Ephesians 1:15-23 – Know God’s Power

Ephesians 1:15-16 “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

Prayer is one of the great gifts that God has given us. A chance to speak directly to our creator, whenever we need to. How often though do we take prayer for granted and turn it into a wish list of things that we want? When we are tired or feeling deflated, it can be particularly easy to focus just on getting through prayer and turning it into a grocery list about ourselves.

We see here however Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians and the importance of praying for one another. Paul notes he has prayed endlessly for the faith of the church in Ephesus. He is continually thankful for them and the encouragement they are to him. He sees too the power of God to change people’s lives, acknowledging the work God has done to bring them into his family.

When we come to our own church and our own prayer lives, are we continually thankful for the brothers and sisters we have here in Menai? Do we thank God regularly for the encouragement they are to us? Do we praise God for his saving grace and his power of bringing people into his family? For some the answer to these questions may be yes, but for many of us our prayer lives, particularly now in lockdown, may have lost these areas as we focus on getting through each day.

May we see Paul’s desire and joy to pray for the church and Ephesus as an encouragement to us to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters and to thank God for the work he has done in their lives.

Prayer

Spend some time praying for our church leaders and the members of our church. Thank God for saving them and pray that he would be sustaining them in this challenging time. Consider adding the names of individuals or groups to a prayer app like Prayermate so that you have an ongoing prompt; allowing others to become a regular part of your prayer life.

Ephesians 1:17-18a “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of you heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…”

Sometimes when we pray for others and their walk with the Lord, we can get a bit stuck on what to say. That can happen with all prayers, but today’s passage shows us a window into how Paul prays for the Ephesian church’s faith and we can use this to help guide us in our own prayers.

Paul prays for three specific things in this passage. The first is that God will give them “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better.” Without God working in us, our knowledge and relationship with him will be warped. Paul is praying that God will continue to move in the hearts of the Ephesians through the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, Paul prays that the Ephesians hearts will be soft towards God so that they will know the hope that comes from being part of God’s people – the hope of heaven and the inheritance that only comes from being a son or daughter of God.

Finally, he prays that the church will know of God’s power, reminding the people that this power to save them, is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. This reminder is an encouragement to anyone struggling to believe that God can save a sinner like them. If God can do the unthinkable with Jesus, he can save us.

As you pray for others faith in Jesus, consider using these three areas to shape your prayers. Regardless of where someone is at in their walk with God, these three areas are applicable to all people to start or continue their relationship with God.

Prayer

Spend time praying for three people using the pattern Paul gives us in this passage. Consider praying for them regularly for a period of time and maybe even let the person know you have been praying for them and their walk with God so that they can feel encouraged and maybe share specific points to supplement your prayers.

Ephesians 1:16 “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

One of the biggest challenges we are facing at the moment while in lockdown is how helpless we feel. We are stuck at home, watching the world through a screen and wishing we could do something to make it be over faster.

This sense of helplessness is probably something Paul felt while stuck in prison writing this letter to the Ephesians. But Paul used this time to pray and write to churches, encouraging them from afar and making the best of the situation he had been given.

Sometimes, our only option is to pray. While we are stuck in lockdown, this is made all the clearer to us as we have less opportunity to do anything else, but this is not a concept exclusively for lockdown. As God’s people, we should be dependent on him to solve the problems we face and not look to our own strength. As God’s people we should first pray, rather than act when we are faced with a challenge.

As we continue to read Paul’s letter, may we be reminded to turn first to God for our help, and not to the world.

Hands on Experience

Spend some time reading the following passages, which focus on prayer: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 1 John 5:14, James 5:13 & Philippians 4:6. Reflect on each and consider how this will change your prayer life.

Ephesians 1:20-21 “…he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”

Different authors use different techniques to help you get to know their characters. Some describe them in great detail, with pages and pages of background to give the reader deep insight. Others might leave all the details out and keep it to the basics to help the reader put themselves in the place of the protagonist. While others might drop the occasional clue that the reader needs to collect like breadcrumbs to understand the big reveal at the end.

In this next part of Ephesians 1, Paul describes Jesus and his actions. Read again Ephesians 1:19-23. Can you imagine a more exalted picture of the rule of Christ and the power of God?

Paul writes with clarity that Jesus is the Christ and now rules above all others, not only now but in the years to come. We see that God enables this through his raising of Jesus from the dead and placing him in the place his is now, where he rules over all things.

The description that Paul makes of Jesus we see that the cross and Jesus’ resurrection guarantee our present security and wonderful eternal future. There is total victory described in these verses. Jesus has won and we as his followers, can enjoy the benefit of his victory. Jesus is so far above all that he has conquered that we have nothing to fear from the evil powers of the world. He has limitless power and majestic rule and he is the one who loves and cares for us more than we can imagine. What an amazing Lord we worship!

Prayer

Spend some time praising God as you reflect on today’s passage. Ask God to help you stand firm when you are afraid, knowing you have him on your side, who is above all else.

Have you ever looked at your watch and forgotten to actually take in the time so you have to take another glance? You may have even done this with your own reflection in the mirror when all of a sudden you forget what you looked like seconds after you glance in the mirror.

Read again our Ephesians passage from this week (Ephesians 1:15-23). As you read Paul’s words to the Ephesians, explaining the things he wishes they would know and understand, take a moment to take it all in. The reality that we have been given the Spirit of God. That our hearts have been enlightened and know the hope to which we have been called. That we have inheritance in heaven because of God’s great power and love for us all expressed in Jesus.

In the quiet and stillness of lockdown, take some time to reflect on these truths and the joy that this gives us. The joy that can outlast the challenges of life and lockdown, the joy that will sustain you in trouble times and the joy that can change lives!

Family Fun Friday

This term at Infinity Kids, the children are looking at how we can share the good news of Jesus to our friends in our lives. Read this week’s Ephesians passage together (using the CEV just like at Kidspace) and ask the kids some head, heart and hands questions to help them understand the passage (what did you think? How did it make you feel? And what are you going to do in response?). Paul spent time praying for his friends in Ephesus and we can do the same in lockdown! Pick three friends to pray for – if they know Jesus that God will keep them strong in their faith, and if they don’t, that we will have opportunity to share with them and invite them to activities once we are out of lockdown. Consider writing the three friends a letter and mailing it on your walk so they know that they are loved by you and by God.

Ephesians 1:1-14 – Know God’s Blessings

Ephesians 1:1-2 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

When you introduce yourself to other people, what do you say? What are the words or phrases that you use to define yourself? We will often say our occupation or our relationship status as these are things that help people know who we are and how we fit in to society. A doctor, a teacher, a mother or a brother are clear roles and definitions that are clear markers to people we meet.

Paul, at the start of the letter to the church in Ephesus, opens with an introduction of himself in a way that gives clarity and shapes the body of the letter. He is writing as an apostle of Jesus and not by his will but the will of God. This is a very clear declaration by Paul that he knows he is part of God’s family and is a claim that we all as followers of Jesus should be willing to make with the same clarity and boldness.

How often we look to the world to define who we are and shape the way we engage with others. Sometimes it’s because we want to fit in, or we don’t want to offend or perhaps we haven’t declared this membership in so long we are out of practice. But as we look at Paul’s introduction, we see that for him it is the number one definer of who he is and so it should be for us too. May we see Paul’s declaration as a reminder to see our identity in Jesus first and not in things of the world.

Hands on Experience

How do you define yourself? Spend some time reading the introductory verse of Paul’s other letters (Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon). As you read these introductions, notice the differences but also see the similarity that Paul frequently claims that he belongs to Christ and is one of his followers. Spend some time praying that you will have the same boldness to proclaim your membership in Christ’s family.

Ephesians 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church was to be an encouragement to the church. The first half of the letter being to share the good work that God has done, and the second half is to live in response to God’s actions. This way of splitting the letter shows that the God we follow by living a certain way, is one that is worthy of our honour and praise. He does good works for all people and blesses even the worst of us if we put our faith in him – why would our response be anything but praise?

This next section of Ephesians (v3-14) lists out the many ways that God has blessed us and the reasons that our response to him is one of praise. It speaks of His grace which he has lavished upon us, that he chose us to be part of his family and that he loves us so much that he gave Christ for us.

Sometimes we may struggle to have our first reaction to God as one of praise. While we are stuck in lockdown, each struggling with different anxieties and annoyances, it can be very hard to start our day with praising God. But we know that even in these tough times, even when we can’t see clarity in our plans, our God is one that deserves our praise. He has blessed us beyond measure and meets our every need, through Jesus.

Prayer

As you start your day in lockdown, try to begin with praising God and thanking him for his blessings. Consider writing yourself a list of things you are thankful for across the day and use these to help shape your prayer of thanksgiving.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship[b] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

(Ephesians 1:4-6)

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

(Ephesians 1:11-12)

Here in Ephesians, Paul claims that one of the great blessings Christians have is that God has predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters. Not just that he has chosen us for heaven, but he has made it possible for us to be in his very own family, to be treated as children and not just as residents. What an incredible privilege.

And yet, for many Christians the concept of predestination seems unfair.  It makes us feel that we have no choice, that we do not have the free will to choose God. But friends, what makes you think that you would ever choose God? The Bible nowhere tells us that we have free will, instead it tells us that our wills are captive to sin.  Although we may do good things and think that we are basically good people, our whole lives are lived with us at the centre and not God. If it wasn’t for the sheer mercy and grace of God, we could never escape this disobedience. We deserve punishment; we deserve God’s wrath; we are by nature blameful and unholy.

But God in his love, before the world was even created, chose us and predestined us to be adopted as his own children.  He reached into this world and plucked us out of the slavery we were in.  Our response is to praise him for choosing us to be in a personal relationship with him as his children. There’s nothing negative about predestination. It is our underestimation of our sinfulness that stops us marvelling at what God has done for us.

Prayer

Take time to thank God that although you do not deserve his grace and mercy and cannot earn it, God in his amazing love has chosen you and predestined you to be part of his family and one of his children.

Written by Stefan Bull.

Ephesians 1:13-14 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

We are taught very early on that we can’t take credit for something that isn’t ours. Most notably this happened at school, as we put up books between ourselves and our desk partner to ensure no one could see our work on a test and take credit for our answers. As we got older, the punishment for plagiarism grew and now with software like “Turnitin” it’s much easier to be caught and to be punished.

In Ephesians 1, we see that we were given something that we didn’t deserve or work towards. We are given God’s grace and through Jesus’ death, our sins are removed and we can celebrate in his victory over death. It is not our work, but Jesus that gives us our salvation. Our God offers us this reward with us only needing to repent and turn to him. Not only that but we are given the seal of the Holy Spirit while here on earth to guide us, teach us and it is also a source of wisdom and power for those who believe.

As we think about the blessing that has been given to us in Christ that Paul writes in this passage, we should be moved to worship God. Paul is known for his asides in his letters where he exclaims his joy and the end of verse 14 is one such aside. As we read his words, we can exclaim this same joy and praise as we are overwhelmed by the love and grace of our Lord.

Prayer

Consider reading Psalm 149:1-5. Spend time meditating on the words of this psalm and praising our great God for his blessings, his grace and his mercy.

Ephesians 1:1-14

As we come to the end of our first week in Ephesians, go back and read the first 14 verses again. If you have kids, make sure you use the CEV bible to do this, just like we use in our Infinity Kids ministries.

As you read, make a list of all the things that God has done for us. Reflect on this list and think about what each of these things mean to you personally. Consider looking back at the sermon from the weekend and deep dive into what it means to be chosen or predestined, which is mentioned several times in the passage.

As you reflect on your list, spend time praising God for his blessings to us. Blessing that we don’t deserve, but through Christ’s love for us and God’s grace, we can enjoy wholeheartedly! Show your praise to God in a way that feels comfortable to you by singing, dancing, praying, reading his word, being still in nature or any other way that you express praise!

Family Fun Friday

As you read the passage, talk about how we can be thankful to God for all his blessings to us, but particularly the blessing of being part of his family and being saved from our sin through what Jesus did on the cross. Make a game of thanksgiving by having each family member go round in turn and say one thing they are thankful to God for – no double ups allowed! If someone repeats a praise point they are “out”. Maybe write your list down to refer back to during the week as you pray together as a family, making sure we keep praising and thanking God for the wonderful blessings he gives us!

Genesis 1:1-25 – God’s Powerful Word

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”
Genesis 1:1

When you think about the opening to a book, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the first line of a classic you studied at High School or even the more common starter of “once upon a time” we see in fairy tales.

The beginning of the Bible covers the beginning of the world as we are aware of it, but it was not the beginning of all time. God existed well before he created the earth, and the opening line of the Bible sets that truth out plainly. God is the beginning and the end. He holds the world together and is its beginning.

In the same way, when we first turn to God and engage with Him as our King, he becomes our beginning. We die to our old life and have a new beginning as one of his children. We are a new creation!

Do you remember your new beginning – the moment you turned to Jesus? Consider taking some time today to reflect on your own beginning as we consider the world’s beginning. Write down your own testimony as you read and reflect on the beginning that is written down for us in Genesis 1.

PRAYER

Spend some time praying as you consider your own new beginning. Thank God for his hand in your beginning, the people he put in your life and the experiences that have lead to where you made your decision to follow him.

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”
Genesis 1:2

At the very beginning of creation, the earth was a void of nothing. It had no order, no shape and was empty.

When given a blank page (whether literally or metaphorically) and asked to “create” many of us would be stumped. We may struggle to think about how to create something that is worthy, that others will enjoy or that will live up to the standards that we place on ourselves.

As you read through Genesis 1, take note of how God gives form and shape to the earth. Take note of how he fills the earth with life. It is a deliberate and considered plan that God rolls out with creation. He brings order to the void and fills it with beauty and life.

For anyone who has watched David Attenborough, you would know that the beauty of creation is in its dual complexity and simplicity. Every creature has its place, its unique way of doing things and its specific anomalies which we marvel at.

God truly understands all the world, including us, because he was the one who created the world. There is nothing that will confuse God. He is the master builder and has every intricacy considered and under control.

PRAYER

Give thanks for God’s wonderful creation and praise to God as the master creator.

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning-the first day.
Genesis 1:3-5

Genesis 1:3 records the first words of God – the creation of light.

Without light, there can be no life. Some of us might remember the equation for photosynthesis which requires light as one of the key ingredients to give plants life. And we as humans need light to live – for our own chemical mix up and for our emotions, because we are more complex than a plant after all! Light and warmth has been shown to have a massive impact on our heath and our mood.

Its not just the light from the sun or a bulb that we need. It’s the light that comes from God. The light in our darkness that provides us security and comfort in all circumstances. God is described throughout the bible as light and Jesus claims to be the light of the world in John 9:5. The light that we get from God is essential for our life both now and for eternity. It nurtures us and keeps us strong here on earth and will give us the comfort of knowing that we have our eternity with him.

When we have Jesus as our King, we too become light “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:14a, 16). Let us share God’s light with others, shining back to Him the ultimate creator and giver of life.

Hands On Experience:

Consider turning off all the lights in your room and sitting with the family in the dark. Does someone feel afraid? Are there little people inching closer to where they think safety will be? For those who aren’t afraid of the dark, are you feeling a little uncomfortable?

Now add some light. Put on a torch. Light a candle. Or go big and put on every light in the space!

What difference does the light make? Light gives us security and comfort. When we have light we can have life. Spend some time thanking God for being the Light of the World – maybe even do it every time you turn on a light!

“And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”
Genesis 1:20

Over the next stretch of verses from where we left off yesterday, we see God’s creation unfold. From the creation of sky, land, plants, the sun, the moon and stars across days two through to four. Each creation is formed for a purpose and with a plan. Each creation is described by God as “good”, and we get to see and experience that goodness for ourselves every day!

On day five, we see the first living and breathing animals created – the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea. All were made according to their kinds and God blessed them (v22) telling them to multiply to fill the sky and the seas. We see a similar series of events with the creation of land animals.

God’s plan was to fill the sky with birds, the earth with animals and the sea with fish. There are an estimated over 10,000 different types of birds, from the smallest of hummingbirds to the largest of ostriches. In the ocean there is roughly 700,000 to 1 million different sea creatures. From a pygmy sea horse to the largest animal on earth, the blue whale. The seas are so full of creatures, we can’t even catalogue them all!

What does all this reveal about God? Our God is creative beyond measure. He embraces diversity in creation in a way we can’t quite capture or comprehend. If anyone ever claims God is boring, point them to creation. Go to a zoo, on a hike or to a beach and wonder at God’s creation.

Hands on Experience:

Spend some time marvelling at God’s creation – watch a nature special, google some exotic animals to see just how considered and intricate God creation is or simply sit outside and look up at the moon and stars. As you take all this in, give God thanks and praise for his creation, his creativity and the joy that he gives us through it all.

Genesis 1:1-25

As we come to the end of the week, read through the full passage once more. As you read, take notice of the structure of the passage. Take note of where each day is the same. Take note of where each day is different. What do these similarities and differences help us to see in creation? It may be that these differences help to spotlight creation, while the similarities show how God had a deliberate and planned approach to creation, or you may have a different way of looking at the poetry in how this passage has been written.

No matter what the style means to you, what is undisputed is the amazing thing that is the story of creation and God’s intimate involvement in every step of the process.

What does the creation account reveal about God? How are you going to respond?

Consider taking a look at Psalm 8 and 19. The psalmist here responds to creation by praising God.  We may not all be poets or able to write as eloquently as the psalmist, but we can all take time to praise God!

Family Fun Friday

After you read the passage together, maybe having each family member read a day each, head outside and take a look at God’s creation. You may want to play a game of “I spy” to do this with your family. After each spied item has been guessed, work out which day it was created, one reason why it is good and thank God for the particular creation.

Genesis 1:26-31 – God’s Good World

Genesis 1:26a “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness”

The children’s classic “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” has a very distinct pattern to it. We follow along as the bear hunters work through a number of obstacles, when suddenly the pattern breaks. We sit up and take notice – without any other hints other than this break in the pattern, we know something big is about to happen!

In the same way Genesis 1 has very clear pattern to how the first few days of creation are described. There is a clear structure and repetition of phrases, when suddenly there is a break in the pattern. We sit up and take notice – this next creation is the climax of the creation story!

The distinction of the creation of humans is important. This is the first creation that is made in God’s image, a phrase repeated a number of times throughout the few verses. God also blesses and provides instruction to this creation; He gives them authority and gives them specific detail around how they are to live in this new creation.

Take some time to read all of Genesis 1 and notice how the creation of man stands out in the writing and differs from all other areas of creation. Think about what this means that we are created in God’s image. Spend some time praying over your reflections and thanking God for his “very good” creation.

Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”

What is something that you are in charge of? Perhaps it’s a team at work. Perhaps it’s the decisions around what food the family is going to eat. Or perhaps it’s the TV remote so that you can ensure you get to watch your favourite program!

When God created man, he put humans in charge – they were to rule over all other areas of creation that roam this earth. What a big responsibility!

Today, we still have this responsibility on us. How do you think we have gone? As a general population, we might mourn over how we have taken advantage of this power by misusing God’s creation. Species have become extinct; resource distribution is inequitable, and pollution causes issues both for animals and people alike.

But each of us can consider this responsibility from God, to rule over our world, and consider how we can do this in a way that honors Him and His creation. The Bible makes it clear that each and every one of us has this responsibility – not just governments, companies and conservationists! By caring for the world in a God centered way, we can be lights to Christ for others – “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)

Prayer

Spend some time thinking about our governance of God’s creation. As you reflect pray that we each can be more intentional in thinking about how we care for the earth that God created and that we would be accountable for our own actions.

The Image of God

Genesis 1:27 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”

When babies are born, we spend a lot of time saying, “she looks like you” or, “he’s got his father’s chin”. Working out which particular family member’s image a child resembles is often discussed and goes into adulthood.

When we think about being created in the image of God, is it just our physical image that we are comparing like we do with babies? Perhaps that is part of it, but there is so much more involved in being created in God’s image and likeness.

One in particular that stands out is our ability to relate. We can connect with others and enter into relationships with them. We can have an existence filled with personal connections, we can share with others and relate with them. God wants us, too, to be relating with Him! When he created humans, God got personal and wants to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us. This has not changed in all the years of human existence and is made possible through Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for our sin.

Hands on Experience  (Adapted from Matthias Media study)

The concept of “the image of God” is echoed throughout the Bible. Spend some time in God’s word reading the following passages and thinking about what this means for you – Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:15 & Colossians 3:9-10.

Spend some time giving thanks to God for his personal creation of mankind and ultimate fulfilment of his plan for us through Jesus.

Grace in Creation

Genesis 1:29 “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has seed in it. They will be yours for food.””

As we come to the end of the passage for this week, we see instruction from God in relation to what humans are able to eat. This small detail can be easily overlooked but what does this show us about God’s character?

We have seen that God is a marvellous creator, but in this verse we are first introduced to God’s astounding grace. God didn’t just create humans and send them off wishing them well. No, God provided them with what they needed to sustain life. He also put them exactly where they needed to be to survive. The chances of our planet having all the necessary parameters for life is 1 in 10×166 (that’s 10 with 166 zeros after it!) and it is through God’s grace that the impossible odds of survival are fulfilled.

Let’s remember too that this was all done without humans needing to earn anything. From the very start humans needed God’s grace to survive and nothing has changed. Our eternal lives also depend on God’s grace – “by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)

Hands on Experience

God’s grace is shown time and time again in the Bible and we don’t have to look too hard to see His grace surrounding us even now.

Spend some time saying grace around the dinner table, thanking God not just for his provision of food, but all the ways that he has shown his grace to us in our lives. Consider having each family member share a ‘popcorn prayer’* of grace before each meal over the next week and see how many ways God shows his amazing grace to us!

*A ‘popcorn prayer’ is a short, one sentence prayer thanking God for one item at a time.

The Creation of Humanity

Genesis 1:26-31

Spend some time today reading the passage again and thinking about what stood out to you most in the account of the creation of humanity. Is it that we are created in God’s likeness? Is it God’s grace in providing humanity with all that they need to survive? Is it the challenge that we are to rule over creation? Whatever it is for you, use this to help how you respond to God today in prayer and praise.

The teaspoon prayer (tsp – thanks, sorry, please) is an easy structure to help you in this:

  • Thank and praise him for his great works and astounding grace.
  • Repent for the times we have taken God’s grace for granted and the times we have not been good rulers of his creation.
  • Ask him to help us as we rule over his creation; that we would be a just and gracious ruler in the same way that our God is and that we would never lose sight of the amazing blessing that God’s grace is in our lives!

Family Fun Friday

Read the passage together as a family (consider using the CEV bible just like we do in our Infinity ministry groups). Spend some time creating a family portrait. You could draw, make pipe-cleaner people, or even create likenesses using biscuits and icing! Feel free to use an existing picture if you don’t have time to create one!

Once you have your creation, discuss how each one of you has been created unique and special, but all are in the likeness of God just like we see in this passage. Take time to pray together, thanking God that he made humans special!

Genesis 2:1-25 – Life in the Garden

Genesis 2:2-3 “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Often when we ask someone how they are going they answer, “busy”. We probably have used this same response ourselves! This feeling of busyness may not be that we have a long list of tasks, but the outcome of the world we live in. We have 24-hour, direct access to the world and although having everything at our literal fingertips is a blessing, this leads to a feeling of frenzy and exhaustion.

When God rested on the seventh day, it wasn’t so much because he was tired, but rather that he was showing us the example of the importance of rest. We all need to stop and take time out of our schedules, put the phone away and rest.

In the New Testament, we see Jesus rebuke the Pharisees for their misunderstanding of the Sabbath when the disciples were picking grain (Mark 2:23-27). Jesus says, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (v27). This shows the Sabbath is not a rule for us to follow, but God’s invitation for us to rest and spend time with him as we rest.

Jesus invites us to rest in him in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Will you take up Jesus’ offer this week to rest?

Prayer

Spend some time asking God to help you put aside a portion of your day (or a whole day) to rest; where you can spend time in his word, listening to worship music and praying. Pray that God will help you to set time aside regularly to rest in Him.

Genesis 2:7-8 “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.”

We never realise how important breathing is until we are unable to do it with ease. This pandemic has given us dramatic stories of people gasping for air as they struggle to battle COVID, and oxygen being in short supply in other countries as they try to treat people. For many of us, a simple blocked nose leaves us longing for the days when our nose wasn’t blocked. It’s hard to believe we take something so important for granted!

In these verses, we see a more detailed description of how God created man. The words here show God formed man and gave him the “breath of life”. This description shows our God lovingly and meticulously creating humans and then giving them life! The word used in the original language implies, this isn’t just oxygen, but the very essence of being a person – our emotions, desires and passions.

Not only that, but God gives Adam a distinct place and purpose for his life. God didn’t let Adam roam around the earth but put him in a particular place with a particular purpose. This is not something unique to Adam either. God has given us all a specific purpose in our lives, and we were born at the exact right time and exact right place to fulfil it.

In these times when our plans have all been changed and we are left to consider a new way of thinking, remember that God created you, loves you and has a plan for your life, just as he did for Adam.

Prayer

Spend some time thanking God for his love and that he has a plan for each of us. Ask him to help you be content and trust his plan, particularly when it doesn’t align with our own ideas!

Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it”

In this short verse we see that God’s plan for Adam wasn’t just to enjoy creation, but to tend to it as it needs. This plan has not changed much for us; we still need to tend to God’s creation and although we may not work the land like Adam, work and serving is still a big aspect of our life.

As we thought about last week, we don’t always do the best job caring for God’s creation. And in our work life, we may struggle to give our best in all aspects of our role as our ego, tiredness and time gets in the way. How we serve the church, and in particular the people within the building, is also something we all can struggle with.

Colossians 3:23 reminds us that “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for human masters”. This passage prompts us to think about how we are to approach our lives, but also this original purpose for man that God set out to Adam.

As we work, serve and take care of creation, how can we change our approach to shine a light for Jesus?

Prayer

Spend some time thanking God for his plan for us to work and care for creation. Ask God to give us energy and perseverance in how we approach the task of caring for creation and working and that we would shine for him in all that we do.

Genesis 2:16 “And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.””

Follow your dreams! Do what makes you happy! YOLO! These phrases have become commonplace in our society as the culture cry – we should live with ourselves as number one, doing what pleases us and fulfills us in the moment. We are almost encouraged to question authority and answer only to ourselves for our choices and actions.

This passage shows God commanding Adam with a clear consequence laid out for disobeying. Like a loving parent, God knows what is best for Adam and us. But what people can miss is that there is a blessing attached to God’s commands as well. For Adam, obeying this command would mean life and not death. There are multiple passages in the Bible that tell us that when we submit to God, we will be rewarded and blessed. This doesn’t mean we submit to God for the reward, rather we should submit to him out of love and God will reward us as a result.

God asks us to trust him and his guidance, and not our own feelings about things. Regardless of whether we listen to God, he has authority over us. Everyone has the choice of whether we will submit to him in how we live, looking to God to guide our choices and actions, rather than ourselves. When we submit to God, we experience a blessed life!

Hands on Experience

Spend some time looking up the following verses about submitting to God:

  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • James 4:7
  • Job 22:21-22
  • Psalm 37:4

Think about what truly submitting to God will mean for how you live and pray for God to help you put him first. Consider keeping a journal of the impact of submitting to God as a reminder of his love and goodness in your life.

Genesis 2:19 “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

For most of us, we will only ever have to name our children and pets. This is a process for many that leads to stress – we don’t want to end up accidentally choosing a name like “Callum Murray” (as we see in the Dare Iced Coffee ads) that will result in years of humiliation. Imagine Adam in this situation from today’s verse, with every animal coming to him for naming. Talk about pressure!

These verses show us the solidification of Adam as ruler over creation as he is given the naming rights of each animal. He doesn’t have to go out looking for them either. Each animal comes to him for naming.

Verse 20 concludes this section by saying “But for Adam no suitable helper was found.” For Adam, he has just seen all animals come to him and he is unable to find someone that will give him the support that he needs.

By God having this naming parade of animals, he is preparing Adam for the provision of a helper that happens in the verses to follow. In the same way, God will sometimes prepare us for his provision. We can often look back at situations and realise that God was at work in our lives for what we are currently experiencing. This hindsight helps us to see that God is active in our lives and his plan for us is considered and complete. God didn’t leave Adam alone, and he won’t abandon us either!

Hands on Experience

Think about a time when God has used a situation to reveal a need in your life and then met it in a way you weren’t expecting. Think about what lessons you learned from it and what impact it has on you to know God had this planned for you all along.

For our families, have each member of the family come up with a list of things that you need to take with you on a holiday. Compare each of the lists and see what things mum and dad packed that the kids hadn’t considered. Explain that just like mum and dad provide for our needs including those we don’t remember ourselves, God provides for all our needs through his love for us, including by providing Jesus to save us.

Spend time thanking God for the way he provides for us.

Genesis 2:4-25 – Marriage and Family

Genesis 2:19 “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.””

As we look at the end of Genesis Chapter 2, we see the creation of Eve as God provides Adam with a suitable helper. Eve is designed to be Adam’s partner in life and the design that God provides them for marriage still stands in our society today.

Although the focus here is on the marriage of Adam and Eve and their unity, we can also see the importance of community in everyone’s lives, regardless of our marital status. We were designed in God’s image – as relational beings who need connection with others to thrive. We see many examples of this in the Bible, including Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: 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.”

We are designed to be in community with others and it is through our community we can be blessed and fulfilled, just as Adam was by Eve.

Prayer

Spend some time thanking God for his provision of the community and relationships that you are a part of. Pray for those who feel lonely and disconnected that they would find the community and relationships we were designed for.

Genesis 2:23 “The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man.””

The song “At Last” by Etta James is still one of the top wedding songs 61 years after it was first released. This song was originally written twenty years earlier and has stood the test of time, with its lyrics expressing that fulfillment and joy of finding the right person to love.

In this passage, Adam makes a similar exclamation as he meets Eve – his lonely days are over and he feels complete with God’s provision of a helper that is suitable for him, unlike all the animals who could never fit the bill. When Adam speaks, he is almost exclaiming “at last” as he recognizes Eve as a second self, and he welcomes her with joy.

In the same way we express these same feelings of “at last” when we enter a relationship with Jesus. Our loneliness, our feelings that we are incomplete and our sense of hopelessness is washed away when we put our trust in Jesus and enter a relationship with him.  We are never fully complete until we have Jesus as the centre of our lives.

Spend some time thinking about your own “at last” moment when you welcomed Jesus into your life and what changes that meant for you. Thank God for his unending love for us, demonstrated through Jesus and his sacrifice to save us.

Genesis 2:24 “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh”

One of the things many of us will have missed over the past year is being able to celebrate weddings. The day of a wedding is full of great joy and festivities. We all come together to bestow our best wishes for the happy couple’s next stage of life, as we enjoy a nice meal and a boogie on the dance floor. But when we sit in the church listening to the couple exchange vows, how much do we take note of the weight of what the two people are saying to each other?

Genesis 2 shows God’s design for marriage and it has two clear parts as noted in this verse. Firstly, the bride and groom are to leave their parents. This leaving is not a change of address, but a change of allegiance. The marriage relationship is to be put above all other earthly relationships. Secondly, there is a joining of the bride and groom together as they become a new family unit. There is to be a new, inseparable bond created between the two, all for the glory of God.

Phrases like “till death do us part” and “in sickness and in health” are vowed by the couple which shows us the importance of their union in line with what God designed. These vows to honour God’s design and each other can be easily looked over on the wedding day and many days after but are the essence of what a marriage should be!

Hands On Experience

Have a read of some of the following passages, which talk about God’s design for a marriage and family – 1 Peter 3:1-7, Ephesians 5:21-6:4. Spend some time reflecting on the weight of marriage and pray for those who are married or preparing to be married that they would continue to honour each other and honor God in their union.

Genesis 2:25 “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”

It’s very easy to feel shameful of ourselves. We might be ashamed of our bodies, our jobs or even the way we speak from time to time. We might have a small inner circle of family and friends where we can largely be our authentic self with very little shame, but even then, feelings of shame and vulnerability can creep in and we have to put on a self that is not truly our own.

Adam and Eve did not have this problem when they were first joined together. They had a sense of nakedness, not just in clothing, but in how they shared their lives with each other and with God. There was no hiding and no need to hide anything. Eden was a shame free zone where its inhabitants were completely comfortable with each other and their maker.

Living on this side of Genesis 3, that same level of comfort and vulnerability is harder to do. But that is how God designed marriage – a way for people to enjoy one another completely with deep intimacy and the ability to share with one another fully and freely.

For all of us, married or not, this same principle applies to our relationship with God. He wants us to be completely open and comfortable with him, not hiding our true self, but being unashamed as we come to him with our burdens and fears so that we can find comfort that only he can provide.

Prayer

Spend some time praying for God to help you be authentic and vulnerable in your marriage and/or your other relationships, including with your friends.

Revelation 19:7 “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready”

At the very start of the Bible, we see the marriage between Adam and Eve. A marriage that had a great start but fell apart not long after once sin entered the world and things changed for all relationships very quickly (more on that next week).

The end of the Bible also shows another marriage. This time it is not an early one that is destined to fall apart, but an everlasting perfect marriage, just as the very first marriage was intended. This marriage is between Jesus and us, the church, as we take our place in the new heaven and new earth that is coming.

If we are Christian, we are currently living in our engagement. We are eagerly awaiting the day when we can join together as God’s people, celebrating in our marriage and the togetherness we will share with God in a completely new way. Just like an earthly engagement, while we are in this engagement period, we can expect challenges and worries, but what blessing and excitement will it be on that wedding day!

Family Fun Friday

Read the passage from this week together as a family. Spend some time writing a list of all the different friends and communities that you have been blessed with by God (including your family!), just like how he blessed Adam with Eve. Explain that God has given us these relationships because he knows that it’s not good for us to be alone. Think about some practical ways you can love your communities and pray together that God will help you to put them into action.

Genesis 3:1-24 – Original Sin and Judgment

Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”

Genesis 3 is the pivot point in the story of creation. Until this chapter, all has been as God planned. Creation was good. Relationships between humans and God and with other humans was good. And we saw humans in their God-appointed role as the caretakers of creation. Then along came a serpent.

Here Satan takes the form of the snake and asks Eve what would appear to be an innocent question. But when we look closer, it is one that is loaded to create doubt in Eve’s mind that maybe God is holding out on her and Adam with his rule about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

What we see in Eve’s response is something dangerous. Firstly, she never should have engaged with the serpent at all without God’s support. Secondly, she not only spoke with the serpent but added to what God had said, saying that they couldn’t even touch it. By engaging with the snake, Eve didn’t seek God’s help to fight Satan and then she added and altered God’s word with damage resulting.

We learn from this encounter with Eve the importance of relying on God and taking his word as it stands, with no additions or interpretations that don’t match with what God says in other parts of the bible. By doing both these things, we give Satan a foothold to make us question what God truly has in his plan for us and as we see with Eve, confusion and harm follows.

We see the example to follow when Jesus is tempted by Satan in Luke 4. He stands true to what God says and is able to defeat the attempts to have him turn away from God. We all need to follow Jesus’s example – knowing what God says and simply stick to it!

Prayer

Consider reading Luke 4:1-13 where Jesus is tempted by Satan. Ask the Spirit to give you clarity and resolve, just like Jesus when you are tempted. Pray that the deceptive words of temptation will not have a hold on you in those moments or impact how you read God’s word.

Genesis 3:7-8 “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made covering for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

How often is your first response to a mistake to cover it up? And then if that fails, do you run and hide? When we were kids, we probably did this a lot more. We broke something or made a mess that we couldn’t resolve and so took off to avoid the anger from mum or dad when they discovered it. But even as adults there will be times when we try to hide the problem and then run from it. A scratch on the car, a stain on the carpet or really any figuratively dropped ball in our work and home lives may lead us down this path.

When Adam and Eve responded to their sin by covering up and then hiding from God, they set the stage for the future of humanity. They chose not to repent immediately, but rather run and hide and then escalating into the blame game against each other and then with God. They tried a self-made solution to a problem, that only God could resolve.

We too fall into this pattern of trying to find a self-made solution to our sin. But we have a much simpler path, by choosing to repent and accept the forgiveness of God through Jesus. Acts 5:31 says “God exulted him (Jesus) to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins”. This invitation is open to us all. Turn to Jesus and repent and experience the peace that his forgiveness brings.

Prayer

Spend some time today apologising to God for the sin in your life. Be open with him and ask for forgiveness and perseverance to live the way he wants you to. Pray for God to help you to be open with him and for true repentance in your life.

Genesis 3:9 “But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?””

Imagine you have never felt shame, fear or remorse. Then suddenly all these feelings hit you at once. You are overcome and overwhelmed with emotion in a completely negative way. The adrenaline starts pumping, you panic and move into your natural fight, flight or freeze instinct.

This is exactly what we see playing out in Genesis 3. Until the point of eating the fruit, Adam and Eve had been living in complete mental and physical comfort. The second they took a bite, they were hit with a tidal wave of these emotions they had never experienced and they ran.

God knew exactly what had happened and what they had done. But his initial response is not what we expect. Instead, he calls out to Adam and Eve asking them where they are. In doing this, he is inviting them to come to him first rather than trying to keep themselves afloat in this world that they have now found themselves in.

God does the same with us when we are prompted to turn back to him, find his voice and the comfort that it will seek. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  God offers us rest from the fear, the shame and remorse. He provides with a way back to him; we just need to answer his call.

Prayer

Today, examine where you are with God. Is there an area of your life you are hiding from God? He wants to extend mercy and grace to you in that space. Confess your sin, receive his forgiveness and ask that He will help you to continue to be open in your relationship from him and accept his love.

Genesis 3:16-17 “To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘you must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.””

No matter what we are taught, what we have seen or what we may try to believe, sin changes things. There is always a consequence for not living as God says that we should.

Genesis 3:16-19 shows us the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve – their world is changed in the process and we see that their lives will no longer be the easy and blessed lives they have enjoyed to that point, rather they will now be faced with disappointment, pain and suffering in their own ways as a consequence.

Our own sin does not leave us unchanged. We can turn to God and ask for forgiveness and he will give it to us, but the impact of sin can continue much beyond that. When we knowingly cross a line that God has drawn for us, we will feel the painful effects of doing so. We feel guilt or remorse. Our relationships become strained. God’s grace covers all these things and our guilt is no longer before him, but the practical consequences are, just like for Adam and Eve.

God forgave Adam and Eve for their sin, but both had their life changed through the ongoing consequences of their forgiven sin. We should see this as a reminder and warning when we choose to sin. In one way or another, the choice to sin will leave a mark on us.

We all need to remind ourselves that God is setting out his rules for a reason and that living his way is the right thing to do, rather than living as we want and asking for forgiveness later. Don’t sin like it won’t change things, because it will.

Hands on/Family Experience

Either imagine or take a piece of paper and scrunch it up. Then try to smooth it back out to its original form. There will be no paper that is close to the original. In the same way, sin leaves us all with a mark, even when we ask for God’s forgiveness.

Consider reading 2 Timothy 2 (using CEV if you are doing this with children) and think about what it means to live a Godly life, and the examples the passage contains of what happens when we don’t. Spend some time praying that God will help us choose his way, always.

Genesis 3:14-15 “So the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will be enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush you head and you will strike his heel.”

Adam and Eve really blew it when they listened to the snake and ate from the tree. You may have had some slip ups in your life, but probably none quite as major as what happened in Genesis 3.

Through the curse on the serpent, we see however God’s mercy and his plan for humanity. Despite the major let down and the curses that follow as a consequence we see God’s love – this section of Genesis is the first announcement of the coming Saviour. The gospel first appears in verse 15 and shows that no matter what has happened, God has things under control.

When God says “he will crush your head and you will strike his heel”, he is looking forward, through the lineage of Adam, through to when Jesus will be born. Jesus is the one who will be struck but ultimately will defeat and crush Satan through his death on the cross. In that moment, where God could have shown justifiable anger, he shows his love and the hope of redemption, through Jesus, for all humanity.

Even in our weakest moments, God shows his love. It was there at the beginning in his plans for humanity and it is here for us now. God’s plan is one that will save. God’s plan is one centred on love for his people and desire for them to return to relationship with him, just as it was at the very beginning.

Family Fun Friday

Infinity Kids has John 3:16 as its core verse. This verse sums up God’s big plan for his people, which is first seen in today’s passage. Spend some time as a family reading John 3:16 and the Genesis 3 passage that has been the focus for this week. Work through and link that the Old and New Testaments are part of the same story – that God loves us and had a plan to bring his people back to him, even when they fall short, and that plan was Jesus! John 1:1-5 also may help with linking the Old and New Testament together. Take some time to pray, asking God for forgiveness for the sin in our lives and thanking him for his plan.

Genesis 4 – The First Murder

Genesis 4:3-4a “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering – fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.”

As we move into Genesis 4, we are met with the first children of the world and how they engage with God. This passage has often been a bit of a stumbling block for people; why was Abel’s offering accepted but Cain’s wasn’t? Take a look again at the passage and notice the wording of how the offerings are described. With Cain, it is just “some of the fruits” while Abel shares “fat portions from some of the firstborn” (emphasis added). In other words, Abel brought forward his best for God, while Cain didn’t. This is perhaps why God has such high regard for Abel’s offering.

When it comes to us and how we show up for God, do we align more closely with Cain or Abel? Do we just go through the motions of reading our bible, praying, and serving others in the church and community or do we put our best into our relationship with God and his people? What we see in Cain is someone who wasn’t willing to give his best or put in the sacrifice required to achieve the most pleasing result, and then got upset when he didn’t get the best response!

What we see in Abel’s offering is how we should be approaching God, with gladness and giving our best, not whatever is left over after all the other things in our life take their toll. It should be our pleasure and privilege to serve God in any and all ways.

Prayer

Spend some time today reflecting how you approach God and where your heart is at. Ask God for help in putting him first and giving him the best of ourselves every day.

Genesis 4:6-7 “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.””

What makes you angry? We all have many instances in our day that make us see red, from our family members being irritating, to dealing with an impatient driver or maybe missing the train home and having to wait. In these moments, we get to choose how we respond to our anger, and whether we let it take over and burst out of us, or let it wash over us and move on.

God gives us the choice as to whether we let our response to anger be proper or destructive. We see this with Cain; he was angry that his offering wasn’t accepted the way he wanted it. But what was God’s reaction to Cain’s anger? Read the passage again and see how God warns Cain about his anger. He reminds Cain that sin is ready and waiting to jump in, but we must fight against it.

We too have this same fight within us when things make us angry. We need to keep choosing what is right, rather than letting our anger and sin take hold of our actions, which as we see with Cain, can have devastating effects.

Prayer

Spend some time listing what is making you angry, frustrated or irritated. Use that list as you pray, asking God to help you choose against anger and sin in those situations and rather rely on him to help you respond in the right way.

Genesis 4:8 “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

The impact of the events of Genesis 3 are shown in Chapter 4 in great detail. Genesis 1 & 2 presented the world as it was meant to be, with everything living together in harmony, including harmony with God. Then sin enters the world and by chapter 4, sin is running rampant with Cain murdering his brother.

For Cain, his sin of murder is not the only sin we see from him in this chapter. We also see jealousy and pride take hold of him and by not addressing these sins; asking for forgiveness and repenting, Cain escalates to murder.

Pride is one sin that we may overlook, but has a real impact on our choices and sinful actions. Pride is mentioned throughout Proverbs, highlighting the fall that it leads to when it goes unchecked. Proverbs 13:10 says “Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”

We may read the story of Cain with some distance, given most of us are unlikely to go to the extreme of murder. But think of how pride can take hold of you, just like it did for Cain and remember how important it is to nip all sinful behavior in the bud, regardless of what it is.

Hands on Experience

Consider reading Psalm 139 and use the last two verses (23-24) to shape your prayer for the day. Ask that the Spirit will work in you to resist the power of sin in your life.

Genesis 4:11-13 “’Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear”

The story of Cain and Abel is one of the saddest in the Bible. We see just prior what life should be like and then sin enters the world and destruction follows. What we see in the first recorded murder is a complete destruction of relationship between men, when we know that God created us in his image in Genesis 1 so that we could be relational beings.

Cain’s response to God in these verses and the few that follow show that he was completely unrepentant for his actions. His concern is not that he has killed his brother or that his relationship with his family is in tatters, rather he is more worried about the severity of his punishment and what impact it will have on him.

In Cain, we see how we should not respond to God when he prompts us of our sin. Our first response should not be thinking about the impact of sin on us and the issues it brings, but rather that of repentance. We need to ensure we respond to our sin appropriately and completely.

Hands on Experience

Cain ruined the relationships in his life through murdering Abel and not repenting and asking God for forgiveness. Think about the relationships that you have been given by God in your life. Thank God for these relationships, particularly the ones doing well. For those relationships not going smoothly, ask God to help you work it out. Ask God to help you sort out any resentment or bitterness so that you do not follow in the path laid out by Cain. No matter how hard it may be, listen to what God says to you about these relationships and ask him for help to follow him.

Genesis 4:26b “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD”

Who do you turn to when you are in trouble? Often, we ring our parents, our spouses or someone we can rely on who has more experience. We might even call on the name of Google to answer whatever question we have that is causing us trouble.

What we see at the end of Chapter 4 is the people calling out to God in their trouble. They began to reach out to him for his help, his guidance and to thank him for his provision (as Eve did in verse 25). We see this pattern of calling out to God through the whole Bible: in Exodus 3:7, many times in the Psalms (e.g. 40:1; 28:6), in Samuel 2:22, and we see Jesus cry out to God on the cross (Matthew 28:45-46).

This verse, and other examples from the Bible, challenges us all in how we approach God. Do we cry out to him and call on his name when we are faced with challenges or do we cry out to others for comfort? Sometimes we need an earthly support, but our first cry should be to God our Father, who can provide us with all we need.

Family Fun Friday

Read Genesis Chapter 4 together as a family. Ask a few questions to help draw out their understanding (e.g. Why was Cain angry? What was wrong with Cain’s offering compared to Abel? Why did God ask Cain why he was angry?). Grab a mentos and drop it in a bottle of coke (or find a video of this online). Explain that sin, when left unchecked like Cain’s, can lead to us exploding and causing damage to those around us, just like the mentos exploding out of the coke. Link to the last verse in the passage about the need to call out to God for his help and to ask for forgiveness.

Genesis 6-9 – The Flood and The Ark

Genesis 6:5-6 “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he made human beings on the earth and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created – and with the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground – for I regret that I have made them”.

Have you ever done something you have regretted? Maybe you were running late and went slightly over the speed limit and a fine found you in the mail a week later. Maybe you have said something to a friend or loved one, only to wish you could take it back. Or maybe you told someone a secret only to have them share it and that friendship changed forever.

As we start looking at Genesis 6, we see God showing regret for his creation of mankind. We are given insight into the wickedness of men and we quickly understand God’s position. The rapid decline of humanity from Genesis 3 is evident in the first few verses of Genesis 6, with it describing every thought as evil.

Was God surprised by this? Not at all. Our God is all knowing and all seeing. And yet, he regretted making people. This regret shows not that he didn’t know this would happen, but the pain that God endured as he watched his creation spiral downwards into destruction. So what does God do? He decides to wipe out all creation through the flood.

Although we know how the story ends, with a promise to Noah, we can’t help but notice how we have spiralled downwards since the flood. Our thoughts may not be evil all the time, but we see pervasive evil in our world and the pain we see from God in Genesis 6 is the same grief that we cause when we sin and rebel against God.

As we read the story of Noah, let it remind us that we are all approaching the day when God will return to judge the earth once more. Make time to repent and ask for forgiveness, but also be bold in declaring the gospel to others so that they may be saved through the love and grace that comes from Jesus.

Prayer

Make a list of three people who are actively in your life, but don’t yet know Jesus. Commit to praying for their salvation and opportunities to share the gospel with them every day this week. Ask God for boldness in how you share his message with them and for their hearts to be softened.

Genesis 6:8-9 “But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD. This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time and he walked faithfully with God.”

As we are introduced to Noah, the one person that was saved from God’s reset plan, we must consider one question: what was so special about Noah?

Noah is described as a righteous man in a wicked generation. A man who lived a God-honouring life, while surrounded by complete sinfulness, evil and degradation. Noah lived a completely different life to those around him, and as a result God showed him favour and saved him.

Some of you may live surrounded by unbelievers, at home or at work, and it can be incredibly difficult to honour God in every situation. But take heart and be encouraged by Noah, a man who stood firm and lived a God honouring life, even with distraction and destruction around him.

The second stand out feature is Noah’s faith. God told Noah there would be a flood that would destroy the earth (which is a pretty scary thing to hear) and to build an ark (something completely new to him) and to fill it with two of every animal, plus others for sacrifices (which is a bit of a larger and more dangerous task than any other animal caring he had probably ever managed). And yet, Noah did all these things.

Noah trusted God and followed his instruction, demonstrating his faith in God, which Hebrews 11:7 says it was “By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.”

As we look at Noah’s amazing faith in God, we can see his example as something for us to follow. To trust God wholeheartedly and follow his instruction and lead, knowing that it is the right plan for us. Noah took a great leap of faith in building the ark and getting in it with his family and the animals, and it is this faith that we should strive for in our own lives.

Prayer

Thank God that he is steadfast and can be trusted and relied on. Spend some time asking God to help grow and develop your faith and prepare you for whatever challenges are coming your way.

Genesis 7:1 “The LORD then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.”

When we read the story of the flood, we often focus in on Noah. He is our main character and was a man who lived with faith and righteousness guiding his decisions. But what we can often gloss over is a more important aspect of the story, that Noah had a hand in creating under God’s instruction. It’s the ark!

When we take a closer look at the ark, we notice that God told Noah to go into the ark, with God then shutting the one and only door to the vessel. A vessel which also did not have its own steering or navigation system! God placed Noah and the other inhabitants of the ark in there as it was a place of refuge – safety for them from the floodwaters of God’s judgement.

The ark was what kept Noah safe. A vessel Noah had little control over and was only available and sealed through God’s mercy. It had one entry and only those who were in the ark, God’s salvation vessel, could be saved.

For us, we have an even greater instrument of salvation available to us. God doesn’t ask us to go into the ark, but he does ask us to put our trust in Jesus. Just like the ark, there is only one way to salvation. As God shut the door on the ark to keep them safe, he too protects us from spiritual attack.  When we enter into God’s family, we put our life in his hands and trust his plans, just as Noah did when he entered the ark.

Prayer

Spend some time thanking God for the salvation he provides to us through Jesus. Continue to pray for those in your life who don’t know Jesus that they would repent and be saved before God comes again.

Genesis 7:23 “Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left and those with him in the ark.”

As we come to the flood, we see complete destruction of the creation that God lovingly created at the start of Genesis. We see all but those who were in the ark wiped from the face of the earth as God reset creation.

This shows us two things about God. Firstly, that he is holy and will deal with those who continue to ignore him and live in a state of unrepentant sinfulness. And yet, even in the way that God deals with sin in with the flood, he still provides undeserved grace by shielding Noah and his family as well as the animals on the ark. God makes a promise to Noah that he will keep them alive and this mercy is extended to us through Jesus. A promise of protection and preservation for Noah was through the ark, and was fulfilled and available to us by Jesus’ death on the cross.

We also see that God has a plan and stays true to it. If we think about the people at the time of Noah, they probably could not have imagined life as they knew it coming to an end and being wiped out. Much like we probably can’t imagine everything as we know it coming to a halt and being completely wiped out when God will return on the last day. What we see in the story of Noah is that God stays true to his plans, even if they don’t make sense to us. However unimaginable or cruel our human minds may think God’s plan of the flood was, it happened, just as God said it would. But we often forget that God’s plan also included a promise to Noah that he would be saved, and that too happened, just as God said it would.

This gives us comfort though as God is true to his word, not only in punishment and judgement but also in his compassion and mercy. We can stand firm and trust in the promises that he will one day return, just as he says he will, and if we have put our trust in Jesus, we can have comfort and protection from God’s judgement.

Hands on experience

Read through Genesis 6:17 through to the end of Chapter 7. Consider what parts of this passage remind you of the creation account in Genesis 1-2? How does it change how you read the account of the flood when you view it as the reversal of creation and what hope do you see in this passage that God will start again? Pray in response as you work through the passage, thanking God for his mercy for planning for a second chance for humanity.

Genesis 8:21 “The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”

At the heart of the story of Noah is a number of promises. God promised Noah that he would destroy the earth. He promised Noah that he would keep him safe in the ark. And God promises Noah that he will not destroy the earth again. In Genesis 9, God firms the last promise with the sign of the rainbow and this sign continues for us today as a reminder of this promise that God made with Noah and all life on the earth.

In all of these promises we see God’s mercy and in every rainbow we are reminded of his faithful promise to us all. His mercy continues to us today, by giving us all the opportunity to respond to him through Jesus and choose to follow his salvation plan.

So what should our response be? Well, when we look at Noah, the first thing he does when stepping out of the ark is to build an altar to God and make an offering on it (8:20). Noah could have done many things when getting out of the ark, but his first response was to thank and praise God.

So have a think about how you can honour and praise God as your first response to the start of a day. Perhaps it’s spending some time first thing in prayer or reading a few verses on the bible app. Whatever it is for you, let’s be striving to put God first in our lives, seeking his kingdom, so that our priorities and attitudes can fall in their proper place.

Family Fun Friday

Spend some time working through the story of Noah either using the bible, a children’s bible or even a YouTube video (Saddleback’s Story of Noah is a great option! Find it here.). Talk about how God keeps his promises with Noah and how this helps us to know that God keeps his promises with us.

As you talk about the flood, explain that one day God will return and those people who don’t know Jesus will be like the people outside of the ark. Have each family member do the same activity from Monday of this week, think of three people who don’t know Jesus. Write their names or draw a picture of them and put up somewhere central like the fridge. Spend some time each day praying for the list of people when you are together; that you will be able to share God’s love with them so that they might come to know Jesus.

Genesis 11 – The Tower of Babel

Genesis 11:1 “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.”

Have you ever been in a country where you didn’t speak the local language and had to resort to elaborate charades to communicate? Or have you ever heard a friend or colleague speak to their family on the phone in a language other than English? Or perhaps you’ve been speaking with someone from a different generation and you’re not quite sure all the words they are using are English? This sense of confusion and loss of control can be quite confronting and worrying for some as we try desperately to understand what is happening and make our own point clear.

What we see in Genesis 11 is that all of the people on earth at this time spoke the same language. They were all descendants of Noah and spoke in a language that everyone could understand and contribute to.

It’s hard to imagine this as we live in a multicultural country, where the borders are (usually) more freely open for us to travel and explore the world and where websites such as the Urban Dictionary have been introduced to help navigate the various terms in our own language that have been introduced over time. And yet, this is what Genesis 11 describes. Everyone understood and was on the same page.

As we read Genesis 11, we are given a pre-view of what heaven will be like. There will be no language barriers, cultural or generational divides. There will be no division among God’s people. Believers from all nations and all generations will come together for one purpose – to praise God for eternity.

When we think of all the things that divide us in today’s society, we can be reminded that through Christ, we are his united people. We may have differences, but we are united as one family through Christ and one day we will get to experience that unity in heaven.

Prayer

Spend some time praying today thanking God for the unity he provides through Jesus and the eternity that awaits us in heaven. Pray that while on earth we will flee from prejudice, discrimination and all other behaviours that create further divides among people.

Making Plans Without God

Genesis 11:4 “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.””

When we read the story of the Tower of Babel, at the start it all looks promising. We see God’s people after the flood thinking about how they can rebuild. They discuss building materials in verse 3 and, at the start of verse 4, it all sounds like a great plan to build a city for them to live in. But the second half of verse 4 is where the trouble emerges.

The building of the city in itself wasn’t a bad thing, it was the motives of the people that were the problem. God wanted mankind to recover and rebuild, but man put a sinful twist on this construction, wanting to build themselves a city that would make them a powerful and consolidated people.

God’s plans were for man to “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). The building of the tower is in defiance of this plan and shows that with very little time passing, the people forgot the lessons learnt from the flood and the consequences of defying God.

In our own lives, God wants us to recover and move on from devastating events, but we must be careful how we go about this. Don’t recover to the point that you forget the lessons that God has shown you. When we think about moving on, ensure your plans are in line with God’s word, testing them against scripture and seeking guidance from people who are wise as you make your choices.

Prayer

Think about some of your plans that you have and ask God to help reveal to you whether your plans are in line with his. Pray for contentment where the plans don’t align and strength in choosing the way God wants you to live, rather than your own.

For the Greater Evil

Genesis 11:6-7 “The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

For most of us, we have all heard at least one eye-roll inducing quote about teamwork and its success. From ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ to ‘there’s no “I” in team’, we all shudder rather than feel inspired as most of us have been let down by a team at some point in our lives. But there is much that has come out of teamwork that is amazing and worth celebrating, showing the value in a team and the support that it gives.

Unfortunately, the story of the Tower of Babel is not one of those amazing examples of teamwork. Yes, they all joined forces and worked together on a project, but it wasn’t for something innately good or helpful to the world, instead it was for their own selfish and sinful motivations.

When God speaks in verse 6, we see his concern for what mankind could do. Not because they could actually build a tower to heaven, but because people are sinful by nature and there would be no end to the sinful deeds they would accomplish if they worked together.

The story of the Tower of Babel is like kids working together to sneak biscuits from the cupboard. They are working for a collective, selfish goal, in defiance of their parents’ wishes. Or like the group of criminals in Oceans 11 or Oceans 8, they work together with a single vision to achieve a goal that is sinful and devious.

The way the people were working together to build the Tower was something God couldn’t allow. Therefore, he shook things up to set in motion the establishment of the people of Israel and the eventual arrival of the one who would restore and redeem mankind.

Hands on Experience

Consider reading Psalm 51, which was written by Kind David after being confronted in relation to his adultery with Bathsheba; a time he clearly worked towards something outside of God’s plans. Think about your own story and use this Psalm to help shape your prayer of repentance for times in your life where you have acted against God’s will. Know that God will forgive you and will sustain you as you work to live his way.

Genesis 11:8-9 “So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it is called Babel – because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth”

Over the past few days, we have looked at the Tower of Babel and how the people on earth were one unified group, speaking the same language and working on the same sinful goal. Today, God puts this to an end, scattering the people and changing their languages.

Why do you think God created many languages? Think about the power of language, of being able to openly communicate with someone without needing to wait for translation by a device, an intermediary or yourself (if you are not a fluent speaker of the other language). Language is so powerful and can unite or divide us very quickly. By confusing the language of the people, God put a stop to their sinful project and created the various family groups or nations that were spread across the earth as was his plan for humanity.

The word “Babel” sounds a lot like the English word “babble” which means to talk in a way that is difficult for others to understand. As Christians, we need to be careful that we don’t sound like a babbler. We need to be mindful of our language to ensure when we speak to others about the gospel and God’s saving plan, we are doing it in a way that meets people at their level so they can have an understanding. We should look to unite and not divide by using jargon that is comfortable to us but confuses others.

Take time to consider the non-believers in your life and how you engage with them. Consider how you can change the way you speak so that they do not feel excluded, but invites them to experience the love of God for themselves.

Hands on Experience

Think back to your list of three people who you are praying for from last week’s devotional activity. Ask God to help you as you engage with them to meet them where they are at and in a way that invites them in. Continue to pray for opportunities to share the gospel with them and that they would accept it.

Eternal Impact

Genesis 11:31 “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter in law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran they settled there.”

Genesis 11 finishes with another family tree, similar to what we have seen in Genesis 5 & 10. This particular family listing finishes with Abram, who is seemingly no different to any other person mentioned in the list, but we know he is soon to be called Abraham and is the man who becomes the central character of the book of Genesis. Not only that, his significance is so great that he will be recognised throughout the bible for his faith.

As we see many times in the bible, God takes someone seemingly small and insignificant to carry out his plans and his will. When we look at God’s way to effect change on earth, he doesn’t use the way that many people would assume. Nothing was notable about Abram at first, but in God’s hands and God’s plans, there was eternal impact. There was nothing notable either about a baby born in a stable, but from this insignificant beginning, God’s plans for salvation of his people began to be realised.

We may feel insignificant and unassuming, but just like Abram and many others in the Bible, God can use us to have eternal impact. In our lives, we are living as a lamp shining for Jesus, in hope that people will see something different in us and want the peace and understanding that God provides. We share the gospel to others, not for ourselves, but to give that person the chance to respond to God’s love that will impact their eternity. God uses all people for his plans and we should never doubt how important and loved we are by our creator and the amazing and powerful things He can choose to do through us.

Family Fun Friday

Spend some time praying for your three people from last week’s activity. Read the story of the Tower of Babel together and ask your kids some questions to help them understand (Why did the people decide to build the Tower? Who were they trying to impress? How did God feel about this? What did God do in response?). Try doing this while playing a game of Jenga or building a lego tower, with the reader of each verse and the answerer of each question getting to take a turn. Make sure you send your tower crashing down at the end to remind them that the people didn’t succeed because their plans didn’t align with what God wanted. Pray that we would be open to God’s plan for our life and not be upset when things don’t go the way we plan for ourself!

Luke 9:51-62 – The Cost of Following Jesus

“51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.” 

 [Luke 9:51-56]

This passage starts off a new section in Luke’s gospel, often called “The Travel Narrative” by Bible scholars.

Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Literally it says, “Jesus set his face to go towards Jerusalem.” There is a determination to do what must be done.

Later on, in chapter 13 Luke tells us, “Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” [13:22] Jerusalem was the goal. In 13:33 he says, “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”  He knew what was awaiting him there. He knew the agony to come. He knew the prophesies about him, e.g. in Isaiah 53:4-5,7:

4Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed…..

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,”

He was not looking forward to it – remember his words in the Garden of Gethsemane,
‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me’ [Luke 22:42] Luke tells us that he was “in anguish and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” [Luke 22:44]

His death was not an accident. He knew it was coming. He knew it would be terrible. Yet he went ahead. The writer to the Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Hebrews 12:2]

Notice in Luke 13:33, (quoted earlier) Jesus says “I must press on…”

There was no option if we were to be rescued. Love and his Father’s glory drove him. What a saviour!

“51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.” 

 [Luke 9:51-56]

People have all sorts of expectations of Jesus. We can’t be absolutely sure why the people were unhappy with him other than the general comment of Luke that he was heading for Jerusalem. It wasn’t because they thought he was heading towards his death and they sought to prevent it – that would not have provoked the disciples to want to call down fire on them. The people were affronted. It may be that they, Samaritans who did not get on with the Jews, were nationally affronted by his determination to go to the Jewish capital. Whatever their reason, Jesus refused to measure up to their expectations. He had a mission and was not going to be distracted. He was heading towards Jerusalem and his sacrificial death.

Things haven’t changed. We all think (at least from time to time) that Jesus ought to treat us in the way we’d like him to, and not allow certain things to happen to us. We all tend to think that he is there for us. We even sang (or rather hummed in a COVID-safe way) a great song in church a few weekends ago that kept repeating, “He is for you.” It is a great truth, and incredibly comforting, and I love that song, but it can also be misleading if we think it means that He will do what we want or make us happy.

Although God is there for us, the greater truth is that we are there for God. God will make life good for us, but it’s His definition of good that matters and not ours. Life is good as long as we walk with him rather than expect Him to walk with us.

I looked after my brother’s staffy for a few weeks and taking Spike for walks was easy, as long as I was going his way. It was a different story entirely if he and I were heading in different directions – then it was a nightmare.

Paul experienced that on the road to Damascus, where Jesus described him as “kicking against the goads.” The picture is of the beast being pushed in a direction it doesn’t want to go with a goad, a spike, and kicking out against the prodding. Life is much easier if we are willing to move in the direction God is moving us, and that direction is usually towards godliness, rather than a life of ease. The irony is, however, that going God’s way is the way of peace and life and satisfaction and joy.

PRAYER

Lord, giver of life and joy, help me to walk with you rather than expect you to walk with me. Amen

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58 Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

[Luke 9:57]

In yesterday’s devotion we looked at walking with God. Today Jesus begins to unpack what that will look like and he carries on his teaching about what it means right up until the passion narrative.

Often in evangelism training courses you’re strongly encouraged to “close the deal”, to give the person the chance to choose to follow Jesus. Jesus would have failed those courses. He seems more intent in putting people off following him.

We see him doing the same thing later on in Luke when he talks about counting the cost of being a disciple. [Luke 14:25ff]

Jesus is talking about the discomfort that may come from being a disciple.

I’m currently preparing my retirement “nest”, the place where Judy and I will, God willing, spend the rest of our lives. The thought of not having a place to call our own is very unsettling. However, unlike the rich young ruler whom Jesus tells what to give up to follow him [Luke 18], here Jesus doesn’t require the man give up his home, but rather warns him that might be the case. He must be willing to give up everything if required. The rich young man’s wealth was actually preventing him from following Jesus, so it had to go.

It is a teaching Jesus repeats time and time again. He unpacks it in Matthew 6 where he tells us to make Gods’ kingdom and His righteousness our number one priority, even above food, clothing and shelter [Matthew 6:25-34].

My problem is that at times I’m like the monkey with my hand in the peanut jar. I won’t let go of the blessings of life and so I stay trapped. In that Matthew 6 passage Jesus says that if we do make God our number one priority, he will give us all we need. It’s a matter of being willing to let go.

Do you believe Jesus? Is he enough for you to have the good life?

PRAYER

Father, your son said that he had come to bring life and life in all its fullness. Help me not just to believe that but to depend on it. Amen

59 He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60 Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

[Luke 9:59-62]

“First let me go and bury my father.”  That seems a perfectly reasonable request. Much has been said to try and dilute the poser of this saying. Some have pointed out that the man was referring to waiting until his ageing parents had passed on and thus putting off following Jesus indefinitely. That may or may not be the case, but at the very least it’s about having a “Jesus priority”.

JC Ryle says,

“Let us learn, from this saying, to beware of allowing family and social duties to interfere with our duty to Christ. Funerals, and marriages, and visits of courtesy, and the like, unquestionably in themselves are not sinful. But when they are allowed to absorb a believers time and keep him back from any plain religious duty, they become a snare to his soul… The heirs of glory and children of the King of Kings should be people of a different stamp. They should declare plainly, by their conduct, that the world to come is the great reality which fills their thoughts.” [JC Ryle “Expository Thoughts on The Gospels” p340]

As we’ve already noted our command from Christ is to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. [Matthew 6:33]

Jesus issues an invitation to follow him and the man puts him off to a later date.

I know a number of people who are close to the kingdom but keep putting off the decision to become Christians. I wonder what could possibly be holding them back – what could be worth holding onto so much!

Of course, the call to follow Jesus is not made just once. We become Christians once but Jesus also says that we need to take up our cross daily. The missionary Jim Elliot said “One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.”

Are there things holding you back from wholehearted devotion to Christ? We won’t experience what it is to have God meeting our needs if we don’t make him the priority.

PRAYER

Lord and master, you surrendered your only son to save me. Give me a wholehearted commitment to serving you. Amen 

61 Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ 62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’

This is the third prospective disciple Jesus is tough with. Jesus’ answer here gives an indication of how he reads the man’s heart. It is impossible to serve Christ with a divided heart. Jesus himself said that in another way in chapter 16:

‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money’  [Luke 16:13]. The first part of what he says about divided loyalties is general, only narrowing to money in the second half.

JC Ryle again is helpful, “If we are looking back to anything in this world, we are not fit to be disciples. Those who look back, like Lot’s wife, want to go back. Jesus will not share his throne with anyone – no, not with our dearest relatives. He must have all our heart or none.”

Like the soldier who must put their thoughts of home on the backburner until the campaign is over lest they lose focus on the task at hand, so it is with the followers of Christ. Once having committed to the task, there is no turning back.

This is no easy reality! Dieterich Bonhoeffer wrote a wonderful book titled “The Cost of Commitment.” There is a cost to following Christ but at the same time he is no one’s debtor. He said,

29 ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’ [Luke 18:29-30]

Like the monkey I mentioned back on Wednesday, we need to let go of the precious things to gain so much more. Do you believe that? Do you take Jesus at his word?

PRAYER

My God and my Father, I want to hold lightly onto the things of this world that seem so precious but may actually get in the way of true joy. Please help my unbelief.  Amen

Luke 10:25-37 – The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

26 ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’

27 He answered, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’

28 ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’

[Luke 10:25-28]

Note the motive behind this question directed at Jesus. It was in order to test him. This was not a genuine enquiry. Jesus’ answer is to ask his own question – “What do you think the law says?” The expert understands the law – that it is summed up in what Jesus also affirms elsewhere are the two great commandments [Matthew 22:327]. Jesus says he has got it right. “Do this and you shall live,” says Jesus.

The expert’s next question is instructive. He asks, “Who is my neighbour?” That was a point of contention amongst the religious leaders of the day. Was it fellow Jews? Was it anyone and everyone? Even giving him the benefit of the doubt and taking it as a genuine question, he is trying to delineate his responsibilities under the law as if he could possibly keep them.

Jesus is not teaching a righteousness through good works here. He is searching for a heart that longs for God. He is trying to help this man see the folly of law-keeping as a way to righteousness. A thirst for true righteousness would have resulted in a different question.

He should have been asking “How is it possible to do that?” or asking how he can obtain God’s mercy for not keeping the law. Remember Jesus’ impossibly high standard for law-keeping in the Sermon on the Mount that took law keeping into the motivations of the heart. Paul points out later on that the law was given in order to drive us to God’s mercy [Romans 3:19-20; Gal 3:24].

Our right attitude to the law should be the recognition of our failure to keep it, and to see the need for the forgiveness and righteousness that come through Jesus [Romans 8:3-4]. We can be made righteous, but it’s a righteousness that comes not through rule-keeping but rather through grace.

PRAYER

God of mercy and grace, save me from the arrogance of thinking I can establish my own righteousness before you. Amen

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’

 

“He wanted to justify himself.”  That’s the phrase that helps us to understand what is going on here. When we are asked to justify ourselves by a third party, we’re being asked not just to give an excuse for our behaviour but to explain why it is acceptable behaviour. I remember some years ago being present when a friend’s father had a heart attack and rushing them by car to emergency. I was speeding and breaking a number of road rules but was hoping that should I pulled over by the police my rule-breaking would have been seen as justified – not wrong in the circumstances.

This expert in the law was hoping that on the day he was judged by God he would be seen as innocent of any sin because he had kept the law of God. That would be made much more difficult if the law called for him to love everyone as he loved himself. He would be thinking (foolishly) that it would be much more manageable if it was limited to fellow-Jews only.

Really! I even fail in loving my own extended family the way I love myself. How can anyone read the law of God and think they can possibly obey it? It shows an incredible lack of self-understanding. When Peter was confronted with the glory of God in Jesus he cried out “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man.”

There is a lot of talk around in Christian circles about being positive and not dwelling on sin and failure but rather focussing on the joy and celebration of the new life in Christ. There is much to commend about that attitude. However, joy in Christ is amplified when we realise the dungeon we’ve been freed from.

Furthermore, because the temptation to justify ourselves is so insidious we need to keep being reminded of our inability to actually do it. We can do nothing to earn our right standing before God. Jesus has done it for us.

One of the great blessings of this is that we can have full assurance that we are children of God. If God has saved us through Jesus, then only he can un-save us, and he has promised never to do that.

Self-justification can only lead to uncertainty. If my salvation depends on me then it is constantly in peril because I may fail to justify myself, but it depends on God.

All praise to God for his great mercy!

PRAYER

Gracious and loving Father, may I never tire of hearing the good news. Save me from self-justification. Amen

30 In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

36 ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’

37 The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’

Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

[Luke 10:25-37]

Rather than confronting him with his foolishness, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Because we are familiar with the parable it is easy to miss how confronting and offensive it would have been to the hearers of Jesus’ day.

I’ve read lots of explanations of this parable and I think we can try to dig too deeply behind the details by looking at the laws the Levite and the priest might have been worried about breaking by helping the injured man. The fact was two fine upstanding religious leaders went out of their way to avoid helping him. The implication is that the injured man was a fellow Jew to the priest and the Levite. Whatever their reasons there is a callous disregard for the man in need. There is a complete lack of love for him.

Have you noticed that this parable does not answer the question “Who is my neighbour?” so much as to point out what being a good neighbour looks like.

Jesus is not interested in law keeping but in character. The man wanted to work out the obedience boundaries. Jesus turned the tables and talked about his heart.

It’s the trap we’re all prone to fall into. How far can I go without sinning?

Is it OK to watch sleazy videos as long as they’re not pornography?

Is it OK to make this claim on my tax return even though it doesn’t really follow the letter of the law?

Is it OK to flirt with another person when I’m married as long as I don’t take it any further?

Is it OK to take that thing from work because they expect a little employee theft and cater for it?

Jesus is not interested in the letter of the law. His standards are far higher. Love and holiness are extravagant! It’s the difference between doing the bare minimum to get by and going all out. Godliness is about going all out.

What sort of neighbour am I?

Is my love extravagant?

Is my holiness extravagant?

PRAYER

Lord God, whose love is extravagant and whose holiness is without blemish, give me a heart that goes all out to love others.  Amen

33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

36 ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’

37 The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’

Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

[Luke 10:25-37]

As we saw yesterday, Jesus cuts to heart of the issue, which is not “How far do I have to go to obey the law”, but “What state is my heart in?”

If we have to ask the boundary questions (“How far can I go?”) then we are already missing the point. Jesus characteristically takes the issue from being a theoretical question to one of intense personal application.

He does the same thing in Luke 13 where he is asked if only a few people are going to be saved, and he says, “You make sure you make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” [Luke 13:24]. Again, when news is brought about the deaths of people when the tower fell on them, he says “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  [Luke 13:4]

The word of God is not primarily for understanding but for living out. Do you read the word with a view to obeying it? Do you listen to the reading of the word and the sermon in church to bring your life into line with the Word?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says so well about obedience to the scriptures:

“You have the right to your opinion in every other respect, in every other matter – not here. Here you must take off your shoes, you must become as a little child, you must humble yourself, and if you do not do so you must of necessity be wrong in your opinion. It is only to the humble that God reveals the truth.” [God’s Sovereign Purpose, p192]

PRAYER

God of all mankind, give us such a heart for others that they would see Christ in us. Amen

33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”

36 ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’

37 The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’

Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

[Luke 10:25-37]

The Samaritan in the story doesn’t just help the injured man. He takes care of him. He pays for his expenses as he recovers. He goes the extra mile. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews of the day. It would be an affront for a Samaritan to even touch a Jew. To have the Samaritan the hero above the religious leaders – the descendants of Abraham – was a real slap in the face.

There is a further aspect to this parable. The injured man’s rescue comes from “a hated outsider”, as Kenneth E Bailey puts it (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p294). He steps into the parable and does what the religious leaders of the day will not (cannot?) do. Rescue comes from outside what the Jewish religion had become.

Do you see where this is leading? Jesus sets an impossibly high standard for obtaining eternal life, but what is impossible for us, Jesus is able and willing to do. Jesus, the hated outsider, as far as the religious leaders of the day were concerned, steps into the storyline of God’s people and rescues the needy.

In one sense Jesus was really the outsider, in that he was born of the Holy Spirit, come down from heaven. He alone is able to love his neighbour as himself because he is not tainted with the sin of Adam and Eve. He alone is the Good Samaritan. He alone is the merciful one.

So, in answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life”, Jesus says if you’re talking about earning your eternal life, then you obey the law of God. An impossible task.

He then gives us an example of what it means to obey God in terms of loving others, which although we are “under the law” both give us guidance on how to live to please God, and drives us to Jesus for forgiveness for our failure to do that perfectly.

Finally, we find the answer to the impossibility of perfectly meeting the standard of the law and it is the rescuer, Jesus, the neighbour from heaven. He finds us in our helplessness and our need, and he heals us and pays the price of that healing himself. What a saviour!

PRAYER

Father, your law is impossible for us to fully live out. Thank you for the love you show in your Son by rescuing us. Help us to live for your glory, not slavishly trying to earn our rescue but living your way because we love you. Amen

Luke 11:1-13 – Our Father…

1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” 2 He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘“Father…[Luke 11:1-2]

Wouldn’t that have been something? To see and hear Jesus pray. No wonder the disciples, after witnessing that, want to learn to pray like him.

Jesus doesn’t so much as teach them to pray as give them a model for prayer. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “this is how you should pray”, not “what you should pray.” It is 36 words long here in Luke (a little longer in Matthew 6, where it is 57 words) but so much is packed into those 36 words! Sometimes we are judged by the length of our public prayers or their eloquence.

Once or twice, when I’ve asked people when they lead in prayer in the church service to keep to five minutes, they’ve told me that it’s not possible. I wonder what the reaction would be if I asked them to keep it to 36 words! There is something almost curt in the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus starts off, “when you pray say, ‘Father…’”

Prometheus was a god of ancient Greece. In the days before mankind possessed fire Prometheus took fire from heaven and brought it to earth as a gift. Zeus, the king of the gods, was so furious that he would share one of the gods’ precious possessions that he chained Prometheus to a rock in the middle of the Adriatic Sea where a vulture would come and tear out his liver, only for it to grow back again so that the vulture could repeat its torture the next day. That is what happened to a god who tried to help mankind.

We’re used to calling God “Father”, but that would have shocked the disciples. Just read the OT part of your Bible and see how they prayed before Jesus came. The usual way you addressed God was by using titles like “Almighty God”, “O LORD, God of Israel” or “Sovereign LORD” and so on.

Jesus says that we pray to God like kids talking to their father. We don’t pray to an impersonal force. We don’t pray into the air. You don’t have to wait in line. Jesus emphasises this later on in our passage in verses 5-8 with a “how much more” argument. If we help each other out when asked even though it might be grudgingly, how much more will our Father in Heaven hear our prayers.

Surely this is a motivation to pray.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, it is a great wonder to be able to call you “Father.” Thank you for this incredible privilege. Amen

He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
‘“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.”’[Luke 11:2-4]

 

Don Bradman’s name is hallowed.  He is far and away the best cricket batsman who ever lived. His batting average was 99.94 and the next highest in history is 60.97. They’ve named a grandstand after him at the SCG – the Bradman Stand. People pay a fortune for his memorabilia. He is spoken of with awe. That’s hallowing his name.

The word ‘hallowed’ comes from the word “to make holy”; to make separate. So, in this part of the prayer we’re asking God to make sure that his name, character and reputation are treated differently from other things and all other names and reputations.

When you hallow someone, you won’t stand for anyone mocking or misusing their name.

There is no place for any Christian to say things like “Oh my God!” Even though God is not his name, it is the way we mostly refer to Yahweh. We don’t treat God like the next-door neighbour.

Of course, Jesus is not just referring to God’s name here, but to our God himself. Remember Isaiah’s vision of God in Isaiah 6? His response to seeing the Glory of God was:

‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’  [Is 6:5]

When Moses approaches the burning bush, he is commanded to take off his sandals for he was treading on holy ground.

In Hebrews 12 the writer says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’.” [Heb 12:28-29]

There is no point in praying that God’s name be hallowed if we ourselves do not treat him with the awe and honour he rightly deserves. That is what it is to “Fear the LORD”, and that is the beginning of wisdom [Prov 1:7; Ps 111:10].

The first two phrases of the prayer give us two aspects of our God – he is our loving Father, but he is also God of the universe.

Are there ways that you do not treat God as he deserves?

PRAYER

LORD of the universe, help me to rightly honour you in all I do. Amen

He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

‘“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.”’  [Luke 11:2-4]

Next Jesus says we are to ask God to bring his kingdom to earth. “Your Kingdom come” we are to pray.  That’s asking God to spread the kingdom of heaven here on earth, but it’s also saying “God, we want Jesus to return.”

Both of those fit with the idea of the coming of the Kingdom, especially in the sense that the kingdom is present in Jesus and that his people join the kingdom while still living on the earth. Eph 2:19 tells us that we are fellow citizens of heaven right now.

It is praying “God we want all people everywhere to acknowledge that you are the ruler and to submit to your right to call the shots”. Of course, first and foremost that means we are praying “God, start with me. Make me willing to submit to your will, whatever it is.” That is how the kingdom is established; wherever people willingly submit to God’s rule.

The start of the prayer is all about God; did you notice that? God is the focus.

The second part of the prayer is about us. Firstly, Jesus tells us to ask for our daily bread.

It’s not wrong to pray for the things you need. That’s not necessarily being selfish.  It’s acknowledging that God is the great giver; the great provider.

This part of the Lord’s Prayer is really saying “give us today our bread for the coming day”.

Now it’s not just asking God to give us our high fibre, low salt, low fat, low sugar, vitamin-enriched, thick-sliced bread. Bread can be extended to cover all our physical needs.

But why “daily”?

Do you remember the story of the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt in about 1446 BC? God provided them with food but only enough for each day. In Deut 8:3, Moses recalls that time and says,

“God] humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

God gave them enough for each day to teach them to depend on him. It was so that they’d learn to trust him. Of course, they had to learn to be content with what God provided as well. Can you be content for God to meet your needs rather than your greeds?

PRAYER

Jehovah Jireh, give me a heart that trusts you completely and is content. May your will be done in my life. Amen

4” Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.”’[Luke 11:4]

It’s always a good thing to pray for forgiveness.  Jesus wouldn’t include it in his pattern for praying if it weren’t. Do you know why? Psalm 66:18 says

‘If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.’
(See also Isaiah 59:2)

And this is not just an Old Testament thing. Check out 1 Peter 3:7. Our sin can stop our prayers reaching God.

If we want God to hear us when we pray, we need to confess our sins and pray for forgiveness. That’s why Jesus puts that in his pattern for prayer. And we need to do that when we pray together. Notice that the Lord’s Prayer has no “I” or “me” or “my”? It’s all “us” and “our” and “we”.

This prayer is meant to be prayed in community, together with other people. Is it your regular pattern to confess and ask for forgiveness when you pray? Is that the pattern in your church services?

There’s something else in this little phrase we need to unpack. Do you realise what you pray there when you pray this part of the prayer – “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” 

I think the new edition of the NIV gets it right here. It could mean one of three things:

  • Firstly, “Forgive us our sins in the same way that we forgive other people.”
  • Or secondly, “God forgive us, and we will forgive others just like you’re forgiving us.”
  • The third thing it could mean (and I think this is the best interpretation) is “God forgive us our sins because we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.”

You show you are repentant and wanting to live God’s way by your actions – “God, I’m truly sorry and repentant for my sins and I’ve shown that by my readiness to forgive those who’ve wronged me.” Forgiving others is a sign that we are truly saved. If we are not ready to forgive others when they wrong you and then apologise, then our hearts are wrong.

This Lord’s Prayer is a fearsome prayer.

How much do you want God’s forgiveness?

Here’s what to do. If you are holding unforgiveness – ask God’s help to let it go. Ask for his strength – after all that’s why he gives his Holy Spirit.

And then, as far as you can, sort it out with the person who has wronged you.

Go home and do what is necessary. Today. And then ask God’s forgiveness.

PRAYER

Merciful Father, you forgave my sins and made me new. I’m sorry I don’t always live out my new life. Teach me to forgive others. Amen 

4…And lead us not into temptation.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks forf]”>[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

[Luke 11:4-13]

Doesn’t it seem strange to ask God to do something he’s never going to do anyway?  God is never going to tempt us to sin.

There are a number of explanations but the best one is that this is a figure of speech called a litotes – a form of speech in the negative but means the positive e.g. “Not a few” means lots. “That’s not bad” means “that’s good.” You make a positive statement by stating the negative.

An example would be in John 6:27 when Jesus says, ‘Whoever comes to me I will in no way turn away’. He means “I will accept everyone who comes to me.”  So here, it means “Father lead us away from temptation”.

Don’t face up to temptation. Don’t try to tough it out. The Bible says flee temptation – run from it; escape it as it says in 1 Cor 10:13. To pray the Lord’s Prayer and then put yourself in a position to be tempted is to stick your hand in the fire and then pray that you won’t get burned.

Jesus then follows up the pattern of prayer with encouragement to pray. God is more concerned about our good than any father, or friend, and they can be relied on to do good for us when we are in need. How much more our Heavenly Father!

Then in verse 9 Jesus sums it up by saying, “So pray! Ask! God will hear and do what is good and right by you.”

More than that, he will give us his Holy Spirit, the giver of all good, and himself the ultimate good. If we have the Spirit, we have all we need. That is not suggesting that you can be a Christian and not have the Holy Spirit, that is impossible.  Rather he is saying that we should continue to pray that the Spirit will have his way in our lives, like in Ephesians 5 he tells us to keep on being filled with the Spirit. It’s a prayer for the Holy Spirit to keep working in us.

So, to summarise our week’s devotions in the Lord’s Prayer:

  • Pray and God will listen. He wants to hear us.
  • Pray in terms of the things in the Lord’s prayer and he will answer.
  • He will always do what is best.
  • Don’t expect God to hear you if you harbour unforgiveness in your heart
  • He will continue to have his Holy Spirit work in us.

So pray. Pray with others. Pray on your own. But pray. Why not carry out an experiment in prayer. Pray covering the things this prayer covers and ask for the Holy spirit to keep working in you and see if your prayers aren’t answered.

As the great corporate philosopher, Nike, says, “Just do it.”

PRAYER

God of power and might, give me a heart to pray. Keep me in close dialogue with you. Amen

Luke 12:13-34 – Jesus on Worry

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’

14 Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ 15 Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’

[Luke 12:13-15]

“Life does not consist in an abundance possessions.”

It’s true, isn’t it? If it did you’d be able to go to the beach where life is reduced to its minimum – its bare minimum might I say – just a few ounces of cloth and some sunscreen, and look around at everyone and pick out who the wealthy people are, because the people with the most possessions would be the happy ones – the people with the smiling faces.

But it doesn’t work that way.

What is it that makes people happy? I don’t mean that little thrill you get from retail therapy, or from getting a hole in one. Those thrills are fleeting. I’m talking about a deep inner joy.

My childhood was not wealthy: we never ate takeaway, that was a luxury. I went to a restaurant for the first time at age 18. I stayed in my first motel at age 21. Never any soft drink in the house, and we lived in a cardboard box in the middle of the road – well not quite; but I have only happy memories of my childhood.

Many of us live in the future – “Life will be better when…” John Lennon once wisely wrote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” (John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy“)

A man comes up to Jesus and says “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” It was the role of the eldest son to distribute the assets in his father’s will.

Jesus replies, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” The word “arbiter” is literally, “divider”.

A writer called Kenneth Bailey says, “Jesus is a reconciler of people, not a divider. He wants to bring people together, not finalize separations.” (Kenneth E Bailey, “Through Peasants Eyes“, p300]

Much rather the man had said something like “Rabbi, my brother and I are fighting, can you help us sort it out? It’s getting messy and I don’t want us to wreck our relationship. Can you help us get some reconciliation going?”

No! He says, “Jesus, give my brother a kick up the pants. He’s in the wrong.”

No, real life consists in being content in all circumstances. Proverbs 30:8-9 says,

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.”

Real life comes from good relationships. That is why there are so many “one another” passages in the Bible.

PRAYER

My God and my provider, make me content in all circumstances. Amen

16 And he told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”

18 ‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

20 ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

[Luke 12:16-20]

Notice two things:

  1. The man is already rich, even before he gets his bumper crop. He has all he needs and more, this bumper crop is surplus – a bonus. It’s cream on top.
  2. Secondly, notice who or what produces the crop. The groundproduced the crop. It’s Jesus’ way of saying “The rich man didn’t earn the bumper crop. He didn’t work any harder to earn it. God gave it. It was a gift from God. The ground produced it. God sent the right weather and the right amount of sun at the right time.”

Kenneth Bailey, an expert in Middle Eastern culture, says, “This is a very sad scene. In the Middle East, village people make decisions about important topics after long discussions with their friends.  Families, communities and villages are tightly knit together.  Everybody’s business is everybody else’s business. Every trivial decision is made after hours of discussion with family and friends. But this man appears to have no friends.” [Kenneth Bailey, “Through Peasant’s Eyes”, p303]

This is a lonely man. This is a man without relationships. He is rich but has nothing of value.

Bailey points out that he speaks of MY crops, MY barns, MY surplus grain, MYself.

He is so ME focussed. He doesn’t think, “I have more than I need.  I’ll give it all to Compassion.” Or “I’ll send some off to support gospel work in Indonesia” or even, “I’ll give 20% of it to my church so that more people who live around me can hear the gospel and become rich towards God.”

No! He is going to spend it on himself, and before we criticise him, we need to take the log out of our own eye. When we get a windfall – a pay rise, an inheritance, a win of some sort, it is to be enjoyed but windfalls are from God, and on loan to us from God. Do we give a proportion to kingdom work or do we spend it all on ourselves?

This man is going to eat, drink and be merry. Isn’t that the dream? Retire early and enjoy life? This bloke has it as good as it gets, but no one to share it with. He is a fool! Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Real life comes from our relationship with God through Christ, and then with others.

PRAYER

Lord God, whose son came to make us his friends, give me the wisdom to see what is truly important in life and to pursue it. Amen

20 ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

21 ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.’ [Luke 12:20-21]

The man discovers that, like his crops, his life is on loan from God as well, and now God demands an accounting. Every breath we breathe is a gift from God.

Not only had he no one to share his bounty with, he did not have any connection with God either. That is about as alone as you can get.

He is a fool. Jesus says: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

It’s the same thing that Jesus says earlier on – “what does it profit a person to gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul?”

Have you ever had that nightmare that you’re back in school and you’ve studied for the wrong exam? You get into the exam room all primed up and ready to go and then you look at the paper and you realise that this paper was not the one you studied for.  There is that sinking feeling, and then panic sets in and you start looking for ways out – would they accept my mistake? Could I sit it again later? Surely there’s a solution! And there isn’t.

That’s how it will be on the last day when God calls our life into account and we show God our toys and he just isn’t interested. It’d be a nightmare to find we’ve been chasing the wrong things.

God is interested in relationships – our relationships with others but especially with Him.

Riches and God are not incompatible. Notice the wording in v21. Riches aren’t the problem – it’s being rich towards God that is where the rubber hits the road.

What is being rich towards God? First and foremost, it’s being on talking terms with God, not merely a nodding acquaintance. That only comes through Christ. Then it’s having a living, vital relationship with Him. It’s having the lines of communication open. It’s making note of his presence and taking up his world view. It’s honouring Him in all we do [1 Cor 10:31]. It’s giving thanks in all circumstances.

They’re not bad goals to take up each morning.

PRAYER

Abba, Father, please give me a heart that is rich towards you. Amen

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 ‘Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you – you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

[Luke 12:22-32]

Jesus starts off this part of his teaching with the word “therefore”. Because all things are a gift from God; because life is not about possessions; because greed is dangerous, therefore do not worry about your life.

If only we could do that! If only the worry and anxiety would cease, or at least be limited to the point where life is not negatively affected.

We live in an anxiety-ridden culture. It would seem that some conditions are mainly due to unhelpful thought processes, while in recent years it has become evident that there are also anxiety conditions, medical issues that either predispose us towards anxiety or even produce it. It would be foolish not to treat these conditions as illnesses and get medical help. At the same time, however, drugs alone are never the only approach. A good doctor will always recommend counselling as part of the way forward, to learn how to lower anxiety levels. It is always a two-pronged approach.

So whether our anxiety is a chemical issue or not, the teaching of Jesus is fundamental to good mental health. Our worry accomplishes nothing. God is in charge and he has total power.

Furthermore, if we are in Christ we are his flock (note that this promise holds only for those who belong to Christ). If He has been pleased to give us the kingdom, will he not give us everything we need? Anxiety comes from the fear that the future holds something we won’t be able to cope with. Jesus is saying God will care for us. Do you believe it?

Note how Jesus gives us the thought process to deal with anxiety and fear. He tells us to seek God’s kingdom. Don’t make your comfort your first priority. Don’t make the good life your first priority. Don’t make your health your first priority. Make God your first priority and everything else falls into perspective. We can’t have that taken away. Nothing can change the fact that we are Jesus’ flock. So there is no foothold for anxiety to take hold in the most important area of life.

PRAYER

Father, give me an undivided heart and a complete trust in your goodness and power. Amen

 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

[Luke 12:33-34]

Your heart follows your treasure. I never gave a second thought about the stock market until my wife inherited a largish packet of shares. That changed things!

I never thought much about ice hockey until my son started playing.

I never thought too much about interest rates until I got a mortgage.

It wasn’t until people or things I valued entered the picture that those things began to get my attention. Once those things got my treasures involved my heart began to focus there as well.

What if we used that principle to put our hearts where we want them to be? Rather than our hearts following our treasure wherever it happens to be, what if we put our treasure where we want our hearts to be?

Missionary, Don Richardson, tells the story in his book “Peace Child” about an incident he witnessed in New Guinea where three local villages of the Sawi people were at constant war with each other. In an effort to make peace they agreed to a ceremony in which young children were exchanged between the opposing villages. One man in particular ran toward his enemy’s camp and literally gave his son to his hated foe, much to his wife’s cries of anguish. The point being that no village would attack another in which one of its beloved children now lived. Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.

If you want to be more committed to the Kingdom of God, invest in it. Put your treasure there.

What about selling all your possessions and giving them to the poor? Is Jesus really commanding that of his disciples? Well, the passage started with the parable of the rich fool, a man who let his wealth get in the way of being rich towards God. It’s really about providing for yourselves purses that won’t wear out. Generosity is not just the opposite of greed, it is the antidote to greed. The more we are generous, the lighter our hold is on our wealth. The Bible, as it teaches elsewhere about wealth and following Jesus, doesn’t make this a requirement, unless it prevents us following Jesus.

How are you investing your treasures into the Kingdom of God? Are you investing sufficiently to break the hold your wealth, whatever that might be, has on you?

PRAYER

Father, you invested yourself in humankind by becoming one of us in your son. Help me to invest my treasure with you. Amen

Luke 13:18-30 – Entering the Kingdom of God

18 Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.’

20 Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.’ 

[Luke 13:18-21]

Paul Kelly wrote a song entitled “From Little Things Big Things Grow”. It’s a protest song about the gaining of Aboriginal land rights. It’s about the efforts the Aboriginal people, focused around one man, Vincent Lingiarri. He was a poor nobody with a dirt-floored house, who took on the might of the wealthy pastoralist, the Vestey company, and won. He was told he had no hope; “Vestey man roared and Vestey man thundered, You don’t stand the chance of a cinder in snow.” [lyrics from Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody]

The kingdom of God, represented on earth by Jesus of Nazareth, must have looked so insignificant against the might of the powers arrayed against him. True, he arrived with an angel fanfare, but no worldly pomp. Very little worldly recognition. One man with no position or power and even from his birth seen as an enemy of the state. Such small beginnings!

The mustard seed was indeed small and proverbial for that amongst the Rabbis of old, but it didn’t grow into a massive tree – rather a shrub about 4 metres tall, big enough for birds to perch in. Jesus is not focussing so much on the small to large concept of the kingdom as the idea that the glory of the kingdom of God will blossom from this small beginning [Don Carson “The Expositors Bible Commentary: Matthew, p318]. As the yeast is a tiny part of the bread in the bread-making process, yet it permeates the whole batch, so the kingdom will spread, organically if you like, throughout the world.

Isn’t it always the case with God’s work? It’s is so often unspectacular. Paul talked of God’s strength displayed in weakness.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” [2 Corinthians 4:7]

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:10]

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. [1 Corinthians 1:27]

It should be a warning to us of the danger to the church of worldly power and influence, and displays of wealth and the spectacular in gospel work. Many in the church pine for the influence it once had in the affairs of the nation. Many point to the highly “successful” churches of our day as models.

God works like the yeast in the dough. The kingdom of God grows one person at a time. It grows through the mostly unspectacular sharing of the good news, like yeast in the dough. It grows as church after church shows itself to be an outpost of the kingdom.

PRAYER

Lord God, help me never the despise the day of small things. Work in and through my weakness to grow your kingdom. Amen

22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’

He said to them, 24 ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  [Luke 13:22-24]

One of the things that strikes me about Jesus is that he doesn’t get side-tracked. He is on-message the whole time, and this incident is no different. Someone asks a question

on the lips of lots of people we meet today. “Surely all religions lead to the same place. We all worship the same God, don’t we? Surely a loving God won’t send people to hell, will he?” It’s called “universalism”.

I love the way Jesus answers. He answers the question (which he does not always do, by the way, because his preferred method seems to be to answer a question with a question), but at the same time brings it home personally to the questioner.

“You make every effort to make sure that you are saved!” He takes the impersonal question and makes it intensely personal. Can you blame him? He is going to suffer terribly and die to make it possible for people to be saved. The questioner is someone for whom the issue seems to be purely academic. The outcome is far too important to Jesus for him to leave it there.

Maybe this is a way forward for us when we get asked generalised or theoretical questions about the faith – to make it more personal to the questioner. “Why do you ask?” or “it’s a good question because it’s vital to our eternal future.”

Jesus says “24 ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”

There is part of the answer to the question. It’s a narrow entrance to the Kingdom of God, so yes, only a few people will be saved. Many will try to enter and not be able to, he says.

Why is that? Surely if someone really wants to enter the Kingdom and gives it a try, they should be accepted.

Well Jesus tells us in John 10 where he says ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” [John 10:7-9]

So, anyone can enter the Kingdom of God, but they must enter through Jesus. He is the narrow way. The many who will try to enter but not be able to are those who try to enter another way; a way other than by Jesus. The reason for that is that all other ways do not deal with our sin and our impurity.

Much as we might like the idea of a God who turns no one away, to rely on anything other than the death and resurrection of Jesus is the wrong way.

PRAYER

Mighty God and saviour, make me a bold messenger of the good news. Amen

25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, “Sir, open the door for us.”

‘But he will answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from.”

26 ‘Then you will say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”

27 ‘But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” [Luke 13:25-27]

 

I’ve been reading through Romans over the past little while and it struck me how Romans 9 could be a commentary on Jesus’ words here. Paul is dealing with the question of the Jews and their place in the kingdom, and he points out how, even though they are the chosen people of God, the covenant people, and they have the law, the prophets, the patriarchs and the temple and all that entails, they (not all of them but speaking generally) are outside the kingdom (Romans 9:4-5, 30-32). The reason is that although they are zealous for God, they rejected God’s way of reconciliation with Him, Jesus (Romans 10:1-4).

It is a striking passage. No matter how keen you are to serve God, if you reject his way of approaching him then you are lost. That shouldn’t surprise us because the whole Old Testament way of getting right with God was prescribed: the temple, the sacrifices, the law. It has always been the case that the only acceptable worship to God is worship in the way that he sets down. Remember the children of Israel and the episode with the golden calf (Exodus 32). That was an attempt to worship God in their own way, and it ended in disaster.

Both Jesus (here in Luke) and Paul (n Romans), address those who think that their good life or their religiosity, or their heritage will mean they are acceptable to God. There was a great old missionary Bible teacher named Paul White, who wrote the Jungle Doctor stories for kids. He tells about a monkey who wanted to be a lion, so he found an old lion skin, started eating what lions eat, and roaring like lions roar and doing what lions do. Finally, he went where lions went and ended up as lion food. The point of the story was to that to be a lion you had to be born a lion. A person may look like a believer and act like a believer, he or she may even be sympathetic to Christ, but that doesn’t save them. They need to be born again (John 3:3,5).

Jesus said that he was the only way to the Father.  It’s not as though God is being capricious – “my way or the highway.” It is the only way that his holy and loving character could not be compromised. In Jesus, God’s love and justice meet.

PRAYER

Holy and loving Father, thank you for the work of the Lord Jesus to set me free and the Holy Spirit who has applied the gospel to my heart. Amen

25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, “Sir, open the door for us.”

‘But he will answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from.”

26 ‘Then you will say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”

27 ‘But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” [Luke 13:25-27]

“I don’t know you or where you come from.”

The people God is speaking to had fooled themselves. They thought they were entitled to be in the kingdom, or maybe they presumed on God’s mercy, but they were wrong.

It raises the question, “How can we be sure that we are saved?”

Well, there are a number of tests we can apply to ourselves. Jesus says that we need to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

Repentance is at the heart of the process of being born again. Thomas Brooks described it as a vomiting of the soul. It is a heartfelt repudiation of sin and a turning away from it. It involves sorrow and regret. The very act of repentance itself is an indication that we are children of God, because the act of repentance itself is produced in us by God (Acts 11:18,  2 Timothy 2:25). Belief in the gospel is a trust in Jesus’ substitutionary death for us. Have you repented, and do you continue to live a life of repentance? That is a sure sign of your new birth. Do you believe the gospel – if you are trusting Jesus’ death for you and not your own efforts to put you right with God, that is a sure sign of the new birth.

John gives us his three tests in his first letter.

1) Believing in Jesus as the Son of God [1 John 2:23]

2) Loving the brothers and sisters [1 John 2:9-11, 3:14]

3) Obeying His Commands [1 John 2:1, 29, 3:10]

These are not the ways we enter the kingdom; they are signs that we are indeed born again.

The new birth gives us a new heart, one that now wants to live God’s way (Ezek 11:19-20; Jer 24:7). Of course, we are sinful, fallen creatures and we will fail to do these three things, but if we repent when we fail and if our compass bearing is towards these three things, then we can be confident that we are children of God. We would not have that direction in our lives if we weren’t saved, because the desire to repent, believe and obey comes only from the Spirit of God.

It is not arrogant to be confident of our salvation, it is taking God as his word.

PRAYER

Mighty rescuer, give me a heart that always believes, always repents, always obeys and always loves. Give me a heart that always rejoices in my salvation. Amen

28 ‘There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.’  [Luke 13:28-30]

God will close the door and many will be locked out of the kingdom. Jesus here is talking to the Jews and he’s making the point that they will not get a free ride into the kingdom just because of their race. Paul says the same thing in Romans 9 of the Jews. Their great historical men of faith will be in, but they will miss out because they did not take the narrow door. Notice how Jesus is stressing his continuity with the faith as delivered in their scriptures and by their prophets. He is in the direct line with the revelation of God, not them.

The gentiles will enter the kingdom ahead of them. These are really confronting words. As we saw a couple of days ago Romans 9 gives a helpful commentary on this issue. They failed to take up God’s offer of salvation on God’s terms and so they got what they wanted – exclusion for the kingdom they didn’t want, at least not the kingdom as it was in truth. They preferred a false kingdom (Romans 10:2). If the kingdom was to be entered through Jesus by faith alone, they wanted nothing of it, and so they condemn themselves.

C.S. Lewis once famously wrote, “The doors to hell are locked from the inside.” We can see what that looks like in his wonderful little book, “The Great Divorce” which tells a parable of a bus tour to heaven for a group of tourists from hell. They find heaven really unpleasant.

How can a loving God lock people out of his kingdom? In one sense he gives them what they want. Refusing God’s way of salvation is like someone refusing to take a vaccine. You cannot blame the doctor for their death if it occurs.

Jesus ends this section with another important theme in the Bible – “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The gospel is the great equaliser. The least presentable parts of the body are those that should be invested with special honour (1 Cor 12:23).

How well does your church exemplify these truths?

How much time do you spend in thanks to God for your salvation?

Does love for the lost and fear for their eternity drive you to pray for them and then reach out to them?

PRAYER

Mighty rescuer, thank you for flinging open the doors of your kingdom to such as me. Give me a heart for the lost. Amen

Luke 14:15-27 – The Parable of the Great Banquet

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’

16 Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests [Luke 14:15-16]

This week we look at the parable of the great banquet.

Many times in the Bible, the banquet or feast is the symbol for the end-time celebration in the Kingdom of God. The 23rd Psalm says, “You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” And in Isaiah 25 we’re told that God will make a banquet for his people [Is 25:6-9].

in his book “Through Peasants Eyes”, Kenneth E Bailey points out how the Isaiah 25 passage really helps us to understand this parable:

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace
 from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
 let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’

[Isaiah 25:6-9]

There are remarkable precursors to the Gospel message of the New Testament. Notice some of the themes coming through – the banquet as a picture of heaven, which shall be for all people. The gentiles will participate, and death is swallowed up forever. This banquet is by grace invitation. All pain and suffering is gone. God removes our disgrace.

It’s clear there is no discontinuity between the testaments. Entry is a matter of trust in God.

Bailey also points out that as time went on the idea of the gentile entry into the feast was downplayed or even lost altogether. In later Jewish writings the gentiles will be excluded. We’ve already heard from Jesus that the gentiles will be included [Luke 13:29], and that those who think they will be in the kingdom will be excluded.

So the parable which follows is a strong warning to Jesus’ Jewish hearers. I was online this week at church and the preacher was looking at 2 Corinthians 13 with the warning from Paul to the Christians in Corinth, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” [2 Cor 13:5]

We’ve previously looked at some of these tests from 1 John. They’re not meant to weaken our faith or cause doubt – Jesus’ warning here is for those who are outside the kingdom. Rather, the warning, and Paul’s injunction to examine ourselves, is meant to strengthen the faith of the faithful, but cause consternation for those who think they are in by dint of their own good life and spirituality. Are you trusting in Jesus’ death alone? Do you love him?

PRAYER

My father in heaven, I believe. Help my unbelief. Amen

17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” 18 ‘But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

19 ‘Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.”

20 ‘Still another said, “I have just got married, so I can’t come.”

21 ‘The servant came back and reported this to his master.

[Luke 14:17-21]

This is a very wealthy man. This is a big party!  This was the social event of the year in any local village in Palestine, just as it is today.

And, just as is the custom today, people got two invitations.  The first invitation was like the ones we give out. You usually get them well in advance, and like this one they have an RSVP, so that the people throwing the party can get the catering right. There was no refrigeration, so any food left over was wasted. Now in Palestine in Jesus’ day, and still today in some conservative areas, the person throwing the party would get everything ready, start cooking the meat and when it was nearly ready, he’d send out the message, “Come, all is now ready.” They didn’t have watches or clocks, so invitations didn’t say, “The wedding is at 3 and the reception is at 6.” Parties were in the later afternoon sometime.

The final invitation goes out.  Remember, the party is really heaven in this parable.  Heaps of people get invited.  Jesus says, “God loved the world like this: he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

There is the invitation, and it’s an invitation to the whole world. No one is left out. No one is too far gone. No one is beyond rescue. Christianity is not a western religion. It’s not a Middle Eastern religion.  It’s not an American religion.  Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

But now, at the final minute, the guests bow out. What they do is incredibly insulting.

Now in our culture today it’s hard for us to get the full impact of this story because we pull out of stuff all the time, sometimes at the last minute and sometimes without any notice or any reasons.  In the Middle East that would not only be seen as incredibly rude and hurtful, but terribly insulting.  All three excuses Jesus relates here are like that.  Who buys a property without first inspecting it [v18]? The thought of buying five teams of oxen without first checking them out is unheard of in the Middle East [v19].  It’d be like buying a second-hand car from the internet for general use without going to check it out first.

The third guest says, “I just got married and I can’t come.” There were no honeymoons in Jesus’ culture, and weddings were a whole community affair so the host of the party wouldn’t have set a conflicting date.

Jesus is saying that the people invited to join the kingdom of God have refused in the most insulting ways.  “Life is just too busy at the moment.” “I have my own beliefs.” “I’m not a murderer or a thief.”

PRAYER

God of all nations, thank you for your amazing patience. Help me, by the working of your Spirit, to appreciate the salvation your Son has won for me. Amen

21 Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

22 ‘“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.”

23 ‘Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”’

[Luke 14:21-24]

In the parable the host then sends his servants out to invite people in the town who had no chance of ever paying the host back.

You know how it is. You get invited to a wedding of a distant relative, and when it comes your family’s turn to put on a wedding, you have to invite them.  When you send out Christmas cards, you add to your list everyone who sent you a card last year.  You get invited round someone’s place for a meal, and you have to reciprocate.  That’s just what you do.

But the host invites those who could never pay them back with a similar invitation:  the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.  The beggar class of Jesus’ day.  And then he sends his invitation out to people in the highways and the byways – those who aren’t even from his town. Outsiders.

Jesus was often criticised for receiving sinners and eating with them.

Salvation was offered to the Jewish nation of Jesus’ day, but they refused it because they refused to recognise the Son of God who issued the invitation. They had their own ideas about God, thank you very much!  It sounds all too familiar.

“I tell you,” says the host in Jesus’ parable, “not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet” [v24]. Not even a taste!

The wonderful thing about the gospel is that the kingdom of God is given to those who could never earn it and could never repay the generosity.

We know that entry into the kingdom is free, but how often do we fall back into thinking that we somehow have to repay God for his generosity; earning salvation by paying back the debt. So we do our works of faith out of a fear of losing our salvation instead of a delight in serving our God. We can never repay God for his wonderful grace shown us in his Son, but we can glorify him by enjoying and celebrating it. After all, the best way to please the host of a party is to enjoy the party.

PRAYER

Gracious Father, show me how to live out my salvation in joy and thanksgiving. Amen

21Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

22 ‘“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.”

23 ‘Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”’  [Luke 14:21-24]

 

“Compel them to come.” [v23]

Down through the centuries some branches of the church have taken this literally and by force of arms have “compelled” people into the kingdom. They relied on texts like this to support their actions, but as Bailey points out, “nothing could be further from its original intent. In the Middle East the unexpected invitation must be refused. The refusal is all the more required if the guest is of lower social rank than the host” (Kenneth E Bailey “Through Peasant’s Eyes” p108). Here the “guests” must think that the host cannot be serious. They are either the begging class or complete outsiders to the village life and unknown to the host. It would be like getting one of those phone calls or emails making offers that are too good to be true. They must refuse. So the host instructs his messengers to insist that the invitation is valid and demonstrate that by insisting that the people come.

So two groups now get invited to the great feast: those of the Jewish faith who are represented by the lame and the poor; those who recognise they can never pay for their invitation, and the gentiles, represented by those from the country lanes who would not normally get an invitation at all.

It would be wrong to limit the identity of this first group with the physically poor and weak. Much is said of Jesus’ special love of the poor and marginalised but that is true only in so far as they are more likely to see their need of the Saviour. We’re reminded of the Sermon on the Mount, and particularly Matthew’s version, where it is clear that Jesus talking about the spiritually poor and blind – those who recognise their need for God’s mercy and help. The poor who reject Jesus’ offer of salvation are condemned in the same way as the arrogant rich.

PRAYER

Loving God, thank you for persisting with me and calling me into your kingdom. Give me a heart to reach out to others with your love.  Amen

25 Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

[Luke 14:25-27]

Jesus has just told the parable of the great banquet, emphasising the free gift nature of the invitation into the kingdom. He follows it up by teaching that although the kingdom is free, once you are a member it will cost.

Here he says that we should hate our families. Now elsewhere Jesus tells us to love and look after our families, so he doesn’t actually mean, “hate”.  He’s using a figure of speech, and idiom of the day that meant “renounce” or “love less”.

In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you don’t have me as your first priority, your first loyalty, then you are not worthy to be my disciple. Make sure you take this into account if you decide to follow me.”

It is at this point that many Christians falter. Our families are rightly of great importance to us, but for some of us our family has become our god. For some, family ties trump everything.

The follower of Jesus should treat his family better than any other person, but there is one supreme loyalty – Jesus. Jesus over your family! Jesus over your career!  Jesus over your love life! Jesus over your comfort!  Jesus over your finances! Jesus over all! He demands absolute loyalty because he has earned it, and he deserves it.

And what does that mean in practical terms?

You cannot be too busy with your family that it gets in the way of your devotion to Christ and his family, the church.

You cannot claim to be a disciple of Christ and sit on your gifts and talents and not use them. A Christian cannot be uninvolved in their church!

You cannot refuse to forgive someone who is truly repentant.

Christian husbands and wives cannot hurt each other without repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation!  If a Christian marriage ends in separation or divorce, one or both of them is not living as a disciple of Christ.

You cannot claim to be a disciple of Christ and be tight fisted with money and time!

I cannot see how a Christian will refuse to support their church and God’s kingdom work financially!

That is the cost! That is what makes Christians different! We are like salt.  You can always taste the salt in a dish.  You can always pick it out.  It’s unique.  You will never mistake it for anything else.  It stands out.

PRAYER

Lord God strengthen me by your Holy Spirit to be salty. Amen

Luke 15:11-32 – The Love of the Father

11 Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. 13 ‘Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”

[Luke 15:11-13] 

The context of this parable is important. Luke tells us that Jesus’ popularity with “tax collectors and sinners” was drawing criticism from the pharisees. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” [Luke 15:1-2]. Bailey says “In the East today, as in the past, a nobleman may feed any number of lesser needy persons as a sign of his generosity, but he does not eat with them. However, when guests are “received” the one receiving the guests eats with them. This meal is a special sign of acceptance.” (Kenneth E Bailey “Poet and Peasant” p143). It’s clear from Mark 2:15f that Jesus even hosted such meals.

In response to the criticism, Jesus tells these three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. The parable of the lost son is not primarily about a stupid young man but about God and his relationship with sinners and the self-righteous, although Jesus doesn’t actually apply the parable or give its explanation.

The power of the parable is in its shock value. Bailey notes that a son asking his father for his inheritance is unheard of in the East as it would be taken without any doubt as the wish of the son for the father to die (Bailey, “Poet and Peasant” p162 – he gives a lot of biblical and extra-biblical evidence to support this). This is especially the case here where the father does not keep his right to use the property until his death, but actually gives the son his half share to dispose of as he pleases.

The actions of the father are unheard of and the hearers of Jesus’ words would have been shocked and disbelieving. The parable in no way reflects their reality. The father is unbelievably loving.  Note that the older son also gets his share (v12). He too is in the wrong, for custom demanded that he should have refused to take his share.

I know of a farming family where the parents divided the farm between their two children and one immediately sold their half share and moved interstate. It nearly broke the parents’ hearts. How much more in the Jewish culture where the land was so much more a part of the family heritage, and people’s link to their land was a part of their identity.

To make matters worse, the younger son sells up almost immediately (v13). He would have been a pariah in his community. It is hard for us to understand the depth of his betrayal of his father who had now lost half his income into his old age, and the son who should have been supporting him financially.

The son then moves to “a distant country”, away from the land of his ancestors, the promised land. He effectively cuts himself off from his father. Like Jonah heading for Joppa, he goes about as far as he can geographically to distance himself, not just from his family but from the temple and the law of the Jewish nation.

Is that not a picture of humanity in general? Our culture has effectively cut itself off from all connection with the living God. It’s not that we are ignorant of God’s precepts but that we have turned our back on them.

The parable so far would have induced anger in the hearers at the son and disbelief at the love of the father.

PRAYER

Loving Father, I marvel at the depth of your love. Help me to live worthily of it. Amen

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” [Luke 15:13-16]

This is a picture of a person reaching rock bottom; “descending into his own hell” (Bailey). This is the antithesis of the third man in the parable of the talents who, for fear of his master, hid his money away.  No, this man spends the lot. He ends up herding pigs. We could make all sorts of observations at this point about the use of money and wise stewardship, but that is not the point of the parable. Away from his father’s restraint he ruins himself. He doesn’t have the spiritual resources to survive. Notice the place of the famine, the hand of God in all that happens to him. I don’t think it’s forcing the meaning of the parable to point out that God often brings a person to the end of themselves so that they will look to Him.

Notice, too, the shocks that keep coming to the hearers – the self-righteous of verse 2. Not only has the son shockingly disgraced his father and is deserving of nothing but punishment, and the father has shown extraordinary, even foolish love, but now this son is looking after pork and bacon precursors. The son is getting just what he deserves. Justice would be served if he were to die of starvation. That would be the ending the pharisees and lawyers would have told, but that is not the case in Jesus’ story.

“…but no one gave him anything.” In his father’s house he had all he needed, all he had to do was ask. That, it seems, was too much for him – he wanted to be the master of his own destiny. The problem with that attitude is that we aren’t, and cannot be, the masters. We have no control over what happens to us. The famine comes and he is powerless.

Two things are at work to bring him to this point – his own sin and foolishness and the unseen hand of God in the famine.

The only way to be able to be completely at rest is to trust the hand of the sovereign God; to be at home in the father’s house.

PRAYER

Lord of the chaos of life, thank you for your care for me. Amen

17 ‘When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” 20 So he got up and went to his father.

[Luke 15:17-20]

The son comes to his senses. He realises that he has sinned [v18]. How had he sinned? He had done nothing that you could call a crime. He was merely looking out for number one. Everyone in the drama acted from their own free choices. You can imagine the son as he heads to far country saying, “I’ve done nothing wrong!” Yet he now realises that he had wronged his father. What his understanding is of his sin is we don’t know, but he had not treated his father with respect (the fifth commandment). He had not loved him as much as he loved himself (Matt 22:39). In this way he has also sinned against God.

God does not just require the absence of wrongdoing, but also the performance of positive acts. So Jesus spoke, amongst other things, of going the extra mile (Matt 5:41); of being generous (Luke 6:29), of forgiveness (Matt 18:22).

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” That seems like deep contrition. At this point we want to applaud the son and yet he still hasn’t got it. “Take me back as one of your hired servants.” That’s the equivalent of “Please give me a job.” He doesn’t want to come home, he wants an income. The hired servant was not part of the household but a causal labourer. “As a ‘hired servant’ he will be a free man with his own income living independently in the local village. His social status will not be inferior to that of his father and his brother. He can maintain his pride and independence.” (Bailey, “Poet and Peasant” p177). He wants no favours (grace). In fact the wording of his proposed offer to his father is not phrased in terms of a request, but rather he tells his father what he wants to occur.

The son intends to come home on his own terms. His repentance is not heartfelt. His need has driven him to return but it’s not a return that’s intended to take him back into the family. He’s holding back. He’s not asking to come back as a slave.

As I think of the son’s thoughts and actions it makes me ask the question of myself, “Am I serving God on my own terms? Who really calls the shots in this relationship I have with my heavenly father?” Paul called himself the “Servant of Christ.” The word used was for a slave.

PRAYER

Gracious Lord, I want to serve you on your terms and not mine. Help me to do that. Amen

20  ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.

21 ‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

[Luke 15:20-21]

The son returns. He would be expecting rejection from his family and outright jeering and hostility from the closed community of the village. His previous behaviour would have been the talk of the town and his disgrace known by everyone. So Bailey says, “What the father does in the homecoming scene can best be understood as a series of dramatic actions calculated to protect the boy from the hostility of the village and to restore him to fellowship within the community” (Bailey, “Poet and Peasant” p183).

The father sees his son from a distance and runs to meet him. He’s been searching for the young man as the shepherd did in the parable of the lost sheep, and the woman in the parable of the lost coin. In the Eastern culture of Jesus’ day, men worthy of respect did not run anywhere. To do so would be an affront to their dignity and stature. As the neighbours watch on the father throws his dignity to the wind. He humbles himself. He was “filled with compassion for him” says Jesus. He knew what awaited his son in terms of the vilification he justly deserved, so the father publicly reconciles with his son on the outskirts of the village. The son now enters the village under the protection of the father’s love and acceptance.

Now the son departs from his prepared speech. He doesn’t ask his father to give him a job. He is willing to accept the place of a son, with all that means – being subject to his father, and living off his older brother. To us it seems like he’s won the prize but in effect he no longer comes back on his own terms. He comes back on the father’s terms. What has happened? It seems his father’s incredible acceptance and extreme love have melted his heart. He now realises that he can bring nothing to the table – he does not get to bargain with his father. For the relationship to be restored he must accept the father’s gift of forgiveness. In effect, he repents.

The best robe would almost certainly be the father’s best robe. His telling the servants to get the best robe is his way of telling the household that the son is accepted. The ring is probably the signet ring used for sealing correspondence and finalising deals. It’s a sign of complete trust.

Finally, the killing of the fatted calf is an indication that the whole community will be invited to the celebration. A calf is a large beast and there is no means of preserving the meat once it’s killed. The oldest son’s criticism that his father didn’t give him a calf to eat with his friends implies that this a village wide affair (15:29).

Remember that Jesus told this parable in answer to the criticism that he accepted sinners and tax collectors. When the father humbles himself and runs to greet his sinful son, we see the mission of Jesus who humbles himself “unto death” for our rescue.

PRAYER

Merciful father, thank you for sending your son to humble himself by taking on the form of a human, in the likeness of sinful humanity, in order to rescue me.  Amen

25 ‘Meanwhile, the elder son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”

28 ‘The elder brother became angry and refused to go in.

[Luke 15:25-28]

Custom required the oldest son’s presence. “The custom is widespread all across the Arab world and on into Iran, where in the village the older son stands at the door barefoot and greets the guests. Part of the meaning of the old custom is the symbolic nature of the gesture, by which the father says, “My older son is your servant.” (Bailey, “Poet and Peasant” p194). Here the oldest son does not support his father’s actions. In fact, he publicly humiliates his father in front of the guests, both by his words and his refusal to enter the celebration.

Again, those listening to the parable would have been shocked by the oldest son’s refusal. What would the father do? For the second time that day he humiliates himself and he goes to his son in a display of extravagant love. However, the response is different with the oldest son.

Where his brother is overcome with his father’s love and humility, this son refuses. He says that he had slaved for his father for years (v29). His relationship with his father has been a bad as his brother’s. He in effect says “I have deserved your love. I have earned it!” Whereas the father points to the fact that he is a son, not a slave; he doesn’t earn that place, it is his by dint of gift from his father.

Notice that the father “finds” both sons, but that is not enough. There needs to be repentance. As Bailey says, “One son understands and accepts the status of being found. The other, so far as we know, does not and remains lost” (“Poet and Peasant” p203).

Each of us must decide what our response will be to our Heavenly Father’s offer of forgiveness and acceptance.

PRAYER

Father God, thank you for this wonderful picture of your love in your son who came to seek and to save the lost. Thank you for finding me. Give me a heart to tell of your seeking love to others. Amen

Luke 16:19-31 – Thinking Eternally

19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

[Luke 16:19-31]

Luke records this parable in the context of the use and dangers of wealth. Jesus says “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” [Luke 16:13] and here we have an example of someone who does serve money.

The rich man is very rich. Purple was a rare dye and very expensive, so this man flaunts his wealth. The fine linen was the ancient equivalent of silk underwear (I’m guessing he didn’t flaunt that part of his clothing). The words, “Living in luxury every day”, when Jesus could have more naturally said, “living in luxury” really accentuates his excessive indulgence.

Lazarus is the only character in any of Jesus’ parables that gets a name, so the name is significant. It means “helped by God.” It would be hard to think of anyone who looked less likely to be helped by God. He’s either severely disabled or so ill he can’t walk because someone has to lay him at the rich man’s gate. He begs. He’s covered with sores. Surely the rich man would better fit that name!

Jesus is setting up an inversion. The man who is blessed doesn’t look it, and the man who looks blessed, isn’t.  It’s only in the light of the Kingdom of God that we see the truth.

It’s clear that the rich man knows of the beggar at his gate because he names him to Abraham (v24) yet has done nothing to alleviate Lazarus’ suffering. Lazarus longed to eat the scraps from the rich man’s feasting.

If there was no other teaching in the Bible, this parable alone would be enough to show up the pernicious false prosperity teaching. Wealth is not a sign of God’s approval. If you doubt that, just look at the sorts of people he has given great wealth to!

Furthermore, suffering is not a sign of God’s disapproval. Some of the great saints of the Bible suffered greatly. Read the story of Job. Read of Paul’s great sufferings (2 Cor 11:16ff). Read of the great prophet Elisha who died from illness (2 Kings 13:14). Just by the by, I read of a book titled “Why Prophet Elisha Died Sick and How To Avoid It” by someone called Amb Promise Ogbonna. You really can’t win when taking on the prosperity evangelists!

Wealth is not evil, but how we use it determines its hold on us. The rich man misused his wealth by using it only for his pleasures. The contrast here is strong. The dogs licking Lazarus’ sores is usually seen as being an indication of Lazarus being at the lowest point possible, but there is another take on it. In the ancient world, the lick of a dog on a wound was seen as curative. Dogs lick their own sores to clean them and heal them. The picture here is that even the street dogs were more compassionate than the rich man.

PRAYER

Lord God of all compassion, fill me with compassion for others and help me to be wise in the use of my wealth to serve you. Amen 

22 ‘The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

[Luke 16:22-24]

There’s great irony here. The rich man didn’t lift a finger to ease the suffering of Lazarus, yet calls on the help of Lazarus to ease his own discomfort. Notice too, the wording. This is not a request the rich man is making of Abraham, but seems more like a demand for service. Notice also that he doesn’t address Lazarus in person. There is Lazarus in the position of great honour at the heavenly banquet and yet he is still too far below the rich man for him to even address.

Even in Hades the man hasn’t changed. He displays no shame and no change of heart. There is no repentance, even when undergoing the punishment of God. Maybe that is the case with all who are in hell. C.S. Lewis is famously quoted as saying that the door of hell is locked from the inside.

There are some who claim that there is no hell and no eternal punishment. Although this is a parable and obviously not literally true at every point, nevertheless Jesus’ description of the alternative to heaven is extremely unpleasant. In v28 the rich man  calls it “this place of torment.” That surely is one of the points of the parable – the great reversal. Merely ceasing to exist (annihilationism) is hardly the opposite to the great heavenly banquet and something to be feared.

The rich man calls on Father Abraham. He’s making much of his racial connections. I talked to a man once who told me he would be OK on the last day because his sister was a nun. He seemed serious!

Our labels won’t save us. Our connections or upbringing won’t save us. Even our religious devotions – reading the Bible, praying, giving money to worthy causes – won’t do it.  As we’ll see with the rich man, it really involves faith that is shown to be real by our actions.

The rich man showed that he was not one of God’s people and he failed to repent of that.

PRAYER

Lord God, defender of the poor in spirit; please call those I love who don’t follow Jesus to true repentance. Amen

25 ‘But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”

[Luke 16:25-26]

 

There are no second chances. Your chance to enter the kingdom ends with your death. The doctrine of purgatory – an intermediate place where we can be made ready for heaven by our suffering and purification. Saintly people go straight to heaven but the rest of us who are not bad enough for hell need to suffer for our sin and that occurs in purgatory.

Those who believe in purgatory point to this parable and claim that is where the rich man is, being cleansed and purified by his suffering. However, it seems that Jesus is letting us know that this man will not repent (see yesterday’s devotion).

Heb 9:27 says “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” There is no place to change our minds, nor would the ungodly want to do so. Romans 8:7 says The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”  If that is the case, then without God changing their hearts those who do not submit to Christ will never change. What point is there in a second chance?

The parable is a picture of the final separation, the sheep from the goats.

That is what makes it so important that we spread the good news because it is the gospel that can change hearts. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). We need to call on everyone while there is still time.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?(Romans 10:14)

Although it seems that Lazarus did not receive his blessing in this life, there is the ultimate turnaround in the next life. However, there are indications in the parable that Lazarus was not without his blessings in this life as well. Rather than being bitter at his lot in life, the picture we get of Lazarus is much kinder. For instance, he is silent in the discussion between the rich man and Abraham. The action of the rich man in ignoring Lazarus’ presence but expecting him to serve him might well have brought forth a more volatile reaction, but Lazarus is a gentle, godly presence. He is ministered to by the dogs that lick his wounds.

It might be an under the radar picture we get of Lazarus, but it seems that here is a man of patient longsuffering – or am I reading too much into the story? I’m reminded of Job who, when his wife encouraged him to curse God, said, Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” and the writer concludes “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:10)

PRAYER

Father of all comfort, help me to take the good with the bad trusting that all things work together for my good. Amen

27 ‘He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”

29 ‘Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”

[Luke 16:27-29]

The reversal that this parable shows is made even clearer here with the rich man now begging. Still he will not acknowledge Lazarus’ presence, instead he now wants him to be his messenger. There is nothing godly or even likeable about this man at all. His only redeeming feature seems to be that he cares about his brothers.

Again, there is the picture of the place of torment – whatever the afterlife for the ungodly is like, it is something to be avoided at all costs. It is so bad that this man who seems to care for no one but himself and his own pleasures would not wish it on his brothers.

Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” Jesus’ attitude to the scriptures, which for him consisted of the Old Testament, was that they are sufficient.

“In his ministry he constantly referred to the scriptures. He quotes from all three major sections of the Hebrew Bible (the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings) and from all three major kinds of laws, as Christians would later define them (the moral, civil, and ceremonial). He alludes to still more texts and treats them consistently as authoritative for both himself and his audience (John 10:35). He sees God as the ultimate author of the Bible and views Scripture’s words as God’s words.” (“Jesus’s View of the Old Testament”, Craig Blomberg & Julie N. Dykes)

Some years ago now there was a movement called “power evangelism”. It claimed that the preaching of the gospel was more effective if it was accompanied by modern day miracles. That is what the rich man is asking for. Jesus rejects that. The word of God is enough. Jesus himself said that his sheep hear his voice. He condemned the Sadducees for not know the Scriptures (Matthew 22:29).

It is easy to lose confidence in the power of the word of God to change lives or to think that we need to change the word, make it more palatable either directly or by leaving out parts that we think are not helpful. More widely there’s also a temptation to look for ways around the clear teaching of the Bible in areas we don’t like. We can see all sorts of exegetical gymnastics in various areas of biblical teaching to do just that.

We are people of the Word. It ought to be the place we naturally go when questions of life, death, meaning, sin and morality arise. Put your confidence in the gospel. Speak it.

PRAYER

Lord God, who created the universe with a word, please use me to bring your glorious word to those who don’t know you. Amen

30 ‘“No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”

31 ‘He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”’

[Luke 16:30-31]

“No, Father Abraham.”  The arrogance of the man! “You’re wrong Father Abraham.” Again, the Jewish hearers of this parable would have winced at that part of the story.

There are a couple more ironies in this part of the parable – Jesus has quite a sense of humour.

Firstly there is the wrongful conviction that his family would believe if someone should come back from the dead. We know as a fact that people don’t believe when someone comes back from the dead. I’m always amazed how people can dismiss the Bible because of the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. They say, “It’s impossible for someone to come back from the dead, therefore Jesus didn’t rise form the dead, and he is no the Son of God.” Surely that is the very point. It is impossible. That is why God raised his Son. Paul says that Jesus “was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).

Jesus said, when asked for proof of his messiahship,

An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
(Matthew 12:38-40)

The sheer impossibility of a resurrection points to the fact that Jesus must be the Son of God. It is the ultimate proof because it is impossible any other way than an intervention by God. If Jesus really is the Son of God, you would expect a resurrection.

The second irony is that the rich man says, “If Lazarus comes back from the dead, they will believe.” Well, a man named Lazarus did come back from the dead, and still people chose not to believe. The Bible calls it hardness of heart. It’s like those interviews on US television when those who claim the presidential election was a fraud are asked what evidence they would accept that it was a legitimate. Or when you ask a conspiracy theorist what evidence they would accept to repudiate their theory. There is no acceptable evidence for them.

So, what is it that opens peoples’ hearts to the truth? The word of God applied by the Spirit of God. That is the power of God for salvation. We have no control over the work of the Holy Spirit, but we are the messengers of the gospel.

Why not this week make it a goal to sensitively do some God talk that may lead to the gospel?

PRAYER

Lord and saviour, give me an opportunity this week to speak for you, help me recognise that opportunity and give me the courage to follow up on it. Amen

Luke 18:9-14 – Can Religion Save?

9 “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable”[Luke 18:9]

The preface to this parable is important as it gives us the clue to its meaning. Jesus told this parable to those “who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” The pharisee is a very unpleasant character. As I read the parable I think “I’m so glad I’m not like that pharisee!” and at that very moment I am just like him. That is part of the great power of this parable. It’s about me and you. Who of us in the midst of spiritual refection, for instance, maybe a time of deep confession, haven’t had the thought slip into our minds “boy, I’m really godly right here!”

The parable is to those who are confident in their own righteousness. Our confidence can only be in Christ and not in our ability to worship him or serve him or obey him. There is a fine balance between being fully aware of our inability to please God without Jesus, and living in the confidence that Christ has paid for all our failure and he is the one who intercedes for me.

So many of us live predominantly in one of these spheres or the other where true balance is found as we wobble between the two – recognition of, and sorrow for, our sin on the one hand, and joy and confidence in our Saviour’s rescue on the other. If there is never any “wobble” then you are probably unbalanced and have fallen off on one side or the other.

Looking down on others happens when we’re being ungodly; when we aren’t living as Christ would have us. It’s been said “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” [D.T. NILES, New York Times, May 11, 1986]

If we don’t find ourselves often thinking “there but for the grace of God go I” and mean it, we don’t understand ourselves or the grace of God. We can never take the credit for our godliness. Without the work of the Holy Spirit would not be able to please God at all (Romans 8:8).

What a great Saviour God we have – Father Son and Holy Spirit.

PRAYER

Father and giver of life, give me a true sense of my inadequacy so that I will really delight in what you have done for me in your son Jesus and live reliant on the power of your Spirit. Amen

10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”[Luke 18:10-12]

A few years ago now, my wife and I took a cruise down the Seine in Paris. A couple spent the whole cruise filming themselves with a selfie stick with the views of Paris in the background. They never once took their eyes off the camera. Paris was their background.

It’s much the same with the pharisee in Jesus’ parable. He’s the focus and God is his background.

The pharisee doesn’t ask God for anything. Most of the elements of prayer are absent. There is thanksgiving, of a sort, but not adoration, no confession, no supplication. His prayer is really is a “spiritual selfie.” He tithed everything he had where the law only required a tenth of some things. The regular pharisee fasted 12 days/year. This man went above and beyond, and he’s letting those around him know it, because in those days it was customary to pray out loud.

His mistake is to compare himself to others. You’re always going to be OK when you do that, but that is not the yardstick. Jesus said ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” [Matthew 22:37-40]

That is the yardstick.

Yet the parable is so realistic. How many times have you heard people say, “I’m not a murderer or thief.”, as if those things are the gold standard of sin? Yet the Bible also condemns gossip (do you read gossip magazines?), envy (do you wish you had what others have?), pride (do you think of yourself more highly than you ought?), falsehood (do you ever lie, or deliberately mislead?), coveting (do you desire what belongs to others?), greed (do you desire more than you need?) and the list goes on.

The pharisee does not know his own heart. If he did, his prayer would have been so very different.

PRAYER

Holy and pure God Almighty, give me a realistic and true view of myself and give me a heart that sings of your forgiveness through Christ. Amen

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”[Luke 18:13]

You get the impression that that the tax collector standing at a distance is for a different reason than the pharisee. Tax collectors were an unclean bunch. They were collaborators with the hated Roman overlords and they had a reputation for being unfair in the charging of taxes. His presence in the temple would not have been appreciated by many there. You can almost see him slinking in quietly so as not to be noticed, until he prays. Then it’s all out in the open!

At prayer he beats his chest. Bailey says, “in the Middle East, generally speaking, women beat their breasts and men do not.” Even then it’s only at particularly emotional times, say at a tragic funeral (Kenneth E Bailey “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” p348). The women at the foot of the cross beat their breasts (Luke 23:48).

Clearly the tax collector is distraught. He has thrown his dignity to the wind. We don’t know the cause of his distress except that his sin is heavy upon him. He is not confident in his own righteousness – the exact opposite of the other actor in our drama. The pharisee lists his acts of holiness. The tax collector does not list his sins because the individual sins just show the bigger truth that he is a sinner – that his heart is wrong.

Notice that he does not compare himself with anyone else. He is only aware of where he stands before his God. Only one person’s opinion matters to him. “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

That is the only way we can come to God; relying on his mercy. We can come as his beloved children, we can come as forgiven and redeemed people, but only because of his incredible love shown us in Jesus and brought home to us by his Holy Spirit.

The parable gives us two approaches to God. Like the prodigal son who was keen to come home but on his own terms, the pharisee comes to God as an equal, not a petitioner. The tax collector comes with nothing in his hands.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Saviour, or I die.

(Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me. The United Methodist Hymnal Number 361: Text: Augustus M. Toplady, 1740-1778)

PRAYER

Gracious Father, thank you for you Amazing Grace in saving a wretch like me. Amen

14 ‘I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’”[Luke 18:14]

Remember that this is a story Jesus made up to make a point. Nevertheless, it still would have shocked those who heard it. The pharisee, the paragon of virtue and looked up to by the people as a champion of the faith, leaves the temple “unjustified.”

Even in relationships between people, it is always wise when you make an apology not to try to justify your actions. If you are in the wrong, then admit it and don’t make excuses. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong!

Yet the temptation is always there to do that – to make excuses, to show that what we did was not really wrong, that we shouldn’t really be held accountable, or at least to explain why our actions were not as bad as they seemed. Of course, there may be reasons why what we did looked wrong but really wasn’t, and then it is good to justify ourselves. If you get pulled over for speeding but you are rushing your pregnant wife to the hospital, that would be justifiable speeding.

How could the tax collector be justified if he was indeed a sinner? He doesn’t try to justify himself before God. There are no excuses given in the parable to justify him. No, he is justified because God justifies him. He throws himself on the mercy of God, as the pharisee should have done. The pharisee would have known that because that was what the Day of Atonement was all about – a yearly sacrifice made to pay for the sins of the whole nation. The most holy day of the year! There is no excuse for him not to know or understand.

Why did God not just forgive him? Why does Jesus focus on justification? Because justification does more than forgiveness. Forgiveness relates to a point in time but doesn’t change me. I am still the same person. Justification is about a new standing before God. Now, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, taking my place under the judgment of God, I am clothed with his righteousness. I am made new.

“And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  [Phil 3:9]

 

PRAYER

Lord, who in your great mercy justifies the sinner, help me to live worthy of that great new standing I have before you. Amen

14 ‘I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’”[Luke 18:14]

Jesus talks of a great reversal. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.

The Bible talks a great deal about humility before God. It’s a quality that is often frowned upon these days. We hear lots of advice, for instance, about helping children to be proud of themselves (and there is some truth in that although it needs to be unpacked carefully), but when was the last time you heard someone encouraging humility?

Humility is not being down on yourself, rather it is willingly putting others above yourself, not because you are forced to or because you see yourself as worthless, but because your esteem is in Christ and therefore your worth is in him and it is secure.

Self-esteem is like standing in a bucket and trying to pull yourself up by the handle. We need God-esteem. My view of myself is of little value, but God’s view of me, now that is something to hold onto. I don’t need to work up my self-esteem when the God of all creation esteems me. I just need to live in the reality of his love and esteem.

More specifically, in the context of the parable, humility means we do not approach God as an equal, but as supplicants. On the last day there will be no standing up to God and giving him a piece of our minds. There will be no discussion. There will be no excuses. Here and now, there is no “Art of the Deal” in our dealing with God. There is no bargaining. We don’t put conditions on our entering the kingdom.

Coming into relationship with God for the first time (becoming a Christian) as we saw yesterday means we enter into the relationship with nothing of worth. Unless we come to God and beg for mercy, we cannot come to him at all.

For the believer, there is a fine balance in treating God as our loving Abba and as also our awesome creator. Both are true.

“And those who humble themselves will be exalted.” That is the greatest reversal.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” [1 Peter 5:6] 

It is counterintuitive. We humble ourselves and God exalts us. We beg for forgiveness and he freely forgives, and he does so much more. He cleanses us, adopts us, gives us new hearts, frees us, works everything for good in our lives.

How do these twin characteristics play out in your relationship with God? Is there humility in the way you address him? Is there a clear recognition that all you have has come from him? One test is to is to examine whether thanksgiving and praise are a part of your relationship with him?

On the other side of the coin do you relate to God without fear, confident in his love for you? Are you convinced that you are an adopted child of the great God almighty? One test is to examine whether you are sure of your salvation. People who know that God is their Abba, their dad, have no doubts about going to heaven.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father and great God Almighty, give me a true view on myself before you so that I will live in confidence and humility. Amen

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 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

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 1:10-16 – 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 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 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 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 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

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

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 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 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

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]

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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