"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, December 24, 2011

Raising the Standard: Thriftiness Is Preparing For Known Needs During Times Of Plenty

"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
Lessons on Thriftiness from the Pages of Scripture:
Wise saving during times of plenty avoids self indulgence and makes it possible to distribute to the needs of the saints. (See Romans 12:13.) When saving is practiced out of fear of an unknown future, it tends to produce hoarding and greed. The result is the heaping up of treasures, which God Condemns. (See Psalm 39:6.) When saving is carried out for the purpose of meeting needs as God reveals them, it produces faith and unity among Christians. God illustrated the potential of such giving through the dedicated work of a leader in the church at Corinth.
In 52 A.D. the Roman deputy of Corinth almost heard Paul speak. This deputy, Gallio was the older brother of the famous Seneca, whose philosophies he believed. When these were later discredited by Nero, Seneca and Gallio both committed suicide. In contrast, what respected citizen of Corinth heard the Gospel and believed? Gaius of Corinth.
An angry mob shoved a wealthy and respect citizen of Corinth aside and moved in to seize his courageous house guest. The assortment of confused religious leaders, misguided worshipers, and town rabble then moved down the main thoroughfare to the Roman judgment hall. The newly appointed Roman deputy came out to the rostrum and listened to the frenzied demands for punishment and banishment. Gallio, the deputy, looked at the accused and recalled the bitter cup of public scorn that his family had recently endured, and would probably endure again. With sympathetic understanding, he decided to protect the accused and his followers --- whatever their views may be. Just then the condemned guest attempted to speak, but Gallio interrupted him and said to the threatening crowd, "if it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, I would listen to you. But since it is a question of your own religious laws, I will not be a judge of such matters." He then drove them all out of the judgment hall. The God-fearing host was greatly relieved. Now he and other believers would be free to prosper in their work and witness. His guest had risked his life to bring the Gospel to them. How could they show their gratefulness? The answer soon came when he learned of a special need. A serious famine in Jerusalem was causing many Christians to suffer hunger. How fitting that such a need would be met by the citizens of Corinth. This very city was restored by Julius Caesar as a Roman colony to help poor people improve their living conditions. It was now the wealthiest seaport in the world. In these times of plenty the Corinthian believers and Gaius, host of the Apostle Paul, demonstrated thriftiness by setting aside funds for the famine stricken Christians at Jerusalem. [From Acts:1-18 and 2 Corinthians 8]
In What Way Did Paul Commend Gaius to the Roman Christians?
At the conclusion of his letter to the Romans, Paul sent greetings from the Corinthian Christians and from Gaius. He used the occasion to commend Gaius by identifying him as "...mine host, and of the whole church..." (Romans 16:23). It is not certain precisely what Paul meant by the second phrase "and the whole church." It is likely that the church continued to meet in Gaius's home. (See Acts 18:7.) The phrase may indicate that he provided lodging to many who flocked to his house while Paul was present. It may also mean that Gaius had a reputation for hospitality toward believers traveling through Corinth. In any case, Gaius met Paul's requirement that leaders of the church be "given to hospitality" and "a lover of hospitality." (See 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8.)
How Did Paul Boast About the Corinthian Believers?
One of Paul's greatest desires was to help the very poor and persecuted Christians of Jerusalem. He wanted to unify the Body of Christ and remove the tension between Jewish and Gentile believers. The church at Corinth was more able than most to contribute to this cause. The Corinthians had been spared the severe persecution which had affected many other Gentile churches. In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he exhorted them to systematically set aside a portion of their income in order to be prepared when he came. Although other problems and divisions in that church caused Paul concern, he was almost apologetic when reminding them of the collection "For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia..." (2 Corinthians 9:1-2). The Corinthians, who constituted the main church of Achaia, had been ready with their gifts for over a year. It is most likely that the generous and hospitable Gaius was a leading force and example in this ministry.
Why Were the Corinthians Able to Help Supply the Needs of Others?
God used the political influence of the Roman ruler Gallio to protect the Corinthian Christians. Many times Paul's preaching resulted in intense persecution. The initiators were often Jews who accused Paul of being a heretic. In fact, Paul's recent ministry in Thessalonica had been shortened because of Jews "moved with envy". (See Acts 17:5.) Jason, Paul's host there, had also suffered. In Ephesus, idol making silversmiths led the persecution effort. As a result of such harassment, Christians often lost their jobs, were reduced to poverty, and had little to share with others. Those in Jerusalem were particularly in need. But such was not the case in Corinth. When a Jewish mob dragged Paul before the Roman proconsul Gallio, he refused to be intimidated by the influential Jews and decided to take sides. Gallio judged Paul innocent under Roman law and afforded him the protection of that law. As a result, the Corinthian Christians were protected from the persecution experienced in other cities. Now Paul expected them to use their surplus to help others. (See 2 Corinthians 8:13-15.)
Illustrated in the World of Nature:
Acorn woodpeckers stand about nine inches tall. They live in groups of two to twelve members, with four to eight being the most common. Half of the bird's diet is made up of acorns which it not only eats in the fall but also stores in tree granaries to eat in the winter. All members of the group share in the work of harvesting and storing acorns. No individual bird has its own storage tree. Acorn woodpeckers also defend their territory, raise their young, and maintain their storage site as a group.
How is Saving During Times of Plenty Illustrated in the World of Nature?
One of the most important lessons about life can be learned from the labors of two different kinds of workers in the country fields. Both of these workers toiled long hours during the springtime and summer. Both enjoyed an abundant harvest and both gathered in all the provisions they could. Yet, each worker had an entirely different motive for working, and therein lies the valuable lesson that must be learned. The wise worker started early in the morning and labored until evening. His diligence was amazing, as well as his ability not to be distracted from his primary goal of a fruitful harvest. Each item that he harvested was carefully stored. He used his head in a unique way to make sure that his crop was securely protected, often moving each item at least two or three times. During his lifetime, he gathered tons of food, and many in his community benefited from his labors. The foolish worker also labored long hours during the day and into the night. He used all the farming knowledge he had to raise a crop. His efforts were rewarded with a bumper harvest far greater, in fact, than he could even store in his barns. It was at this point that his goal for working became clear. He said to himself, "I now have an abundant supply for many years. I will store it in bigger barns and retire to a life of ease." He saved during times of plenty so that he would not be dependent upon God for his daily food. He thought that he could now depend only upon himself and thus live the way he wanted. He would "eat, drink, and be merry." God said to this worker, "You fool. This night your soul will be required of you. Then who shall own those things which you have provided?" On the other hand, God praised the wise worker and his fellow creatures by telling us to think about them and learn from their ways. Their purpose in working is not to heap up provisions for a future life of ease, but to provide for their needs in daily dependence upon God. The acorn woodpecker, who stores his harvest in trees and posts, has no thought of a retirement to ease. He works to store provisions during times of plenty for the needs of his family, his fellow workers, and others in his community who depend on his skillful labors.
The Characteristics of the Acorn Woodpecker in Scripture:
The acorn woodpecker is unique to the realm of birds in that during times of plenty it "reaps and gathers into barns." In Matthew 6:26 God instructs us to consider the fowls of the air which do not sow or reap or gather into barns, "..yet your heavenly Father feedeth them..." Thus, God uses the labor of the acorn woodpecker to help carry out His commitment to provide food for other birds. In the same way, God allows some Christians to provide for others who have special needs.
"...That now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want..." ~ 2 Corinthians 8:14
The amazing diligence of the acorn woodpecker is a sharp rebuke to the slothful man described in Proverbs 20:4. "...Therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing." As the acorn woodpecker secures thousands of acorns in its storehouses, it illustrates the condition of the righteous man in Psalm 112:3. "Wealth and riches shall be in his house..." Just as the acorn woodpecker does not gather only for himself, the righteous man is one who "...hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever..." (Psalm 112:9).

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