off of stealing from and selling the people they oppressed: “for by them (the righteous oppressed) he lives in luxury and his food is rich. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?” (1:16-17).
God answered Habakkuk and reminded him that the righteous live by faith and those who oppress others will receive their judgment. Habakkuk appropriately ends by acknowledging that hard times will come, but we still need to rejoice: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (3:17-18). Even in the hard times, God is still God and we should take joy in the God of our salvation.
Do good. It’s not a phrase that we hear often. But it’s one that was repeated often in the scriptures. Ephesians 2:10 ESV says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We were created for good works, for doing good to others. That is our purpose and God’s desire. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
2 Thessalonians 3:13 says, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” And Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Are we getting the picture? Over and over again we are told to do good to one another.
Perhaps a different way to put this is, don’t be greedy with the many ways you can bless others. The word “good” is intentionally broad. There are literally a million ways that we can do good to one another. We can mow a lawn or rake leaves. We can drop off groceries to the hungry family. We can pray with those who are struggling. We can lend an ear to people whose lives are in tatters. We can put gas in someone’s car. The sky is the limit. But whatever good we do, we should point people to Jesus Christ. As Paul said, “in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Rest. God did it on the seventh day. The Sabbath was a day of rest for all the Israelites. In fact, it was mandated that nobody do any work on the sabbath. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to rest and pray. Rest is vital to be refreshed. In the US we average 6.8 hours of sleep a night. Sleep is important. Rest is important. When we don’t take time to rest we burn out and our health suffers.
Philemon must have known this well because it was his love for the saints that compelled him to refresh their hearts: “I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the saints. . . For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:5, 7 ESV). Paul also says to Philemon: “Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ” (vs. 20).
This “refreshing” means to give rest to or to make to take rest after laboring. Apparently Philemon knew the value of his fellow saints and recognized that burned out Christians were of little use for the kingdom. As fellow Christians, our love for one another should compel us to refresh others. There are unlimited ways we can do this, but it’s vital that we all take time to rest from our labors so we can continue to the work of the church.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
The church was designed to function as a body. There are many members that comprise the whole body. The more people toil together, the stronger the bond is. Isolation is not healthy for prolonged periods because it weakens the individual. We become less efficient, less informed, less capable of withstanding blows of life, and on it goes. There is precious power in having allies, especially when we are under attack.
Much of this year has proven that we, as a congregation, work well together. There is strength in numbers. There is value in getting to know one another. But the Bible also says that those relationships must extend beyond ourselves. In fact, 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” The word for hospitality is only used 3 times in the Bible. It doesn’t mean hospitality to friends. It is a combination of two words that literally means “loving strangers.”
As the church, we grow stronger when we grow. We only grow when we learn to love strangers, showing hospitality to people who are not known to us.
Before Mark wrote the story of the widow who gave all she had, he prefaced it with a very important contrasting story–namely one of greedy hypocrites “who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40 ESV). These scribes show boated their faith by walking around in long robes, they liked greetings in the marketplaces, and they had the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts.
Mark introduces a dramatic contrasting scene where Jesus is observing people putting money into the treasury. Mark says that many rich people were putting large sums into the box. “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny” (vs. 42). Jesus told his disciples that the woman put more money into the box than everyone else. His reasoning–“For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (vs. 44).
As we equip the saints for works of ministry, we should teach one another the value of freely giving to others. Some of the religious leaders who are held up by many as heroes of the faith are robbing people blind and padding their own pockets. The real heroes are the ones who faithfully and selflessly give of their own means to bless other people who are in need.
The Bereans get a brief mention in Acts 17 after Paul was chased out of Thessalonica. He made a short stop in Berea, and arrived there by night to escape persecution. The Bereans were known for their nobility in searching the scriptures for themselves: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV).
Many of the Bereans believed, including a lot of Greek women of high standing. It didn’t take long for the Jews from Thessalonica to find out that Paul was preaching in Berea, so they quickly came over to Berea and agitated the crowds. Once again, Paul was forced out of yet another city. He was placed on a boat and sent to Athens, where Timothy and Silas would meet up with him as soon as possible.
Nothing more is ever mentioned of the Bereans. So what happened to these eager, Biblically literate Christians? We can speculate a little, based on one more mention. In Acts 20, after Paul was forced out of Ephesus due to the riot, he returns to Macedonia. One of the people accompanying him was Sopater the Berean (Acts 20:4), along with a couple people from Thessalonica. This is important because Thessalonica became an example to all the people in Macedonia and Achaia. The Thessalonian church was incredibly good at evangelism.
We have to wonder if the Bereans didn’t have some major influence on them for instilling a passion for all things Bible! The Berean church may not seem that significant, but their love for the scriptures was important. Like the Bereans, we may not be known for our evangelism, but out love for the scriptures can definitely influence those who are evangelistic.
Paul dishes out some harsh criticism for the church in Corinth because of their lack of caring and compassion for one another when they took the Lord’s Supper. There was radical division and isolationism. Paul is clear that they are sinning and this behavior is contrary to the gospel. In fact, he suggests that people are worse off than if they hadn’t come together to celebrate the Lord’s supper in the first place: “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17 ESV).
Paul goes on to say that the meal is so divisive that it is not even the Lord’s supper: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (vs. 20). The problem is that the Corinthians’ meal was a selfish meal, and not one centered around Christ and others. Some ate alone. Others ate in groups without waiting for those who were hungry. Others got drunk. It had nothing to do with the cross of Christ and everything to do with gluttony. Paul warned that anyone who “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (vs. 27).
He also instructed them to discern the body (church) when eating and drinking at the table. That means there was a cross examination that happened in addition to self examination. Both were important. If Paul warns of not eating in an unworthy manner, it goes to say that eating in a worthy manner is essential. So what is the worthy manner? A worthy manner unites believers at Christ’s table. Brothers and sisters should wait for one another. They should be reconciled as they partake of Christ’s body and blood.
Christ died to unite believers, not to cause separation. Jesus helps us imagine the table in heaven when he eats this meal anew with us. Jesus certainly didn’t have in mind drunken chaos. Therefore, it’s critical for us to eat in a worthy manner that honors others at the table.