Acts 1:12-26, In The Upper Room

12] Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.  13] And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying:  Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot.  14] These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

15] And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16] “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; 17] for he was numbered with us and had obtained a part in this ministry.”

18] (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out; 19] And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20] “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

‘Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it’;

and ‘let another take his office.’

21] “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22] beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

23] And they proposed two:  Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  24] And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25] to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”  26] And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.  And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Our Lord’s earthly ministry had ended.  He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the Promise of the Father, v. 4.  There had been a question about the re-establishing of the Davidic kingdom, and He had replied that it wasn’t time for that, such was up to the Father, and that in the meantime there were things for them to do, namely being His witnesses world-wide, vs. 6-8.  Then He ascended, but not with sending an angel with the wonderful promise that He would return in like manner as you saw Him go into Heaven.”  He didn’t tell them to look for signs or wonders, to check the news for evidence that “the end” was near, or to expect that folks would listen to them.  He simply told them to wait, after which they would be busy.

“To wait.”  That didn’t mean to be idle.  The eleven along with some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers, continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, v. 14.  It’s interesting that nothing is said about them praying to Mary or through her.  She held no place of importance among them.  There was no “veneration” of her.  She was just there as one of them.  And, evidently, His brothers had been converted after first rejecting Him, cf John 7:1-5.

It’s a shame prayer doesn’t have a greater place in our lives.  I’m guilty, too.  We get so busy with lesser things that we forget the important thing.  And I don’t mean just some repetitive formula,  or a few words hastily uttered before bedtime, but real communication with and intercession before God.  And it isn’t just about “asking and receiving,” as one author wrote.  That is certainly part of it, but God is not some heavenly Concierge just waiting around to tell Him what to do.  No, no, if we are believers, we are His children and as children love to be with their father – if he’s the right kind of father – so God’s children love to be around Him.  God is the right “kind” of Father!  If we remember who He is and what He has done and is doing and will do, we have a lot to thank and praise Him for.

There was something to be done while they waited.  One of their number had perished.  Now we don’t exactly what was going through Peter’s mind at this time.  He does say in v. 22 that someone must be chosen to “become a witness with us of His resurrection.”  Again, the importance of our Lord’s resurrection.  If Peter had been a modern preacher, he probably would have talked about witnessing of His love.  But the early church in the book of Acts never once mentioned the love of God.  In fact, the one occurrence of any Greek word for “love” is found in Acts 28:2, where the inhabitants of the island the shipwrecked survivors landed on showed them “unusual kindness.”

Perhaps Peter had in mind the Lord’s promise that the time was coming when the apostles would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30.  Since there were only eleven apostles at the time, one more was necessary.

Some have criticized Peter for not praying before making this statement.  However, those in the room had been in constant prayer, and it is possible, though not stated, that the lack of an apostle was part of that prayer.

There is a solemn thought in all this.  For three years, Judas had been an active member of The Twelve.  They had no inkling that he was any different from them; indeed they made him the treasurer.  True, Scripture tells us he was a thief and stole from their treasury, but they didn’t know that until afterward.  There was nothing outwardly to mark him as different.  As Peter put it, Judas had obtained a part in this ministry.”

But he was lost.

In Matthew 7, our Lord made a sobering statement:

“Many will say to Me in that day [the Day of Judgment], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “ vs. 22, 23.

It’s a solemn thought.  Many in our time “prophesy” or “cast out demons” or do “wonders” or make much of “the Lord’s name.”  But our Lord rejects such things!  Why??  Read Matthew 7 again.  It’s all about what they have done!  Nothing about what He has done.  Cf. Paul in Romans 15:18, For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me…, emphasis added.  Not once did Paul take the credit for his ministry.  Christ used him, yes, and He uses others, but it is God who gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7.

Oh, that we would remember this.  No one praises the paint brush of a great artist or the chisel and hammer of a sculptor.

We are only tools in the hand of that One who designed the ages and brings His work to pass.  After all, He doesn’t need us.  He simply spoke the worlds into existence.  But He’s pleased to use us, imperfect though we are, not because of us, but because of His great mercy.

Thank you, Lord.

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Revelation 11:3-14, The Two Witnesses.

3] And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.  

4] These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.  5] And if any anyone wants to hurt them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies.  And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.  6] These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

7] When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.  8] And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.  9] Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and will not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.  10] And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

11] Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.  12] And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”  And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.  13] In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell.  In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14] The second woe is past.  Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.  (NKJV)

There are several things of interest in these verses.

1. The ministry of the witnesses, vs. 3-6.

First, there are two of them.  This is in agreement with Deuteronomy 19:15, which says, by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.

Second, they have unusual power, being able to bring drought or to turn water into blood.  These abilities have led some to believe that these two witnesses are Moses, cf. Exodus 7:20, 21, and Elijah, cf. 1 Kings 17:1, though they are never actually named.

What these powers do tell us is that this is a different time than the “church age,” that is, our own age or culture.  Cf. Luke 9:51-55, where the Lord rebuked His disciples for wanting to bring such judgment down on a Samaritan village which rejected Him.  Because it failed to make that distinction, history is filled with examples of “the church” doing things it never had the right to do.  The church was never given civil authority, that is, that it was the “power on the throne.”  When it assumed that role, it ceased to be a true church and began to persecute those actually were.  The Reformers could never have envisioned or embraced such a concept as “the separation of church and state.”  To their time and thinking, the church was the state.

Of course, the modern view isn’t any better, where the church is to be completely isolated from the state, and there’s no room in “the state” for “religious” thinking.  What the so-called anti-establishment clause in our Constitution means is that there will never be an “official” Church of the United States, as there is an official or “established” church in other countries.  It does not, repeat, not, mean that there is to be no Christian influence in our government at all.  I know that the Founding Fathers weren’t necessarily “Christian” in a Biblical sense.  Washington was a Unitarian.  Jefferson was a Deist and cut out large portions of the Old Testament which he found offensive.  This is known as “the Jefferson Bible.”  Ben Franklin’s greatest desire was for a society formed on the basis of reason.  I wonder what he would think of our society.  Nevertheless, these men had a respect for the Word of God that is sorely lacking in our culture.  When the Scripture was banned from public life, decay and depravity set it, resulting in what we see all around us today.  Many of these things were unthinkable in my youth.  We are truly reaping what we have sown.

One thing of interest isn’t actually there.  Verse 3 quotes God as saying, “I will give power to My two witnesses.”  In the original language, the verse reads, “and I will give to My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy….”  There is no word for “power”.  So what is it that God is going “to give” to His servants, His “witnesses”?  I think it’s open.  Not to what we want, but what we need to do the job God has for us, whatever that may be.  He will give to the witnesses in Revelation 11 what they need, and He will give to you and me what we need to serve Him.

Finally, we’re told that the witnesses’ ministry will last 1260 days, v. 3.  This comes out to three-and-a-half years.  I believe this will be during the first part of “the seventieth week,” what we know as “The Tribulation Period.”  I believe that it’s the first part because their murder gives rise to a man called “the beast,” and the time of persecution where Jerusalem is trodden underfoot for forty-two months.  Remember the seven-year covenant or treaty we wrote of in an earlier post.  I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the witness’ ministry is to denounce that treaty and to point people to the true God.

2. The martyrdom of the witnesses, vs. 7-10.

Here we’re specifically told that “the beast” kills them.  It’s what clinches his rise to power, cf. Revelation 13:4.  The world rejoices over this murder and now it’s time to celebrate!

Earlier commentators envisioned people making special trips to see the dead bodies of the witnesses, with special trains and excursions.  The advent of television changed that, so that people around the world could see all this in the comfort of their own living rooms.  Now, of course, with the ubiquitous cellphone, nearly everybody who’s there can take pictures and send them to their friends.

There will be a world-wide sigh of relief and joy that “these two bigots who dared to speak out against our wonderful leader have finally been silenced.”

3. The Miracle of the Witnesses, vs. 11-13.

For three days, the rejoicing and celebrating continues.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be vendors selling “I was there” T-shirts and souvenirs.  In the middle of the fourth day, suddenly, the dead bodies come to life and stand up!  Wow!  That’s not supposed to happen!  I can imagine the stunned silence.  Hilarity is replaced by great fear.  Then a voice, a loud voice, saying to the two men, “Come up here,” and the world sees them ascend in a cloud into heaven, like their Master did before them.

That’s not all.  Almost immediately, there is a great earthquake, which kills seven thousand people.  This results in people giving glory to the God of heaven.  This doesn’t mean that they were saved or any such thing.  It simply means that they couldn’t deny what happened.  At the same time, neither would they receive what really happened.  Cf. Acts 3, 4, and the healing of a man born unable to walk.  When Peter and John were arrested and brought before the authorities for this healing, the man standing there with them made it impossible for them to deny that a miracle been performed.  Did this cause them to bow to the Lord Jesus?  Read their own words from Acts 4:14, And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  But these leaders, who couldn’t deny the truth, v. 15, would not receive it either, and forbade the disciples from further talking about the Lord Jesus, v. 17.

We have lots of people today talking about and looking for miracles.  Large ministries have been build around the “performing” of them.  But by themselves, miracles mean nothing, especially if those who witness the miracles remain unchanged.  A momentary excitement means nothing by itself.

4. The “Meaning” of the Witnesses, v. 14.

Their ministry is called “the second woe.”  This simply means that one more stroke has been taken toward the ultimate defeat and destruction of evil, and the third and final “woe” is coming quickly.  The seventh angel is about to sound.

Revelation 2:1-7, The Church at Ephesus: Duty, not Delight

“To the church at Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:  “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.  And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.  Nevertheless I have something against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.  But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”‘
(NKJV)

As we go through these seven letters, we’ll look at the city in which the church lived.  Our Lord uses what they experience there in His counsel to them.  Then we’ll look at the description Christ uses of Himself, descriptions which come from the vision opening the book.  Then we’ll look at the content of the letter and what our Lord said to each church.

The City of the Epistle.

Ephesus was a very important city of the Roman province of Asia, which, as we’ve seen, was not in the Far East, but was in what we know as Turkey. Until the harbor filled in with silt, it had been a prominent sea port.  It remained a center of commerce, a point of contact between Greek and Asiatic cultures and was noted for its riches and trade.

By NT times, Ephesus had enjoyed a rich and varied history.  A focus of that history was the famed Temple of Diana (Artemis), the pride of the city.  It had been burned down on the night of the birth of Alexander the Great, but was rebuilt larger and more beautiful.  Its construction took 220 years and required contributions from the whole province of Asia.  Paul saw it at the height of its glory, when it was listed among the seven wonders of the ancient world.  There was, in addition to and connected with this temple, a tremendous emphasis on magical powers.  Paul had to deal with this while he was there.

The NT records a period of intense activity, Acts 20:20, 31, and of unusual miracles by Paul, Acts 19:11.  These “unusual miracles” (Gk. “uncommon works of power”) are no basis for the so-called “prayer cloths” or “handkerchiefs” some have offered, but were designed to counteract the pagan focus of the city.  Even to  Paul, these things were “uncommon.”  And “signs and wonders” weren’t permanent, even to the apostles.  We read later in the NT of the sickness of one of Paul’s associates.  We read nothing of Paul “healing” him.

As a result of Paul’s ministry, we read that many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.  And many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.  And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.  So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed, Acts 19:18-20.

Now this true revival and work of God in turning many from falsehood to the worship and service of the true God led to a tremendous decline in the commercial side of the worship of Diana, with loss to the business of selling the little shrines used in her worship, and the consequent loss to those who made and sold them.  And about this time there arose a great commotion about the Way.  For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen, vs. 23, 24.  The resulting riot forced Paul to leave Ephesus and there are no further recorded visits to the city.

The Christ of the Epistle, 2:1.

Each of the seven letters begins with a characterization of Christ taken from the vision John saw in chapter 1, a characterization suitable to the spiritual condition of the church addressed.  In this letter, Christ is described as the One holding the seven angels, or ministers of the churches, in His right hand.  He is the One who places them there, and it is to Him they are answerable.

Christ says, “I know.”  The word He uses here is instructive.  One of the words the NT uses for “knowing” means, “to progress in knowledge.”  We might say, “to learn” because there’s something of whatever we do “know” that we still  don’t “know.”  That’s not the word our Lord uses here.  The word He chose means “to know completely.”  There’s nothing about this church, or about us, that He doesn’t know everything about or that He has to “learn.”

This means He knows our “secret” sins, our failures, our shortcomings.  There’s no use trying to hide them or to gloss them over.  He knows them.

But it also means that He knows our secret struggles and sufferings.  Sometimes Christians are amazed when suffering in one form or another comes to us.  And there are those who make a good living teaching that the Christian life is “without a care,” as an unfortunate “Gospel” song used to say.  But the fact is we live in enemy territory.  This world, under the leadership of Satan, “the god of this age,” 2 Corinthians 4:4, is no friend to us.  In this country, we’ve been spoiled because we’ve enjoyed many years of relative peace and protection.  That’s coming to an end.  It probably won’t too many years, maybe months, before Christianity and the Bible are declared illegal in this country that was founded by those who had respect for both of them.

Further, we live in a world that’s been cursed because of sin.  It should be no surprise then to find “thorns” in whatever “field” we are in, Genesis 3:17-19.

Our Lord knows all about it.  In fact, I believe He knows it far better than any of us could, having experienced it Himself.  We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with out weaknesses, but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin, Hebrews 4:25.

He walked in our shoes.

The Contents of the Epistle, 2:2-7.

1. commendation, vs. 2, 3.

– Our Lord commends the church for their faithful labor:  “your works, your labor, your patience.”  They had labored and persevered to the point of exhaustion.

– He commends them for their faithful diligence.  They could not bear those who are evil.”  There are two main words used in the original for “evil,” often interchangeably, but there is still some distinction between them.  One word is “poneros,” which means destructive, injurious evil.  It’s used of Satan, that “wicked one,” in several places in the NT.  The other word, used here, is “kakos,” and denotes what is useless, incapable or bad.  It describes one who is “useless” in an area in which he ought to be useful:  a cowardly soldier, a lazy student, an unproductive employee.  The Ephesian church could not bear those whom we might call “dead wood,” for example, folks whose bodies are in the pew, but not their minds and hearts.

– He commended them for their faithful listening:  “you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.”   Elsewhere, John put it like this, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.  I wonder what he would say today, with all the means of communication we have:  TV, radio, the internet, print, Twitter.  More than ever, we need that attitude of some who heard Paul, who searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so, Acts 17:11, emphasis added.

Satan has no problem quoting Scripture, cf. Matthew 4:5.  In fact, he probably “knows” it better than most folks.  I once received a tract denying the Trinity, which claimed that Jesus is the only God there is.  It had about 90 Scripture references.  The thing that fascinated me was that several of these same Scriptures are used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to “prove” that Jesus isn’t God at all, but only a created being.  Thus both groups totally miss the point, though using lot of Scripture.

We need to know what it says!

Actually says….

– He again commends them for their faithfulness in serving Him, v. 3. “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”  This is the second time He’s mentioned their works and labor.  One would think that’s enough; it certainly seems to be in our time.  Church calendars are full of activities of all kinds.  But there’s more….

2. complaint, v. 4, “Nevertheless….”

Oh, what a solemn word this is!  The average pastor would likely be glad to have a zealous church like this, yet our Lord sees a grievous imperfection:  “you have left your first love.”  Note, they left, not lost, that love.  The love of Christ and the church is compared to that of a bridegroom and his bride, yet how little fervency there is in the average Christian.  I’m afraid we’ve grown to want what He gives us, but not Himself.

“Love” is a key word with regard to this church.  In Paul’s letter to this church, there are some 18 references to “love,” beginning with God’s love toward us in eternity past in choosing and predestining us to adoption as sons, then focusing on Christ’s love and the effect it should have in our lives as believers, and closing with that grand crescendo of a man’s love for his wife.

With regard to this last, I think of Genesis 29:20, which happens during Jacob’s troubles with his father-in-law, Laban.  Remember the story in Genesis 29.  Jacob had fallen for Rachel, the younger of Laban’s two daughters.  He agreed to work for Laban for seven years in order to be able to marry her.  However, when the time came, Laban tricked him and gave him his elder daughter, Leah.  Genesis 29:20 gives us Jacob’s attitude during this first seven years, and I like the KJV rendering here:  And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her.  “Seven years…a few days…for love…to her.”

Ephesus had lost that view, that lightness of spirit that make hard things easy.  Serving Christ had ceased to be a delight; it had become simply a duty.

What should they do?

Our Lord tells them.

3. Counsel, v. 5.

– remember (lit. “keep remembering”).  See the same word in Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:31.  Remember the first ardor of salvation.  Remember who He is.  Remember what He did.  Remember what He has promised.  Remember, remember, remember!

Yet how quickly we forget!

– repent.  There are those who tell us that repentance is a “Jewish” doctrine and that it’s now unnecessary.  Yet our Lord told His church in Ephesus to “repent” (twice).  He told five of the seven churches to “repent.”  Ephesus was to repent of leaving His love (cf. Jude 20, 21), and to –

– return, “do the first works.”

This is not a call to “service”!  What is needed is not just more “service:” more activity, more items on the church calendar, more “things to do,” but a return to that supreme love to and for Christ.  This love is the only acceptable motive (to God) for our service, a love that would make that service so much easier, not because we would do less (we likely would do more!), but because such love would change it from a “duty” (which is usually a burden) to a “delight” (which is something altogether different!)

– remain, “or else….”

This refers to our Lord’s coming in judgment to remove the church’s witness as a light-bearer.  The church in Ephesus has been gone a long time.  So have the other six churches.  We wonder how many Christians and churches are still going through the motions, but have their true witness removed.  And how many church buildings have been sold and are being used for something else.  I think of one here locally that’s now a beauty salon.  There are countless others.

It’s a solemn thought.

4. Commendation, “But this you have, that you hate the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

There is some discussion as to what this means.  I tend toward the view that it refers to the separation of Christians into “clergy” and “laity.”  This distinction has no basis in Scripture and introduced a great evil into the churches, namely, the evil of seeking for, and pride in, “position.”  Such easily becomes the goal, instead of that love of and for Christ that is the only worthy and acceptable motive for service.

5. Conclusion, v. 7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

What does this mean?

It’s pretty clear that it means salvation.

“I thought we’re saved by grace through faith.”

Amen and amen.

We are.

Hear, or read, Paul:

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.

There is a lot of stuff in this world that calls us away from the Lord Jesus.  As we saw in our study of Hebrews, there’s danger in leaving Him; it might mean we were never His to begin with.  This is why He calls the Ephesian church, and us, back to that loving faith in Him which is the only acceptable motive for Christian living, and that perseverance which is the only real evidence that we’re His.

Trophies

[Note: The first draft of this post was started while blasting through the air at 550 mph in a pressurized metal tube, 39,000 off the ground. 🙂 ]

In earlier days, I accumulated a few trophies: high bowling score, high handicap game.  My wife and I won a 2nd place trophy in the league we used to belong to.  In fact, I joke that the only reason I married her was because she beat me bowling.  Before the Lord saved me, I had thoughts of becoming a professional bowler and spent hours at the local bowling alley.  (This was back when you could bowl 3 lines [games] for a dollar, so you know it’s been a while 🙂 ).

After the Lord saved me, I went to Bible College, then to a church where I met my then-future wife.  I didn’t bowl very often, but could still put together a decent game.  The young people’s group of which I was a member would go bowling once in a while, and Sharon joined the group and went with us.  On the occasion when she beat me, it wasn’t so much that she beat me; it was the score she beat me with – a 99.  If you’re not interested in bowling, then this score means nothing to you, but let me tell you, it isn’t particularly good!  I guess I figured that if I couldn’t beat her, then I should join her 🙂 .

If you’re familiar with miniature golf, then perhaps you know Putt-Putt miniature golf courses.  One opened up where I lived and for a while I held the record for low score – a score long since beaten, I’m sure.

The place I worked when I retired held an annual 18-hole “best-ball” golf tournament. The first year I played, the foursome I was in won the tournament with a 62.

I’ve rolled a “300” bowling on the Wii – a perfect game – but admittedly considerably easier than in real life.  The best I ever did then was, I think, was about 240 – it’s been a long time.  My wife and I enjoy “golfing” on the Wii, again, much easier than in real life.  We’re pretty evenly matched, but I think she beats me more often than not – and, no, I don’t “let” her win!  I’m much too competitive for that.

My point to all this rambling…?

The Apostle Paul was also a sports fan.  Even though he didn’t have golf or bowling or their easier versions on the Wii, he still made several references to running, boxing and wrestling and what it required to participate at a high level in those sports.  In I Corinthians 9:24, he applied this effort to the Christian life.  He wrote that these athletes work to the point of agony for a “trophy”: Now they do it for a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown, I Corinthians 9:25 (NKJV).  This “crown” was a laurel wreath placed on the head of the winner of one of these events.

I learned this verse as “incorruptible crown,” and as a young Christian and Bible student, more than once heard and read that this “crown” was one of a group of five different crowns Christians could earn.  However, as I began to read the Bible for myself (something which I’ve since learned, only partly tongue-in-cheek, can get you into trouble), it seemed to me that Paul wasn’t referring to a class of crowns distinct from other crowns, but was teaching the characteristic of the crown: it was “imperishable,” as opposed to the temporary nature of earthy crowns and trophies.

The laurel wreath soon wilted.  The bowling trophies I won – what’s left of them – gather dust in a closet.  The cup I won for rolling a 220 at Bowlero Bowling Lanes makes a dandy holder for pens.  The other “accomplishments” are meaningless as my wife and I sit here in the airport waiting for a connecting flight home.

Indeed, perhaps, by the grace and mercy of God, these few words may be of more significance than all the trophies I could ever win, even to a Super Bowl ring or Stanley Cup trophy, if I could even rise to such a high level of competence.

Oh, let me encourage you if you are discouraged in your efforts to serve God.  You may not be cheered on by the world and what you can do might seem insignificant compared to others, but, remember, our Lord taught that even something as simple as a cup of cold water given in His name to someone who is thirsty will have its reward – and that reward is “imperishable.”