Day 294

Hard Times

Wisdom Psalm 119:66-72
New Testament 1 Timothy 5:1-20, 6:1-2
Old Testament Jeremiah 43:1-2, 44:1-5

Introduction

Smith Wigglesworth was born on 8 June 1859 to an impoverished family in Yorkshire. As a small child he worked in the fields pulling turnips alongside his mother. He was illiterate until, at the age of twenty-three, he married Polly, who taught him to read. He often said that the Bible was the only book he ever read.

He was a plumber by trade but had to abandon it after he became too busy with an amazing ministry of preaching and healing. There are even accounts of people being raised from the dead through his ministry. Yet, he said on one occasion that he would rather see one person saved through his preaching than 10,000 healed.

Life was not always easy for Smith Wigglesworth. He went through some very hard times. He wrote, ‘Great faith is a product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.’

The Bible is very realistic. We live in a fallen world. Everyone goes through hard times and some people find themselves in circumstances that make life hard all of the time.

Wisdom

Psalm 119:66-72

66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
   for I trust your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
   but now I obey your word.
68 You are good, and what you do is good;
   teach me your decrees.

71 It was good for me to be afflicted
   so that I might learn your decrees.
72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
   than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Commentary

See hard times as God’s training school

Suffering is never good in itself, but God is able to use it for good (Romans 8:28). Sometimes God uses our suffering to train us. Just as a gardener prunes the vine (John 15:2), parents discipline their children (Hebrews 12:10) and a metal worker refines silver and gold in the fire (1 Peter 1:6–7).

The psalmist writes, ‘Train me in good common sense... Before I learned to answer you, I wandered all over the place, but now I’m in step with your Word... train me in your goodness’ (Psalm 119:66–68, MSG). When you are going through hard times don’t allow that to make you doubt God’s goodness. Instead, see it as God’s training school.

Unfair criticism is hard to receive. The psalmist writes, ‘The godless spread lies about me, but I focus my attention on what you are saying’ (v.69, MSG). Attacks may come from those whose ‘hearts are callous and unfeeling’. Yet, in the midst of this, you, too, can find ‘delight’ in God’s words (v.70).

The psalmist is able to see that God has actually used his troubles, affliction and suffering: ‘My troubles turned out all for the best – they forced me to learn from your textbook. Truth from your mouth means more to me than striking it rich in a gold mine’ (vv.71–72, MSG).

Prayer

Lord, ‘Teach me… good judgment’ (v.66). Thank you that as I look back on my life I can often see the ways in which you have used the hard times. Thank you that the words of your mouth are more precious than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

New Testament

1 Timothy 5:1-20, 6:1-2

5 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.

6 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters… should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.

Commentary

Take care of those going through hard times

The Bible is a very practical book. Paul gives Timothy sensible and practical instructions on how to look after those in the congregation who are going through hard times.

  1. Take care of the old and young

    Paul says that we are to treat those who are older than us with the respect we would show to our parents, and to treat those younger than us as our brothers and sisters (vv.1–2). Someone once observed that many men should have this verse as a screensaver on their computers: ‘Treat younger women as sisters, with absolute purity’ (v.2).

  2. Take care of the needy

    For example, the church is to provide for widows who don’t have any family to support them: ‘Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need’ (v.3). Those who do have family should be supported by them if at all possible (v.4).

  3. Take care of your extended family

    Paul makes a point that still has great relevance today. Not only do we have a duty to provide for our own spouse and children, but we must also provide for our ‘extended family’, our parents and grandparents: (vv.7–8).

  4. Take care of leaders

    Church is also to provide for the leaders ‘who direct the affairs of the church’ (v.17). ‘Those who work deserve their pay!’ (v.18, NLT). Their position of responsibility means that we should not easily entertain a complaint against them: ‘Don’t listen to a complaint against a leader that isn’t backed up by two or three responsible witnesses’ (v.19, MSG). But, at the same time, the consequences of sin are greater for those in a position of leadership (v.20). Paul warns ‘keep a close check on yourself’ (v.21, MSG).

  5. Take care of yourself

    Timothy himself clearly had stomach problems and ‘frequent illnesses’ (v.23). Paul does not reproach him for his sickness. Rather, he gives him some practical advice (which may sound strange to our modern ears): ‘Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses’ (v.23).

  6. Take care in the workplace

    This letter was written at a time when Christians were in no position to lead the fight against slavery. They were a tiny minority in an empire where a high proportion of the population were slaves. Paul is not endorsing slavery. Rather, he is giving practical advice on how to live when we find ourselves in circumstances that are far from ideal. Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, however hard life is, your concern should be for ‘God’s name’ (6:1).

Prayer

Lord, help us as a church to look after those who are going through hard times. May we be a community that looks after the needy, the sick and the oppressed – following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Old Testament

Jeremiah 43:1-2, 44:1-5

43 When Jeremiah had finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God—everything the Lord had sent him to tell them — 2 Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying!

44 This word came to Jeremiah... 4 Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, ‘Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!’ 5 But they did not listen or pay attention...

Commentary

Stay faithful to God in hard times

Mother Teresa said, ‘I am not called to be successful but to be faithful.’

At this point in his ministry, Jeremiah was probably in his mid-sixties. He had been a prophet for forty-seven years. During this time, he had seen Jerusalem reduced to ruins. He had faithfully spoken the word of God, but his message had been consistently ignored and rejected by those to whom he was sent. He had also suffered a great deal due to their opposition and disobedience. All this must have been very disappointing and discouraging for Jeremiah.

Even after all that happened, and though his earlier prophecies had been fulfilled, the people still refused to listen to him. Jeremiah was faithfully telling them ‘everything the Lord had sent him to tell them’ (43:1). He was telling the truth. But he had to put up with what must have been the very hurtful slander of arrogant people saying to him, ‘you are lying’ (v.2).

In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, they ‘disobeyed the Lord’s command’ (v.4). They ‘entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord’ (v.7). Although the Lord warned them ‘again and again’ (44:4), ‘they did not listen or pay attention’ (v.5). They said to Jeremiah, ‘We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!’ (v.16). Jeremiah’s message was flatly contradicted by those who heard it.

Jeremiah’s ministry must have appeared to be a failure; once again full of discouragement and disappointment. Even so, he remained true to the task that God had given him and faithfully delivered God’s words to the people.

In chapter 45, we encounter another person’s discouragement and disappointment – Jeremiah’s associate Baruch. Baruch, despite being of high birth, had to play second fiddle to Jeremiah. His role was to record Jeremiah’s prophecies. He despaired of the fruitlessness of his efforts. He said ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest’ (45:3).

But the Lord says, ‘Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not’ (v.5).

It is always a temptation to be self-centred and to seek great things for ourselves – whether through money, success, position, fame, reputation or respectability – but we must never seek any of these things for ourselves. At the end of the day, it does not matter if our life appears to have been a failure and ends in disappointment. What matters is faithfulness to the Lord. God will reward each person according to their faithfulness, not according to their apparent success (see Matthew 25:14–30).

When you are faithful to God, you allow him to work and to achieve his plans through your life. Jeremiah and Baruch must have felt like failures, and yet few people in history have had a greater impact than they. The prophecies they recorded are a key part of God’s revelation to the world, and contain some of the most important prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament – and how many authors can claim a readership of billions over 2,500 years after their death?

Prayer

Lord, help me to be faithful in following you regardless of hard times: afflictions, smears and difficulties. May I never seek great things for myself but rather seek to see your name glorified.

Pippa adds

1 Timothy 5:12 says:

‘Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat… older women as mothers.’

I do wish there was more respect for the elderly in our society. Life must seem perplexing with technology changing and, when movement is slow and painful, and even doing the simple things in life is a struggle. And to add to this, loneliness can set in. The Christian community is so important and it is doing amazing work, but there is still so much more to do.

Thought for the Day

‘I am not called to be successful but to be faithful.’ – Mother Teresa

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References

The writings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta © by the Mother Teresa Center, exclusive licensee throughout the world of the Missionaries of Charity for the works of Mother Teresa. Used with permission.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

  • HOST'S INTRO
  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS
  • HOST'S OUTRO

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