Hosea 11:1-11 – The God of Love

1‘When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.

But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
    and they burned incense to images.

Although God chose Israel to be his way back when Abraham was called to follow God (see Genesis chapter 12), it’s at the Exodus from Egypt that Israel becomes a nation rather than a family tribe. Here God wonderfully speaks of his relationship with Israel as a father and son. Nationhood starts with deliverance. In fact, the word for “nation” is first used by God of Israel at the Exodus. It’s a fact that the nation is reminded of again and again. For example, the giving of the law to the nation of Israel, a marker between being a tribe and nationhood, was prefaced with the words “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” [Exodus 20:1]

It was love that drove God to rescue them. This love is not brought about by anything intrinsically lovely in Israel, but by God’s sovereign choice – it was a decision to love. God placed his love upon them. Deut 10:15 says “Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations – as it is today.” This is affirmed in a number of places in the Bible, for instance in Malachi 1:2-3 where God’s choice of Israel is through God’s love for her ancestor, Jacob. God chose Jacob (Israel) but not his brother Esau.

That brings great assurance. God chooses to love us. God’s love has little to do with me and everything to do with who he is, and he doesn’t change.

It’s a great precursor to the calling of God’s people through Jesus. God calls us, not because of anything lovely about us, but because of his grace. He rescues us out of slavery. Romans 6 says We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” [Romans 6:6]

It’s the tragedy of the Old Testament that God is constantly stepping in to rescue his people and constantly being rejected. As early as the first few weeks in its rescued state, the nation is sacrificing to a golden calf, and from then on it seems to be a constant refrain that Israel deserts her God to worship things that are not God.

PRAYER

Sovereign Lord, thank you for your constant love. Keep me always true to you alone.  Amen

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
but they did not realise
    it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
    a little child to the cheek,
    and I bent down to feed them.

 

It is not always obvious when God is acting for our benefit. Here God says, “They did not realise it was I who healed them.” Why? Because, like today, God mostly seems to act in the background, working in the ordinary circumstances of life, rather than in “flash-bang” miracles. He led them and they didn’t see it.

The great biblical example of this is in the book of Ruth, where God is bringing about his plans through the everyday interaction between everyday people.  There is no direct intervention of God anywhere in this short book – no dreams, no prayers, no prophesy, no word from God in any way, and yet he is in every event for those with eyes to see it, and this wonderful story of love later leads to the birth of the Lord Jesus.

We should be looking out for God at work in the everyday. Counting our blessings, giving thanks in all things, looking for the silver lining.

In these background interactions God is leading with cords of kindness like a father cuddling his children, but they didn’t see it. What a travesty! May that not be the case with us.

Our God is certainly the God of the miraculous but often the miracle is hidden behind the ordinary.

PRAYER

God of wonder and might, give me the eyes of faith to see you at work.  Amen

‘Will they not return to Egypt
    and will not Assyria rule over them
    because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities;
    it will devour their false prophets
    and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
    Even though they call me God Most High,
    I will by no means exalt them.’

Here we come up against one of those difficult parts of scripture. God is going to punish his people. It’s difficult because we have this view of anger and punishment that comes through our own experience – we see God’s anger like our anger and God’s punishment like the punishment we would dish out, which is so often driven by the desire for revenge.

God’s anger is “righteous anger”, not driven by hurt feelings. It is much more like the righteous and just anger of a judge handing out a punishment for someone who has committed the most heinous crimes, or a parent punishing their child for some offence. God has given the law and his people have broken it. He cannot ignore it or there is no point in having the law. If people break the law with impunity there is no justice.

Look at verse 7. “My people are determined to turn from me.” There is a settled mindset to turn away from God. There would have been two groups who turned away from God.

  1. Those who did it knowingly and rebelliously. Today such people comprise of those who are stridently anti-Christian, anti-God, or know that they are not living God’s way and don’t care.
  2. The second group are those who would not see themselves as anti-God but who really treat God as if he is irrelevant. They may even think themselves believers but only pay lip-service to the things of God. “Even though they call me God Most High”. Those words are very reminiscent of Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, “LordLord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Both groups in the end turn their back on God. They ignore his righteous laws and God’s rescue provided in Jesus.

Although believers are not perfect and may still knowingly commit sin, the new heart given by the Holy Spirit does not permit us to turn our backs on God. Those with the Spirit turn from their sin and rebellion in repentance and faith, not just at conversion but throughout life. In fact, that turning back in repentance is a sure sign that we are indeed born again.

Do you sometimes have doubts about your salvation? If you find that your sin leads always to repentance, or even just a desire to repent, that is evidence that you have the Spirit of God within you.

PRAYER

Father, give me a heart that is always ready to turn to you in repentance and save me from hardness of heart. Amen

 8How can I give you up, Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
    How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
    all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man –
    the Holy One among you.
    I will not come against their cities.

 

This is surely one of the most heart-rending passages in scripture. We get the picture of the Heavenly Father who has cared for his people like a young child, led them by the hand and cuddled them, in torment over the punishment he must hand out. What parent hasn’t been there – the agony of letting a beloved child reap the consequences of foolishness or disobedience! Love and holiness collide. The rhetorical questions repeated four times just add to the angst. “How can I?”

Here in Hosea we see that God concludes that he cannot carry out the punishment, at least not a permanent destruction. There will be a “remnant”, a group left after the destruction, and these God will call back from their exile, as we see in verses 10 & 11. The “remnant” is a common theme in the Old Testament. He will not renege on the promise made to Adam, and then to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The nation will go on, but it will be severely tested.

We come to the New Testament and we find that the faithful are the remnant, those called into God’s family whether they be God’s people by physical descent or by spiritual [Romans 11:5 & 6]. Not all those who are the descendants of Abraham physically will be saved from judgment, just as not all those spoken of in Hosea avoid God’s punishment for turning away from him. Judgement is coming and there will be a day of reckoning when those who have not turned to God for forgiveness will be condemned [Romans 1:18; 8:1].

PRAYER

Saviour God, I cannot thank you enough for calling me as one of those who is rescued.  Your compassion and holiness worked out in the life and death of Jesus for us are wonderful to behold.  Amen

10 They will follow the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
    his children will come trembling from the west.
11 They will come from Egypt,
    trembling like sparrows,
    from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,’
    declares the Lord.

How will the remnant be able to follow the LORD, when all they do is turn away from him? How can they change their habitual way of treating the holy God? “Can a leopard change his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23). The picture here is of God’s people obediently answering his call and getting the blessing of God – “I will settle them in their homes.” So yes, the leopard can change his spots, or rather, have them changed. God says,

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel 36:26]

And again,

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel 11:19]

The change will come about as God works in us to keep his promises. We cannot do it. God gives us a new heart and for the first time we are able to make a free choice that is not dictated by our sinful nature. Romans 8:7-8 says,

7 “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

Was that not the case in our own conversions, that God was working to bring us to him? God chose us, just as he chose the remnant in days of old, pursued us and gave us a new heart and we chose him.

What a brilliant message the gospel is! What a wonderful God, who took us while we were unable to please him and changed our hearts to follow him!

PRAYER

God of all grace, you deserve all the praise for making me yours. Amen

Titus 3:1-2,8b-15 – What Matters Most

1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle towards everyone.”

As is typical with Paul, he has set out his theology in the early part of the letter and then in the second part he sets out the implications. As James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.”

Here he tells us we are to be subject to rulers and authorities. That means we are to submit to them as they rule. Paul expands on this requirement in Romans 13:1-7.

This whole area of submission is so contrary to our natural instincts. We see it in these COVID days when some people are inciting us to rebel against our government’s rules and regulations, merely because they don’t want their personal liberties infringed.

I don’t think Paul is saying we can’t disagree with our governments but that we must do it in a way that is lawful, unless, of course, the law requires us to do what God forbids, or the law forbids what God says we must do. As I write this I’m thinking of possible exceptions, times when I don’t have to submit, and I’m wondering if that is just because I find the whole idea of submitting to anyone so abhorrent that I look for ways out of this. Really, it is so hard to submit to others, isn’t it?

“Be ready to do whatever is good, slander no one.” Slander is different from gossip. Slander is spreading false information; gossip is talking about someone else’s private business. Both are condemned in the Bible so there is no point in trying to work out the difference. Our society has made a business out of gossip. There are gossip radio stations, gossip magazines, gossip TV programmes and gossip pages in newspapers.

“Be peaceable and considerate and be gentle towards everyone.” Some people make ruthlessness and hardness into a virtue. We may even find ourselves saying things like, “I don’t suffer fools gladly”, as though it was a good thing. Always be gentle towards everyone. Paul uses universal terms – there are to be no exceptions to the objects of our gentleness. The fool, the arrogant, the enemy – all are to be treated with consideration and gentleness.

PRAYER

Father of all grace, help me to be gracious in all my dealings. Amen

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.”

 

What are foolish controversies, arguments and quarrels about the law? They must be different from the theological controversies that Paul instructs Titus to get involved with [1:10-14], and different from reasoning with people for the faith [Acts 17:3, 18:28, 19:8].

The arguments about genealogies and the law seems to be reference to those who are trying to bring the new Christian church back into the Jewish fold. “Genealogies” would be a reference to the necessity to trace your heritage back to the patriarchs to show that you are truly a Jew and who the true priests are. The “law” is most probably a reference to laws about circumcision, that Paul mentions back in chapter 1 verse 10.

Verse 10 gives us some more clues. It seems that Paul is telling Titus to state the truth, (specifically here about the law and circumcision being superseded) and try to persuade, but in the end don’t get involved in long term disputes that will lead nowhere. He’s specifically talking about those within the church. If they will not hold to the truths as handed down from Christ and the Apostles, Titus is to teach the truth and if they will not agree or at least not stop teaching the wrong thing, he is to warn them and after that no longer be involved with them. Give up trying to convince them and give up arguing. In modern parlance, don’t give their views any oxygen. Continuing to be involved just takes your time away from more important things (they are “unprofitable and useless”).

Titus and the early church had access to the apostles, those designated by Jesus to remember all he had taught them and to teach the truth. Today it is harder to work out what is true and what is not in terms of Christian teaching. We can’t just send off a letter the Paul with our questions. However, we still have access to the teachings of Jesus and of his appointed teachers in the Bible. It is so important to make sure that our church leaders are well-trained in the scriptures, are trustworthy and people of integrity – in other words trustworthy people. We need to be praying for church leaders, both locally and at large.

PRAYER

God of truth, please make our church leaders people of truth and wisdom. Give them a heart to know your word as well as they can and then teach us in all truth. Amen

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.”

The relationship between law and grace formed a big part of Paul’s teaching, e.g. read verses 3-8 in this very letter. It couldn’t be any clearer. We are saved purely by God’s grace and not any law keeping on our part or any supposed inside running because of our ancestry. In the letter to the Romans, Paul’s teaching on the place of the law, including circumcision, and the place of Abraham, is very thoroughly set out. These are the things he would have taught in the new church in Crete while he was there.

Now others have come into the church and are teaching things that are in direct contradiction to that and thereby causing a division in the church. Titus is not to get entangled in a dispute with these people, but rather set out the truth and ask them to comply. If they do not, he is to give them a second chance. If they still do not agree then Titus is to have nothing to do with them. What does that mean?

Well it can’t mean that he is to avoid them. That wouldn’t fit with what Paul has said about Titus straightening things out in the church in chapter 1. No, here having nothing to do with them means that the church is to have nothing to do with them. They are to be excluded.

That is a very strong message, and hard to swallow in an age when tolerance is the catchword. Yet, says Paul, their persistence in arguing shows that they are warped and sinful. An argumentative spirit is not appropriate for God’s people [2 Tim 2:23-24].

A friend had a parish councillor who make it his stated mission to oppose every motion that came before him in order to keep the minister on his toes. That is not appropriate.

Tim Chester helpfully says:

“We do not want unthinking obedience to church leaders—that is a recipe for immaturity or even abuse. But we do want submission. We need to be church members who “obey [our] leaders and submit to their authority” (Hebrews 13:17, NIV1984). So how do we pursue unifying submission without encouraging or excusing overbearing leadership? 

Actually, Titus 3 makes it fairly straightforward. If our elders deny the gospel in any way, then we should challenge them. If they get “these things” wrong, then confront them. But on all other matters trust them. They are the leaders God has given you. Of course, leaders are fallible. They will not always get it right. But do not assume you would do a better job.”

[Tim Chester “Titus for You” p109]

PRAYER

Lord God, author of peace and lover of harmony, make me a channel of your peace. Amen

12 As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. 13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 14 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.

15 Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all.

 

Paul’s encouragement to Titus to do everything he can to help Zenas and Apollos on their way is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:40-42:

40 ‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.’

Here Jesus says that gracious hospitable treatment given to the messengers of the gospel is given to him. Jesus expands on this in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) where again he is speaking of the treatment we give to his apostles and messengers (“these brothers of mine” is often wrongly applied to the physically poor and needy, but there is no warrant for this use of the word in the Bible).

“By far the best interpretation is that Jesus’ “brothers” are his disciples (Matt 12:48-49, 28:10) … Good deeds done to Jesus’ followers, even the least of them, are not only works of compassion and morality but reflect where people stand in relation to the Kingdom and to Jesus himself. Jesus identifies himself with the fate of his followers and makes compassion for them equivalent to compassion for himself.”
(Don Carson, “The Expositors Bible Commentary: Matthew Mark Luke”, p520]

Again, it is all about the spread of the good news and the growth of the Kingdom of God. We are to do all we can to help those who are on the frontline in evangelism or Christian ministry, even if we can’t be there ourselves. Just as elsewhere the Bible says that our love is shown in our generosity (2 Cor 8:8), so here the test of the sincerity of our commitment to Christ is shown in how we treat those in Christian ministry.

PRAYER

God our Father, who has called out a people to be his treasured possession, give me a love for my brothers and sisters in the faith that mirrors your own. Amen

12 As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. 13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 14 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.

15 Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all.

Doing good is a strong theme in Titus. It comes up eight times in just the three chapters. [1:8, 16, 2:3, 7, 14, 3:1, 8, 14]. Notice it says not just that we are to do good, but we are to be devoted to doing good. When you are devoted to something it fills your thinking and governs your actions. Would you be described as someone who is devoted to doing good?

It’s a tough mission because people will often throw our good works back in our face, but what a challenge – to live our lives devoted to doing good! It is here that giving a glass of water to the poor and needy is indeed part of our calling (see yesterday’s devotion).

Here is what Roy Hattersley, the former deputy of the UK Labour Party and a convinced atheist once said about his experience going out caring for the needy with the Salvation Army one night:

“The arguments against religion are well known and persuasive … Yet men and women who believe … are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others … Good works, John Wesley [the 18th-century evangelist and founder of the Methodist Church] insisted, are no guarantee of a place in heaven. But they are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists. The correlation is so clear that it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand … It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian … Yet men and women who, like me, cannot accept the mysteries and the miracles do not go out with the Salvation Army at night.

“The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me. The truth may make us free. But it has not made us as admirable as the average captain in the Salvation Army.” [Quoted by Tim Chester “Titus for You” p114]

That is what we are called to do and be. For some of us it will be going out in order to do good. For others it will mean doing good as we go about. Whichever we do we are to be the ambassadors of Christ. Above all is the ultimate good of sharing the good news.

PRAYER

Lord God, source of all that is good, make me like you, devoted to doing good. Amen

Titus 3:3-8a – Kindness and Renewal

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one anotherBut when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. 

Foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved – this is Paul’s description of all humanity without Christ. It doesn’t mean that everyone all the time lives in malice and envy etc, but it’s a general description of our state. In fact, one of the slogans around encapsulates it – “if it feels good, do it.”

Look around and you’ll see it. Humanity is enslaved by its passions and pleasures. It is disobedient to God. There is hatred and increasingly this hatred is expressed towards God, his people and his laws. It is becoming more difficult to stand for the word of God and what it says without being persecuted.

At one time we too were like that. We are fallen at birth in our nature. Some people want to use that as an excuse for how they are (I was born this way) but Jesus came to rescue us from our fallen nature, the way we were born.

Jesus says it’s what comes out of a person that makes that person unclean. So, the number or magnitude of my sins is not the issue, but the fact that I sin at all, because sin comes from a fallen heart. It is our hearts that are the problem. They are damaged. It is natural for us to lust and envy and hate and cheat. That is the bad news.

However, there is hope. There is a mighty “but” at the beginning of verse 4. We were like this, says Paul, but now things are different. We’ll look at that tomorrow. For now, it is good to remind ourselves often that we are not only saved by God’s grace and love but we also live day by day through God’s continuing love and grace expressed in his kindness to us in Jesus.

The gospel is not something we accept and then move on from. It is the constant source of our strength and our peace. We who were by nature enemies with God, enslaved by our nature, are that no longer.

PRAYER

God of kindness and love, help me to never forget who I was and who you have made me to be. Amen

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one anotherBut when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. 

The Bible is the story of God’s persistent loving kindness in the face of mankind’s constant failure. From the incident with Adam and Eve right through the Exodus and on into the Judges and Kings and the prophets we read of our disobedience towards God and God’s punishment (often in the form of foreign invasion), followed by his rescue from the ongoing effects of that punishment.

The book of Judges itself summarises that part of history by saying that the people forsook their God so God handed them over to their enemies who plundered them, but then the Lord raised up judges to save them because he was filled with compassion for them [Judges ‪2:11-19].

Our God has always been a God of kindness and love, but those qualities have “appeared” in all their fullness in the salvation that came by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” [Hebrews 1:3].

In fact, even those displays of God’s grace and mercy before Christ were predicated on Jesus’ coming death and resurrection for our sin [2 Cor ‪1:20].

“God our saviour” – that is who we worship; the God who does something about our inability to be the person he made us to be. God does not only demand we meet his standards (because to lower his standards would mean he made a mistake with them), but also does what is necessary to make sure those standards are met in us.

Most religion is a reaching after god whereas Christianity is God reaching out to us. What a wonder! We often talk of Jesus as our saviour, and so he is, but the work of Jesus on the cross for us is a work of the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Bette Midler sang “God is watching us from a distance”, but he isn’t. He has come to us in Christ through the Holy Spirit living in us. God is not watching, he is acting. He is our Saviour.

PRAYER

All praise to you Lord God, Father, Saviour and safe harbour. Amen

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.

What is it that drives God’s relationship towards us? Yes it’s His love, but here Paul focuses on His mercy. God’s mercy drove Him to send his son to the cross. God didn’t have to show us mercy. There is no question that He would have been perfectly just and righteous to let us go our own way and punish us for our disobedience but mercy is part of His character, just as love and justice and holiness and holy wrath and honesty are part of His character.

The wonder of our God is that all these characteristics are all fully expressed and fully integrated in Him. His love does not overrule His justice: His honesty does not overrule His readiness to forgive.

We are not like that – we have overruling passions. Our anger or lust or greed can get the better of us. That does not happen with God. He is perfect. We humans let him down. We treat him as though he was irrelevant. We ignore his laws. Yet his mercy reaches out to us and we don’t get what we deserve, at least not if we accept his way of mercy.

Our own actions cannot win his mercy, because we cannot stop ourselves from sin. That is why mercy is necessary if we are to be at one with God. Mercy is undeserved.

Like a wrestler who has reached the point of not being able to save herself, totally at the mercy of her opponent, not able to struggle anymore, we have to tap out and stop trying to save ourselves. The glory is that once we do that and depend upon Jesus’ death for us, we are set free.

It is all too easy, even as believers, to fall back into thinking we have to earn God’s approval. God, in Jesus, has earned it for us.

“Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee,
How great thou art, How great thou art.”

PRAYER

My rescuer God, how great thou art, how great thou art. Amen

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. 

Notice what verse 5b doesn’t say! It doesn’t say “He saved us by our faith.” The Bible does tell us elsewhere that our faith saves us but here Paul puts it more clearly in focus as an act of grace on God’s part.

So how does God save us? Through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This was foretold in Ezekiel where God says to his people,

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel 36:26] 

Faith comes as a result of the new birth, because even faith is a gift of God (John 3:3). Paul clarifies it for us in Ephesians 2:8 where he says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith”. So, we are saved by God’s grace (mercy) and he does it through our faith (Acts 11:8).

“Rebirth” – what a concept! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” [2 Cor 5:17]

People often express the wish to start over again. God offers that spiritually. We were once that and now we are this, which is what Paul is saying in verses 3-4. It might not change anything in the world’s eyes but with God it changes everything.

This is not just about forgiveness, which brings about a change in the person doing the forgiving but does not fundamentally change the one forgiven, it’s about a rebirth which brings about a complete change in the one forgiven.

I have some bonsais, and when you repot them you should get rid of all previous soil, no matter how good it might be, and you must sterilise the pot so that there is no possibility of old greeblies hanging around in the pot. The plant needs a completely fresh start.

God does not just forgive me, wonderful as that is, (and it is incredibly wonderful), but he cleanses me from all impurity as well. This is all the work of the Holy Spirit.

PRAYER

“O Lord, thank you for my faith. Sustain it. Strengthen it. Deepen it. Don’t let it fail. Make it the power of my life, so that in everything I do you get the glory as the great Giver. Amen” [prayer from John Piper]

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. 

We are not only saved because of his love and kindness by his mercy [v5] but we are justified by his grace.

Have you ever been accused of something and then sought to justify your behaviour? When we try to justify our behaviour, we’re trying to prove that we didn’t really do what we’re accused of doing, or that there was a perfectly reasonable excuse. The aim is to avoid blame.

Jesus said that the whole of God’s law could be summarised in two commands – love God with all your heart, soul mind and strength and love others as you love yourself. We are guilty on both counts. Not one of us does that completely. We are completely blameworthy. We cannot justify it. There is no way round our guilt. We cannot justify our failure to love God and love others the way we should. We are without excuse. Yet God justifies us! The one who has been wronged does the justifying. How?

The triune God, in the person of the Son, took on human flesh and died taking the punishment for our sin. He could have stood before God the Father and fully justified himself because he was not blameworthy. He was perfect. He committed no sin [1 Peter 2:22]. Yet he took our sin on himself – he became sin for us [2 Cor 5:21]. Now no blame can be sheeted home to us because it was sheeted home to Jesus. We are justified.

The consequence is that we are now heirs having the hope of eternal life. Hope in the Bible is not wishful thinking. It is the certainty of something we don’t yet have [1 Peter 1:3-9].

God promised it if we trust in Christ, who are we to doubt it?

“This is a trustworthy saying.” [v8]

PRAYER

Almighty Father, you keep your promises. Thank you that what you say is completely trustworthy and that I can stake my life on your promises.  Amen

Titus 2:11-14 – Amazing Grace

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people12 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

The word “grace” occurs four times in this letter and 124 times in all of Paul’s letters. Word counts aren’t everything, but it tells us that grace is an important theme for Paul, and in fact, he’s been called “the apostle of grace.”

A minister friend together with his parish council, was wanting to rename his church and they all thought that “Grace Church” was a good name. He wisely decided to test it out in the community, and he found that people thought it was going to be named after someone called Grace. Generally, the community had very little idea of grace as a virtue. My mate’s church came up with a different name. It tells us something about our Christian words and the assumptions we make about what people understand by them. I wonder if people think the hymn, “Amazing Grace” is about a superhero.

“Grace”, when used in the Christian church, is a word so full of meaning that it’s hard to capture it in just a few words. The best way to grasp its meaning, although time consuming, is to read all the passages where it’s used. It is God’s unearned benevolence.

Here Paul says that the grace of God has appeared. The context tells us he’s referring to Jesus and his work in salvation. Was God not gracious before Jesus “appeared”? Yes, of course, but in Jesus we see the full flowering, the complete revelation of his grace. There can be no greater example of God’s favour towards us than his taking on human flesh and becoming a sacrifice for us to satisfy his own justice and love, and that while we were still his enemies. This grace is extended to all people. The tragedy is that so many will reject it.

In the complexity of the Trinity, God the Son took on human flesh and sacrificed himself to rescue people, many of whom will say, “sorry, but no thanks. I don’t need you. I don’t need to be saved. I’ll be OK on my own.” Despite the fact that it would happen, Jesus went ahead.

The wonder of God’s grace!

PRAYER

Gracious Father, help me to grasp the height and depth and breadth of your love and grace, and never to take it for granted.  Amen

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Grace is meant to teach us to be godly. Chester says “Grace does not simply prepare us for the future age (by saving us from God’s judgment). Grace also shapes our lives in the present. The gospel is good news for the last day. But it is also good news for the next day.” (Tim Chester, Titus for You, p78).

The Christian faith is not just pie in the sky when you die. The truth of what God has done for us in Jesus gives us strength and motivation to live well today.

How does that work?

Have you ever been given a second chance after messing something up and regretting it intensely, thinking there was no way back? Do you remember how it felt to get that second chance – how you were determined that you wouldn’t waste it? Grace can be a great motivator.

God’s wonderful grace shown us in Jesus can lead us to live godly lives out of sheer gratitude. We are a saved people, now we want to live as saved people. Remember how the Ten Commandments start in Exodus 20? They start with these words “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” [Exodus 20:2]. Those words should never be left out of any recitation of the Ten Commandments. They are vital to understanding the law.

The law was given to a rescued people. The commandments were instructions on how to live as God’s rescued people, not instructions on how to get rescued.

It is the same today. The motivation to live godly lives is in our glorious rescue by the hands of our wonderful God, wrought by the Lord Jesus and applied to us by the Holy Spirit.

PRAYER

Mighty God and saviour, give me a heart to live to please you in every way as your child. Amen

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Religion can be so depressing. Don’t do this! Don’t do that! Be good! Get it right! It can be a straitjacket. The Christian faith was never meant to be like that. Jesus said 34‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it for ever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” [John 8:34-36] 

We are born slaves to our passions. We are controlled by motivations we often don’t even understand and certainly can’t control; things like rage, lust envy, runaway ambition, and greed. We do things we don’t want to do.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” [Galatians 5:1]

Remember those famous words of Jesus in Luke 4, sometimes called the “Nazarene Manifesto”:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” [Luke 4:18]

He’s not talking so much about freedom for those in gaol, but freedom from bondage to sin and judgement. Read the wider context of his quote from Isaiah 61.

Jesus came to set us free.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. [Galatians 5:13]

We don’t have to live godly lives; we get to live godly lives.

We should never grow tired of the good news. It motivates us to life!

PRAYER

God of life and light, help me to celebrate the freedom you bring and to live in the light of that freedom.  Amen

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Notice the reference to two “appearings”? Verse 11 refers to the grace of God appearing in Jesus and then verse 12 talks of the coming return of Jesus. His first appearing was to rescue

(“I did not come to judge the word but to save the world.” John 12:47), his second shall be to judge and take us home.

“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” [Acts 17:31]

In John 14 Jesus talked about his going to prepare our place for us in His father’s house, and how we would come back to take us to be with Him.  That is “the blessed hope.” And it’s seen in “our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Is Paul talking about both God and Jesus involved in this “appearing” together, or Jesus who is our great God? Both are possible in the original which literally says, “the great God and saviour of us”. However, the passage doesn’t say “the great God and the great Saviour of us” which you’d anticipate if Paul was referring to two people. Further, it is Jesus who will appear again, who will return at the end of days.

This life is lived actively in freedom as we pursue godliness, but it is also lived in a state of waiting. “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get” [Forest Gump]. There is much in life that is wonderful but there is also a great deal of pain and loss and suffering. We are encouraged, as we saw yesterday, to live in gratitude to what God has done for us in Jesus, but here we are also encouraged to live in the light of what God will do for us in Jesus in the next life. It’s a double focus. Looking back and looking forward and living in the here and now. That is the life of a disciple of Jesus.

PRAYER

Father of the past, the present and the future, thank you for the wonder of salvation and the hope of glory. Help me to live today in the light of those two realities. Amen

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Verse 14 really repeats what he has said in verse 11. In verse 11, grace motivates us to godliness. In verse 14, redemption and purification result in us being eager to do what is good.

This verse talks of redemption, which is one of the major descriptions of what happens on the cross. Redemption is buying back something that was yours in the first place but has been alienated from you in some way. God made us. He gave us life. We strayed and followed the desires of our own hearts, as the prayer book says. We sold ourselves into slavery to sin. Jesus died in order to buy us back from sin (“he redeemed us from all wickedness”) and his death was the ransom price.

But there is more than redemption, there is purification. We are not just freed, we are made new. We are not just forgiven sinners, but brand-new beings (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is not a repair job, it’s a replacement. “I will take away your heart of stone and give you a new heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26). It’s not an engine rebuild but a replacement.

What a wondrous thing! We are a people who are his very own. Let that sink into your mind. Meditate on that today. As you do, you will find that you will be eager to do good. Goodness, holiness, is the fruit of the new heart.

PRAYER

Gracious Father, thank you for redeeming me, cleansing me by giving me a new heart and making me your very own. Amen 

Titus 2:1-10 – Attractive Christianity

1 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrineTeach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

“Teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.” Notice the wording. Unlike previous exhortations to have sound doctrine taught [1:9], Paul here encourages Titus to teach what is “appropriate to” sound doctrine, and what follows are some instructions about how to live in a way that lines up with what we believe. Doctrine should always result in behaviour, but that behaviour should be governed by truth. That is why in Paul’s letters he characteristically starts out with doctrine in the first half of his letters and then moves into the application of that doctrine.  That principle is exemplified in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he says,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” [Eph 2:8-20]

He points out that it is not our behaviour or our morality that saves us but that our being saved should result in doing good. Our behaviour is the result of being saved, not the cause.

The instructions he is about to give Titus to pass on are the application of our doctrine to church life. They are not exhaustive, and they are sent into the context of that church in that culture.

The overriding principle is set out three times. In verse 5 his concern is that the word of God not be maligned. In verse 8 he says that our good behaviour should lead our opponents to have nothing bad to say about us. Lastly, he says in verse 10 that our lives should make the good news attractive to those who aren’t believers.  For better or worse we are ambassadors for the Christian faith.

It’s not just the older men who should be temperate and self-controlled of course, but it was probably the case that it was an issue in the new church in Crete and that is why Paul focuses on those things in this case. For instance, some older men may think that their age enables them to get away with saying things that they otherwise would not get away with, meaning that they maybe lack temperance and self-control.

A word of warning however, we should not change the doctrine to make the faith attractive.

Does your behaviour “adorn the gospel” as the older versions used to put verse 10? Does it make the gospel attractive? Godliness is extremely attractive.

PRAYER

Master, help me to live in a way that accords with the truth and makes the gospel attractive.  Amen.

3 “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

Notice that Titus is to teach the older women to minister to the younger women. I take it that means that Titus is to teach biblical principles to both men and women, but that the application to life – things like how to love their spouses and operate in their families – the older women teach to the younger women, because they have the experience of life and understand the particular issues for women in that culture. A new Testament scholar, Don Carson, says that research indicates that love in marriage was not a common thing in that culture. It was more governed by role and duty and expectations. Paul’s encouragement for wives to love their husbands is therefore a big call. Of course, he says the same thing for men in the fifth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians – husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church. It is interesting that love is commanded.

“To be busy at home”: Most women of that day ran the home as a full-time occupation, and therefore the encouragement here is for them to be busy at that, and not to fritter time away. (The same principle applies to men elsewhere in the Bible, where we are all called to work as if serving the Lord.)  It is not a command for women in our day to stay at home and not have a career. He was speaking into the situation as it was then. We could say the same about being subject to their husbands if this was the only place where it was mentioned. However, elsewhere the teaching about family relationships and roles in marriage is clearly not cultural but has theological roots [Eph 5].

“Self-controlled”:  Self-control comes up time and time again in biblical virtue lists. Here it is mentioned in respect to both men and women [v2, 5, 6]. It comes up five times in this letter and eleven times in Paul’s epistles. It means that our passions do not rule us.

“Kindness” seems to be a dying art. Just read comments on social media where vitriol seems to be par for the course. Kindness gets sacrificed for other ideals such as ambition, standing up for ourselves, pursuing causes and telling it like it is.

“Be subject to their husbands”:  Whatever your view on roles within marriage, and this is not the place to go into it, we are all called to be “other-person -centred”. We are all called to serve the best interests of others and, in a marriage, the best interests of our spouses. The cry “I will be  nobody’s servant” does not come from a heart governed by the Holy Spirit.

PRAYER

Father,  Help me to live in accordance with your word. Teach me to be holy as you are holy. Amen

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Apart from self-control, Titus is not told to encourage the young men to do, or not do, anything. Instead Paul encourages his protégé to model godly behaviour for them.

Young men are particularly susceptible to being influenced by the behaviour of those they admire, and they need the influence of strong, godly men in their lives.

Titus life is to be characterised by “doing what is good”. Is that how your life will one day be summed up?

As Titus teaches, Paul encourages him to show integrity. Part of that will be living up to his own teaching; not saying one thing and doing another. Research over the years has shown that one of the great turn-offs from the faith for young people who have grown up in a Christian home is what they see as the hypocrisy of their parents. On the other hand, anecdotally, I have heard so many tell of their faith being confirmed because of the living faith of their parents.

“Seriousness” does not mean that there is to be no fun in the teaching. What it does mean is that Titus is to take the role of teaching the faith seriously. The young men need to see that Titus is committed to the truths he is teaching. It is, as Paul has already pointed out, a serious matter to teach the doctrines of the faith.

“Soundness of speech” goes both to the content and the way words are used. His teaching needs to be sound, but so does his use of words. It is often only the wisdom gained by age and experience that tempers our language. As Paul says elsewhere, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” [Col 4:6]

It is a shame when it is our words that offend rather than the content.

 “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” [Eph 4:29]

“4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” [Eph 5:3-4]

Could you be a mentor for someone? Why not pray about the opportunity.

Do you need a mentor? Pray about it and then ask someone who fits the bill.

PRAYER

Holy God, help me to be a blessing to others by my example and by speaking words of life. Amen

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

How things have changed! Today if we come across slavery of any kind, we are duty bound as Christians to do all we can to see them freed. We should be in the forefront of those seeking to abolish slavery wherever it lifts its ugly head.

However, in a world where it was not only legal but encouraged, what should the message be to the slave? Break the law, risk imprisonment or worse, and escape? The letter to Philemon deals with the issue of a runaway slave. It’s helpful reading.

What should the message have been to those legally caught up in slavery and who couldn’t win their freedom?  The answer was “serve” – as though Jesus were your master [Eph 5:6]. It’s the message we would have for the Christian in prison as well, which in some ways is a state not too far removed from slavery. In fact, apart from what he says about being subject to those over us “in everything”, it’s the same message we have for anyone who is in a situation where they are under the authority of another. As far as that authority legally extends, try to please those in authority over you. Serve them as though they were Christ. Is that how you treat those over you?

Don’t talk back to them. Today in our realm of labour relations we are at liberty to speak our minds to our employers, but it should be in the way that we’ve looked at earlier this week – with kindness and with sound speech and in such a way that it does not bring legitimate criticism of the gospel we represent. It should not be rude or abusive or arrogant.

Don’t steal from them. Theft is rife in many employment circles. From stealing tools and equipment to taking time that we’re not entitled to or charging for things we have not supplied or done. That must not be the case with God’s people.

“Trustworthiness” is such a valuable characteristic and an admirable one. We must be known for our integrity.

PRAYER

Holy God, help me to be holy. Amen

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

Live in such a way that we will bring the sweet fragrance of the Gospel to others [2 Cor 2:16]. That is the essence of this section [v5, 8, 10].

There are many who are opposed to the gospel, the Christian church and the disciples of Jesus, and that opposition is becoming more and more strident, fashionable and institutionalised. In this climate we are encouraged by the Word of God to live in such a way that we cannot even be accused of wrongdoing or hypocrisy [Eph 5:3-4].

We are to live in such a way that the gospel is praised.

When I was teenager it was often asked “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Spend a bit of time meditating on the following questions.

  • Is your love any different from those around you who don’t follow Jesus?
  • Is your integrity well-known?
  • Is your kindness talked about in your neighbourhood?
  • Is your readiness to think the best of others legendary where you work?
  • Are you known for speaking only words to build others up – for speaking words of life? [Prov 18:21]
  • Are your acts of service a byword in your extended family or your workplace or your church?
  • Are you known for your self-control?

PRAYER

Almighty and most merciful Father, forgive my foolish ways so that I may live a godly life to the glory of your holy name.  Amen

Titus 1:10-16 – Don’t Be A Cretan

10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”[c] 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Paul has just directed Titus to appoint godly and doctrinally trustworthy people lead the church as elders. Now he gives the reason in verse 10. There are many would-be teachers around who will teach wrong theology. Now you might be thinking, “theology is not my thing. I leave that up to others.” But we are all theologians, i.e. we all have views about God. The issue is do you have good theology (and by that, I mean is it biblical), or do you have bad theology? There are many warnings in the Bible against false prophets and false teachers. It is a constant threat to God’s people.

It seems here that Paul’s immediate concern is with those who are deliberately trying to lead people away from the apostolic teaching. Why that conclusion? Well, he calls them “rebellious” [v10], deceptive [v10], teaching for dishonest gain [v11 – that might be monetary or to get fame etc], rejecting the truth [v14], they deny God by their actions [v16], they are unfit for doing any good [v16]. This is different from difference of opinion over things such as infant/adult baptism, predestination/Arminianism, theories of the atonement, roles of men and women, etc. The teachings Paul is warning about lead people away from the Saviour. It will also include those who undermine the authority of the scriptures for that is where we find the way to the Saviour. Without the authority of the Bible, everything is up for grabs.

Paul mentions the “circumcision group” but doesn’t limit his comments to them. This group appears to be teaching that although Jesus is the Messiah and Saviour, we need to be obedient to some of the Old Testament “iconic” laws that marked out God’s people – laws like circumcision, dietary laws and Sabbath keeping. Some modern-day equivalent teaching would be those churches that claim we are saved by faith in Jesus, but we also need to do certain things to be saved – things like baptism, confession, doorknocking, and taking communion.  We can all fall into the trap of thinking we can earn God’s forgiveness. That is false.

PRAYER

Thank you, glorious Father, for your wonderful grace. Keep me from ever thinking I can earn your forgiveness and help me to bask in the wonders of your forgiveness.  Amen

10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons. 13 This saying is true.”

We come to the elephant in the room – Paul’s harsh words about the Cretans. How do we explain what seems to be obvious racism from the mouth of an apostle?

Firstly, Paul says nothing about the Cretans that he hasn’t said about his own nation. Check out Romans 2 where Paul condemns his own people for condemning the behaviour of others because they do the same things themselves. Here he is quoting one of Crete’s own poet/philosophers, a man named Epimenides. As Tim Chester says, ‘It’s a damning indictment, and probably not something you would want to say to a group of people unless you were able to cite one of their own as the source” (Tim Chester, Titus For You, p44).

Chester points out that the word for “evil brutes” is literally “dangerous animals”. He says the problem in Crete was that the Christians do not want to be part of the flock under the shepherd.” (Chester, p45)

Apparently in the Greek language “to Crete” was to lie (Chester, p45). To be a “Cretan” was a byword for dishonesty. A bit like today Germany is the byword for engineering excellence, North Korea for paranoia, Australia for lopping down tall poppies. Paul, writing to a church planter in Sydney might just as easily and rightly have said “Be careful, those Sydneysiders are a pagan lot and will knock your leadership. They like to lop down tall poppies.” A generalisation indeed, but with some truth.

No culture is sacrosanct but must be examined in the light of God’s word. What God says is wrong is wrong, and what he says is right is right, no matter what the culture says or feels. To beat your wife is wrong, no matter what your culture does. To imprison people for their beliefs is wrong. Revenge culture is wrong. Honour killings are wrong. Treating people differently due to their class is wrong. All those things run counter to what God says in the Bible, even though they are acceptable in some cultures.

We are citizens of heaven and our culture is that of our citizenship [Eph 2:19]. Our churches should be outposts of heaven here on earth, with a culture that brings the fragrance of Christ [2 Cor 2:14].

PRAYER

Mighty God, help me to bring the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ wherever I go. Amen

10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons. 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. 

“They must be silenced”, “rebuke them sharply”.  Not really the sort of behaviour you expect from church leaders is it? However, we are seeing it at the moment from our political leaders where there are indeed sharp rebukes for those breaking COVID restrictions. And most of us are in full support because the consequences of disregarding the restrictions are so dire, not just in terms of health but also people’s livelihoods.

Paul is concerned about the consequences of false teaching, and they are very serious indeed if it means that people could face God on the final day trusting in their own actions to save them. It couldn’t be more serious.

“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” [Hebrews 10:31]

It is hard sometimes for us to see the seriousness of the issue. Does it really matter all that much as long as people love God? Paul thought so. In Romans 10 he says of his fellow Jews,

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” [Romans 10:2-3]

Zeal is not enough; it must be based on the truth. They were misled because they were relying on their own righteousness rather than the righteousness that God gives through Jesus.

They were relying on Jewish myths and human commands. There is no authority on matters spiritual other than the word of God. Even in our day some churches hold that church tradition is equal in authority to the Bible, others that present day experience of God has equal weight, and yet others that their modern day “apostles” can speak new authoritative truth from God. Only the scriptures are God-breathed and authoritative in the final sense.

Beware of those who say “I know the Bible says that, but…”

PRAYER

My God, you have revealed yourself to us in the words of your apostles and prophets recorded in the Bible, and in the person of Jesus. Teach me to feast on them in my heart. Amen

15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

The first half of verse 15 is rather confusing. Paul has been telling Titus how to deal with the legalist false teachers, those who were teaching that to be a real Christian they need to be circumcised and obey some of the other religious rules – Jewish myths and human rules. Those rules, he says in Colossians chapter 2, look like a good idea but have no power to stop us sinning. “Don’t eat that!” “Don’t touch that!” “Keep this day holy!” all these rules are about outward behaviour, which Jesus says is not the real issue. He says:

18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.’ [Matthew 15:18-20]

Food is not the problem, our greed is. Sex is not the problem, our lust and misuse of it is. Alcohol is not the problem, our overindulgence is. All these things, food, sex, alcohol, are neutral, even blessings from God. No, the problem is us and our hearts.

So, for the pure, and by that I take it Paul is talking about the true disciple of Christ, they are free to ignore the religious proscription of certain foods and feast days, because they do not misuse God’s good gifts. However, for those not forgiven and declared righteous, none of their rule-keeping is acceptable to God; “nothing is pure.”

There are some things that are not neutral, but by their nature are already a misuse of God’s good blessings. For instance, pornography is a warping of God’s blessing of sex. And there are some things that are pure for us that we should, for the sake of our brothers and sisters, not do either, because it may cause damage to their faith. This latter is maybe the hardest freedom to give up because we are prone to stand on our rights to do or not do something and not want to give away that freedom for the sake of a fellow believer who may not understand our freedom, or who may struggle with it in some other way. For instance, our freedom to drink alcohol may need to be foregone in circumstances where it might cause grief to another disciple.

We need to enjoy God’s blessings but be aware of our tendency to misuse them.

PRAYER

Lord and Father, thank you for all the blessings of this life. Teach me to enjoy them without misusing them. Amen

15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

 

These are hard words, and Paul is saying something here that may well be hard for us to swallow.  He is widening his considerations from just the false teachers to all mankind, the pure and the corrupted. “The pure” can only be those who are made new by Christ. In the book of Roman Paul says “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. [Romans 8:14] 

For Paul there are only ever two groups of people, those led by the Spirit, and those not led by the Spirit, who he says live according to the flesh [Romans 8:5ff]. There is no middle ground. Hence, we are either God’s people or hostile to God. The latter, without the Spirit’s intervention, do not submit to God’s law, and cannot [Romans 8:7]. They cannot please God [Romans 8:8]. Why? Because without the transforming work of the Spirit we are “corrupted in both mind and conscience”, as he puts it here in Titus 1. That is why God needs to change us before we will ever accept the work of Christ for us. That is why he must choose us before we can ever choose him. What a mighty Saviour! What a glorious God! Without his intervention we are unfit for doing anything good.

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” [Isaiah 64:6]

And this is not just hyperbole. Ephesians says “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” [Ephesians 2:1-2]

So, there are many who do not follow Christ who do good things, and we all benefit from their acts, so in that sense they do good, and we should acknowledge and appreciate it. However, those things carry no weight with God – they are the works of rebels who refuse to bend their knee to the ruler of the universe. What a mighty rescuer who took you in your rebel state, remade you and adopted you.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]

If that doesn’t thrill your soul, there is something wrong!

PRAYER

God of love and grace, thank you for adopting me, unworthy as I am, and making me into a new creation. Amen

Titus 1:5-9 – Finishing What Is Left Unfinished

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
Paul’s concern and love for the church he and Titus had planted led him to make sure that things were put in place to ensure its ongoing health. Paul leaves Titus in Crete to look after it.
We don’t know Titus’ circumstances but he is willing to stay and soldier on. It must have seemed daunting! The church was an outpost in a hostile environment, far from home and all that was familiar, yet he’s willing for the sake of those new Christians to put his own interests on the back burner, say goodbye to his mentor and leader, and take on the responsibility handed over to him by Paul.
Paul’s strategy is to have Titus appoint a godly team of elders to lead with him. It’s interesting that right here at the beginning Paul is interested in some form of team ministry – mutual encouragement and accountability. It fits with God’s strategy for all of His people, that they are incorporated in a group that can encourage and build each other up. The lone Christian is not an option under any normal circumstance. The Christian who does not meet with others or see their need for others is much poorer for the lack.
PRAYER
Father, thank you for putting me into a church family. Help me to appreciate it. Amen

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

As a young man thinking of going in to full time ministry I attended an information session for Moore Theological College, the seminary for those going into the Anglican ministry in Sydney. One of the lecturers, a man who later became the Archbishop of Sydney, told us that the greatest thing any of us could give to a church as its leader was godliness. He impressed upon us the need to work on our relationship with Christ as the number one priority. It’s the reason than most denominations have a rigorous interview and reference process for prospective clergy. At my seminary they insisted on students training to lead churches to live in for at least part of their training so that they could observe the student. Despite all that, I got through.

To be a church leader, an elder, does not require perfection. “Blameless” refers to a person’s reputation, they must be without blame. I can remember when a leading world political leader was caught out being unfaithful to his wife and there was a lot of talk about his private life not being relevant to his public life and his leadership. That is not the case with church leadership because it speaks of the elder’s character. Paul specifically mentions faithfulness in marriage.

Then Paul talks about the prospective elder’s leading of their family. If they aren’t leading their family well, they will not be able to lead the church. Again, like blamelessness, this is not an absolute requirement that the elder’s adult children be believers or even good citizens. In our culture we have very little rule over our adult children. It would seem that it’s a refence to young children, those who are under their parents’ rules, if you like.

These, plus those that will follow, are requirements for elders. Of course, they really are the traits of all believers. However, there is a higher bar for those in church leadership. James 3:1 says “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that those who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

We need to pray for our leaders, and not just for our own leaders but all Christian leaders. We know the damage that is caused to the whole church when Christian leaders fall.

PRAYER

Our Father, please be with the leaders and pastors of your flock. By your Spirit guide and lead them into godliness. Amen

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Why must a leader not be overbearing or quick-tempered? Because that’s the way all Christians should be. “Overbearing” means “arrogant, domineering or bossy.” Now Titus has been told to silence those teaching false doctrine, and to rebuke them sharply [1:11,13]. That could be seen by some as domineering. How do we reconcile this? Well, there is a difference between firm strength in leadership that tells it like it is on the one hand and trying to manipulate or force obedience on the other. The latter is overbearing, even bullying, and unacceptable. However, godly Christian leadership sometimes requires the leader to stand their ground and to rebuke or correct behaviour. It must be done with great care and love.

“Not quick-tempered or given to drunkenness. Not violent or pursuing dishonest gain.” Again, Paul is not demanding perfection but talking about a character trait. He is unpacking what blamelessness is. It has to do with reputation.

What happens when a leader transgresses any of these prohibitions? Well, what does happen and what should happen are two different things. Different churches and denominations have their own standards and methods of discipline. Although there might be repentance and forgiveness, that does not necessarily mean the leader can resume their role. I like the 17th century preacher Charles Hadden Spurgeon’s guideline for restoration of a Christian leader. He said that a leader could be restored to their position of leadership when their repentance is as notorious as their transgression.

PRAYER

Lord of love and grace, please give our leaders a desire for godliness that expels all other wrongful desires. Amen

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gainRather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplinedHe must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

 

Yesterday we looked at the negative character traits that should be avoided in an elder. Today we come to the positive side of things. Again, although there is a special responsibility in appointing leaders, these qualities should be in evidence in all God’s people.

Being hospitable is much broader than having people round for a meal. It is having and attitude of welcome. It is treating others, even strangers, with warmth and acceptance. That is how God is. Deuteronomy 10:18 says of God “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”

  • “Loves what is good”: this is a person who celebrates “goodness”. Beware the leader who mocks the humble or the meek. Many years ago now, in a sermon, I talked about men being men and not wimps. Looking back, I could have expressed the point I was making in a better way. After the sermon a man came up and to me and said, “You think I’m a wimp, don’t you?” He may have been a gentle man, even retiring, but no less a real man for that, but he didn’t hear me celebrating those qualities.
  • “Self-controlled” and “disciplined”: We hear lots about being who we are and making no apologies for that, but the Bible tells us to work hard at being something else – the men and women God wants us to be. That will take training and training involves self-control and discipline. Paul says to Timothy “train yourself to be godly”[1 Tim 4:7].
  • “Upright and Holy”: These are qualities that are often mocked. No one wants to be called a “straighty 180”. It’s seen as being a bit of a nerd, and naïve. Yet upright and godly people, those who are honest and kind and humble and keep themselves away from all corrupting influences are wonderful friends and neighbours. They are a joy to know.

PRAYER

Holy God and Father help me to be hospitable, to love what is good, to be self-controlled and upright, holy and disciplined. Amen

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gainRather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplinedHe must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

The sixteenth-century reformer, John Calvin, said that a church leader “ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves.” (Commentary on Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Titus 1, p3, quoted by Tim Chester in Titus For You) 

We see those two voices here – elders are to encourage by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Generally speaking, we love the encouraging bit but often find the refutation to be too negative. Preachers know that whenever you point out error publicly there will always be push-back that you shouldn’t criticise others. Paul will have none of that! The stakes are too high.

Sound doctrine encourages. False teaching can also encourage but it does not build up in truth. It brings about false encouragement. God says of such people,

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” [Jeremiah 6:14]

Wrong teaching that leads people to rely on anything other than Jesus for their salvation or anything other than the Word of God ought to fill us with righteous indignation, like we feel when charlatans get people to rely on some snake-oil medication to cure their illness. “Wrong teaching” is not about the finer points of theology but the fundamental things like the meaning of the cross of Jesus, the way of salvation and the character of God.

Paul says that the leader should “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught.”, that is the message as taught by Paul and the other Apostles and passed on to and by reliable people.

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” [2 Tim 2:2]

Reliable people are to pass on the teaching to reliable people, who are to pass on the teaching to reliable people and on it goes.

PRAYER

God of truth and might, give me a love of your truth and leaders who are sound in doctrine. Amen

Titus 1:1-4 – Who Do You Think You Are?

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour,

4To Titus, my true son in our common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

[Titus 1:1-4]

Paul saw himself in only one light – who he was before God.

Some years ago part of my grading for a black belt in martial arts I was asked to describe myself. At that time, in preparation for the grading, I’d been training every spare moment for a couple of months. Prior to that I’d been training for about 6 years. Your training doesn’t just work on your body and your skills but also on the way you view yourself.  It as much about training the mind as the body. I was a martial artist – it was part of my identity. The question made me think about who I really was. Was I, fundamentally, a martial artist, or something else?

Paul, as you may know, had been a pharisee, and a leading light in that group. He had trained under Gamaliel, one of the great teachers of his day. He was a man on the way up, if he hadn’t reached the top already. Yet he describes himself as “A servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” That is his identity. In Philippians he wrote “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” [Phil 2:3] In fact he derides selfish ambition on 3 other occasions [2 Cor 12:20; Gal 5:20; Phil 1:17] and James does the same thing on 2 occasions [James 3:14, 16]. In the end, all that really matters is who we are before God.

And there are two ways of viewing who we are under God. Firstly, we are his adopted, rescued children. We are co-heirs with Christ. We are his chosen ones, the elect he calls us in v 1. That is how God views us. How do we see ourselves in the light of how he views us? We are his willing servants. Is there a contradiction there – children and servants?  Not at all. Love drives us to serve those we love, not unwillingly, but joyfully and voluntarily. It is our delight to serve our Heavenly Father.

PRAYER

Loving Father, give me such a love for you that my service of you will be a delight and a joy. Amen

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour,

4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Yesterday we looked at the way Paul viewed himself, and by extension how we see ourselves. He was a child of God and servant of God.

How was his servanthood demonstrated? In his service of the people of God. His goal was to further their faith. Now Paul was given a definite commission to bring the good news to the gentile world. [Acts 9:15] What about us?

As disciples of Jesus we have been given what is called “The Great Commission” – to go and make disciples of all nations. [Matthew 28:19-20] But there is more! Hebrews 9 tells us that we are to stir each other up to love and to good works. Gal 6 tells us to bear one another’s burdens and to do good to all people as we have the chance, and especially those how are fellow believers. In Romans 12 we’re told we are a family where each member belongs to the others and that we are to use all of our gifts and abilities to serve the well-being of this family.

We too are servants of God through our Lord Jesus. How is your servanthood displayed? Have you encouraged anyone recently to love and to good works? Are you serving others?

This teaching of the Bible about servanthood is not about sucking all the goodness out of life, but rather about pumping life into us. Servanthood is the way to real adventure and joy in life. “For the JOY set before him Jesus endured the cross.”

PRAYER

Father help us to walk in the steps of our Lord Jesus, the Servant King, and to find the joy that comes from serving others. Amen

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour,

4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

There is an apparent contradiction in this passage – the hope that is promised.

Usually hope is something that is unsure, wished for, but here the hope is promised. How is that?

In Romans 8 Paul talks about this hope and he says that our hope is something that we do not yet have but that is assured. “23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

It is only a hope in that we do not yet fully have it, but it is sure. It is like having and inheritance that comes when someone turns 21. It is not yet theirs, it is a hope, and yet it is theirs, they just need to wait for it to come to fruition.

God has promised “our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” as Paul puts it in Romans 8:23. And as Paul affirms here in Titus, God does not lie. We can be sure of our salvation. We can be sure of our place in heaven. God has promised it, and he did so before the beginning of time. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” [Eph 1:4]

That is pretty emphatic.

PRAYER

Lord God, thank you for you very great promises which give us hope and all joy in believing. Amen

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour,

4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

God can and does deal with people in many and varied ways including dreams and visions, but primarily we are people of The Book. The Bible is the written message, the record of God’s words, his speech, to mankind. In New Testament times but before the New Testament was written, it was spoken. The authoritative spoken message came through the Apostles, those appointed by Jesus to relate his teachings [John 14:26]. They were the arbiters of the truth [Titus 1:9]. The Bible tells us that we are to assess those who claim to speak the word of God and test what they say. How? By the word of God. [2 Tim 3:16; 1 John 4:1]

Here in Titus Paul tells us that God’s promised hope of eternal life has come to light by the preaching entrusted to Paul. Such earth-shattering news comes through broken human beings. It’s part of the wondrous glory of our God that he allows us to be the vehicle of his plans for the world. It is only as the message goes out, lived out by the messengers as well as spoken, that lives can be changed. [Romans 1:16].

Has the Christian church of today lost its confidence in the gospel? Have we as individual believers? The sharing of the message is God’s chosen means of changing lives. The apostles have gone to glory. Their words remain but are only words on a page in a book not everyone reads. Those words are given wings when they reach the ears and hearts of those who don’t know. That is our role, those of us who love the Lord.

Why not pray for the opportunity this week to share the good news?

PRAYER

Father almighty, give me confidence in the Good News and the opportunity to share it this week. Amen

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour,

4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Notice in the passage how Paul talks about “God our Saviour.”

That is not the context we normally use the word ‘saviour’. Normally when talking about our saviour we mean Jesus. Yet God is our saviour. Sometimes people have the idea that God is the angry one and Jesus the loving one who somehow, by his death, forces the Father to forgive us. That is so far from the truth! It was all God’s plan that Jesus should die on our place, and it was motivated by God’s love for us. [Acts 2:23-24] Romans 8 says:

If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.

As Lloyd-Jones puts it “the whole purpose of the work of the son is to bring us to God the Father.” [Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans 1, p63]

Now look at Paul’s prayer for his protégé. “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.”

Without grace there would be no Christians. Without grace there would be no blessings. So here Paul is praying that Titus would experience all the goodness that God has to lavish upon his people, all his love poured out on us, though we are underserving.

And peace? That is where the grace of God leads. Peace is not just the absence of conflict. It is far more positive. It’s the absence of conflict in that we who once enemies of God are now his children [Romans 5:10], but it includes well-being and blessing. Elsewhere the Bible calls it “rest”.

Grace and Peace – they sum up the blessings of the faith. So much is bound up in each word. What a great prayer for us to pray for each other!

PRAYER

God of grace and peace, fill your people with these great blessings and make me aware of them in my own life. Amen

Jonah 4

1But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.” [Jonah 4:1]

Jonah does what we all are tempted to do – he has his own morality and he tries to press God into that mould. God’s behaviour was wrong in Jonah’s eyes. The problem is that no one has a neutral ethic. For all of us our ethics are a product of our upbringing, education, culture and our life experiences. We all try to make God in our own image. If God is good, then he must conform to our idea of “good”.

However, the Bible says, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9]

And,

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” [Romans 8:7-8]

In the realm of morals and ethics we cannot be trusted to come to the truth. We are governed not by the truth but our own flesh, says Romans 8:5. That is why the word of God is so very important. It is God’s word that sets our ethical boundaries. It is God’s morality that we should make our own. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use our own intellects, we should, but it comes down to your starting point.

Jesus’ people don’t start with their own intellect or morality, or that of their culture, but with the Word of God. However, we use our brains to work out the implications of the word and the principles behind it. We think through why the Bible’s view of morality is the best one. We think through the contradictions between the Bible and our societal view of things. That is very different from starting with our own views and then seeing if the Bible fits with them.

When Jesus was challenged about one of the great ethical issues of his day, that of divorce and remarriage, he said “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” [Matthew 22:29]

James tells us that this is an issue of humility. He says

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” [James 1:21]

PRAYER

Lord give me a humble spirit to accept your word as my truth. Amen

He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”

[Jonah 4:2-3]

Jonah knew the character of his God. It was that character that saved Jonah in his rebellion against that very God. The Ninevites repented and God forgave them and that was too much for Jonah. Was it because he wanted Nineveh destroyed, or that he didn’t want to appear the fool when God didn’t bring the judgment Jonah proclaimed? We don’t know. We do know that Jonah did not want the grace shown to him to be lavished on Nineveh, but that is God’s nature. Jonah was trying to play God by trying to forestall his plans.

We saw yesterday how Jonah was trying to fit God into Jonah’s mould, and now we see how he was trying to bring about a change to God’s plans. He thought he knew best! It’s hard to be too critical of Jonah when we fall into the same patterns. “God, I know that is what you say, but you really don’t understand!” “God if I follow your ways in this, I will not get what I want.” “God you don’t know what is best for me.”

Why was Jonah so angry that he wanted to die? Was it that Nineveh deserved God’s punishment and Jonah thought it unjust? Maybe, but Jonah himself had been the object of God’s grace and forgiveness. Surely he wasn’t that blind as to accept God’s forgiveness for himself but not for others!

Or maybe, as I hinted yesterday, Jonah was angry enough to die because he felt humiliated. He’d taken his life in his hands to proclaim God’s doom on Nineveh even though he didn’t want to do it, and now it wasn’t going to happen the way he’d said it would. Now there would be mocking and derision from his enemies.

We don’t know if this was the case, but we are warned in the Bible that there is a great danger in pride. We can go to great lengths and do great wrong in the attempt to avoid humiliation. Maybe Jonah should have taken great pride in his God who was gracious and compassionate and loving and forgiving, rather than in himself. Maybe he should have been full of God-esteem and not self-esteem.

PRAYER

God and Father of us all, give me a spirit of humility and help me to take great pride in you. Amen

4 “But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’”

[Jonah 4:4]

What a great question!

James says 19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” [James 1:19-20]

Notice that James is talking about “human anger”. God’s anger is another thing entirely. It is righteous and loving and pure.

Larry Crabb, the Christian psychologist, has said that strong anger is like a warning light that flashes on the dashboard of your car; it’s telling you that something is going wrong under the bonnet. Anger is nearly always a secondary emotion, that is, it is produced by another less evident emotion, like fear or hurt. Of course, there is righteous anger, the sort that arises when we see injustice or abuse. However, all too often our anger is caused by mixed motives, and it results in action that is not loving or right.

“Jonah, is it right for you to be angry?” God is calling Jonah to examine his heart. But it seems that Jonah won’t do that. A little later on he is ready with his answer that he has every right to be angry, seemingly without any self-examination. What’s more we, the readers, can see that his answer should have been “No! It’s not right for me to be angry.”

Can you recall a time in the past week or so when you were really angry? Examine your heart with questions like:

  • “What caused my anger?”
  • “What deep need did I feel was not being met in the incident, or what pain did it cause?”
  • “Could I have handled it better?”
  • “What would the righteous response have been?”

PRAYER

God of all compassion and grace, teach me to examine my heart to see if there is any offensive way in me, and led me in the way everlasting. Amen

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’

‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’

[Jonah 4:5-9]

With all due respect to Jonah, he is a slow learner, so God gives him an object lesson. He should have seen it as such. A plant that grows sufficiently overnight to shade him the next day! Really? Jonah is so far down the hole of self-pity that he fails to see what is going on. He is more concerned over the fate of one plant than over the souls of 120,000 people. Maybe he thought he had every right to be bitter over the rescue of Nineveh, after all, the people were incredibly wicked. The plant, however, was completely innocent.

There are people who love animals or plants far more than they care about other human beings, and sometimes with good cause it would seem. There are those who leave fortunes in their wills to animal welfare organisations when there are fellow human beings in dire need of help. I’m not suggesting that such actions are wrong, after all the writer draws attention to the fact that Nineveh’s reprieve also saved many animals from destruction, but it seems that the point God is making with Jonah is that Jonah has his values upside down.

Human beings are made in God’s image. Sure, we can be wicked. Sure, many people in our world don’t deserve any sort of mercy or grace, but the point of the story of Jonah is that none of us deserves it.

Human beings are of incredible value, in a way that other living creatures and plants aren’t, because God sent his son to die for human beings. That gives us inestimable worth – every one of us. The lesson of Jonah is that no one deserves God’s mercy. Jonah certainly didn’t.  “There is no one righteous, not even one.” [Romans 3:10]

PRAYER

God of all creation, lover of all mankind, save me from spiritual pride and help me to others the way you do. Amen

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’

‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’

10 But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?’ 

[Jonah 4:9-11]

 

 

God’s description of the Ninevites is interesting. They cannot tell their right hand from their left. That seems to be a way of saying that they really have no spiritual insight. They are blind. They are lost. It reminds me of Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing. [Luke 23:24]

And again, when Jesus looked upon the crowds that came to see and hear him, Matthew says “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  [Matthew 9:36]

That does not mean that God will just overlook our wickedness and our sin. The wonder of God’s love is not that he overlooks mankind’s sin and wickedness. There is a foolishness around the Christian church today (and in all honesty it’s been around for a long while) that claims that a loving God would not punish sin and certainly wouldn’t punish an innocent man for the sins of others. I say “foolishness” because there is no greater display of love than for God to take on human flesh and die in our place for our sin and rebellion.

“How pathetic and hopeless is the position of people who think that they are safeguarding the love of God by denying the substitutionary theory of the atonement… they believe that they safeguard and magnify the love of God by denying the truth concerning the wrath of God, and that God must and does punish sin… what they actually do is to detract from the love of God. The love of God is only truly seen when we realise that “He spared not His own Son”… this is what magnifies the love of God and makes it appear infinitely greater.” [Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones “The Final Perseverance of the Saints”, p396]

PRAYER

Lord God, you who did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us all; to you belongs all glory and majesty and praise.  Amen

Jonah 3

 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”

[Jonah 3:1]

I’m reminded of my mum’s words to us when we were kids, “Don’t make me tell you twice!” From my mum that was a threat, but from God the second time is a gracious renewal of relationship.

I’m guessing that Jonah had mixed emotions about this second chance. He certainly was not keen on carrying out the mission, as we’ll see when we get to chapter 4, but God was not giving up on him and that was good news.

Whatever Jonah felt, it does remind us that our God is the God of second chances.

Remember Peter’s denial of Jesus, and Jesus’ reinstatement of him in John 21? Remember David’s betrayal of Bathsheba and Uriah and his God, and yet God remained steadfast to David?  There are multiple examples in the Bible.

There are no unforgivable sins, other than blasphemy against the Holy Spirit [Mark 3:21] which, I take it, is a lifelong and sustained rejection of the prompting of the Holy Spirit for us to come to Christ.

I knew someone who, after a serious sin in his life, thought that he was now always condemned to what he called “God’s second best.”, as if his sin took him outside God’s will for him and now he and God were scrambling to put plan B together. We certainly can’t escape the consequences of sin, or even bad decisions, but that does not condemn us to a second-rate life or a second level relationship with God.

God has no plan B because his plan A always works.

You see, when we are born again God doesn’t just forgive us and leave us where we were. He makes us new. We become new creatures [2 Cor 5:17]. We become his beloved children. Now all things work together for good for us [Romans 8:28].

Are there levels of good? Maybe, but I rather think there are different “goods”, not different levels; after all, good is good. Will God use our sin for good? You bet! It won’t be the same good he would have worked if I’d not sinned, but it’s still good. My friend may have had to suffer the consequences of his sin, but God was bringing his good about. And my friend’s sin was not outside God’s control, or his plans.

Remember Peter’s description of the crucifixion of our Lord in Acts 2?

23 “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

Do we really think that our sin can thwart God’s plan A for us?

PRAYER

God of the second chance, give me a firm confidence in your goodness. Amen

3 “Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

[Jonah 3:3-4]

For many this is an uncomfortable message because it focuses on a part of God’s character that they cannot accept, his wrath. God is, after all, a God of love, is he not? A God of love cannot possibly punish people! Yet it is hard to read the book of Jonah without acknowledging that wrath plays a part in the way God is depicted.

Some get around the problem by saying that when the Old Testament writers speak of God’s punishment, they are accommodating the story to the understanding of a “primitive” people who live in a more simplistic age. For the writers, the disasters of life were attributed to the anger of God because that is the way that all religious cultures saw the issue.

Yet the idea of the righteous anger of God is throughout the Bible. There is not a New Testament book, for instance, that doesn’t address the issue of hell and judgment. The writer of Hebrews says,

28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”[Hebrews 10:28-29]

The problem is with our views of both wrath and love.

Wrath is not God losing his temper. God’s wrath is his steady and considered attitude towards evil. There is nothing malicious or over the top with God’s wrath. What righteous and good being would not be rightly angry at wrongful and wilful violence, for instance? We are good and right to be angry at injustice, abuse, dishonesty, and the abuse of power. It is part of God’s goodness that he is angry at evil. Jesus was angry at people’s mistreatment of others [Mark 3:5].

Love demands anger at evil done against the objects of its love.

What is more, God is just and cannot let evil go unpunished. Love demands justice. We show that to be true when we clamour for a fair and just punishment to those who break the law. Witness the furore when wrongdoers seem to get away with their wrongdoing, or when their punishment seems too light. We should expect nothing less from a just God.

Of course, God’s grace wins out in the history of Jonah, but we’ll come to that.

PRAYER

God of Jonah and of all people, help me to see you clearly in all the glory of your character. Amen

4 “Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”

[Jonah 3:4-5]

This is a city of 120,000 people; we’re told in chapter four. All of them turn to God in repentance. It’s an extraordinary thing to occur. Unbelievable, in fact. And yet God brings it about. That is the point.

There are a number of unbelievable things that occur in the book of Jonah. A man surviving in a great fish for three days. A pagan city turning to God in repentance. But here is another miracle that we often overlook in the story – it is just as much a miracle that Jonah believes in God as it is for the people of Nineveh. Why?

Well, the Bible says that there are two groups of people in the world: the person without the Holy Spirit and the person with the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it says the person without the Holy Spirit cannot accept the things that come from the Holy Spirit, including the word of God.

14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. [1 Corinthians 2:10-16].

In other words, the person without the Spirit of God cannot believe.

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” [Romans 8:7-8]

How then can anyone ever come to saving faith in God? God does it. It is a miracle. He does it by his Spirit who brings new life. Sure, we choose to put our trust in Jesus, but only because he first gives us new life by his Spirit. Does he overrule our free will in doing that? No! Before the Spirit comes to us, we are slaves to sin [Romans 6:6]. We cannot choose God in Jesus [See passages above]. Only when we are freed from our slavery to sin do we really get to make a free choice.

“The will is never forced. What happens is that the Holy Spirit, by putting this new disposition within us, this new ability [to understand the Gospel] enables us to appreciate the truth…. now the Holy Spirit reveals these things to us we desire them. ….You are given such a view of things that you want it with the whole of your being. You who formerly rejected it and regarded it as folly, now see its glory and embrace with all the energy of your will. …It makes one will and desire that which it formerly hated and rejected.” [Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Perseverance of the Saints”, p247]

God does it. He calls us into his family. He gives us his Spirit so that we will choose him. Can you see the miracle of it? We see it written large in the city of Nineveh but the same is true of every person who puts their trust in Jesus.

PRAYER

Father Almighty, thank you for your wonderful grace in making me yours. Amen

This is the proclamation he [the King] issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

[Jonah 3:7-9]

What a change! We saw yesterday that it was the result of a miracle, as are all conversions to Christ, but the writer has enabled us to see the process of repentance.

  1. There is the acknowledgement of sin. The king and the people put on sackcloth and fast [v5,6]. That is a very public acknowledgement of sin. You don’t overlook someone wearing a potato sack. Their acknowledgement was so passionate that they even clothed their animals in sackcloth and fasted them. Over the top? Maybe, but it showed a real seriousness as well. They went to great lengths in their repentance.
  2. There is a change of behaviour. Although the king decrees that his people should turn from their evil ways and their violence, we assume that it was carried out. Repentance starts with feeling sorry, but it goes on to changed behaviour. I remember apologising to my then 10-year-old son about my treatment of him in a particular instance. I said I was sorry and he said, “We’ll see.” He was right. Being truly sorry means changing.
  3. They called out to God for mercy [v8]. Again, we assume that the king’s declaration summed up the people’s feelings. There is no one who is righteous [Romans 3:10], and we all fall short of God’s glory [Romans 3:23]. There is nothing we can do to make things right. The Ninevites got that right. Their fasting and sackcloth and even changed behaviour were not going to put things right with God. It required God to do something. They needed to be reconciled to God, and only God could do that. He was the aggrieved party and only he could make things right.

There can be no coming to God without repentance. Any call to faith that does not call for repentance [and faith] is not a call to Christ.

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” [Luke 5:32]

“and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” [Luke 24:47]

“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” [Acts 26:20]

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” [2 Corinthians 7:10]

PRAYER

Gracious Father, give me opportunities this week to speak of Christ and how to come to him. Amen

“10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”

[Jonah 3:10]

Oh, the love and the mercy and our God!

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]

What was it that brought about their forgiveness? Repentance [When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways…]. Their repentance didn’t save them, God did. He gave them repentance (as well as calling for repentance).

“18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” [Acts 11:18]

“25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,” [2 Timothy 2]

“He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Saviour, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” [Acts 5:31]

As we saw two days ago, saving faith is a gift from God. He enables us to choose him. It is all from God. That is the glory of true Christian faith. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” God does it all; “not by works so that no one can boast” [Eph 2:8-9].

The miracle of Nineveh is meant to help us see the glory of God in his mercy and grace, but it’s also the miracle of Jonah. As we’ll see in the next chapter Jonah still did not have it all together. He was a poor ambassador for the love and mercy of God, but I think we’ll see him in heaven, because it is God who saves and holds us.

Jonah can be saved, Nineveh can be saved, because of the later work of Jesus on the cross. His death will pay the price for their sin and failure. His death will make it possible for God’s love and God’s justice to both be met. The book of Jonah has been given to us to help us see clearly the need for Jesus and to understand his work for us.

 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” [Romans 8:29-30]

He called us so he will also glorify us. Nothing can stop that happening.

Thanks be to God.

PRAYER

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, I cannot thank you enough for your wonderful mercy and grace. Amen

Jonah 2

17 “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”  [Jonah 1:17]

There have been stories of people being swallowed by whales and surviving, but the veracity of these stories has been questioned. The Bible speaks of a large fish, not necessarily a whale, but still, is it possible?

The writer of Jonah tells us that God “provided a great fish.” That could mean that this fish was specially “prepared” by God, as some translations put it, so that it could swallow Jonah whole. Certainly, Jesus referred to Jonah in the whale for three days and likened it to his own death and resurrection [Matthew 12:40]. The story of Jonah is as improbable (impossible?) as someone being resurrected, but we know that really occurred.

In the end what is important is that God saved Jonah and it happened by means of a large fish. Rather than sending us to history or biology to prove that it could or could not happen, we should marvel at our great God. As one writer puts it, “We have been looking so hard at the great fish that we have failed to see the great God.” [G Campbell Morgan “The Minor Prophets” 1960, p69]

One of the problems with miracles that seem to contravene the laws of nature is that people will rely on the fact they contravene the laws of nature as proof that they didn’t and can’t happen, but surely that is the issue. If we only allow the possibility of God if he obeys all the laws of nature, then we don’t need him. The beauty of the resurrection of Jesus (and by implication the resurrection of Jonah) is that it proves God, because only God can really do the impossible. People who do not allow the possibility of miracles as evidence for the existence of God rule out the very thing that you’d expect from God if he existed. If Jesus was God, surely you’d expect him not to be bound by death!

Getting back to Jonah – imagine his situation, if you can. He’s expecting a relatively quick and painless death by drowning but now he’s facing a slow death in the stomach of some giant fish, in total darkness, maybe cramped up in a tiny space in the stomach, being acted on by stomach juices. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire. What is God doing? However, he knows this is from God and so he turns to Him. We’ll take a look at that tomorrow.

PRAYER

God of all power and might, what a wonder is that you care for us, that even the hairs on our heads are numbered. Amen

 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

‘In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
 and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths 
 into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me;  all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said, “I have been banished
 from your sight; yet I will look again towards your holy temple.”
The engulfing waters threatened me,
 the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in for ever.” 

[Jonah 2:1-6]

 

Jonah is in distress! Is there any wonder? He knows he has disobeyed his God. He’s been thrown overboard in a storm and struggled to breathe in the waves [v3], sinking beneath the waters [v6], and now he’s in the belly of the fish. He describes his predicament as like being in the realm of the dead [v1.] Has he blown it permanently? Has God just given up on him? He describes it as being banished from God’s sight [4].

Things can feel that way at times. Even Jesus cried out “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?” Yet even at those times God is not absent. We know that with Jesus God was still carrying out plans, and Jonah understands that although the sailors had thrown him overboard at Jonah’s own insistence, God is in it.

He says to God “You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas.” His assertion is that even his own actions are not outside God’s control. That is a great comfort! Even in the darkest place, the deepest pit, God is present. King David says

11If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me    and the light become night around me,’
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; 
 the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.” [Psalm 139:11-12]

From the belly of the fish, all he can do is to call out to God from the pit he’s in, and it’s a deep pit. He sank down to the roots of the mountains [v6], to the place where the mighty mountain ranges have their foundations at the bottom of the sea. Yet God does not abandon his people.

Jonah calls out and God answers him. God is committed to his people, but God puts Jonah right back in the place he did not want to be – on the road to Nineveh. Jesus prayed, “Yet not my will but yours be done.”

God will hear from the pit, but he may not take us out of it. He may have other plans, but he surely hears.

PRAYER

Lord of the nations, give us a firm and steady trust in your goodness. Amen

 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

‘In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
 and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths 
 into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me;  all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said, “I have been banished
 from your sight; yet I will look again towards your holy temple.”
The engulfing waters threatened me,
 the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in for ever.” 

[Jonah 2:1-6]

 

The irony here is that Jonah ran from the Lord and gets what he wanted – to be as far away from God as he could be. Now he is experiencing what it is like to get his wish, and he finds it terrifying.

It seems that our culture is doing a Jonah, trying to move as far away from God as possible. Theologians talk of something called “common grace”. It refers to God’s kindness and grace that falls on all people, irrespective of their faith in him or not [Psalm 104:13-15]. The Bible talks of the rain that falls to refresh the earth and falls on the godly and ungodly alike. Were God to grant the wishes of our world and withdraw his goodness, this world would be a dark and terrible place. Were God to withdraw the “salty” influence of his people over the centuries, so much that is good would not exist [Matthew 5:13].

Remember the story of Abraham and Sodom? God promises not to destroy that wicked city if even ten godly people can be found within it.

Be encouraged brothers and sisters. Your “salty” influence may well be the reason that God has not brought judgment on our nation.

As we’ll see as we go on in the story of Jonah, the saltiness of one man will preserve a whole people.

PRAYER

God and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways. Make us the salt of the earth. Amen

6 But you, Lord my God,  brought my life up from the pit.

‘When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

‘Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise, 
 will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good 
 I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”’

[Jonah 2:6-9]

 

Notice the change in Jonah. He’s run from God, and he’s been in his own version of a living hell. He has experienced what he feels as the absence of God. Now he turns to God and gives shouts of thankful praise. The strange thing is that he does this while inside the fish [2:1]. He has been rescued from drowning [2:5-6], but not from the stomach of the fish. It may be that he does that in the confidence that God will finally rescue him completely, or it may be that the rescue from drowning was enough for Jonah to realise that his God was indeed present and active, and that his life was secure in the hands of a merciful God who had forgiven him for his rebellion, evidenced by his action in saving Jonah from drowning.

Jonah does seem to be repentant. In verse 8 he refers to those who cling to worthless idols and by doing so turn away from God’s love for them. Is that not what he has done? He had turned his back on the living God. He had put something before obedience and that is idolatry.

The way back for Jonah was shouts of thankful praise and sacrifice. The blood of an animal was necessary. He makes vows to God. That would involve a life change worthy of the forgiveness and grace already shown to Jonah.

Do you see the parallel with the sailors back in chapter 1? When they see that Jonah’s God is the real deal we’re told they greatly feared the LORD and offered sacrifices and made vows. The way to God is the same for all people. Jonah did not want the Ninevites to receive God’s mercy [4:1-3]. They were not God’s chosen people, yet all people are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. It comes through blood sacrifice (pointing forward to the Lords death on the cross) and changed lives, showing the reality of repentance and faith. Jonah did not know of the sailor’s acts of faith, but we the readers can see the parallels that Jonah did not. He was as much in need of God’s grace and mercy as those he did not want to preach to.

Jonah was one of God’s people and the sailors weren’t. But in the end coming to God through the sacrifice of Jesus for the first time is the way that we continue to live in him as well. We live by God’s grace.

PRAYER

Gracious Father, help me to live in the light of you glorious grace shown in the life, death and resurrection of your Son.  Amen

10 “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” [Jonah 2:10]

If you read Jonah’s prayer while inside the fish, the final deliverance from the fish was the icing on the cake. Jonah was convinced that God had rescued him before he was vomited onto the beach [v6].

Deliverance is not just a physical thing. Jonah has been delivered. He sings for joy. He commits himself to God (makes vows) yet he is still in the fish. I keep coming back to Jesus’ words “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matthew 10:28].

Why are those words so important to me? Because they remind me that my physical well-being is not as big a concern to Jesus as my soul’s health. My present is not as important as my eternity.

A minister friend told me of a member of his congregation who had been told by the medicos that he was terminally ill. His Christian friends rallied round and held prayer meetings for his healing. They claimed his healing in faith. They would not let my friend visit the sick man because my friend entertained the idea that God might not physically heal the man. The sick man’s family and friends did not want any negativity around. My minister friend remarked, “They were treating his death and heaven as though it was second best.”

Paul says, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil 1:21].

It seems that Jonah had grasped this idea. He might not get a rescue from the fish, but now he can die confident that his God had not deserted him, as evidenced by the remarkable miracle of the rescue by the fish.

Many of God’s people are so rocked by traumas of others, or of their own, that they lose confidence that God is actually with them. Jonah came to understand that God had not deserted him.

For us living this side of the cross, the same confirmation of God’s presence is ours.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]


“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” [Romans 8:32]

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, give me such confidence in your love and mercy that for me, to die really is gain. Amen

Jonah 1

1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”

[Jonah 1:1-3]

A mate of mine is a Christian biker. He once suggested that I go with him to visit a well-known outlaw bikie club. Call me a coward, but I was not all that keen! Luckily it fell off his radar and he never repeated the offer, or maybe he saw the look of terror in my eyes and decided to have mercy on me. The idea was just to visit and keep a low profile.

Jonah was told to preach against Nineveh, a city renowned for its wickedness. Elsewhere, God spoke to the city of Nineveh through Nahum the prophet:

1 Woe to the city of blood,
    full of lies,
full of plunder,
    never without victims!
The crack of whips,
    the clatter of wheels,
galloping horses
    and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry,
    flashing swords
    and glittering spears!
Many casualties,
    piles of dead,
bodies without number,
    people stumbling over the corpses—
all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute,
    alluring, the mistress of sorceries,
who enslaved nations by her prostitution
    and peoples by her witchcraft.

[Nahum 3:1-4]

As you can see, God’s offer to Jonah would not have been an attractive one. “Just go and tell those bikers they’re all going to hell, will you?” I can understand Jonah’s reluctance.

The Bible tells us he “ran away from the LORD”. We’re not quite sure where Tarshish was in those days, but probably somewhere in Spain. It’s as though Jonah walked out his front door, looked left towards the city of Nineveh some 1100 kms away, shook his head and went “Nah, not doing that!” and headed right instead.

Did he rationalise his decision to disobey? “I know it looks like God said go to Nineveh but he couldn’t have meant that”. Was he just making a statement by heading in the opposite direction, or did he really think he could physically run away from God? We don’t know, but he would soon realise that you can run but you can’t hide.

King David sang:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

[Psalm 139:7-12]

PRAYER

God of all nations, thank you for the promise that you will never leave me nor forsake me. Amen

4 “Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.” [Jonah 1:4-5]

We see here something of the sovereign rule of God. He planned to rescue the inhabitants of Nineveh. He was going to use human action in his plan, but the human actor wanted nothing of the plan, so God brought circumstances to bear on him. God is not going to force Jonah’s will, but he is going to act on what lies behind Jonah’s will in such a way that Jonah will change his will. Jonah will choose to do God’s bidding because God so influenced things in his sovereign rulership that Jonah would make that decision to obey God, freely. As Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it, “the important factor is not the will itself but that which governs or controls the will.” [Martyn Lloyd-Jones “The Final Perseverance of the Saints”]

Jonah will be given such a view of things by God that what he formerly rejected he will now desire to do, albeit reluctantly.

God sends a great storm. For the sailors, storms were part of life, although this one seems unusually severe because they look for a supernatural cause [v 7]. This is not God carrying out his will by doing something like making the sun go backwards or raising the dead. He uses natural events. Nevertheless, Jonah sees God’s hand in it [v10, 12]. I’m reminded of Joseph’s words to his brothers about his slavery in Egypt, “As for youyou meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Genesis 50:20]

It’s a relief to know that God will bring about his purposes, especially when we understand that his will is for our good [Romans 8:28]. We can see him at work in the everyday circumstances of life if we look carefully, and where we can’t see it, we can trust that it is so. There are no accidents in the lives of God’s people. There is no luck. There is only the God who loves us and has called us according to his purposes.

What is happening in your life that God is using for your ultimate good?

PRAYER

Father in Heaven, help me to see you at work in the everyday events of my life and the lives of others. Amen

4 “Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.” [Jonah 1:4-5]

Have you ever stopped to think how much disruption God caused to bring about the change in Jonah? All that cargo thrown overboard. The boat wrecked. All those livelihoods affected. What other damage did the storm do that we don’t hear of? Seaside houses fallen into the ocean? Fishermen not able to make a catch? Deliveries of goods delayed? There would have been a whole web of consequences of one man’s disobedience, and all to bring God’s mercy to a distant city state.

Disobedience – sin – has consequences far beyond the immediate and the obvious. And yet the promise for all those affected who are God’s people is that everything is designed to work for their good. That is not the case for everyone affected by sin, as it wouldn’t have been the case for everyone affected by Jonah’s disobedience. The promise is only for those who love God and are called by God [Romans 8:28].

For others it may constitute a warning to turn to him [Revelation 9:20; Isaiah 9:13], or a just judgment [Romans 1:28]. However, for God’s people no circumstance is wasted, no life experience is frittered away. All work together into God’s wonderful plan. It’s been said by many that life’s circumstances are like a tapestry. When viewed from behind, it’s a tangled mess of threads with no apparent design. It’s only when you view the tapestry from the other side that you can clearly see the picture. So it is with the life circumstances of God’s people – all being woven together into a thing of beauty.

PRAYER

Merciful ruler, thank you for using all the circumstances of my life to bring about your plans for my good. Help me to trust you.  Amen

Then the sailors said to each other, ‘Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.’ They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, ‘Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?’

He answered, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ [Jonah 1:7-9]

Jonah is deliberately disobeying the ruler of all, the sea and the earth and heaven, and yet he can say that he worships this God.  Sin and disobedience do not necessarily mean that God turns his back on us, or that we have turned our backs on him. There is a doctrine called “the perseverance of the Saints” which rightly says we can sin and yet remain children of God.

It does not condone sin, far from it, no one who is truly a Christian can ever be complacent about their sin, but the Bible teaches that there is always a battle going on within us between the old nature and the new person we have been made in Christ, and that we will sin [1 John 1:8-9]. But God has called us into his family and his call is effective. It is God who calls us into his family and God who holds us there.

27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[c]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one. [John 10:27-30]

The Christian will sin, but the sign that they are really called by God into his family is that they repent. They love God, and really want to live for Christ. That is not possible for the person without the Spirit [Romans 8:6-8].

Jonah is like us. Our sin is running away from obedience to God, but there is always a way back for those who want it, and that desire to come back is a sure sign that we are God’s and the Spirit is within us.

PRAYER

God of Jonah, you are the God of grace and forgiveness. Thank you for not giving up on me. Amen

13 The men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.’ 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.” [Jonah 1:13-16]

 

Chapter one is not the end of the book of Jonah, but it could end right here on a very positive note, although not necessarily for Jonah. These sailors, who worshipped their own gods and not the One God [v5], come to see that Jonah’s God is worthy of their worship. Of course, we don’t know what followed for those sailors but the record we have ends their part of the story with them glorifying the God of Jonah and making vows, which, I take it, are promises to honour God in the future.

It’s a deliberate contrast with Jonah’s attitude, which at this point has not been worshipful or repentant. Things will have to get worse before Jonah changes. So, we get a foretaste of what will follow as the story unfolds. The man who is privileged to be part of God’s people dishonours his God while pagan sailors, when they are confronted with the one true God, honour Him.

Of course, Jonah doesn’t see the outcome, he’s afloat in the ocean. It’s an irony that is only strengthened later in the book when the reluctant prophet is confronted with the repentance and faith of a whole city-state. Yet God remains faithful to Jonah. As we’ll see, God is not exactly gentle with Jonah, but it could have been a lot worse.

I’m encouraged by God’s firm but committed interactions with this grumpy, flawed man of God. God uses even Jonah’s flaws to bring about good. That should encourage all of us. God is for us! How do we know? Because we are still God’s even when we fail him. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Even in our times of rebellion [sin] he pursues us and brings us to repentance, as we’ll see later in the book of Jonah.

PRAYER

God of Mercy and Love, thank you for your commitment to me. Please help me to live a life worthy of that. Amen

Thanksgiving

16 “Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18]

What does God want from us? Well, along with other things he wants us to always rejoice. “Rejoice always!” It’s not a suggestion. It’s an exhortation, a command even [for the grammarians among us, the word “rejoice” is in the imperative], as are all the three exhortations in this passage.

That may seem a little unrealistic, to rejoice always, but maybe that’s because we have the wrong idea about joy. Rejoicing is the outworking of joy. It is not something that comes from outside us. It may be affected to some degree by what is happening to us, but joy really is the result of how we view the external things that happen to us.

If we consider our circumstances to be the sum of all things, then our emotional state will depend on what is happening right at that moment. Good things will give us joy and bad things will cause us anxiety and pain. However, if our lives are based on things bigger than our circumstances, and if those things are good and positive and life affirming, then joy will work itself out of our hearts despite the immediate circumstances.

Nothing is more life affirming and positive than reminding ourselves of the promises of God. Write out a list of the promises that you rejoice in. Go over it each day. The fact that the Bible commands us to be joyful tells us that we do have some control over our emotions. There are things we can do to help this welling up of joy and two of them are right here in this passage.

This is not a command to pray non-stop but to pray frequently or regularly. It’s a command to be a pray-er. Prayer helps us to keep things in perspective. We step back from our circumstances and put ourselves in the hands of the one who controls all things.

The second thing we can do to keep us rejoicing is “give thanks in all circumstances”. This is not a command to give thanks “for” everything, but “in” everything. It’s counting our blessings. It’s hard to count your blessings and not give thanks, and giving thanks leads inexorably to joy.

Two strategies for rejoicing always – pray and give thanks. It sounds too simple but if we would just do it, even if we don’t feel like it, it will change us. It’s true! We will become a people who rejoice always. Just do it!

PRAYER

Our Father in heaven, help me to be a thanksgiver. May your Spirit keep me focussed on your promises. Amen.

“4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!” [Philippians 4:4] 

A member of our church wrote last week in our annual thanksgiving service about her husband’s growing Alzheimers, “During these past few months … I have become so grateful for the wonderful ways Our Father has, and continues to bless me with strength, with courage, with patience as He carries me through each moment with just enough Grace for my needs. I am grateful for the wonderful ways He has shown me His love and stirred in me a deep yearning to know Him more, to love Him more and to serve Him more … however that looks, in all areas of my life.”

Another person shared,

“God has constantly been there during my time of extreme grief to remind me he is taking care of business. Just when I think it is all too much or I don’t know how to take the next step he takes care of it in ways that you could not predict. He has consistently taken care of things that you would think are unimportant in the scheme of things and yet He has made sure they happen for me.”

That is what rejoicing in the Lord looks like. It’s having a heavenly focus. It’s resting in and celebrating the love and security of being a child of God despite what is going on in our lives.

James reminds us,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” [ James 1:2-3]

So there is a sense that we can even give God thanks for the miserable things that happen because we know that He is bringing about good for us. However, God is never the source of evil even if he uses it for his purposes. It’s like death – death is an enemy, part of the evil that has come upon the world [1 Cor 15:56], and yet God uses death to bring us into heaven [Psalm 116:15].

It is also good to pray for joy, as did Saint Paul,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” [Romans 15:13]

As with all the Bible’s injunctions, the fruit of faith, including joy, is ours to work at but also God’s to give.

PRAYER

Father, give me joy in believing. Amen

“21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” [Romans 1:21]

This is an interesting verse because it comes in the middle of Paul’s discussion of God’s hatred of sin and in some senses is a summary of mankind’s wrongful treatment of God. They neither glorify God as God nor give Him thanks. Thanking God is central to our relationship with Him, and our failure to thank God is one of the foundations of our sinfulness. Failure to thank God is a denial that he is ruler, and that every good and perfect gift is from Him [James 1:17]. It is a denial of his grace towards us.

There really is no relationship, (or, at the best, it is an extremely poor relationship), where there is no acknowledgement of one person’s grace towards another. We know that from our own experience. To keep giving and receive no acknowledgement is a very hard relationship to maintain.

We are a people of thanks and praise. They are the hallmark of the Christian just as much as our love. Are they a hallmark of your life?

So what is it that prevents our joy?

  • Losing sight of the spiritual realities that are ours. Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil 1:21] We are in a win-win situation.
  • Failing to ask God for his Joy [Rom 15:13]
  • Not fixing our minds, meditating, on the things of God [Matthew 6:28-34]
  • Not counting our blessings and thanking God for them

Why not start and end each day this week with counting your blessings and giving thanks to God for them? If it’s not your practice, consider it an experiment and see if it doesn’t bring a lightness to your spirit.

PRAYER

God and Father of mankind, I want to be a person characterised by joy. Please bring this about in me. Amen

“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” [Nehemiah 8:10]

The returned children of Israel had completed the wall around Jerusalem and the people met to celebrate. It had been over 70 years since their exile from their homeland. Ezra the priest brought out the Book of the Law and read it to the gathering, and the people wept [8:9].

They weren’t weeping with joy, because Nehemiah’s words preclude that. They were weeping in sadness. We’re not told why but the law was prescriptive. It clearly set out God’s requirements of his people, and was also condemnatory of those who did not obey it. It set out a whole way of life for God’s people, regulating even everyday activities.

We can see from reading the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that the nation had not been adhering to the law. Maybe this was why they wept. Whatever the reason, Nehemiah says “the joy of the LORD is your strength”. What a mighty thing to say!

The joy of the LORD is their strength in the following ways:

  • Their delight in God is the sign that they are God’s people. That is their strength. They worship the One and Only God and he is their shield and defender.
  • Their joy in God is like a barrier that protects them. Real joy in the Lord is a Teflon coating. That is not the case with joy that depends on life going well. It’s like Hezekiah’s tunnel. The city of Jerusalem had a weakness when attacked. Its permanent water supply, running from the Gihon Spring, ran outside the city walls. Hezekiah had a tunnel built that kept the whole watercourse inside the city walls. No attack from outside could disrupt the water coming from the spring. Likewise, while ever our joy is from a source within us, it cannot be disrupted. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words about the water he would give, the living water, being a spring in us welling up to eternal life.

PRAYER

Almighty God, be our joy. By your Spirit keep us safe in your love and peace. Amen

Today, something a little different to finish off our focus on thanksgiving. Pray through Psalm 19, making each line your own prayer.

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice[
b] goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from wilful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

[Psalm 19]

Spiritual Warfare

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” [Ephesians 6:10-12]

John White in his book “The Fight” makes the point that we make one of two mistakes when it comes to the devil: we either take him too lightly or we take him too seriously. Some people see evil spirits behind every incident in life. I knew a woman who was having trouble in her studies and blamed it on a demon of laziness! Maybe, but I confess I had my doubts.

However, in my circles the more obvious problem seems to be not giving the evil one enough credence. Paul seems to be saying that the real battle is not with the physical world but the spiritual realities that might lie behind the events in the physical world. There are evil forces out to destroy our faith, or at least cause problems in our relationship with God, and they are purposeful.

The devil is described as a “schemer” in this passage. He has a plan, a strategy designed to make you fall. Have you ever thought about how he might do that? In what areas of your life are you vulnerable? If he was to design a plan to bring about your fall from the faith, or to bring about you causing grief to the Holy Spirit, where would he attack you? Pride? Lust? Wealth? Anger? Greed?

He probably won’t make his attack obvious. He will try and sneak in under our defences and get a foothold, after all he is the “Father of lies.” [John 8:44] Deception is his middle name. He will sell us the lie that God does not have our best interests at heart and that our way is best.

It’s a sobering thought but no one involved in a battle can afford to ignore it. Where are the weak spots in our defences?

PRAYER

Dear God, please fill my heart with a dread of grieving you. Amen

13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. [Eph 6:13-17]

Yesterday we looked at the fact that we are indeed in a spiritual war, that we need to be aware of the danger we are in, and what the weaknesses in our defences might be.

Paul then goes on to talk about those defences and how we strengthen them. He exhorts us to put on the full armour of God. It’s not good just getting some of it in place. We need the full armour. Notice too, that it is God’s armour. He provides it and it’s his armour. It would be foolish to ignore His help.

We are to put on truth like a soldier’s belt. Such a belt did more than hold pants up. It also protected the region below the waist with thick leather strips that hung down.

Is Paul referring to the truth about God and the gospel, or about our being honest as people?  We can’t be sure, but both are helpful. The Bible gives us the truth about our world and human beings, and so helps us to understand the times we live in and the circumstances of life. We get a true view of our world and where we stand in it, and it’s a very different take on things than our culture has. The truth is that we are in desperate need of rescue and redemption.

As well as that, as we live as people of integrity and honesty, we don’t give the evil one a foothold from which to bring us down. One dishonesty leads to another, like one breach of a diet leads to another. This doesn’t just affect us, weakening our faith and our prayers, but it affects the integrity of the good news. Many a believer has destroyed his or her witness by hypocrisy or some dishonesty.

If you’ve been prone to dishonesty make today the beginning of a new you. It might cost a lot, but not as much as continuing in dishonesty.

“Put on the breastplate of righteousness,” he says. This could be reference to the righteousness that God gives us, but in context it seems more likely that it’s a reference to our godliness. In chapter 4 Paul has described what it looks like to be a child of the light. The more we grow in Christlikeness the harder it will be for the devil to trip us up. It just makes logical sense that when a godly character becomes more and more part of us we will be less susceptible to sin.

PRAYER

God of purity and righteousness, make me like you; true and righteous. Amen.

13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. [Eph 6:13-17]

The next piece of defensive armour is for our feet. They are to be fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Readiness for what? Well, Paul has told us of the need to stand firm (v11, 13, 13, 14). So, the readiness is to stand against the devil and the evil powers that want to damage us. It reminds me of Peter’s words, Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” [I Peter 5:8] 

We need to be ready for the attacks that will come. And it’s the gospel of peace that gives us this preparedness. How does that work? The gospel, the good news that through Jesus’ death we now have peace with God, gives us the assurance that no matter what the evil one whispers in our ears about his way being the real way to life, the gospel is the real treasure. Our adoption into the family of God gives us a foundation that enables us to live for God’s glory. We need nothing else.

Paul then goes on to the shield of faith. Faith in God is, at its basic level, faith in the promises of God. He has made promises and it’s those promises that give us the confidence to stand against all that the devil would throw against us.

“All things work together for good for those who love God and have been called according to his purposes.” [Romans 8:28] Even in the depths of life’s big disasters we have that to hold onto. God will bring good out of it.

“Whoever has the Son has life.” [1 John 5:12] Our eternal future is secure.

“(God) has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.” [Ephesians 1:3] We have all we need for a life of meaning and purpose.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” [Romans 8:1] No matter what the evil one whispers in our ears we are forgiven and righteous in God’s eyes. We can stand firm against any accusation of our unacceptability to God.

PRAYER

Lord and Father, keep me from the evil one and from falling for his traps. Amen

13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. [Eph 6:13-17]

The helmet of Salvation. How does our salvation protect us from the evil one? It means that we need not fear him. It means that his seductive suggestions whispered into our ears no longer have the attraction they once did. The power of the evil one lies a great deal in his assertions that God’s ways are not what is best for us, but the Kingdom of God is of greater worth than anything the world of the dark forces can offer.

Jesus told a parable about a farmer finding a treasure in a field, going off and selling all he had in order to raise the money to buy the field. In fact, Jesus says “In his joy” he went and sold all he had and bought the field.” He had nothing that compared with the value of the treasure. Jesus says the kingdom of God is like that.

King David wrote,

“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” [Psalm 4:7]

And the Apostle Peter wrote

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. [1 Peter 1:8-9]

If that is not your experience, then you need to pray for the truth of your salvation to fill your heart.

He then talks of the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. It is God’s word that the Holy Spirit uses to defeat the evil powers. [Romans 1:16] Did you realise that as you speak the Word the Holy Spirit uses it to cut through and accomplish God’s will? Your own words do not have that power of God’s words. Your own wisdom and arguments will not have the power that God’s reasoning does. We just need to make sure our words align with God’s. Do they? Or do we water down the word, turn it to agree with our own philosophy, weaken it to make it more acceptable?

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, give me all joy in believing. Give me a passion to know your word. Amen

“18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”   [Eph 6:18-20]

Paul writes of the importance of prayer. In the battle this is the line of communication from the front to the command centre. It is vital. The communication lines are always one of the targets in any battle. Knock out the communications and the battle is half won. We cannot afford to give up the spiritual discipline of prayer. We know the importance of prayer, but doing it is the hard part. It’s those whispers from the evil one, “You’re too busy”, “God will do what he wants anyway”, “It never works”, that take their toll. It’s here that the sword of the Spirit is so important. God has said through the Apostle John

14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” [1 John 5:14] 

And from the Old Testament

14…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” [2 Chronicles 7:14]

And if we don’t know what to pray, we always have Jesus’ model in what we call the Lord’s Prayer. The disciples didn’t know how to pray and asked Jesus to teach them, and that is what he gave them.

Paul exhorts us to be alert to pray, and not just for ourselves, but for all God’s people. I gather that means looking out for instances and situations where we’d love God to act and then praying about it. We are armed with prayer and we’re wanting to use it, so we are on the lookout for opportunities. I confess as I write this it does not describe me, but I want it to.

PRAYER

Lord and Father of mankind, make me want to be a pray-er. Amen

Life Changing: Sharing our Faith

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Matthew 9:35-38]

Jesus went through all the towns and villages. The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that there were over 204 towns and villages in Galilee at that time. That is quite a commitment!

What was it that motivated Jesus to send out his disciples to spread the good news?

It was his compassion!

The Greek word for “compassion” used here is the strongest word in the language for “compassionate pity”. It comes from the word for “the bowels”, and it refers to the way that real powerful compassion churns up your stomach.

That is how Jesus felt. Moved to the depths of his being over people’s lostness. Churned up inside.

You hear sometimes churches that focus on evangelism getting criticised even by their own members because they focus too much on reaching out and not enough on looking after the members, and yet when you look at where the ministry teams spend their time and energy and where the church finances go, I’d be surprised if you didn’t find that about 90% of it is tied up with looking after the members. Church is for members, small groups are for members, pastoral care is mostly for members and loads of ministries are focussed on members.

And sometimes you hear of people leaving those churches because the church doesn’t meet their needs!

Jesus’ focus was on reaching the lost. That is why he came.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” [Luke 19:10]

Why? Why spend his life in spreading the good news and then accomplishing it in his death and resurrection? Even his healings, a demonstration of love in themselves, were to enhance the message of the good news. [Matthew 11:20-23]

Why not just make it what he did in his spare time? He did it because the alternative to the good news was so dire.

There is a two-fold message of the good news. It is good news because it brings life and hope and fellowship with God. It is also good news because it spares us the judgment of God.

PRAYER

Lord God, Creator of all people, help us to love the lost and fill us with the urgency of Jesus to share the good news. Amen

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Matthew 9:35-38]

Jesus looked at the crowds and what did he see? People harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He saw people differently to us. He sees beneath the veneer. He sees people in their need and their lostness. He knows that the self-confident and arrogant person can be hiding a deep sense of inferiority.  He sees the angry person as someone who is hurting and using their anger to protect themselves. He sees the promiscuous person and sees their deep need to feel loved.  He sees behind the rough exterior to the heart that has been hurt so much. He sees the pain of the abused and hurting behind their protective image. He sees the sense of guilt that drives people to be so agreeable.

Jesus told a story in Matthew 18 about a shepherd who lost one of his 100 sheep. What does he do? He leaves the 99 who are OK and goes looking for the lost sheep. The lost sheep is the priority. And Jesus says that when the shepherd finds the sheep he rejoices. And Jesus sums it up by saying:

7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.” Matthew 18:10-14]

Do you see what Jesus is saying there? We’re OK. We’re the 99 in the sheep-pen. We’re on our way to heaven. We shouldn’t be on about looking after ourselves – we are on a rescue mission. Sure, we need to love each other and build each other up and help each other, but for what purpose? So that we can then reach out to the lost.

That was Jesus’ mission in this life. That was his passion! He loves the lost. That is God’s mission through the whole of history written for us in the Bible.  It’s the church’s mission, and it’s our mission.

PRAYER

Lord God and Saviour, give me eyes to see people in all their lostness and the glory of what they could be. Amen

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Matthew 9:35-38]

Jesus looks out on the crowd and he says to his disciples, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

There are men and women ready to enter the kingdom but there is no one to tell them the good news.

No one to tell them how to get into the kingdom. No one to tell them that there is even a kingdom and a shepherd of their souls.

No one to speak tenderly to them of God’s love and grace and to live it out before their eyes.

It wouldn’t be so bad if people didn’t want to hear about Jesus, or if they shut their ears up to the good news. And that certainly is the case with lots of people, maybe even the majority of people, but Jesus is saying that is not the case with everyone. The harvest is plentiful. And things are no different today.

Then Jesus says to his disciples, “Ask the lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Look at that verse! It’s God’s harvest field! He’s been getting the crop ready. There are people waiting to hear the good news. The Holy Spirit has been working on them and getting them ready. In John 16 Jesus tells us that part of the Holy Spirit’s job is to “convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Holy Spirit has been active out there amongst the men and women and children of Sydney.

Ask God to send out messengers of the gospel.

And notice how Jesus begins to answer his own prayer? He sends out his disciples to heal and exorcise and proclaim the good news.

Now some are gifted in evangelism, but if we truly see the lost as Jesus sees them and the consequences of missing out on His rescue, we will all be taking every opportunity to offer people what they really need – the good news.

PRAYER

Father, please help me to take all the opportunities you bring my way to reach out in love with the good news. Amen

Life Changing: Spiritual Guidance

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [Hebrews 4:12-13]

Are you struck, as I am, by the strength of these words?  “Sharper than any double-edged sword.” I know that creation came into being with a word [Genesis 1], and that when God speaks things happen. I love, for instance, the words of Psalm 29,

4 “The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.” [Psalm 29:3-5]

We acknowledge that when God speaks his words have ultimate power. We read of people in the scriptures trembling in fear when God speaks out loud, but we don’t always associate that power with the written word of God. Some people even want to drive a wedge between the written word and God’s actual voice. You might have heard the accusation of “bibliolatry” (worshipping the Bible rather than God), levelled at those who presumably have too high a view of the Bible.

We need to tread carefully here. It is God we worship and to worship anything or anyone else is indeed idolatry. Yet we should not divorce God from his words. Hebrews 3:7-9 points out, the very words of Psalm 95, which the writer quotes, are the words of the Holy Spirit Himself. Jesus quotes Psalm 110 and says the same thing. The Apostle Peter says that Scripture was men moved by the Holy Spirit speaking from God, and Paul says that all Scripture is breathed out by God. Peter refers to Paul’s writings as scripture. [2 Peter 3:14-16]

Our difficulty is one of immediacy. We read in the Bible that we’re to do good to those who hate us (Matthew 5:44)  but I suspect it carries far less weight than if God were to speak in an audible voice that we should do good to that person X who hates us. Why is that? Could it be that we just don’t submit to the authority of God’s word in the Bible? When we read the words “do good to those who hate you” we don’t read it as God speaking to us today in our current circumstances, so we don’t examine our hearts to see how it applies. Could it be as simple as that?

When we read the word of God, do we ask Him to make it clear to our lives? Do we read really expecting God to speak?

PRAYER

Lord God, give me a heart ready and willing to listen when you speak. Amen

Yesterday we looked at how God guides through his word in the Scriptures. There is another way that God guides and that is, as Stefan put in his sermon last weekend, from behind the scenes.

The Bible tells us that God “works all things in conformity with the purpose of His will.” [Eph 1:11] He just might not let us in on the details of his plans at times. That doesn’t mean that he’s not guiding us, he is.

So in Isaiah 10 God says of Assyria

“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hand is My indignation.
I will send him against an ungodly nation…

7Yet he does not mean so,
Nor does his heart think so”. [Is 10:5 & 7]

That is, God sends Assyria to do his bidding even though that nation doesn’t realise it. Assyria has its own reasons for doing things, but God brings about his purposes.

God will do what he pleases. [Psalm 115:3]

So what does this tell us about getting guidance from God? Well, we pray. We search the scriptures and search our hearts in the light of them. We then make the best decision possible and trust that God will bring about his purposes. He will put us where he wants us.

Of course, he may do that, letting us in on the process in ways other than directly applying the word of God.

Much is made of what some call “the promptings of the Spirit.”  This refers to those times when maybe you get an inner compulsion to do something and later find, when you do it, that God was in it. Or maybe the Spirit gets your attention through a dream, or through what someone says. It’s wise to examine these promptings in light of two facts:

  • The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked [Jer 17:9]. My inner promptings may well be of the Spirit, but they may not be
  • The Holy Spirit will not speak contrary to the scriptures, so my promptings must align with the Bible’s teachings

I’m sure we’ve all heard people justify actions the Bible prohibits because God told them it was the thing to do. However, it’s wise not to discount such promptings either. What joy we can miss in seeing God act through us if we ignore those opportunities!

The whole earth is filled with the glory of God and every action and situation is infused with opportunity to serve Him and Glorify Him. That is living! If only we could see each opportunity, each decision in this light!

PRAYER

My God and father, give me eyes to see each moment as an opportunity to honour you.  Amen

9Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labour:
10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  [Ecc 4:9-12]

It is no mistake on God’s part that he puts us into church families. The “one-another” passages in the Bible are everywhere.  “Love one another”, “bear one another’s burdens”, “forgive one another”, “be devoted to one another”, “honour one another” and on it goes.

Romans 12 tells us that we need each other, that without each other we are crippled. It’s a far cry from our individualistic culture where we are to be true to ourselves before everything else, rather than true to God.

And so it is in this matter of spiritual guidance. There is power in family. God never intended us to be an island. Jesus said,

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” [Matthew 18:19]

There is something in being together that adds power.

And Paul, the great church planter, habitually appointed elders in each church he planted. The elder was just that, an older person. The idea was the elders were people of wisdom and knowledge of God. It was from the elders that the Bible teachers came and those who led the church. [1 Tim 5:17]

So we find those within the Christian family who are wise, have life experience and who know the Lord and we ask them to help us in this matter of guidance.

I can still remember clearly (though it was 40 years ago), the wisdom of two men of God who helped me make some important decisions with their good advice, which I still use today in making decisions.

We should all have one or two people we can go to help us in our decision making. Just this week I sat with a good friend who did little more than listen and help me work through an issue. What a blessing!

Make use of this gift of being in a church.

PRAYER

Lord help me to value the gift of church family. Amen

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  [Matthew 28:19-20]

Yesterday we looked at guidance in terms of decision-making. However “spiritual direction” as a classical spiritual discipline is more than getting help making decisions. It is about a special relationship with another who helps us to grow as a disciple of Jesus. Growing as a disciple of Jesus is not an optional extra but at the very heart of faith. We are saved for a life of good works. (Eph 2:8-10)

There are a number of terms that describe this relationship – mentoring, discipling, coaching, and guiding to name a few, and although each is technically different, they are all ways of getting help in growing in our faith.

Your guide might include someone who you will confess to. James says,

16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”  [James 5:16]

Many have found it helpful to have that mentor to whom they can tell their struggles and who will be able to pray for them about specific things. The passage from James intimates that there are some things we cannot do alone and that we need the help and prayers of others with. Do you believe that?

The guide is someone who knows the Lord, knows his word, has life wisdom and is known for their godly character. This form of spiritual guidance can be a formal arrangement and for a limited time. So, you ask someone to help you work through some issues or weaknesses or questions you might have.

It might also be less formal and more like a friendship where you bring things up from time to time. However in this informal arrangement it’s all too easy to do no real discipling. I have a friend who asks each time we meet about my family, my walk with God, my church life, my personal life and asks me what God is teaching me. That structure forms the first part of our get-togethers and helps to get down to the nitty gritty. It was a bit stilted the first few times but now is just part of what we do when we meet.

If you don’t have such a person in your life you may missing out. Ask God to help you find such a person, then ask the person you think would be best for you. Your church can also help you find someone.

PRAYER

My God and my Creator, please help me to grow as your child. Help me to be a blessing to others. Amen

5“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because,

‘God opposes the proud
    but shows favour to the humble.’

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” [1 Peter 5:5-6]

Perhaps the biggest problem with the whole issue of spiritual guidance is that we don’t like to idea of submission, either to some of the express words of God or to someone who is over us in the Lord, or even to a spiritual guide. It can feel like an admission of weakness or an unjust imposition. In the past the spiritual guide was classically called “a spiritual director” and they directed. They would tell you what to do and you would do it. Good or bad, that does not wash today because as a culture we are too averse to any form of direction.

Humility is essential to all that we’ve said about spiritual guidance this week.

Even as we read the Bible we are prone to think “I know it says that but…”.  Humility is not really something you have but rather something you display in your relationships. The humility the Bible speaks of is far more than being self-deprecating. In fact, we are encouraged by the Bible to have a right view of ourselves. [Romans 12:3]

It is so hard to see humility as a good thing when we parade pride as a valued quality. In a world where we are encouraged to be proud of ourselves and of our achievements it is hard to see humility as anything other than something to be done away with.  Yet humility comes up again and again in the Scriptures, and not just humility towards God but towards others.

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” [1 Peter 5:5] 

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. [Phil 2:3]

Do you read that and find yourself thinking “Yes, but…” I do. And there are other considerations and nuances to these directions, but the “yes, but” is where we go first, looking for a way around the teaching. It’s a sign of our fallenness that we so hedge around the words of scripture that they become meaningless.

PRAYER

Lord, give me aright view of myself and teach me, in a healthy way, to submit myself to you and to others in love and humility. Amen

Life Changing: Confession and Self-Examination

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

John here is writing to believers – he addresses his hearers as “My dear children.” [2:1] As believers we know that we are forgiven and adopted into God’s family. As Paul puts it in Romans 8, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”. So if Jesus is our Lord and saviour, why does John here tell his readers to confess their sins?

The answer is that, although our sin does not bring us back under condemnation, it still has an effect. John Piper says “Though it does not change our status as saved and free from eternal condemnation, sin hinders a Christian’s current relationship with God.”

How is our relationship with God hindered?

James says 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

He tells the believers to confess their sins so that they may be healed. Sin in the believer can either cause illness or it hinders prayer for healing.

In Ephesians Paul tells us that we can grieve the Holy Spirit [Eph 4:30] by our sin.

Save In 1 Peter the Apostle tells husband to treat their wives well or their prayers will be hindered.

These three instances hint at a much wider implication – that of our sin causing damage to our wider relationship with God.

Why confess our sin? Because that is how all good relationships work – when we wrong someone we apologise and change. Why should our relationship with God be any different? All sin is offensive to God. David wrote Psalm 51 after his sins surrounding Bathsheba and there he states that his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah her husband, were sins against God. In fact his sin against God was so big that David sees his terrible wrongs done to Bathsheba and Uriah as almost insignificant in comparison – he says to God “Against you and you only have I sinned.”

Make it a regular part of your time with God to spend part of it in confession.

PRAYER

Spend some time going back over the events of the week and confessing your wrongs. Then thanks God for his great mercy and forgiveness.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John 1:8 – 2:2]

We’ve been looking at the need to confess our sins to God, but James tells us that we might need to confess to others as well.

“16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”  [James 5:16]

Surely all we need to do is to confess our sins to God! That is true but in Christian community there is the need for truth and openness in our dealings with each other. John Piper says of this passage in James, “I take this to mean simply that in the normal life of the Christian, honesty and truthfulness and purity of heart involve continual admission and confession of sin to appropriate people in our lives.” [John Piper – Desiring God]

Furthermore, sin can have community ramifications. If the church really is the body of Christ then just as my failure to meet and contribute to the body weakens the whole body, [“the eye cannot say to the hand ‘I don’t need you.’” 1 Cor 12]  so my sin, even private, can affect the whole body. There may well be the need to confess to the body, or one or two who may represent the body for this purpose.

If sin has got a hold on you take it to a good faithful man or woman of God whom you trust and confess to them. Ask them to pray for you – as James tells us the prayer of a righteous person is effective. In our fight against sin and the evil one we need all the help we can get! And that is another benefit to confessing our sins to someone.

PRAYER

Father in Heaven, help me to see my sin aright. Thank you for the wonderful gift of a fresh start each day. Amen

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John1:8 – 2:2]

Sin does not just have consequences that are immediate and obvious, but it can cause damage to our very souls.

David writes about the need to confess in Psalm 32:

“When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.”  [Psalm 32:3-5]

Persistent sin can affect our health and our effectiveness in Christian ministry. That is not to say illness is always caused by sin because that is not what the Bible says. Nevertheless, it would do us good to examine our hearts and our actions and confess our sins and failures. Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines his children and that discipline will include hardships of all sorts, including illness.

It is good news, is it not, that my effectiveness in Christian ministry and my effectiveness in prayer may be enhanced if I confess my sin and determine with the help of the Holy Spirit to turn away from it. And as we saw in yesterday’s devotion, others may be able to help us in that.

PRAYER

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give me a hatred of sin and a readiness to confess an turn away from it. Give me the joy of your salvation. Amen

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John 1:8 – 2:2]

Notice how John ends this section, with Jesus being our advocate with the Father. That is how our sin is dealt with. The wording here does not seem to be harking back to an historic, once-and-for-all advocacy, but rather to an ongoing intercession on our behalf. This is supported by the writer to the Hebrews:

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” [Hebrews 7:25]

Isn’t that something! Jesus is constantly praying to the Father for us. He is doing that until we go to be with Him. He’s praying for those “who come to God through Him.” Someone might ask “Does this not take away our assurance – if Jesus needs to keep interceding for us as we draw near to God? What if we don’t keep drawing near to God?” Well, Hebrews 13:21 says that God works in us what is pleasing in his sight through Jesus, so he is working in us to draw us near to him. Our constantly drawing near to God is the condition of Christ’s intercession on our behalf, and Jesus Himself works that drawing in us.

So our ongoing confession of sin is an indication that we are indeed drawing near to God, that we are indeed saved and living in the light, as John puts it in 1 John 1.

Can you see how the message about self-examination and confession is a positive message? As we carry out these disciplines it is proof that we belong to God; that Jesus has indeed saved us. This Jesus, our Saviour and friend, constantly intercedes for us with the Father.

What a mighty Saviour! What a mighty God who brought it all about! What a mighty Spirit who works in us to do God’s will!

PRAYER

Almighty God, thank you for your wonderful plan carried out by our Lord Jesus and for his constant prayer for us.  Amen.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John 1:8 – 2:2]

See how John ends this section – with the wonderful good news: Jesus is our atoning sacrifice. There is much discussion in some circles about “atoning sacrifice”.

For the explanation of the meaning we are helped by Romans chapter 3. Leading up to chapter 3 we find [Romans 1:18] that God’s wrath against ungodliness is being revealed from heaven. Paul goes on in chapter 3 to prove that no one is innocent. So chapter 3:21-26 sets out to deal with the problem of God’s wrath at sin – our sin, the sin of every human being.

The word translated “atoning sacrifice” is a reference to “The Mercy Seat” in the tabernacle, the moving temple/tent used before the temple was built. Paul then is saying that “Jesus is the ultimate mercy seat.” [Don Carson in “The Glory of the Atonement”] In other words, Jesus is the sacrifice that makes God well-disposed towards us. God did this “in order to demonstrate his justice” [Romans 3:26]. That is Jesus’ shed blood as the sacrifice for sin satisfies God’s justice.

Self-examination should lead to confession and repentance, the latter being a gift from God and therefore further proof of our being God’s children.

So Paul says to Timothy:

“Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,” [2 Timothy 2:25] 

The same thing is said in Acts 5 where Peter says of Jesus:

31 “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.” [Acts 5:31]

The Spiritual disciplines of self-examination and confession are not about wallowing in negativity but rather rejoicing in the truth that we are indeed children of God. The fact that we carry out these things is proof of our adoption. They are how we live as children of God. What a great God for allowing us these wonderful means of drawing close to Him.

PRAYER

Father of all, thank you for the gift of repentance and the means to draw close to you. Amen

Life Changing: Service and Submission

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” [Ephesians 5:21]

As Stefan said on the weekend, this part of the Bible’s teaching is perhaps the most counter-cultural of all the spiritual disciplines. I was watching some of the anti-govt protests in America and there were signs saying things like, “No one has the right to tell us what to do!” If there’s a phrase that sums up our idea of freedom this is it. As we used to say when we were kids, “You’re not to the boss of me.”

In nearly all discussion about submission the underlying assumption is that it’s being forced upon us. The point with submission as the Bible speaks about it is that it’s not to be taken but willingly given.
Submission means “yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.” But in the Bible we are to submit even to those who have no authority over us.

So what does God mean here when he says through the Apostle Paul, “Submit to one another.”? It seems pretty clear, but as I try to work out in practice what it means I find myself wanting to say “Yes, but…” and I hedge it around with so many exceptions that I empty the words of any meaning.

I’m OK about submitting to God, at least in theory, but it’s not so easy in practice.
What does that mean, for instance, in terms of what I watch on TV or the internet, when God says to fill my mind with things that are wholesome and pure? What does it mean in terms of that person I can’t get along with, or the person who has wronged me? What does submission to God look like at that point when he says “Do good to those who mistreat you”?
Can you see what I’m getting at? I really don’t want to submit, even to God at many points. How am I ever going to submit to others?

In what areas of your life are you having difficulty submitting to God? Are there parts of the Bible you wish weren’t there because they are so “in your face”?

Our submission to God is to be given willingly.

PRAYER
Lord make me willing to submit to you and help me to see where I am not submitting. Amen

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” [Ephesians 5:21]

It’s just the wrong word, isn’t it – “submit”.  I’d much prefer “love”, “care for”, “forgive” … almost anything else really. The idea of submitting to anyone is fraught with problems, but that is the word that Paul uses. There is no getting around it.

The trouble is that people misuse power. We do well to be careful.

Submitting to one another does not mean that we should put up with abuse. Heaven forbid! This is not a warrant for anyone to stay in an abusive relationship, for instance. That would be submitting to something that is contrary to God’s will. God hates all forms of abuse and staying in an abusive relationship is not loving to the other person – it merely enables them to continue in wrongdoing.

Yesterday I said that we may need to submit to those who have no authority over us. I need to explain that.  The passage is not saying that every single person should submit to every other person by obeying them, because it later goes on to talk of children obeying their parents, for instance. Paul goes on in the passage to describe the different ways we submit in family and society. So parents “submit” to their children by leading and guiding and disciplining. Parents “submit” to the needs of their children. We may be straying into the area of service at this point but the two are very closely linked.

John Piper puts it like this “Submitting yourself to someone means not rebelling with a sense of superiority or a feeling that you are too good to stoop and help when someone puts upon you for service. It’s what Paul means when he says in Ephesians 4:1–2, “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called in all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love.” And in Romans 15:2, “Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to edify him.” And Romans 12:10, “Outdo one another in showing honour.” And Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in lowliness count each other better than yourselves.” [John Piper]

Submission is a form of service, the other of the two spiritual disciplines we’ve been looking at this week.

It’s about humility; putting others’ will above our own. Let’s be honest – most battles of the will are not about truth or right and wrong. If they were, we’d have no trouble; we’d do what God says to do. No, most of our problem with submission is that we want what is best for us, not others, or we want things done our way.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” [Philippians 2:3-4]

PRAYER

Lord God, give me a humble spirit that want what is best for others. Amen

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” [Ephesians 5:21]

Today I’d like to draw your attention to how we are to submit to others. “Out of reverence for Christ.”, Paul says. This also applies to our service of others.

Our motivation to submit to others and to serve them is far bigger than our respect or love for them. That is a good thing because it is not always easy to respect or love others. If my service of others depended on those things, then it would be patchy at best. No, we act out of reverence for Christ.

Our service could be motivated by all sorts of things – compassion, duty, compulsion, or even guilt. But just as we’re called to do all things for the glory of God, so Paul tells us that we submit out of reverence for Christ and we serve for the same reason. Peter says:

“If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” [1 Peter 4:11]

And Jesus, after washing his disciples’ feet, said to them:

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” [John 13:12-14]

As we serve, as we submit, it honours our Lord. Our submission and our service may not be appreciated by those we serve or submit to, but it brings honour to Jesus as we do those things to honour him. It is him we are serving as we do these things. We are bringing him praise and honour. We are reverencing him – we are showing that he is indeed our Lord and Master and that he is worth whatever cost our submission may bring in terms of humility.

PRAYER

Lord give me a heart that wants first and foremost your glory. Amen

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”  [1 Peter 2:13-14] See also Titus 3:1, Romans 13:1-7

And again, talking about church leaders:

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” [Hebrews 13:17]

The Bible is consistent at this point of submitting to those over us. Again, this is not an absolute rule as we should not disobey the Lord in order to submit to those over us. In John’s third letter he speaks about Diotrephes, who seems to be a church leader, in the following terms:

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” [3 John 9-10]

However, even in those cases where we do not submit to others, there should be respect and care.

The Bible’s view about submission to others is that all those who can call for our submission have been placed in positions of authority by God. God is sovereign. In Romans 13 Paul says that society cannot function well without those who rule. In fact, Paul says that to rebel against the authorities is to rebel against God (Romans 13:1-6). This submission even involves paying taxes.

It seems to me that we are allowed to dispute with our Government but to do so in a way that is lawful. So, the recent protests against government lockdowns are fine, being an acceptable means of putting our views out, but disregarding the rules on social distancing in those protests is contrary to what the Bible says about submitting. Submission does not mean agreement. It means that even if I disagree, I will defer to your right to govern me at this point, and I will do it with great respect towards you.

PRAYER

Father, sometimes all that is inside us cries out for rebellion. Please give us hearts that want to honour you by honouring the decisions of those you have given authority over us. Amen

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” [John 15:10]

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  [John 13:12-17]

And so we come to the passage preached on last weekend. Notice again the motivation for serving. We are to be like our Lord and Master. If it was good enough for Jesus to do that menial task, then it’s good enough for us.

Really, there is not a lot in my mind that is worse than washing someone else’s feet but as we know there was more to it in Jesus’ day. It was a humiliating thing to do. It was the role of the person on the very bottom of the pecking order. Jesus didn’t stand on his dignity. He was “Lord and Teacher” and yet he was not above washing feet.

He lived out what he taught –  “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” [Mark 9:35]

We talk lots about the importance of using our gifts, and it is important, but our gifts are to enable us to serve others, not for our own aggrandisement. We love the perks that come with position; the dedicated car space, the office, the new car, the admiration and respect of others, but it doesn’t often enter our heads that with it comes servanthood. Position is not so that others can serve us, but that we can serve others. Here is Jesus again turning things upside down.

Do you find yourself standing on your dignity?

Do you treasure the perks?

Are there things that need to be done that are beneath you?

You know you don’t necessarily need any gifts to serve others – to do what needs to be done. All we need to do is to swallow our pride.

And the result of doing the humiliating things, the lowly things, is that we will be blessed. God will bless us. It doesn’t get much better than that.

We avoid serving in lowly ways because we think it will lessen us and lessen our enjoyment of life. Jesus says that serving others will be life-enhancing.

PRAYER

Holy God, your Son Jesus was a servant. Make me one too.  Amen

Life Changing: Celebration and Sabbath

22” But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” [Galatians 5:22]

If joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (and note the word “fruit” is singular in the original – there is one fruit and it involves all of these qualities. Paul doesn’t envisage us having kindness, for instance, without the other aspects) then it stands to reason that the Godhead is joyful. God is the source of the fruit after all, yet the concept of a joy-filled God is foreign to many people. The Bible says that God does whatever pleases him. [Psalm 115:3, 135:6; Ephesians 1:5,9]

What about you? Are you joyful?

Jesus prayed for his followers that they would be filled with His joy.  

13 ‘I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. [John 17:13]

Peter says,
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, [1 Peter 1:8]

Paul commanded his readers to rejoice in the Lord always. [Phil 4:4]

This joy is meant to strengthen us. Nehemiah says the joy of the Lord is your strength.” [Nehemiah 8:10]

Our joy in the Lord can act like Teflon, forming a barrier around us that causes the troubles and stains of this life to have little effect.

What do you think prevents us from experiencing this joy in the Lord?

We’ll be taking a look at that over the rest of this week.

PRAYER

Lord God, fill me with all joy in believing. Amen

4” Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:4-7]

I’ve always found it challenging that Paul’s first words are not a suggestion that we should rejoice, or that it would be a good thing if we rejoiced. No, Paul’s words are as they seem. Do it! This is an imperative, a command. “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

And it’s not just here but also in 2:18, 3:1. It’s a theme in Philippians. As Kent Hughes says “Paul wasn’t writing while he lounged in a Roman bath or sipped espresso in Café Roma. We must never forget that Paul delivered his defiant command to rejoice whatever the circumstances when it was unsure whether he would live or die and while he was confined to helplessly watching his competitors and enemies make advances among the churches of Rome and Philippi.” [R Kent Hughes Philippians, Colossians and Philemon  p167]

What makes Paul think you can “do” rejoicing?

Notice the following:

“Always” – that really leaves no room for ifs or buts: no loopholes or excuses.

“In the Lord” – joy comes as we live a life oriented towards God.

Paul is saying “you are suffering, you are undergoing trials, nevertheless rejoice in the Lord.”

So how can Paul command joy? Joy comes to those who make a deliberate choice to set their hearts on the Lord. And as Hughes says “Rejoicing in the Lord is not a luxury – it is a necessity.” [p168]

How can we do this?

Well, it’s of note that after Paul’s second command in as many words in verse 5 “(let your gentleness be evident to all”) he says “the Lord is near.”

That does not mean “the Lord is coming soon” but rather “he is right at hand.” He is as close as he can be for he dwells in us by His Spirit. Is that not a cause to rejoice? As we keep that in the forefront of our minds and meditate on it we will be filled with joy.

It is a question of constantly reminding ourselves what our God has done for us in Christ. “The Lord is near.”

PRAYER

Father please keep my mind returning to the fact that you are near. Amen

4” Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:4-7

The second thing to note in this passage is that Paul gives us another strategy to becoming joy-filled. He tells us not to be anxious about anything. Again it’s not a suggestion. It’s in what is known as the “imperative mood”. It’s a command. Further, just as his command to rejoice allows no exceptions or excuses (“always”) so this command is also absolute. He says “have no anxiety about anything.” No exceptions.

Nothing rids life of its joy like anxiety. We are living in the midst of an anxiety epidemic. Beyond Blue tells us that in any one year two million Australians will have anxiety. It is the most common mental health issue in Australia today.

So how we do get rid of anxiety?

Paul says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:6-7]

It is a complex issue and there may be a number of underlying physical conditions that require medication. However, part of the process of healing will be to be able to trust God with the matter and be confident that he will work it out in the best way and will give us the strength to cope with whatever may occur. We do that by prayer.

Notice the “condition”, though? We pray “with thanksgiving”. We pray but we are also give thanks. This a tough call sometimes. He is not saying “thank God for the thing that’s making you anxious.” No! We’re back to what it means to “Rejoice in the Lord.” We give thanks for His love for us, His rescue of us, the inheritance He has waiting for us, the gift of His Spirit, and so much more. We thank him for his blessings.

Seriously friends, if you want to overcome your anxiety issues get medical help, but each day count your blessings one by one and give God thanks. If you want to bask in the joy of the Lord, make it a habit to be thankful. It will change your life. The joy of the Lord will indeed be your strength.

The result? “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

PRAYER

Loving Father, teach me to count my blessings and to cast all my cares upon you.  Amen

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” [Phil. 4:8-9]

This follows straight on from the passage about rejoicing and concludes in the same way, with God’s peace.

Here is the next strategy for being joy-filled.

You become what you fill your minds with. If you allow your mind to dwell on things that are negative or unhelpful, those things will begin to dominate your thinking.  Paul says fill your minds with things are going to be helpful – things that are lovely and admirable. Verse 9 indicates that he’s thinking of filling our minds with the things of God.

He says the same thing in Colossians:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” [Col. 3:1-2]

And again in Galatians:

 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. [Gal. 6:8]

This is not Paul laying down the law so much as telling us what is good for us. If you want life a life of joy, do what is necessary to sow the seeds of joy into your heart – live a life full of thanksgiving, and fill your minds with the things of God. And as we’ve seen in the past week, that involves the Bible and recalling it to mind in meditation and memorising it.

Are you sowing the seeds of joy into your heart? Are you following the Apostle’s advice on how to do that? Although joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit we nevertheless can put ourselves in a place where He is able to do his work or we can hinder Him.

PRAYER

Dear God, Give me the desire to sow the seeds that please the Spirit in my heart. Amen

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” [Phil. 4:8-9]

The last thing Paul says in this passage about sowing joy into our lives is that we need to put what he has said into practice.

It is not good going to the doctor, getting a script for medication and then not taking it. In Philippians 4, Paul has given a script for joy. Rejoice in the Lord, give thanks, remind yourself that the Lord is near, ask the Lord to take care of the things in your life that make you anxious, and fill your minds with things that will focus you on the things of God.

Paul says this will lead to peace.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil 4:7]

God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds. The word “guard” means “garrison”. His peace is our protection. It reminds me of the words of Nehemiah we looked at last week. Just as the joy of the Lord is our strength so the peace of the Lord is our defence. This passage puts joy and peace together.

Paul’s last words in this passage are Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

What a promise.

Life will not always be easy, Paul testified to that on numerous occasions. The wonder of our relationship with God is that while in the midst of pain and difficulties we have a joy and a peace that cannot be undermined by anything this life throws at us. We can rejoice in the Lord.

Of course, if we don’t put these things into practice it does not mean we are not a child of God, but rather it prevents us from the blessings of joy and peace.

PRAYER

My God and Father, please help me to listen to the leading of your Spirit to put these things into practice.  Amen

Life Changing: Meditation and Study

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of Go may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17]

It’s easy to read the Bible and for it to have no impact on our lives. If we were to but put what God says into practice its relevance would be huge.

It was great to hear from Paul Hudson on the weekend about his Bible reading habit. He said he was struck by the cost paid by so many in Reformation times to make sure we could have the Bible in our own language. For them it was so important that some risked their lives and yet here was he with a number of Bibles in his house that he hardly ever read. Since then he has only missed reading the word 3 days in the past two and a half years.

He said forming a habit was really important for him.

It’s not that every time we read the Bible we will be impacted. That does happen from time to time, but Paul talked about how reading day after day formed his thinking patterns, and built his picture of God. What you immerse yourself in becomes the way you think. It’s this day by day filling our minds with the words of God that starts to affect our world view.

Jesus himself said “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The words of the Bible are the actual words of God. Are we feasting on them?

You know you can’t separate God from his word. Jesus himself said “ For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” God is present in his words. You read the word and you get the Father.

PRAYER

God give me a hunger for your word.

“I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”  [Psalm 119:15]

And again “I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.” [Psalm 119:99]

Today we move on in our consideration of study and meditation on the word.

The Old Testament speaks often about meditating on the word.

The Hebrew word used for meditate means “to murmur, ponder, imagine, mutter, speak, study, talk, or utter”. Another word for “meditate’ is “ruminate”. When we ruminate we “chew” on something, like a cow chewing the cud. It sounds a little gross but the same way that the cow chews grass, swallows it and then brings it back up and chews it some more, we digest the word of God.  That is what meditating, or ruminating on the word of God is like. The first time we read the word and take it in, but we then go back over it in our minds and consider what it means and how it applies. We meditate on it.

In the New Testament the word “meditate” is not used in our translations but we find similar words like “consider”. So Jesus says

“Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”  [Luke 8:18]

The writer to the Hebrews says “Let us consider how to stir each other up to love and to good works.” [Hebrews 10:24]

Meditation is considering carefully.

Here are some tips for meditating on the word:

  • Read the passage and then go back over it and ask questions:
    • What is this passage actually saying – how would I put this in my own words?
    • What is the main point here?
    • Where does this fit in the main story line of the Bible?
    • Does it tell me anything about God and his character?
    • What does it tell me about me?
    • Is there some direction for me or something to avoid?

Not all these questions will be relevant to every passage you read. Don’t let that stop you asking.

  • Some people find reading the passage out loud to be helpful.
  • You might find it useful to write things down. Some people find it helpful to journal or diarise their answers.

PRAYER

Father teach me to meditate on your word.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6:6-9]

There are a couple of women in our church who phone each other every morning and read a passage of scripture together and then talk about it. There is no better way to meditate on the word or God than to discuss it. That is one of the reasons that our Growth Groups are so important. They give us the opportunity on a regular basis, to talk about the Bible. There is no reason it should stop there though. If you have others living in your household why not discuss with them what you are reading, and maybe ask them the questions we talked about in yesterday’s devotion. You could get a Bible buddy and text each other each morning with the passage your both reading and your thoughts and questions.

The idea in Deuteronomy of putting the word of God in places to remind you of it is helpful as well. In fact the patriarchs often put up or enacted symbols to remind them of God and his actions and words. The festivals, for instance, were designed to do just that. One example is the Passover Feast, where symbolic actions were tied to the words and actions of God. Our communion services are meant to do just that.

To help your rumination on the word why not write out helpful passages or verses on piece of card and blue tack to your bathroom mirror, or put it on the fridge, or somewhere on the desk or on a corner of the computer screen? That’s a helpful thing to do if your trying to memorise verses of the Bible, but more about that in tomorrow’s devotion.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” [John 6:68]

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, please keeping bringing to my mind your words of life.

“I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles.”[ 2 Peter 3:2]

Memorising scripture seems to be a forgotten art these days, but what a great way to recall the words of the Lord, and to meditate on them. If you haven’t made memorising parts of the Bible a habit, why not give it a go? As you chew over the words to memorise them you can chew over their meaning as well.

Here’s an example of a well-known verse:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]

As you memorise it you can meditate by asking the questions:

  • What is “the world”? Is God’s love universal?
  • Why does it say “God’s one and only Son” instead of just “Son”? Is that significant?
  • Why does “Son” have a capital letter?
  • What does it mean to believe in Jesus?
  • What does perish “mean”? Does it mean merely “cease to exist” or something more? How can I find out?
  • How can I be sure that I truly believe? Is it possible to believe without conviction?
  • How can I be sure I’m saved

If you decide to start out on the memorising pathway, write out a verse, put it on a post-it note and put it somewhere you’ll often see it. Alternatively, put the verse away but bring it out to go through it at certain points of the day, e.g. when you start a new task, when you have a coffee etc.

I used the Navigators Topical Memory System with 72 verses to memorise. The beauty of this system is that the verse you learn is in a passage that unpacks the verse or gives more meaning, so you learn the verse and you get an index to some of the things the Bible says on that topic. Find information about the Navigators Topical Memory System here.

Give it a go.

12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. [2 Peter 1:12-15]

PRAYER

Lord God, help me to get your word into my mind and heart.

29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” [Matthew 22:29-32]

Jesus’ method of dealing with his opponents here is instructive. They came to try and trick him up with what seems to be a pretty sophisticated theological problem. Jesus points them to God’s word. He says “you only need to know your Bible to be able to work out the answer, and by the way you’re suppositions are all wrong.” Why are they wrong? They think there will be weddings in heaven, that is where they are in error.

They just didn’t know their Bibles well enough. There are a couple of things to note in this passage:

  • Firstly, Jesus treats the Old Testament as authoritative. It is the standard for deciding on life’s issues.
  • Secondly, even the tense of the verb is important. So the individual words themselves are God’s actual words. He says “Have you not read what God said..” [verse 31]. Jesus then goes on to base his argument on the tense of the verb – he says that God said “I am the God of Abraham” etc., not “I was the God of Abraham” etc. So Abraham must still be alive, and hence there is a resurrection of the dead.

In Galatians 3 Paul bases an argument on the fact that the word “seed” is actually plural in the Old Testament. [Gal 3:16]

  • Thirdly, if you want to know God’s mind on most issues you will find it in the Bible. You will, however, need to work at understanding and synthesising what you read. There are lots of aids to help us do this.
    • Commentaries are books written to unpack what the Bible says. Each commentary normally focus on one book of the Bible. They are invaluable if you really want to understand the Bible. Why not buy one and have it open as you read the Bible?
    • There are many good books [and many rubbishy one too] that deal with themes in the Bible, such as the different sorts of God’s love, the meaning of the gospel, and what happened on the cross. You name it and there will be a book written on it. A good book to start with in this area would be “Desiring God” by John Piper.
    • A concordance is a book that lists all the mentions of a particular word in the Bible, so that you can read what the Bible says elsewhere about the thing you’re looking at. Some Bibles have a simple one at the back end.

You can study the Bible without having to spend a lot of time or enrol at a Bible college. You just need to put in a little work. Make it a plan to study for half an hour one morning a week, maybe on your day off. Get one of the aids mentioned above and go for it.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  [Hebrews 4:12]

PRAYER

Lord God Almighty, Give me a heart for your word.