"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." ~ Deuteronomy14:2

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Raising The Standard: Gratefulness Is Multiplying The Ministry Of Those Who Have Given To Me

"And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." ~ 2 Corinthians 9:8
"... Freely ye have received, freely give." ~ Matthew 10:8
From The Pages Of Scripture:
God exhorts us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him (see Romans 12:1-2). Only as we die to personal ambitions can we properly use the gifts that we have received from God and others. A great Christian in the early Church illustrated these truths. He lived during the reign of Nero and was personally affected by the godlessness of that wicked emperor's life. As a courageous and tireless Christian, he demonstrates for us one of the most beautiful testimonies of true gratefulness by multiplying the ministry of the one who brought the Gospel to him.
A grateful Christian in Thessalonica provides a striking contrast to a selfish emperor in Rome. This Christian enjoys today what the emperor lost his kingdom trying to obtain. Who is he? Aristarchus.
When Nero was a young man, his mother and stepfather determined that they would prepare him to become the next emperor of Rome. They hired the best available Greek tutors to school their son in science and the humanities. During these formative years, Nero's humanistic teachers instilled in him their ungodly philosophy. In A.D. 54 Nero was officially crowned emperor. After taking power, he quickly poisoned his stepfather's son. Tiring of her continual interference, Nero murdered his own mother. He also killed his wife and married another woman. While Nero was establishing his evil reign and pursuing his study of music and Greek philosophy, a significant event took place in the eastern region of the empire. A prominent citizen of Thessalonica cried out to the Lord to send someone to teach him the truth. God answered his prayer by giving Paul the "Macedonian call." After the man of Thessalonica heard the truth, he was so grateful that he dedicated his life to carry the Gospel to others. He sailed with Paul to the seat of the proconsul from which the whole province of Asia could be influenced. Paul's preaching and the witness of this godly Christian were extremely effective in this stronghold of paganism. Condemning the idols that were fashioned to worship the sensual goddess Diana threatened the corrupt business of the local silversmiths. Led by the angry craftsmen, a mob seized the courageous witness from Thessalonica. For two hours his life hung in a delicate balance before he was finally freed. Undaunted by this dangerous experience, the dedicated ambassador of God returned home to collect a generous offering. Along with the Apostle Paul, he transported the gift to suffering Christians in Jerusalem. When Paul was captured in Jerusalem and appealed to Caesar, this courageous companion went with him to Rome. It was there that his life was directly affected by Nero. Fire broke out in Rome and a significant part of the city was burned. Nero, who was suspected of setting the fire, seized upon the incident to blame the Christians. He put many to death, including Paul and his dedicated servant from Thessalonica. But God always writes the last chapter. By multiplying the gift of salvation that he had received, Aristarchus along with Paul and others dealt a fatal blow to the ungodly philosophy of the day. Nero later left Rome to sing in a music festival in Greece. When he returned, he found his kingdom in the midst of civil war. Aristarchus left Rome as a triumphant martyr and still sings the praises of Him whose kingdom is from everlasting to everlasting. [From Acts 19:21-20:38]
How Did Aristarchus Recognize The Value Of The Gift Of Salvation?
Each time Luke mentions Aristarchus, he is curiously identified with his home locale, something Luke seldom did when writing about others. Aristarchus is referred to as a Macedonian (see Acts 19:29), a Thessalonian (see Acts 20:4), or as both (see Acts 27:2). This suggests that he was a well known figure in that part of the world and also indicates that he may have been a man of means. The city of Thessalonica enjoyed local autonomy and was the most prosperous of all the Macedonian cities. It was a major seaport located on the main Roman trade route. When Aristarchus heard the good news of the gift of salvation, he recognized its value as exceeding any of his possessions. He was like the man in the parable "who, when he had found one pearl of a great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matthew 13:46). Aristarchus exchanged prosperity for persecution (see Acts 17:5). He endured hardship with Paul as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. He did these things not to earn his salvation, but in appreciation for it.
How Did Aristarchus Express His Gratitude To The Apostle Paul?
Aristarchus expressed his gratitude in friendship, unswerving loyalty, and dedicated service. Paul was the human instrument used by the Lord to bring the Gospel to the Macedonians. He was a man of strong affections, whose epistles reveal a heart overflowing with love for many individuals mentioned by name. Paul valued companionship and almost always traveled and labored with others. When Paul was left in Athens without co-workers, he sent for Silas and Timothy "to come to him with all speed." (see Acts 17:14-15). Aristarchus was privileged to become Paul's intimate and valued companion. He shared Paul's labors, travels, and hardships, enduring through both good and bad times. When Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he was allowed a companion to share his confinement. Aristarchus and Epapharas probably alternated serving in this assignment. The Apostle gratefully acknowledged the restrictions Aristarchus endured when he warmly referred to him as "my fellow prisoner" (see Colossians 4:10).
How Did The Macedonian Churches Express Their Gratitude To God?
Paul commended the Macedonians, "For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things" (Romans 15:26-27). Paul cited the Macedonian churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea as examples of sacrificial giving when he wrote to the more prosperous and the less persecuted Corinthians. In spite of their "deep poverty" which resulted from "a great trial of affliction," they gave to the poor of Jerusalem "to their power" and even "beyond their power." And they gave with an attitude of abounding joy (see 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). The Macedonian churches had received spiritual treasure through the nation of Israel and were more than willing to share their earthly treasure by helping God's chosen people in their distress.
Illustrated In The World Of Nature:
There are at least thirteen species of maple trees in the United States. Of these, the sugar maple is the most important. Also called the rock or hard maple, it is an attractive tree that can grow to a height of 135 feet with a trunk five feet in diameter. The production of maple syrup from maple sugar water is a major business in the northern United States. Each day during the spring, the sugar water is collected and taken to a sugar house. By flowing through a series of evaporation tanks, the liquid is condensed to produce maple syrup.
How Is The Process Of Multiplying The Ministry Of Those Who Give To Us Illustrated In The World Of Nature?
The footsteps of a solitary Indian crunching through the snow broke the stillness of the early morning. With great skill, the brave took one powerful swing with his tomahawk and then quietly watched the results. The one he had injured was revered by all the members of that early American settlement. They held him in high esteem for his impressive age and stately appearance. He had seen God work many times during his long life. He had passed the test of time and had weathered countless storms. Because of his outstanding qualities, he was chosen to be the central figure of the struggling little colony. Often the Pilgrim families came to visit him. They included him in picnics and other outings and enjoyed the sense of security he provided. Councils with the Indians were always held in his presence. He supervised their deliberations and gently nodded as both sides reached agreements. He warned the settlers of approaching danger from violent storms. When they saw him waving, the settlers would hurry to the shelter of their cabins. As the seasons passed things began to change. The busy colonists had little time for him. During this period, he also experienced a barrenness in his own life. He became quiet and withdrawn, and now he was wounded. The wound produced no ordinary results. He did not become bitter. Instead he demonstrated a new sweetness from his inner being. His response caused the Pilgrims to once again gather around him. They received a new measure of strength and vitality from his life. He was able to draw upon all that God had given him over the years and share it with those around him in a remarkable way. As he refreshed them, the thankful Pilgrims praised God for His marvelous provision through the life of this stalwart member of their community. By inflicting the wound, the Indian had revealed something that the settlers had never seen or tasted before. Thereafter, they looked upon this dignified resident not only as the majestic maple tree in the center of their village, but as the giver of rich maple sugar water at the end of a long, cold winter. The Pilgrims eagerly gathered the precious liquid from the maple tree. By investing their time and energy, they turned the sugar water into delicious syrup. The syrup became a highly sought after product which they shared with others. By sharing what they had received, both the maple tree and the settlers multiplied the provision that God had freely given to them.
The Maple Tree In Scripture:
The conditions that allow the maple tree to produce rich, sweet syrup are highly symbolic of a similar process in the Christian life which produces spiritual fruit. The maple tree must be mature before it is able to produce the sought after maple syrup. The older the tree, the more syrup it is able to produce. Older and more mature Christians are instructed by God to give spiritual food to the younger ones.
"The elders which are among you I exhort... Feed the flock of God..." ~ 1 Peter 5:1-2
The bountiful product of the maple tree must be harvested during a season that follows the harsh testings of winter cold and snow. God reminds us that one who finds nourishment during barren seasons by putting his roots deep into the Word shall produce:
"... his fruit in his season..." ~ Psalm 1:3
Before the maple tree can benefit others, it must be wounded by cutting. The more cuts it receives, the greater the flow will be from its inner life. Paul explained that the troubles he experienced were directly related to the spiritual nourishment he was able to give other Christians (see 2 Corinthians 1:2-11). The maple syrup from the tree must be further purified just as our words and actions must be refined by the purifying fire of God's Word (see 1 Peter 4:12-13).

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