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grace salvation Uncategorized works

HE QUALIFIED US

Neal Pollard

When I was a student at Faulkner University, Schick Corporation sponsored a three-on-three intramural basketball competition known as Super Hoops. The school’s student activity director organized the tournament, and the winning team won a paid trip to the national tournament to compete for the national title. My senior year, four of us decided to form a team and compete for this coveted prize. We had a guy, Patrick Hunter, who was a slick ball handler and had been a point guard in High School. We had another guy, Bart Carter, who had actually played baseball at Mississippi State before transferring to Faulkner to become a Bible Major. There was me, more of an outside shooting threat if anything. But it was our fourth man, Mike Whisenant, who truly tipped the scales in our favor. He was a High School basketball star and was our big man. He also had a great shot, but we could depend on him to score inside consistently. Every team could have four players and you could rotate in and out to keep players fresh. But the guy who had to stay in, our workhorse, was Mike. It was certainly a team effort, but it was Mike who carried us to victory at Faulkner and punched our ticket to Atlanta. We got to stay at a very nice Hyatt hotel for free. We got meal vouchers, cool T-shirts, and I didn’t buy a razor for a couple of years. Although our glory was short-lived on the “national stage,” getting beat by Morehouse and then Valdosta State in a double-elimination format, we got to compete—thanks mostly to Mike’s skillset and abilities.

Perhaps that’s a crude way to illustrate a term used by Paul in Colossians 1:12, but follow me for a moment. Paul is in the middle of his prayer for the Colossians, telling them he wanted them (and by extension he wants us) to please God in all respects. The four ways to do that follow that imperative: bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, being strengthened, and giving thanks. Paul says to give thanks to the Father, “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” The word translated “qualified” here is only found one other time, in 2 Corinthians 3:6, where Paul says “our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant.” The same idea is conveyed in both passages.

Though I could not find the Greeks using this verb in an athletic sense, it literally means “to cause someone or something to be adequate for something” (Louw-Nida 678). The adverb form of the word appears many times in the New Testament, and means “sufficient in degree, sufficient, adequate, large enough” (Arndt, Danker, et al 472). Our word means to “render competent or worthy” (Zodhiates np). God is the cause of adequacy, the One who makes us competent and worthy to receive the inheritance. We have a part to play. We must be obedient, fruitful, knowledgeable, strong, and thankful. Without this proper response to God’s grace, we do not qualify for the prize. But, who is most responsible? Who do we most depend upon? It’s not us. It’s Him!

My illustration is feeble, but it helps give me a faint glimpse of what Paul is talking about. In an infinitely greater way, I owe my eventual, eternal prize to God’s ability and identity. But, because I want to please Him in all respects, I am going to work hard and with gratitude for the One who makes it all possible.

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grace Satan suffering temptation Uncategorized

Coping With Thorns

Neal Pollard

Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is the author of audacity, and he showed it first in Eden. He is at work today through temptation and suffering to try and dismantle our faith. He is a presence in our personal lives (1 Pet. 5:8). If there’s hurt, he’s happy. If there’s sin, he’s satisfied. He can’t force anyone to sin (Js. 1:13-15). He can’t make us fall away (John 10:28-29). But, he’s at work. Paul writes about something that has long mystified the Bible student, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that passage, we have:

  • The reality of the thorn (7)
  • The reproach of the thorn (7)
  • The reason for the thorn (7)
  • The result of the thorn (7)
  • The response to the thorn (8-10).

Paul reveals Satan’s involvement in that thorn. This troubles me. I have never asked for a thorn in the flesh and I have no reason to think Paul asked for his, but he got one anyway. What do you do when you have a thorn in the flesh? Consider at least three things Paul teaches us in this powerful passage.

No one is immune from thorns. Who’s talking in this text? The great apostle Paul, a man God gave revelations, who’s preaching across the world, converting so many, and achieving name recognition for the best of reasons. If you ever thought anybody would be sheltered for doing right, it would be him. But Paul says there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. That makes me uncomfortable. I need spiritual lessons about God and myself, as Paul and even Job, who Satan was allowed to buffet, did. If a great Old Testament patriarch and great New Testament preacher had thorns to deal with, I know I am not immune.

Sometimes, God lets the thorn stay. We may have to accept that our given affliction may never come to an end as long as we’re on this earth. A recurring or chronic illness, constant adversary, or irreversible limitation may not be removed. I wish I knew why God told Paul “no” and why he sometimes tells us “no” when we ask for our thorns to be removed. But, even if we keep the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient and He can use that very thing to accomplish good through us for the Kingdom. God uses thorns to supply us with humility and grace. If our thorn comes and stays rather than comes and goes, God will use it for our good and to accomplish good if we will properly view it.

Thorns are growth opportunities. If we remain faithful to God through our thorns, we will spiritually grow. Satan is rebuffed and defeated, as he was with Paul and Job. But, for every Paul and Job, how many have let affliction and adversity destroy their faith? We know God’s power eclipses Satan’s. But don’t underestimate this enemy (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7). One of Paul’s final points in the letter is about God’s great power (13:4). Paul was weakened by affliction, but he could endure because of faith. God is more powerful than Satan and Paul’s thorn is but one proof of it. Lyte wrote,

As woods, when shaken by the breeze, take deeper, firmer root,
As winter’s frosts but make the trees abound in summer fruit;
So every Heaven-sent pang and throe that Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below, and forms us for the skies.

Is it a trial or a blessing in disguise? Doesn’t it depend on how we view it and what we do with it? Satan wants to use afflictions to destroy us, but God is greater. He can transform our tragedies into triumphs. Trust Him through the thorns. The roses will appear!

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