True Greatness

“We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves; and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” – Thomas Merton

Proverbs 31:10-31 – Greatness comes through character and diligence

Mark 9:30-37 – Greatness comes through being able to defer

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8 – Greatness comes through embracing humility

Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 1

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SUMMARY  The theme of the week is True Greatness

Proverbs 31:10-31: Greatness comes through character and diligence, as exemplified by Proverbs’ depiction of the “wife of noble character” whose skill, diligence and business acumen are all examples of the wisdom that comes from “the fear of the Lord”, meaning a willingness to submit everything to Him.

Mark 9:30-37: As the disciples argue about their individual status, Jesus teaches the Suffering Servant’s way of greatness through being able to defer.

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8: The teaching of the Early Church emphasised conquering pride, envy and personal ambition and embrace godly submission and humility, the true greatness.

MESSAGE OF THE WEEK  The fear of the Lord, submission and conquering pride sound like calls to a rigorous, monastic-style obedience – but the reality is that knowing God personally through Jesus releases and enables. The Life of the Spirit is empowering: it brings a freedom from ambition and status, enabling us to WANT to put God and others first.

Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 1

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Alternative OT reading (C of E option) Jeremiah 11:18-20

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Proverbs 31:10-31 | Greatness comes through character and diligence

Book of Proverbs wisdom illustration about character and respect

Last week’s reading, at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs was about wisdom personified and wisdom’s voice – as it happens, a woman’s voice. Here at the end of Proverbs, we meet the wife of noble character. This wife, who is marked out by her fear the Lord, v.30, is also like the personification of wisdom. This chapter was not written by Solomon but King Lemuel, Prov. 30:1, not an Israelite king but a foreigner who had come to know the Lord.

10-12 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

 “Noble character” – moral and spiritual, but also very able. Elsewhere the term is used for the military exploits of men. Her husband can trust her because she is godly.

13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.

“Wool and linen” – wool spun from the fleece, linen woven from flax fibres. A linen garment sold for half a month’s wage and a woollen garment for four times that.

14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.

“Like the merchant ships” – she is enterprising: remarkable in a male-dominated culture and “provides… portions” – also considerate, the opposite of Proverbs’ sluggard, Proverbs 6:9-10, 26:14, not one to have servants attend her in bed.

16-19 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

“Considers a field… sees that her trading is profitable” – showing independent judgment and financial wisdom, not the norm for women of that time. “Her lamp does not go out” – not working through the night but a sign of a well-run house where the lamp was kept burning all night as a sign of life.

“Sets about her work” – establishing a vineyard planting and press in stony ground was an arduous undertaking. By contrast, drawing wool thread from the distaff stick on to the spinning wheel was skilled work undertaken by women.

20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

“Clothed in scarlet” – implies dyed wool and good quality. She makes good clothes for her household and at the same time shows generosity to the less-well off, a characteristic of wise people.

For further study: generosity is characteristic of wisdom as emphasised in Proverbs, Prov. 11:24-26; 21:13; 22:9,16,22-23; 28:27.

22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

This woman’s hard work and good judgment brings security and respect to the household and also her husband, who is valued as a decision-maker “at the city gate”.

26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

31 Honour her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

“A woman who fears the Lord” – the poem, an A-Z of wisdom, builds to its conclusion that the reward of wisdom, personified as the woman of wisdom, is about where that wisdom is rooted: in the fear of the Lord, a simple but profound statement, Prov. 1:7, 9:10, 15:33. Being willing to listen to and defer to the Lord is perhaps a more feminine trait, as in this depiction, which wise men do well to acquire.

IN PRACTICE  In a hard-nosed world which prizes knowledge and puts a high value on information, something called wisdom looks like a ‘soft skill’. Perhaps in a different way, it is – set in largely male-centric stories and events, the word for wisdom is feminine. Proverbs begins and ends with wisdom, which it explains in terms of personality and character – a God-fearing, submitted, spiritual woman. It is more than having skills, it is having the character and sense of direction to know what to do with them. This is what brings that elusive quality we call success.

QUESTION  Out of the many attributes of this ‘woman of wisdom’, which particularly speak to you? Should you ask God for wisdom or just rely on Him to provide it?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 9:30-37 | Greatness comes through being able to defer

The disciples are caught in an argument about status

30-32 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because He was teaching His disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it. ”

“He was teaching His disciples” — they still couldn’t accept His teaching about His death and how it formed part of God’s plan. The resurrection of an individual was a new concept to them – they expected the resurrection of mankind at the final judgment foretold in Daniel 12:2. Luke’s explanation is that “it was concealed from them so that they could not grasp it”, Luke 9:45.

33-34  They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

“Capernaum… in the house” – probably the one belonging to Peter and Andrew, Mark 1:29.

“But they kept quiet” – they expected disapproval of the argument. It would surface again, Mark 10:35-37. Because they had not yet understood Jesus’ destiny, they didn’t grasp the implication for themselves.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

“Sitting down” – as we would stand up, assuming the role of a teacher. Jewish rabbis taught sitting down.

“Want to be first…last… servant” – (here and below) Rank and status were important in Jewish society at this time. Jesus confronted those assumptions by teaching that in God’s kingdom true greatness comes through being the servant, not the master. Finally He demonstrated this conclusively in His death as the Suffering Servant.

36-37 He took a little child whom He placed among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the one who sent Me.”

“Whoever welcomes one of these” – Children had no status and were not romantically considered pure and innocent – just weak and inferior. Welcoming a child was putting yourself last in line, in a dramatically unexpected way.

IN PRACTICE  The disciples belonged to a stratified Jewish society – aristocratic and common, rich and poor, politically powerful and oppressed. Status and hierarchy was discussed a lot in their culture. For us (depending on what newspaper you read) there is quite a lot of emphasis on ‘being a celebrity’. But all of this flies in the face of God’s kingdom order, which turns man’s order upside down, twists it around and shakes it for good measure. Jesus was a servant, a suffering servant to the cause of providing a salvation path for mankind at the cost of His life and reputation. His life on earth made Him the greatest human being who has ever lived. True greatness, in His terms, has nothing to do with our imagined ideas of status, but is achieved by conquering human pride and self-sufficiency, and learning to embrace dependence on God and gain a true servant spirit.

QUESTION  Think of someone you know who is different because you can see Jesus in them? Why is that? What part of status and position would be costly for you to say ‘no’ to?

EPISTLE READING

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a | True greatness comes from humility, not pride

Teaching about dealing with ambition and embracing godly dependence

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

“Humility” – literally ‘meekness’, prautes. ‘Gentleness’ in Gal. 5:23. Greeks considered it a weakness but Jesus made it a fundamental virtue, Matt. 5:5, 11:29. It is not passive or timid but an attitude of trusting God and therefore having no need to self-promote.

“Humility that comes from wisdom” – true wisdom, like true greatness, has nothing to prove.. James writes to Spirit-filled believers in the churches about “deeds done in the humility of the consequential fruitfulness of faith in their day by day experience of God.

14-16 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

“Selfish ambition… disorder” – worldly teaching based on man-centred values  is unspiritual; more seriously, it invites the conflict and division that is the hallmark of the devil, James 4:1-3 below.

17-18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

“Peace-loving… considerate” – the list parallels the character qualities of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23  with more than a nod towards the Royal Law James has already mentioned, James 2:8.

“Desires that battle within” – the life produced by the Spirit and characterised by the peace-loving and fruitful unity He brings, contrasted dramatically with the bitter church conflicts and character assassination that result from rivalry and desire to control.

4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

7-8 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

“Resist the devil” – the opportunities given to the devil by unholy attitudes have been set out forcefully. Similarly the remedy – recognising the rule and reign of God in willing submission to His values. This ‘repent and resist’ teaching is paralleled by Peter, 1 Peter 5:8-9, in His letter written at a different time, giving weight to the gravity of this teaching.

For further study: the ‘wearing holy attitudes’ teaching in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Eph. 6:10-18.

IN PRACTICE  This week’s teaching follows a familiar pattern. The principles are set out in the Old Testament passage, but at this point, it’s more theoretical than practical. In the Gospel passage, Jesus brings the principles alive in His own life and teaches the values to the disciples. It still needs to be earthed in everyday spiritual life. The epistle is written to believers in the churches who are learning to live in their new life and new identity, as those who are new creations “in Christ Jesus” and who have the Spirit of Christ Jesus in them. They are empowered, they are guided, they have the original Scriptures and the new records of Jesus’ teaching BUT they have to make it work in their lives and their relationships, with all the tensions of a community. They have new life, but as we all find, the test is whether we can avoid being pulled back into what the Bible calls the flesh, or selfish nature. In this case, it’s rivalry, envy and desire to control and, like the weeds in your garden, it’s ready to spring up in every church fellowship to be a vehicle for the conflict and the disunity the devil wants to sow. That’s his strategy to disable the advance of the kingdom of God. We have a better a strategy to disable the devil, and that is the active choice to repent of pride, embrace again utter dependence on God and recognise that whatever we have of worth, is only from Him.

QUESTION  What do you feel entitled to control? Where do you have the need to be in charge? Where is the lordship of Jesus – over or under those perceptions?

PRAYER  Lord, looking into Your eyes is looking into life itself. Help and empower us to be people of the New Life – and life-givers to others who in their pain may need us to exercise our faith on their behalf. I pray this in and through Jesus. Amen.

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C of E alternative OT reading

Jeremiah 11:18-20 NIV

The plot against Jeremiah revealed

18 Because the Lord revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time He showed me what they were doing. 

“Their plot” – people in Jeremiah’s home town of Anathoth. He was a priest from a town of priestly families just north of Jerusalem, Jeremiah 1:1.

19 I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realise that they had plotted against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”

“Destroy the tree” – they wanted Jeremiah and his memory blotted out. They hated him because of his words against the ruling order at a time when God’s judgment was building, which resulted in Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians and deportation of most of the people.

20 But You, Lord Almighty, who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You I have committed my cause.

“Your vengeance” – not personal vengeance. Jeremiah is simply calling for God to judge the actions of his oppressors fairly and handing over any personal desire for retribution to Him.

Listening to the Lord and speaking for Him

Image credit: St George’s Anglican Church, Burlington, Canada

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, September 16 (Pentecost 18)

Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s voice?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?

Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 19

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Summary

The theme for this Sunday is about who we listen to, and what is in our hearts as we speak.

Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?

The voice of wisdom is like a woman whose advice (in that culture) could be ignored and even mocked, revealing arrogant obstinacy. Do we respond as learners or mockers?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

Peter and the disciples were put on the spot about who people thought Jesus was and who they said He was, but Peter’s declaration sealed their belief in Jesus as Messiah.

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?

This teaching from the apostle James stresses power of words for good or harm, and the importance of speech which comes from a heart submitted to God, not human opinions.

The message this week is a reminder that the words we speak are like fruit, showing whether we are a thorny briar or a sweet variety. As disciples of Christ we guard against lapsing into the old, selfish nature, but rather show the Lordship of Jesus over our speech.

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Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?

The voice of wisdom gives sound guidance for living, for all who will hear

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:

“Wisdom calls aloud” – personified as a woman (the Hebrew word is feminine) who cries out, for all to hear in the marketplace, and at the place of business and debate, the city gate. 

22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?

“Simple… mockers… fools” – Proverbs addresses three sets of people who need God’s wisdom and are progressively less receptive. Those who are simple or inexperienced, pethim, are the most open to God’s truth, Prov. 1:4. Fools, kesilim, have heard God’s wisdom but are resisting it. Mockers, latsonim, oppose wisdom with ridicule and are condemned in Proverbs as those too arrogant and contentious to learn.

For further study on kesiyl, kesilim see Proverbs 17:10, 12, 16, 21, 24-25 and a related word in Prov. 17:7.

23 Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.

“Repent… then…” – the consequence of heeding the warning is a blessing, where wisdom is like a fountain of constant refreshment and, “I will make known”, though revelation.

24-25 But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke…

“Stretch out my hand” – in appeal, like Isaiah 65:2 where God holds out His hands all day to “an obstinate people”

26-27 …I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you – when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

“Laugh” – not heartlessly but at the predictability of those who spurn wisdom’s guidance and find themselves in difficulty as a consequence.

28-29 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.

“Call to me” – sounds like 1 Samuel 8:18, but this is probably not about prayer; wisdom is a personification, not God. The sense is that mockers and scoffers will frantically seek wisdom when they get into trouble, but ‘too little, too late’.

30-31 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

“Eat the fruit… be filled with the fruit” – like the NT phrase “A man reaps what he sows”, Gal. 6:7. Evil people suffer the punishment of living out the consequences of their own actions, and will find themselves consuming the fruit of calamity, fear and destruction that they meted out to others.

32-33 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.

“Waywardness” – a play on the Hebrew word for turning which can mean positively “repent” or negatively “turn wayward”. Not heeding wisdom (being wayward) causes destruction; the remedy would have been to turn in repentance.

“Whoever listens to me” – those who listen to wisdom’s voice experience security.

IN PRACTICE  The voice of wisdom is not the same as the voice of God, but closely aligned. It is more the sense of how we live out what we hear as the voice and truth of God.

Wisdom is evident, or lacking, in all our attitudes of heart – and our heart determines what we say. Here we meet those who come across as uninstructed, or a stage worse, just stubbornly foolish and wrong-intentioned. But worst of all is the arrogant mocker, the opinionated “I know best” person who is proud that they have no need to listen and learn. This is the root of dissention, and derogatory slander, that is the devil’s strategy to impede the kingdom of God. To the extent that we allow it.

QUESTION  How proactive are you in seeking God’s wisdom to live by, day by day?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

Speaking as disciples of Jesus – who do we say He is?

Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way He asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

“Caesarea Philippi” – named after Herod the Great’s son Philip the Tetrarch, the recently-built town was on the slopes of Mount Hermon, a prominent landmark 25 miles to the north of Galilee.

“He asked them” – for the first time, Jesus raises the question of His identity. He must clarify the nature of the Messiah as God’s servant who will suffer and be shamed for His people, a difficult concept (Peter’s response v.32 below) against the popular idea that the Messiah would be a military deliverer like King David.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“Some say” – the disciples list some the most popular misconceptions.

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

“But what about you?” – more emphatic in the Greek. Jesus compels a deeper response.

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

“The Messiah” – or Christ. Both mean ‘anointed one’. A climax and the first time this is stated in Mark’s story apart from his introduction, Mark 1:1. Peter speaks out the conclusion of all the disciples.

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.

“Warned… not to tell” – the mission of Jesus as Messiah could not be understood apart from the ordeal of the Cross, which the disciples were not yet prepared for. To announce Jesus as Messiah would only reinforce the misunderstanding about the Messiah. The Jewish people, desperate to be released from Gentile Roman dominion, would try and make Jesus king by force, John 6:15 and see John 12:12-19.

31-32 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.

“Peter… began to rebuke Him” – to Peter, what Jesus was teaching was not only unthinkable but just plain wrong.  In this section, Mark 8:31-10:52 Jesus prepares the disciples for His inevitably, divinely-ordained death as they travel to Jerusalem.

“Suffer… be rejected… be killed and…rise again”. The Messiah had to suffer, as predicted, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and see Luke 24:44, and be rejected, which echoes Psalm 118:22, and die before being raised to life again, promised in Hosea 6:2. The Jews knew these scriptures but misunderstood them. Following the Suffering Servant passage, Isaiah sets out how God’s ways are higher than our ways, Isaiah 55:8-9.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter. “Get behind Me, Satan!” He said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

“He rebuked Peter” – with a seemingly harsh word, but Jesus recognised Peter coming under the same attempted deception that He had experienced in the desert confrontation with Satan, Matthew 4:8-10.

34 Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.

“Take up their cross” – not a medieval-style religion of self-abasement which misses the point made in the sentences around this phrase. The disciple call is to die to the right to determine one’s own life path and success; as in being born anew, willingness to let go of the old life admits new life in Jesus – which will embrace the costs of shame and pain at times.

35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it.

36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

“Save their life” – self-preservation is a strong human instinct. We want to hold on to what we know and we believe represents security. To lose life in the flesh is to gain the spiritual life of the soul.

37-38 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Standing up for Jesus, His values and His words, requires courage in the face of ridicule – but it’s a non-negotiable position for those who choose to walk the Way of Jesus.

IN PRACTICE  Everyone wants to be known as a fan of a popular hero. Even if we have no local affiliation, we support a particular Premier football club ‘because it is the best’. People are intrigued by, and sometimes drawn to, ‘populist politicians’. Some “do a Huw’, the highly individual pose modelled by the revered Welsh newsreader.

Jesus is more of a problem. In our church, He would be an outsider, a disrupter, someone bringing change. In our community, He doesn’t look like a figurehead as a servant of incomparable kindness. In a post-modern inclusive world, some want every spiritual insight to be a path to the truth. The question for us, as well as Peter, is who do WE say Jesus is? And that draws out from us where we really stand in relation to His Lordship of us.

QUESTION  How ready are we to stand up, be counted and speak for Jesus and His values in our sceptical world?

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God before speaking – does He have our tongue?

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

“Become teachers” – the rabbi or teacher was honoured in Jewish and by extension, Christian society, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:7, 1 Cor 12:28, while Christians generally were regarded as social outsiders, James 2:6-7. James points out that few should aspire to a role which could influence for good or harm, and which therefore carried greater penalties in accountability, Matt. 5:19, Acts 20:26-27.

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

“Fault in what they say” – the argument moves from the specific role of those called to teach, to the general responsibility we have for the words we utter, to bless and encourage or to harm. The main issue in the church, then as today, is the twin problem of dissention and slander, James 4:1, 3:9, 4:11.

3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

“Bits…rudder… spark” – the three images of small things that cause big effects were common in literature of the time. The tongue’s power to influence is way out of proportion to its size in relation to the rest of the body.

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

“A world of evil” – like a little microcosm of the fallen world within us. “Set on fire by hell” – the cause of so many sins when taken over by the devil’s destructive influence. The tongue reveals the worldliness lurking in our hearts, Matt. 15:18.

7-8 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

“All kinds of animals” – probably referring to Genesis 1:26. “No human being” – emphatic: the tongue often has a life of its own and can be like a deadly snake, Psalm 58:3-6, Psalm 14:3, which cannot be tamed except by God’s power working in us.

9-12 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

“We praise…and… we curse” – words have power, either to bless (bringing life and encouragement) or to curse (bringing harm and what is life-sapping). “God’s likeness” – all hearers have the worth of being created in God’s image.

“Can both… flow from the same…” –  it is incongruous for a Christian, reborn with a transformed heart, to utter demeaning words, like a tree producing the wrong fruit or a spring that runs brackish. Only a heart being continually renewed by the Holy Spirit can produce pure and life-giving speech.

IN PRACTICE  The school playground chant “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is good to help children refute name-calling but a poor representation of truth. Words that curse can have an enduringly hurtful effect. Who has carried the words of a parent or authority figure for whom we were never good enough? Prayer ministry later in life often reveals such barriers, words spoken over us that have had the effect of a curse, the word meaning the opposite of a blessing. On the other hand, the encouragement of the person who believed in us at a not-very-successful time is not forgotten. Words spoken have power, and there can be spiritual power behind the emotional or suggestive power as well. What comes from a resentful heart can do harm to us as much as the target. What comes from a pure heart submitted to Jesus can bring much benefit – perhaps, with faith, even a mountain-moving miracle.

QUESTION  What words have stayed with me as an enduring encouragement? And what words do I need to lift off my heart, to be free of their restriction?

PRAYER    From Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me…”  And help me to speak with the tone and truth and compassion of Jesus, whatever is going on around me, and to be quick to forgive those who, like Peter in the Gospel reading, have spoken from the selfish nature and momentarily become a voice for the enemy of our souls.

God’s love – no favouritism

Image credit: Gail Davis, www.linkedin.com/pulse/favoritism-prejudice-mercy-james-21-13-gail-davis

Theme: God loves us without favouritism, and that is His way for us

Image credit: Gail Davis, www.linkedin.com/pulse/favoritism-prejudice-mercy-james-21-13-gail-davis

Proverbs 22:1–2, 8–9, 22–23 » The principle of God’s impartial kindness

Mark 7:24-37 » Jesus in a Gentile district is impartial in His ministry

James 2:1-17 » Genuine faith treats others impartially

SUMMARY  The theme explores God’s lack of favouritism – and how we treat each other in that regard. Proverbs 22 lays down principles which the Mark 7 stories expand. Jews had little to do with non-Jews; Jesus, however, carried out a deliverance for a Syrian Gentile woman with a severely demonised child, and then performed another healing miracle in a largely Gentile Decapolis area. James’ teaching in the epistle reading challenges how impartial our response is, to someone coming to join in who is ‘not like us’ – in particular, whether we discriminate between the well-off and others. These Scriptures urge us to go beyond our human love with its social constraints and conditions, to love people with God’s impartial love.

OLD TESTAMENT

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 »The principle of treating others impartially and with God’s kindness

The Lord’s way is to treat people of His creation evenly

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

2 Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.

“A good name” – character is to be valued above riches, as Proverbs 3:14 and 16:16. The precepts of the Lord similarly, Psalm 19:10 and 119:72, 127.

To oppress the poor, who are made in God’s image, is to insult God himself. See Proverbs 14:31.

8–9 Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken. The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

“Reaps calamity…will be blessed” – Scripture says much about the grace of God but also that all actions have consequences such that we reap what we sow; meanness and generosity of spirit both come back to us, but in opposite ways.

For further study, see Proverbs 11:25–26; 14:21; 19:17, Hosea 8:72; Cor. 9:6–10, Galatians 6:7.

22–23 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.

“Do not exploit the poor” – which was common in a culture that believed riches demonstrated God’s blessing. See Proverbs 22:16, 14:31. Justice defends the needy, Isaiah 1:17.

IN PRACTICE  These verses set out God’s way which is to regard everyone without partiality – “God is no respecter of persons, meaning He does not show favouritism”, Acts 10:34, Galatians 2:6. God regards all who are His creation, even-handedly – and often chooses ‘outsiders’. Upholding this viewpoint, rather than the narrow, human perspective of our rights and entitlements to control and judge others, speaks plainly to us about how we judge others – or choose not to judge others. God’s ways are higher than our ways.

QUESTION  We all fall into the trap of favouritism and judging others! What is an area of this attitude that the Holy Spirit is revealing to you?

GOSPEL

Mark 7:24-37 » Jesus in Gentile districts is impartial in His ministry

Ministry in Tyre and then the Decapolis delivers a Greek woman’s daughter and heals a deaf and dumb man

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep His presence secret.

“Tyre” – there was a Jewish community in the mainly Greek-speaking Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon who Jesus knew, Mark 3:8.

25–26 In fact, as soon as she heard about Him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“She begged” – the sense is of asking repeatedly. She was a Gentile, compelled by her extreme need for her daughter, to ask help from a Jewish rabbi.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” He told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Children’s bread” – Jesus tests the woman’s faith in an exchange that was probably not as harsh-sounding as it is to us. “The children” are the Jewish people, “bread” is His message and “dogs” Gentiles. However “first” looks “the children” to Gentiles also receiving God’s grace.

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

The Passion Translation renders these verses, “Finally He said to her, ”First let my children be fed and satisfied, for it isn’t fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.“ She answered, ”How true that is, Lord. But even puppies under the family table are allowed to eat the little children’s crumbs.“ Then Jesus said to her, ”That’s a good reply!”

29 Then He told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

“Even puppies…are allowed…” – her reply to being compared to an unclean dog is humble but also persistent; the Good News may be for Jews first, Exodus 4:22, but others are included. She comes through the test demonstrating genuine faith.

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

“She went home” – this was a deliverance where there was no contact or even proximity with the suffering person.

For further study, compare with the healing miracles in Capernaum of the centurion’s servant, Matt. 8:5–13, Luke 7:1–10 and the official’s son, John 4:46–54 where Jesus was distant from the sick person. Spiritual salvation, healing and demonic deliverance are seen as the same process of God’s grace in the Bible.

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to Him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place His hand on him.

The Decapolis, east of Galilee, was another Hellenistic, mainly Gentile region, like Tyre and Sidon, where Jews had resettled following the deportations.

33–35 After He took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spat and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

“Put his fingers” – Jesus uses sign language to tell the deaf man what He was doing for his hearing and also speech.

“Took him aside” – Jesus did not want to make the man a spectacle.

36–37 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

“Overwhelmed with amazement” – The crowd were attracted to someone they saw in terms of signs and wonders and possible political liberation. However Jesus needed His disciples and others to understand from the miracles who He was, a Messiah, vulnerable and without political might. He also wanted them to see beyond the healing of people’s physical disabilities, to their own spiritual blindness and deafness – and need.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus’ ministry in Tyre was a ministry to Jewish settlers there – He didn’t seek out a Syrian Gentile woman with a pressing family situation and a demon or two to send packing. But He wasn’t about to dismiss her because she was not one of the ‘children’ Hhe was sent to. What a lesson for us! We may have a clear idea of who are ‘our’ sort of people – people we relate to, in our church or belonging to our denomination or whatever. And then there’s someone else who needs prayer, who needs help. Maybe they are Romany, or a DSS family with history or folk from a different culture. What stops us? Bits and pieces of discrimination and judgment clutter our thoughts but Jesus, who had a clear call and clear priorities, didn’t hold back His love. Neither should we – we go with what He gives us, without partiality.

QUESTION  God is always testing us and taking us a bit outside our comfort zone. You probably have such a story, if you think about it. What did you learn from it?

EPISTLE

James 2:1-17 » Genuine faith treats others impartially

God’s love is seen in us to the extent we love others just for who they are, not showing any favouritism.

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.

“Favouritism” – Christ lived for 30 years in an undistinguished village and ministered in Galilee and Samaria, regions despised by Israel’s leaders, a strong statement about God’s impartiality.

2–4 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

“Meeting” – literally, ‘gathering’. At this time of transition James uses both this general word, also used for synagogue, and the Greek word for ‘church’, James 5:14.

“Gold ring and fine clothes” – rings showed economic status, Luke 15:22. The early church was mixed socially with many who were not well off, Acts 4:35–37, Acts 6:1–6, 1 Cor. 1:26.

“A good seat… sit on the floor” – most in a synagogue would stand or sit cross-legged on the floor. There would be a few benches around the wall and in front, which the Pharisees considered theirs by entitlement, Mark 12:38–39.

5–7 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?

“Chosen… to inherit the kingdom” – God’s choosing is a combination of His calling and our response, into the sphere of salvation and the realm of Christ’s rule, the present sense of kingdom. God’s kingdom order confronts the world’s sense of priorities, Luke 6:20–23.

“The noble name” – literally, “who slander the noble name spoken over you,” meaning the ownership of Jesus Christ which we declare at conversion and baptism.

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right.

“Royal law” – or sovereign law i.e. one that is binding, quoted from Leviticus 19:18. Taken with the command to love God, Deut. 6:4–5 it encapsulates all the Law and Prophets as Jesus taught and Paul emphasised, Matt. 22:36–40, Romans 13:8–10.

9–10 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

“If you show” – more accurately, “since you show”, the form of the verb indicating it was ongoing practice. Exclusive behaviour violates God’s royal, or supreme, law of love which governs all human relationships. Favouritism was prohibited in Leviticus 19:15, three verses removed from the command James quotes.

11 For He who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

“Lawbreaker” – Jewish religious teaching had reduced the law to a long series of injunctions which were held to be of varying importance, rather than a unified way of life of loving God and therefore others. James’ point to his readers is that they could not cherry-pick and claim to live for God.

12–13 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Someone whose life does not show mercy and is judgmental, has clearly not received God’s mercy. The unredeemed will be judged for eternal hell, while those showing the evidence of God’s nature in new life – James assumes his readers are genuine believers – will be those with the assurance of receiving a different judgment, that of merciful freedom.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

“Claims to have faith” – but if not genuine saving faith is demonic, useless and dead, James 2:19,20,26. Can such ‘faith’, form without substance, save them? The implication is that it cannot. Intellectually accepting certain truths, without the step of trusting Jesus Christ as Saviour, is not the faith that justifies and saves.

15–17 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Genuine faith and having God’s Spirit active within us is a spiritual condition that cannot help but produce actions that please God. James is in no way saying that a person is saved by their good works. He has clearly stated that salvation is a gracious gift from God that cannot be earned, James 1:17–18, see also Ephesians 2:8–9. He sets out plainly the danger of a kind of religiosity which is not sincere faith and which cannot save, above vv. 14 and 17, James 2:20, 24, 26 and see Jesus teaching e.g. Matt. 3:7–8, John 8:30–31.

“What good is it?” – this picture of false faith is like the illustration of false love in 1 John 3:17.

IN PRACTICE  In a harsh and judgmental world, those who walk with Jesus and His Spirit are called to be different – and also empowered to live differently. Our call is simply to love others with God’s love. That’s more than a nice-sounding phrase. It means choosing not to apply man’s judgmental discriminations. It means accepting people as made in God’s Image. Most will be different. Many will be difficult for us. Their rejection of God may be overt. But God sent Jesus so that they could come back to Him and know Him personally. We are the impartial, non-judgmental guides He has put in place for them, serving under the royal law of love.

QUESTION  If we are called to model God’s impartiality to others, what sort of being different would be good?

PRAYER  Lord, in our humanness we judge others who are not like us and fall far short of having Your heart for them. Fill us with Your Spirit afresh to love with Your love and leave the judging to You because You are completely fair and impartial. Empower us to be reliable guides to others, showing the Way of Jesus and not our way. Amen.

Also a set reading for this Sunday, Psalm 125 – Those who trust in God are upright in heart.

Heart condition

TLW 35 – The RSL readings for September 2, 2018

The heart is deceitful above all things… Jer. 17:9

Theme: the Lord of love who changes our hearts from within

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 » A loving heart celebrated in a love poem

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 » Religious tradition can’t hide what is in our heart

James 1:17-27 » The word of God is a mirror to show us our heart

SUMMARY  The human heart is innately sinful, selfish and corrupt – until it is opened up to God’s transformation through trusting Jesus. The Old Testament reading in Song of Songs is a picture of love, and of God’s heart of passionate love. The Gospel reading in Mark 7 brings Jesus’ confrontation of the religious leaders who were picky about observing religious things while harbouring hatred, anger and other deeply sinful things in their hearts. The epistle reading in James 2 brings teaching on how God’s word acts as a kind of mirror in which we see what our hearts are really like.

OLD TESTAMENT

Also in the lectionary for this Sunday: Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9   “My heart is stirred…”

Song of Songs 2:8-13 » God’s heart of love in a love poem

The spring season of God’s love comes into flower

The Song of Songs is part of the Biblical wisdom literature, which celebrate love and wisdom as gifts of God to be received gratefully and joyfully. The title tells us it was written by Solomon and the best love song about marriage ever written. It is the story of various encounters between a young Shulammite girl, chosen for the king’s harem, and her feelings of real love and relationship. It could also be Solomon’s wistful story of an earlier marriage with an Israelite girl, before departing from monogamy and Jewish integrity in a (likely) arranged marriage with Pharoah’s daughter, 1 Kings 3:1, Deut. 7:6. Early interpreters saw this as an allegory of  God’s love for His people, or His church. Recent scholarship has seen this love poem for what it is, as it states, a work of Solomon, who reflects on the purity of simple, unfettered romance compared with the experience of every kind of need provided for in the palace. However, it also speaks illustratively of Christ’s deep love for His church.

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.

The girl looks out for her lover with eager anticipation; she sees him as like an agile deer, adept at surmounting obstacles. They just want to be together, despite obstacles.

10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.

11 See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.

Winter in the Middle East can be a cloudy, gloomy season of rain, but the transition to spring is rapid.

12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.

“Singing” – more likely from the context than ‘pruning’ in older versions.

13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”

All the senses are aroused in this description of the land awakening.

14 My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face, let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

Doves were associated with love; Solomon is saying that in her, he experiences love. The hidden Shulammite girl is the real dove who he wants to see and hear. The words face…voice, voice…face are in the form of a literary mirror.

IN PRACTICE  This excerpt from Solomon’s love song speaks to us about being real about love and its emotions and sensuality – all God-given. It can also be seen as a picture of God’s love for His Church – and for us. He wants to capture our hearts more than any passionate young lover can express.

QUESTION  What gets inhibits you from revelling in God’s love for you?

GOSPEL

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 »Religious tradition can’t hide what is in our heart

In this chapter the Pharisees become more outspoken in opposing Jesus, and the gap between true spirituality and man-created religious tradition becomes more evident.

1-4 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of His disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

“Teachers of the law… from Jerusalem” – a delegation of leading Pharisees who had come from the city, probably at the invitation of the Galilean Pharisees. Mark’s readers in Rome needed additional background on the ways of Judaism to understand the dispute.

“Defiled… unwashed” – this washing had nothing to do with dirty hands. Someone would pour water out of a jar onto your hands with the fingers pointing up, then again over both hands with the fingers pointing down. This created a ritual dissociation with anything ‘unclean’ the hands might have touched. There was nothing in the law of Moses about washing hands before eating, except for priests about to eat holy offerings.

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t Your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

“Tradition of the elders” – this was a collection of laws and interpretations constructing rules of living that went beyond the Scriptures. At this point it had become a higher religious authority in Judaism than Scripture itself. Jesus was held responsible for His disciples.

6-7 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“ ‘These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.

They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’

Isaiah’s prophecy, here in the Greek version, perfectly describes the attitudes of the Pharisees and scribes Jesus encountered. They were ‘pretenders’, masked actors, the original meaning of hypocrites, holding a sham spirituality like many religious people today, where knowing God and His ways had been replaced by unscriptural and non-binding “merely human rules” listing various ‘oughts and musts’. They had turned living in God’s love and faithfulness and knowing Hs heart, into a religion of performing the right actions.

8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

“Commands of God…human traditions” – Jesus told them they had abandoned the Ten Commandments and Moses’ summary of Deuteronomy 6:1-6 and Deut. 11:1. God’s heart was to be on their hearts, but instead they had created an exclusive and over-complicated religious system of ‘holiness’, a misunderstanding of  Lev. 11:44, that missed the point – what we call a ‘tick box mentality’ that actually cancelled out God’s word, Mark 7:13 (omitted from the reading).

14-15 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to Me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

“Listen to Me, everyone” – Jesus makes a bold and clear statement to encourage his hearers, at the expense of infuriating the religious leaders.

21-23 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

“Outside a person… from within” – it is not living in an impure world that is defiling, but having an impure or evil heart. Sin separates from God, not unclean hands. What a person is on the inside will find expression on the outside and show them to be of true character and therefore purity – or show them up.

Post-resurrection and Pentecost, the apostles taught that spiritual rebirth and the empowered life of the Spirit enabled believers to choose to live in their new nature, above selfish ‘flesh’ motives.

IN PRACTICE  This is clear teaching by Jesus of the folly of the Pharisees’ practice of religious ‘righteousness’ (and their pride in it) while harbouring hatred and a desire to speak badly and untruthfully about Him and even try to kill him. To ‘major on the minors’ of tradition while missing the point by having resentful hearts is a lesson for us all. Turning to Jesus and acknowledging His Lordship in a personal submission, is like having a whole new heart, which the Holy Spirit continues to indwell to make us more and more Jesus-like.

QUESTION  Have you truly given your heart to Jesus? And which part of your heart might He still be asking you to hand over?

EPISTLE

James 1:17-27 » The word of God is a mirror to show us our heart

We are responsible for ridding ourselves of wrong attitudes

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

“Father of… lights” – an ancient Jewish expression. God created the sun, moon and starts, which all move in the sky, cast moving shadows and vary in brightness. God’s light is constant, Malachi 3:6, 1 John 1:5.

18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.

“First-fruits” – in the OT, an expression for the first and best of the harvest. Christians are to show God’s new creation that is to come, 2 Peter 3:10-13, as examples of the ultimate restoration of creation, Romans 8:20-22.

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

“Quick to listen (etc)” – this gives a brief outline of the whole letter which is later expanded in James 1:21-2:26 (listen), 3:1-18 (slow to speak) and 4:1-5:18 (slow to anger).

21 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.

“Human anger” – when things go wrong our first reaction is retaliation from the flesh. Until we let go of that first response of, literally, “man’s anger”, we can’t be directed by the Spirit to perceive God’s righteousness coming through our view of the difficulty.

“Get rid of”, literally “put off” like mucky overalls. This is commanded in more detail in Eph. 4:22, 1 Peter 2:1.

“Save you” – sin is never lifegiving but has the opposite effect, death-bringing: first spiritually, then physically.

“Humbly accept” – as those who are teachable. “The word planted in you” – an allusion to the ‘new covenant’ prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 where God promises to ‘write His law’ on His people’s hearts.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

“Merely listen” – the teachable spirit wants to learn and apply. Hearing and not responding is the beginning of more serious and systemic deception.

“Deceive” – or delude yourselves. It is a word used in mathematics. James is saying that those merely listening but not engaging have made a serious miscalculation.

“Do” – more literally, “prove yourselves doers of the word” (NASB). As Jesus taught, Matt. 7:24, 26; Luke 6:46, 49.

23-25 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

“Forgets what he looks like” –  not acting on something in your reflection that needs to be straightened, is to forget to do it. Similarly with the word of God, which is a mirror showing what is askew in our soul.

26-27 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. ‘Religion’ that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

“Religious… religion” – a play on this word which contrasts ceremonial, church rituals and external trappings with genuine faith. Perhaps the third ‘religion’ should be in quotes. Religious acts are no substitute for changed values and a changed, unselfish way of life.

IN PRACTICE  Being made holy – the long word is sanctification – is truly a life-long process which starts with new birth through the word of truth. The truth that is God’s word continues to confront and bring change to our deep-seated human independence, and all the attitudes and responses that come from that. We were born in selfishness and independence from God and coming back to Him in holiness is a long journey, with a big step change we call the new birth. All the time the word and the Holy Spirit are working together to transform us from the inside, with our willingness or resistance playing a big part in that. James’ teaching here is about not destroying the good process by “merely listening,” “not doing what it says” and entertaining “human anger” – but working with God the Father to become people who find ourselves doing what He would have us doing.

QUESTION  When you hear God speak to you through the word, what helps you to put it into practice?

PRAYER  Lord, help me to purify my heart and make it Yours. I know it’s a process, but I pledge my willingness to work with You and listen when You show me what needs to change. Come, Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus, and grow me to be more Jesus-like as I set out to do my part. Amen.

Living in the connection between heaven and earth

Meme image as heading which says "Heaven on earth" is a choice you must make, not a place you must find".

Church calendar readings for Sunday, August 26, in Bible order

Prepare for Sunday by reading the Bible passages beforehand – read again to reflect on Sunday’s teaching

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43 » God presences himself in the glory cloud

John 6:56-69 » Jesus promises Himself as food for eternal life

Ephesians 6:10-20 » How we position ourselves in the spiritual battle

Theme: Living in the connection between heaven and earth

SUMMARY  The three readings all speak of how the presence and purpose of God and the heavenly host affects events in our lives – and how choices we make, and the spiritual position we take, affects the spiritual reality behind what we experience. Yahweh’s presence was visible to the Israelites in the pillar of fire and cloud, on Mount Sinai and in the desert wanderings, and then at the consecration of Solomon’s temple. Jesus taught how He was the bridge between heaven and earth in a way that had to be spiritually discerned. And Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, teaches them that the struggles against evil that we all face are spiritual battles won in the place of holiness and prayer, not human argument and political strength.

= = = = = = =

OLD TESTAMENT READING

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43 » God presences himself in the glory cloud

The reverent placing of the ark in the temple

Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.

“Ark… to its place” – moved from David’s own shrine into the temple, probably in the 12th year of Solomon’s reign.

10-11 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord, Yahweh,  filled His temple.

“The cloud” – The presence of the Lord appearing in a visible cloud, as at Sinai.

For further study, Exodus 24:15-18; Exodus 40:33-38; Numbers 11:24-25 and 2 Chron. 7:1-3.

22-23 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth below – You who keep Your covenant of love with Your servants who continue wholeheartedly in Your way.

“No God like You” – Yahweh was quite different from the impersonal, fickle deities of other nations, directing events to fulfil His covenant promises. See Exodus 15:11, Deut. 7:9,12, and Psalm 86:8-10.

“Covenant of love” – Hebrew berith chesēd, covenant faithfulness, which made Yahweh unique and different. However, there was also responsibility on the other party to “continue wholeheartedly” in His way.

24 You have kept Your promise to Your servant David my father; with your mouth You have promised and with Your hand You have fulfilled it – as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for Your servant David my father the promises You made to him when You said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before Me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before Me faithfully as you have done.’

“If only your descendants are careful” – a clear, unambiguous condition amplified in the “But as for you… but if you” statement of 2 Chron 7:17-22.

26 “And now, God of Israel, let Your word that You promised Your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!

“How much less this temple” – Yahweh could not be contained, but the cloud of glory and physical temple led to a false belief that God’s assistance was assured however people lived, Jer. 7:4-14, Micah 3:11.

28 “Yet give attention to Your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day.

29 “May Your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which You said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that You will hear the prayer Your servant prays toward this place.

Verses 30 and 40-43 in the longer reading speak of God’s mission to all peoples of the earth, that they might know His name and His ways.

30 “Hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, Your dwelling place, and when You hear, forgive.

“Toward this place” – Israelites who could not pray in the temple directed their prayers to the temple, the place where God has promised to be present among His people, e.g. Daniel 6:10.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to Your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of Your name –

“Foreigner” – not  an alien living in Israel but someone who has journeyed to Jerusalem to pray to Israel’s God.

42 for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm – when they come and pray toward this temple,

43 then hear from heaven, Your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears Your Name.

“All peoples of the earth” – the wider intention of God’s mission, which we sometimes overlook in the OT, but plainly stated here.

IN PRACTICE  Solomon and the priests involved in the consecration of the new temple had never seen the glory cloud, but they knew about Moses entering the cloud on the top of Mount Sinai to receive the commandments, and the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle tent. For the people of the Old Testament era, the relationship was remote, not personal, with prophets and priests speaking for God and acting as His intermediaries. However our relationship through Jesus is to be personal, not mediated through priests. The story sets out a scenario where we can see that the affairs of heaven and of earth are not compartmentalised, but closely linked.

QUESTION  How is God’s covenant of love distinct from other world faiths?

GOSPEL

John 6:56-69 » Jesus promises Himself as food for eternal life

By receiving Him totally our lives are transformed

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in Me, and I in them.

57 Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

“Feeds on Me” – as John Wesley put it, Jesus becoming the meat and drink that feeds the soul. The Hebrew idiom ‘flesh and blood’ refers to the whole person.

58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

“Whoever feeds…live for ever” –  clearly not to be taken literally, and at this point, no sacrament has been instituted. Eternal life comes from wholeheartedly believing in Him by internalising who He is.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?

62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!

“Ascend” – to the realm He came from, and harder to comprehend than Jesus offering Himself for them to feed on spiritually.

63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life.

Jesus’ hearers, not discerning the spiritual truth behind His words, were shocked and offended. The Jews believed that study of Scripture and ‘doing works of God’ were enough for spiritual understanding. Jesus is patiently explaining to them that the Holy Spirit is needed to provide revelation that human reason cannot – refer back to John 5:39, 6:27-29.

64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.

65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled them.”

“The Father has enabled” – only those who seek on God’s terms, and not their own, will receive. Jesus knew some would choose not to believe, and would not allow themselves to be drawn by God – a fine balance between the free will choice to respond, and being drawn to a choice by the Holy Spirit. Different theological streams often give more emphasis to one or the other.

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.

“Many turned back” – Jesus is not surprised that many potential disciples have turned away at this watershed point in John’s gospel..

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68-69 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

“To whom shall we go” – the twelve disciples are beginning to get  this hard teaching, although for others it was too hard. They don’t want to transfer to another rabbi.

“Holy One of God” – God was called the Holy One of Israel, e.g. Psalm 71:22, Isaiah 43:3 and 54:5.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus reminded His hearers of the manna, God’s day by day provision from heaven for His people dwelling in a desert. Then Jesus challenged them with a steep step of logic – now God’s ‘manna’ from heaven was He Himself. He was God’s provision to them for life, and indeed eternal life and they were to feed on Him by taking Him to heart.

We live on earth in an awareness of God – and  through Jesus this becomes a real and personal relationship with Him. But we still see a gap between what happens in heaven and what happens, good or bad, in our earthly lives. This teaching of Jesus reminds us that He is the connection. To the extent our lives are lived in Him, and we are placing ourselves under His lordship, what is played out before our eyes is harnessed to the hope we have in the heavenly realm.

QUESTION  In a practical, day to day way, how would you explain what it means to you to feed on Jesus?

EPISTLE

Ephesians 6:10-20 » How we position ourselves in the spiritual battle

The real conflict behind events we experience, is won in a different way

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

“Be strong in the Lord” – being strong humanly is not enough. Recognise the need to summon God’s invincible power.

11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

“Put on” – earlier in the letter Paul has written, “Put on the new self” i.e. the new attitude of who we are in Christ, born anew into true righteousness and holiness. This is countering false witness and fear in the opposite spirit of integrity.

For further study, see compare with Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10.

“The devil’s schemes” – the Bible is clear about the present reality of the devil, a personal enemy, who deploys a few predictable strategies to exploit sin, fear and guilt by using accusation and division. Knowing those strategies is a key to recognising their origin, and then standing on who we are in Christ to overcome them.

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.

“Our struggle” – it is a mistake to resist human opponents or institutions without recognising the dark spirituality that is manipulating them, and taking a spiritual stand in the authority of Jesus. Even those who know the Lord may well have remaining vulnerabilities that the different levels of spiritual opposition are able to exploit.

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.

“Full armour of God” – a picture of the ‘panoplia‘ of the soldier’s kit, but what is meant here is Yahweh’s armour and weaponry, Isaiah 11:4-5 and 59:17, made available to the believer. When evil seems to prevail, truth and righteousness are the spiritual ‘weapons of character’ that win through.

“Stand” – repeated four times in this passage for emphasis. Rather than invade the domain of evil, we are to firmly maintain the decisive victory already won by Christ, Eph. 1:20-22, 4:8, Col 2:15.

IN PRACTICE  The spiritual connection between heaven and earth is real and vital, and that is made explicit here. Struggles are real experiences — our lives are under attack, both in the fears and anxieties and negativities that assail our thoughts, and in all the practical difficulties, health issues, relationship conflicts, adverse weather and accidents. The devil and his minions are personal opponents, always working to steal our peace and cause division wherever they can gain a foothold. The world’s advice is to be strong. Money in the bank, a robust constitution, influential friends… life has taught us how to ‘tough it out’. And this is exactly what we have to ‘unlearn’. This clear lesson from Paul’s teaching is that to prevail, is to prevail spiritually. It requires us to put down our worldly ‘weapons’ in order to take up a very different set of spiritual ones, where growing holiness, integrity and trust in the face of difficulty are the very qualities feared most by our spiritual opponents.

QUESTION  What makes it difficult for us to take up spiritual weapons? What in Christian life and fellowship helps us to see the spiritual dimension?

PRAYER  We live in a cruel and difficult world but so, Lord, did You – and we put our trust in You. Help us to perceive more clearly the spiritual realities behind our lives and to constantly give You the Lordship, and praise for Your sacrificial victory. Amen.

Pride leads to a fall but humbly accepting Jesus is salvation and life

Five marks of renewed lives – Ephesians 4:25-5:2

TLW32 August 12, 2018. Theme: Pride leads to a fall but humbly accepting Jesus is salvation and life

QUICK SUMMARY  The story of Absalom’s shameful death, caught up in the mane of hair which was so much his image, is a parable of how not to do life. Absalom’s arrogance and rebellion is a picture of our sinful, independent state and where it leads. By contrast, the story of Jesus patiently explaining that the way to life is He Himself – like the bread that was shared out with no one excluded, and all able to internalise it,  – so spiritually internalising Him and what He stands for is our choice to know God personally and receive His gift of life. That brings with it a new lifestyle, the life of the Spirit, which empowers us to say ‘no’ to traits which harms us and others, and to say ‘yes’ to the opposites, which are living and Christlike. The Way of God for us to imitate is to live in an attitude of love. We can do it because we are transformed and Spirit-empowered.

Readings set in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, August 12

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 – Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation

John 6:35, 41-51 – Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation

 

 

 

OLD TESTAMENT

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 » Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation

Defeat in the Forest of Ephraim ends a life marred by arrogance and rebellion

5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

“Be gentle” – whether out of fatherly love or a sense of guilt towards Absalom is not clear.

6-8 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great – twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

“Forest of Ephraim” – not in Ephraim at all but an area east of the Jordan in Gilead, settled by the tribe of Ephraim. The larger army was unable to move effectively in the hazards of a forest, and fell prey to David’s experienced force.

9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

“Riding his mule” – the usual mount for the king’s sons, 2 Sam. 13:29.

“Absalom’s hair” – what he gloried in, 2 Sam. 14:25-26, became the instrument of his downfall. As in life he had exalted himself with his own monument, 2 Sam. 18:18, in death he was thrown into a pit heaped up with rocks, like stoning, and a monument of shame.

15 And ten of Joab’s armour-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.

“Joab’s armour-bearers” – David’s senior officer and his close support had conflicting feelings about the leader of a bloody rebellion. The narrator stresses, e.g. verse 5 above, David’s order to spare Absalom, but Joab had fallen for his deception before, 2 Sam. 14:1-24, and with the king’s safety in view, acted against David’s instructions.

31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

“Cushite” – “man from Ethiopia’, NLT. Joab had chosen an alternative to the priest’s son to carry the news, in case David overreacted.

32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!”

“If only I had died” – David had lost Absalom’s love and respect, and now he had lost his son and any possible reconciliation. From the tone of David’s exclamation, it appears that he is seeing what Nathan prophesied, 2 Sam. 12:10-11, is now happening – His sin with Bathsheba, repented of and forgiven by God, still has consequences which are now playing out.

IN PRACTICE  The story of Absalom’s death, caught in a tree by the long hair he so gloried in, brings with it a reflection on his way of life. He ingratiated himself with others, gained a following over and against his father, and even built a monument to himself just outside Jerusalem. It is a story of pride that leads to a fall, of man-centred values that can never play out well; a story of self-condemnation. In our sinful state apart from God, it’s how we all start. We can recognise the desire to be something for ourselves, and the rebellious streak. This is the ‘how not to” example that brings out the new life in Jesus, and the life of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to make positive choice and live differently – not needing people’s attention to boost our egos, but able to live for Jesus and even look a little bit like Him.

QUESTION  What stands out in the story of Absalom and his death that is the lesson for you?

 

 

GOSPEL

John 6:35, 41-51 »  Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation

Some recognise Christ, the Messiah, and His mission to save while others struggle with believing who He is

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.

“I am” – there are a number of statements where Jesus refers to Himself using the words “I am”, purposefully making His hearers think of the Father’s words to Moses in Exodus 3:14, and prophetically through Isaiah e.g. Isaiah 43:25. This is the first of seven such sayings recorded by John.

“The bread of life” – the crowd had said in verse 34, not getting it at all, “Always give us this bread” or ‘keep on giving us free food’. So Jesus makes it very clear He is speaking of Himself.

41-43 At this the Jews there began to grumble about Him because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered.

“Began to grumble about Him” – The complaint recalls the attitude in the desert which was the root of the delay in entering the Promised Land. The synagogue crowd are showing the same inflexibility of thought and expectation – and lack of faith – as their ancestors who grumbled about the provision of manna. They consider that they ‘know’ He is the son of Joseph, miracle worker and possible national leader, and refuse to see beyond, to Him being the Son of the Father.

• For further study, read Exodus 16:8, Numbers 14:27 and the recollection in Psalm 95:8-9.

44-45 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me.

“No one can come… they will all” – the word ‘can’ is dunamai, which has the fuller meaning of ‘no one is able’. Jesus also quotes Isaiah 54:13 – His bigger vision is all being saved and coming to a knowledge of the truth, also the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34. A balanced view holds these tensions of God’s election “no one can come… unless the Father… draws them” and “they will all” in man’s free will in responding to the tug of the Holy Spirit, in tension. This is a process of grace from God to us, to which we are divinely enabled to respond as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. Scripture emphasises in different places God’s initiative of grace, and our responsibility of responding, in the initial spiritual transformation we call salvation or becoming a Christian.

46-48 No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.

“No one had seen… the one who believes” – as in John’s prologue, John 1:18. If we simply accepted what we could see, that would not be faith. We are required to go out on the line of putting our trust in the goodness of someone we have not physically encountered.

49-51 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

“Ate the manna… yet they died”. Manna gave them food at that time, but Jesus, the Living Bread, confers enduring life.

“This bread is My flesh” – ‘this bread is Me’. Jesus is the true living bread who satisfies the spiritual hunger of those who believe in Him. In a more physical sense, He becomes this ‘bread’ by sacrificing His body – “My flesh” – to death on the Cross. His perplexed hearers would reflect on this and some would later understand.

IN PRACTICE  The crowd who heard Jesus give this teaching didn’t find it easy to grasp. Many of them had known Jesus for 30 years. But recently, they had seen miracles of healing and provision which pointed to a different kind of identity, His divine Messiah identity, which He was now explaining to them. Some had faith to see Jesus beyond the carpenter’s shop, while others struggled.

It’s the same with us. Every encounter with God requires two things of us: our need of God (depending)  and taking Him at His word (believing). John doesn’t use words like ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ but prefers the action word ‘believing’. Jesus, not our efforts or good deeds, is the source of empowered life now and the way to life eternal. He chooses us, reminding us that He does out of love for us, and hold out an offer. When we trust Him for that offer, everything changes.

QUESTION  How would you explain to someone else simply, what Jesus had done out of love for them, and how they might respond to that?

 

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 » Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation

The hallmark of those who belong to the Lord, who is Love personified, is that they walk in love like Him.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…

Each of you must” – in the context of, each of you, redeemed by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit,  is now enabled to live like this. A list of five instances follows, each with an aspect not to do, an aspect to do positively instead, and a spiritual principle.

“Put off falsehood” – twisting of the truth comes with anger and bitterness. The emotional response of anger (like any emotional response of the moment) is not of itself sin, but anger that takes root i.e. carries over to the next day and beyond forms a resentful, bitter and often slanderous attitude that is the visible effect of unforgiveness – and that is denying the gospel.

27-28 …and do not give the devil a foothold…

“A foothold” – all sin gives the devil legal rights to oppress us and the sin of unforgiveness and unresolved conflict is perhaps the most common strategy the devil uses to gain a measure of control over our thoughts and lives. Sin is the access he looks for.

…Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

“Steal no longer but… work” – repentance can be defined as stopping something harmful, starting something positive instead, and a changed lifestyle that all can see.

29-30 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

“Only what is… building others up” – a practical guideline and the opposite of obscene language, gossip and slander which like a rotten fruit spreads and corrupts, doing so much damage to individuals and the whole community.

“Grieve the Holy Spirit” – showing the Holy Spirit to be a person and One who is sensitive to any harshness of attitude, perhaps more than we are

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

“Bitterness…anger” – resentment and malice have no place in people who have been forgiven of much -– and so morally cannot withhold from others that same grace. Failure to forgive results in the anger, clamour and malice which follow logically in the sentence.

32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

“Be kind” – be kind, chrestos, because of Christ, Christos.

“Compassionate… forgiving – the opposite of the bitter attitude. God’s forgiveness of us is the standard we apply to others: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, Matt. 6:12.

For further study, compare with Hosea 3:1, Colossians 3:13.

Eph. 5:1-2 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

“Follow God’s example” – more literally, “Be imitators of God”. Believers have been exhorted to learn about Christ, and not to grieve the Spirit, Eph 4:20-21, 30. Now they are set the challenge of adopting and demonstrating God’s values to the world around them.

“Walk in the way of love” – a summary of the section. Christ’s demonstration of loving us was fragrant, i.e. acceptable to God; our fragrant offering is following His example in walking in love towards others.

IN PRACTICE  The new life which comes through asking Jesus to be Lord of our lives is – new. ‘The old has gone, the new has come,’ in Paul’s words elsewhere. Foul language and petty dishonesty doesn’t seem clever any more. A lot of our more selfish traits lose their hold on us. But there’s plenty of baggage we need to recognise and lay down, and Paul sets out some choices for us – what not to do, what to do positively instead and the spiritual principle involved. In the flesh, or selfish nature, we can be harsh and critical of others, with standards of behaviour that don’t align with our new spiritual identity. This ‘mixed message’ destroys our witness but more seriously, offends the Holy Spirit and causes Him to distance Himself. Someone whose very nature is love is going to be a sensitive person, and the Holy Spirit is that sensitive person. On the other hand, He is the very One who enables us to grow more Christlike and loving. There’s a part we do, but we cannot do it by ourselves – we need to work with His empowering.

QUESTION  Out of the “get rid of” things listed and the challenge to love unconditionally, like Christ, which speak to you most?

PRAYER  Father God, as we come to You in Jesus, we are so grateful for the new life You hold out to us. Jesus, You are the Bread of Life! Help us to grasp this with both hands, eagerly, and with the help of Your Spirit, to live it out for all to see what You have done. Amen.

Lifegiving gift of God, freely given

I am the Bread of Life

Image credit: http://riveroflifetheriverwalk.org

TLW31 using the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, August 5.

Theme: Lifegiving gift of God, freely given

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a – a ‘gift’ violated in immaturity

John 6:24-35 – Jesus’ gift to us of eternal lifegiving food

Ephesians 4:1-16 – Maturity grows through Christ’s gifts to His church

To read additionally: Psalm 51:1-12

SUMMARY THIS WEEK  David knew about relying on God’s provision yet He was tempted to seize what was not his in a shameful episode. Jesus multiplied food in a miracle for His listening crowd and then explained that the true eternal sustenance was He Himself. They didn’t get it. Paul, writing to Spirit-filled Christians in Ephesus, urges them to keep hold of the unity the Holy Spirit has given them and to keep on growing and seeking spiritual maturity.

OLD TESTAMENT

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a » A ‘gift’ violated in immaturity

David becomes convicted of his sin on hearing a story told to him by the court prophet, Nathan.

26-27 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

“Displeased the Lord” – a dramatic understatement. David had misused his royal power, 2 Sam. 5:2, 2 Sam. 7:7, and broken the 6th, 7th and 10th commandments, Exodus 20:13,14,17.

12:1-3 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“The Lord sent Nathan” – Nathan, a court prophet, was acting as the Lord’s emissary sent with the Lord’s message. He had spoken before prophetically, 2 Sam. 7:2.

“Now a traveller came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveller who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5-6 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

“As surely as…” – David’s exclamation is in the form of an oath.

“Four times over” – the customary restitution. David later lost four of his sons, three of whom died violently.

7-8 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

“Gave your master’s house…” – meaning the throne and its benefits being conferred on David.

9-10 ‘Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

“You struck down…you killed…” – A figure of speech; David was responsible for Uriah falling in battle.

11-12 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”

“In broad daylight” – foretelling Absalom rebelling and sleeping with the royal concubines on the palace rooftop, 2 Sam. 16:22.

13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

The story continues with David’s wholehearted repentance, and being met by God’s grace in it despite the seriousness of his offences.

IN PRACTICE  From a plain reading of the story, David is in denial of his wrongdoing until nine months or more after the affair with Bathsheba and the birth of his son, when Nathan the court prophet comes to him with a story. At this point, the enormity of his sin impacts David – the adultery, deception of Uriah and his constructive murder – and blatant disregard for God’s order. David immediately repents in a wholehearted way. However, sin sets in train consequences. To do what we know not to do, is costly for us as it was for David.

QUESTION  ‘Repent’ is a word we shy away from, yet David turned to God from the most serious sin, and received grace. How ready are you to admit to God where you have been wrong?

 

GOSPEL

John 6:24-35 » The gift of Jesus, bread of life from heaven

The bread that never spoils is to believe in the One that God sent

24 Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

“Capernaum” – Jesus had been seen to leave the scene of the miracle of the feeding of the crowd alone, and the crowd went to search for him in the most likely place.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

26-27 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs I performed, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.”

They saw the sign but regarded Jesus as a miracle worker. Like the 12 disciples, Mark 6:53, they needed Jesus to teach them further, to grasp the fuller meaning.

“Food that endures to eternal life” – Jesus’ miracle with ordinary bread is a sign of who He is, uniquely authorised by the Father as His giver of spiritual, eternal ‘food’ that gives life.

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”

“What must we do…” – The crowd followed the merit-based Jewish religion and misses the point that eternal life is not earned, but God’s gift simply received, Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5. These two verses make a succinct statement of the gospel. The one and indispensable ‘work’ is to exercise faith and believe in Jesus Christ. See Paul’s explanation in Romans 3:20-28.

30-31 So they asked him, “What sign then will You give that we may see it and believe you? What will You do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

“What sign will You give” – there was a popular expectation that the Messiah would be known in the provision of manna again. The crowd had witnessed a single miracle with ordinary bread; Moses (in their perception) had fed a whole nation with heavenly bread for a generation.

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

“Bread from heaven” – far more than manna, the significance emphasised by a seven-fold repetition, here and vv. 38,41,50-51,58.

33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Jesus gently corrects them. God gave the manna in the past, but what is important is the “true bread”, life through the Son, which God is giving now.

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.

“Jesus declared, “I am…” – in Greek the tone is solemn and emphatic, echoing God’s words in Exodus 3:12-15.

For further study: This is the first of seven key “I am” sayings in John’s gospel, John 6:35, 8:12, 10:7,9; 10:11,14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5.

IN PRACTICE  The people who had received the miraculous provision of bread to eat on the remote hillside wanted more of the same. They had met Jesus, the provider, but had not yet properly met with Jesus the Son of God – and so didn’t understand the real gift of Jesus to them. The disciples weren’t getting it easily, either. It’s the same today. We are so indoctrinated with the idea of working for a reward, and of achieving preference on the basis of merit, that we baulk at the idea of simply believing and receiving. The bread, or food, that Jesus offers us, which is lifegiving in an eternal way and which never spoils or runs out, is Himself. We create all kinds of substitutes: church heritage and religious observance and good deeds add up in our minds to a completely false sense of our entitlement. This is the barrier and the reason why we find it hard to turn to Jesus as Saviour and as Lord, and to simply and humbly receive what He has done for us.

QUESTION  Everyone has struggled with this and everyone has a story… How would you explain how you received Jesus’ life-giving gift to someone exploring Christian faith?

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 4:1-16 » Maturity grows through Christ’s gifts to His church

Spiritual maturity and unity are a priority for the church to thrive

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

“Worthy of the calling” – The kind of life that demonstrates following Christ’s call will have hallmarks apparent to others

For further study, see 1 Thess. 2:12; Romans 12:1; Col. 1:10.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Freedom from needing to prove oneself and being free to absorb tensions and show grace to others, is part of growing in Christian maturity, vv. 13-16. It is a call to the corporate humility and forgiving love that emphasises reconciliation, Col. 3:12-13. This is attractive to people looking from the outside in. Where those claiming to be Christians are seen to be harsh, arrogant and judgmental, it sends out a mixed message, which is damaging.

3-5 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

“Make every effort” – words of urgent priority, to maintain the unity that the Holy Spirit brings. The experience of baptism of the Spirit is to be one with others in that common experience – but it must be defended from the enemy’s attempts to bring division.

“One body and one Spirit” – seven foundational facets of this spiritual unity, expressed in the form of a prayer declaration.

7-8 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When He ascended on high, He took many captives and gave gifts to His people.”

Paul loosely quotes Psalm 68:18, which itself refers to the victory song of Deborah in Judges 5:12, lit. “He took captivity captive”. Christ took captive the bondage imposed by Satan, for all who would turn to Him. The psalm refers to taking gifts; Paul changes that around. Ancient kings would *take* tribute as part of victory, but sometimes *share*  booty and show generosity in acts of clemency – the Hebrew words sound similar, hence the word play. Paul here emphasises the goodness of God in giving victory gifts, so it is fitting that He gives victory gifts to His church, in particular the gifts of specific and valuable leadership qualities.

9-10 (What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

“He also descended” – in this passage, to earth, rather than Hades. The One who ascended and now fills the earth with His graces and presence is none other than the one who descended to become incarnate to live in humble circumstances, and then to be put to death for us.

11-12 So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…

Christ’s gifts to the church are seen as five defined kinds of ministry working through church leadership functions of overseers, also called elders who pastor the flock, Acts 20:17,28. The point of this whole passage is encouraging spiritual maturity which will maintain unity, through these five strands in concert.

  • An apostle type of leader may be sent out to pioneer a new work;
  • a prophetic leader may be gifted in knowing and encouraging in God’s present purposes and praying them in;
  • the evangelist kind of leader is adept at communicating the Good News simply and engagingly;
  • another different gifting is the shepherd who cares for the flock, most likely also…
  • a teacher who has the gift of explaining the Bible’s stories and message simply and clearly.

These gifts are not mutually exclusive, but the picture is of a team where all the gifts are represented.

13 ...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

“Fullness of Christ” – the full expression of what Christ is like, Eph. 1:23. People who are filled with Christ are by definition not filled with their own sense of importance, and will be builders of faith and unity, both within the congregation and (vitally in our day and age) between churches and congregations of other streams.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

“Infants” – small children are suggestible, and prone to squabbling. By contrast, maturity means growing up into Christ, knowing Him and becoming like Him. Unity is not mere tolerance, but a one-ness in Christ and His values. The Holy Spirit always works for unity (why wouldn’t He?) but it is man’s stubborn and arrogant unredeemed attitudes which create disunity.

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

“The mature body” – Christ’s people, in all their diversity, working together, supporting each other and growing together in Him, v.16 below.

16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

IN PRACTICE  Turning to Jesus and receiving His gift of new life is a vital and life-changing decision. But we’re not supposed to live that time over and over. We don’t find a signpost and then camp there! As we know, the real formation of the church took place with the general bestowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This was an empowering time when the continuing presence of Jesus became real for all of them and they grew in this new life of the Spirit. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, urging them to keep on growing true, humble and loving – and together. With an enemy whose tactic is to spoil and cause division in the body, unity is of paramount importance. Of course there will be tensions, but it’s too easy to divide over them – maturity demands that we have the character to absorb tensions and stay focused on Christ and stay together in Him.

QUESTION  When someone, perhaps a leader, says or does something that you find difficult, what are the two or three responses you can choose to make?

PRAYER  Father God, You are good all the time, gracious when like David we recognise our mistakes and giving beyond anything we could earn or deserve. Help me to love You by being trusting and open to simply receive from You. Amen.

Trusting God for His power in us

Theme: Good and bad sources of power

2 Samuel 11:1-15 – Folly: power from position

John 6:1-21 – Provision: power that comes by faith

Ephesians 3:14-21 – Revelation: the power of the Holy Spirit

 

OLD TESTAMENT

 

2 Samuel 11:1-15 » Folly – power from position

David falls into the trap of submitting to his lust rather than God’s word and order.

The story of David’s multifaceted, serious sin: coveting another man’s wife, adultery, cover-up and deceit and constructive murder – ultimately the sin of despising the word of the Lord (2 Sam. 12:9-10). Later, 12:13, 16-17, David comes under conviction, admits his guilt and repents.

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

“Rabbah” – in modern Amman. David is complacent in sending Joab to lead the army and take on the Ammonites.

2-3 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

“Beautiful” – it is rare for someone to be described this way in the Bible.

“From the roof” – a terraced structure several storeys high from this period has been excavated, on which perhaps David’s palace was built to overlook the entire city.

“Eliam and… Uriah” – listed as among David’s elite and most trusted warriors, 2 Sam. 23:34, 39.

4-5 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

This tells us that she could not have been pregnant already. We cannot tell how compliant she was in the adultery.

6-7 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going.

“David asked him” – a pretence. David would have received regular reports.

“Uriah” – the name, ‘The Lord is my light’, tells us he was a Hittite, from the kingdom to the north of Canaan, who had adopted the Israelite faith.

8-9 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

“Wash your feet” – go home and relax with your wife. Uriah understood what was implied, v.11.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

“Staying in tents” – the Ark was with the army in field camp, for worship and to seek guidance in the war. This makes David’s dereliction, contrasted with Uriah’s sense of duty, all the more damning.

“Such a thing” – to have had sexual relations would have gone against the rule of abstinence when on duty, 1 Samuel 21:5, Exodus 19:15.

12-13 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14-15 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” 

David failed to make it appear that Uriah was the father of Bathsheba’s child, and plots Uriah’s death so he could marry Bathsheba quickly and disguise his sin.

IN PRACTICE  The story this week is about right and wrong sources of power, and it starts with an embarrassing human failure by a popular figurehead. Perhaps this highlights the danger of success. When we think ‘we can do it’, we are already moving away from trusting and obeying God. David’s success had also given him a lot of power – if he sent for someone, they came, and he could do what he liked. Or so he thought. This was David’s most serious mistake, and also his most profound lesson, in which he discovered another power – the power of repentance, and the power of God’s love shown in undeserved forgiveness and grace.

QUESTION  What do you take for granted is your area of decision in life, and how might God be challenging that for you?

 

GOSPEL

John 6:1-21 » Provision – power that comes by faith

Jesus tests His disciples, who are facing an immense crowd with nothing to eat

1-4 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed Him because they saw the signs He had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with His disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

“Some time after” – six months or more after the end of chapter 5. Jesus and His disciples have proclaimed the Good News throughout Galilee. Herod, having killed John the Baptist, is after them. They move their pitch.

“Far shore” – north-east shore, probably near Philip’s home area of Bethsaida, Luke 9:10.

“Jewish Passover…near” – and there were many pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem in the crowd. The context of the Passover remembrance gives deeper meaning to what happens next. The first Passover, when the Israelites left Egypt, they entered the desert relying on God’s provision of food and water, Exodus 15:22-16:3.

5-6 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for He already had in mind what He was going to do.

This was a deliberate test of Philip’s faith. The more we get to know the Lord, the more we understand apparent ‘annoyances’ as being about His purpose for us: growing our faith.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

“Half a year’s wages” – literally 200 denarii. A denarius was a labourer’s daily rate.

8-9 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

“Loaves” – like small, coarse pita breads. With the salted fish, making one meal.

10-11 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

“Five thousand” – with women and children the crowd could have been three or four times greater.

“Distributed” – miraculously, the food multiplied, and everyone ate as much as they wanted. Luke’s gospel account brings out the food multiplying in the hands of the disciples as they gave it out, Luke 9:13,16.

12-13 When they had all had enough to eat, He said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

“Wasted”  – in the Graeco-Roman and Jewish world, it was taught that waste was immoral; at the same time, the Roman custom at a gathering was always to have food left over to show that the provision was more than enough.

“Twelve baskets” – may symbolise meeting the needs of the 12 tribes of Israel.

14-15 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself.

“The prophet” – like Elijah, or like Moses, as foretold in Deut. 18:15. The background here is the needy widow’s oil multiplying in 2 Kings 4, and the abundant provision of manna in Exodus 16, stories well known to the crowd.

“Make Him king by force” – the people misunderstood the promised Messiah to be a political saviour of the nation after the manner of King David, not Lord and Saviour of the world.

16-17 When evening came, His disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.

18-21 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.   But He said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

“Don’t be afraid” – turbulent storms sometimes occur the Sea of Galilee late in the day. The disciples’ greater fear was seeing a ghost-like Jesus walking out to help them, recalling Moses leading Israel through the water, Exodus 14, Ps. 77:19-20.

IN PRACTICE  The disciples were looking at a stadium-sized crowd and no doubt there were children crying and others showing their need of something to eat. And they were completely powerless to provide anything! Later on, they were rowing hard against the wind and seemed powerless to reach the far shore, until Jesus arrived like a ghost and suddenly they had reached land. This story of reliance on God to provide is a better place to start than King David, who could snap his fingers for action without seeking God at all. The boy’s pickled pilchards and pita bread became the ‘gift that goes on giving’ in the astonished disciples’ hands. There are well-attested stories of multiplication that have happened in our time. It takes a stretch of faith – but nothing is impossible for God.

QUESTION  Do you have a story, or know someone with a story, of a ‘desperate prayer’ that resulted in a lack being turned into more than enough?

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 3:14-21 » Revelation – the power of the Holy Spirit

Paul explains how the Holy Spirit reveals the immensity of God’s love when we give our hearts to Jesus

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesus church starts and ends with submission, praise and adoration, vv.14-15 and 20-21. This sandwiches his three appeals, vv.16-19. A good pattern for our prayer.

14-15 For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

“I kneel” – expresses deep reverence. Most people stood to pray.

“Father… family” – related words in Greek where God is shown as Father to angelic beings “in heaven” and humanity “on earth”, giving both a shared identity as His creation and in His care.

16-17 I pray that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love…

“Inner being… hearts” – the same thing, the centre of moral being and consciousness. Not the same as the “new self” Eph. 4:24 or “new creation” 2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15, but related.

“Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” – or ‘make His home in your hearts…’ (NLT). This is what happens at conversion, an act of our will in which we invite Christ, by His Spirit, to come into our hearts. It is both a decision and an event, but also as Paul sets out here, an ongoing process of further ‘little conversions’ and encounters in which we grow in spiritual maturity.

For further study, read also John 3:1-21 esp. vv. 5-8 and 14-17.

18-19 …may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Paul prays for his Ephesian friends to have spiritual power and spiritual revelation of Christlike sacrificial love, together with spiritual maturity, to show what God is like to others.

20-21 Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

God is glorified in Christ, whose sacrificial death brought the church into existence. God is glorified in the Church – the body of believers – as it shows His power and compassion.

IN PRACTICE  This is one of the key Bible passages that explain the new birth and new awareness of God that comes through our conversion from a religious knowledge of God, to a heart-changing personal relationship in which God becomes real to us as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. What is difficult to explain in words becomes disarmingly straightforward in experience, as we ask Christ to take up residence in our hearts. The power of the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to those who are truly His, to live for Him and to become aware of His love which touches everyone and everything. With the Holy Spirit’s eyes, we begin to see where heaven connects with earth, where we thought they were quite separate.

QUESTION  Is “being strengthened with power in your inner being” an aspiration you look forward to? A story of an event that you can tell? Or your ongoing experience of growing in faith and Christlikeness?

PRAYER  Lord, I realise that man’s power corrupts but Your power provides and reveals and releases love. I am sorry for the times I have relied on my influence or ability, instead of turning to You. Help me to know You better, and trust You more as I grow in awareness of Your Holy Spirit in my life and world. Amen.

God’s promise of inclusion and rest

Readings for Sunday, July 22 – God’s promise of inclusion and rest

2 Samuel 7:1-14a – The promise of rest from oppression with God present

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close

Ephesians 2:11-22 – The promise of access to the Father without exclusion

Quick summary

The theme is based on three Bible promises of peace and rest and being included in God’s promise of hope and protection. King David is promised rest from the oppression of enemies – a promise that we can stand on when we face oppression – in Galilee crowds finding Jesus’ compassion give us a promise of God’s mercy, including healing, and the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles makes a present-day promise to all of being included in God’s promises without religious separation.

OLD TESTAMENT

2 Samuel 7:1-14a » David desires a fitting place of worship for God to retain the nation’s rest

God will have a dwelling for people to draw close, but not built by David. He will, however, grant David longevity of rule and lineage

1-2 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

David, as king, now had a palace built of stone and imported cedar while the ark remained under a tent covering, 2 Sam. 6:17. David felt that the heavenly King should be more prominently honoured than him.

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

This word is also referred to as the Davidic covenant. It contains both national (v.10) and person (v.11) promises.

For further study of references to this as a covenant, see 2 Sam. 23:5, Psalm 89:3,28,34,39 and Ps. 132:11

5-7 “Go and tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build Me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as My dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, “Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?” ’

“Are you the one?” – David’s God-given task was to fight the Lord’s battles to achieve rest, freedom from oppression, in the land that had been promised. See 1 Kings 5:3, 1 Chron. 22:8-9.

“Now then, tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over My people Israel.

I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.

“Cut off all your enemies” – Bible material is often arranged according to topic rather than the exact chronology we would expect. The events of 2 Sam. 8:1-14 probably happened before this chapter.

10-11 And I will provide a place for My people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“Provide a place… for Israel” – the real purpose behind making David king.

“Since…I appointed leaders…” – meaning the time of the judges who preceded Saul and David and the kings.

“ ‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord Himself will establish a house for you:

“Establish a house” – the play on words is plain in translation. God does not David to build Him a house, or temple, but God will build David a house, or royal dynasty.

Many Bible covenants are conditional with an”if” clause, but this covenant with David is unconditional, as with Noah, Abram and Phinehas.

12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.

13 He is the one who will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever.

14 I will be His father, and He will be My son.

The covenant points forward to its greater fulfilment in Jesus Christ, born of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, Matt. 1:1, Luke 1:32-33 etc

IN PRACTICE  This teaching in the Old Testament from King David’s time contains the first of three promises from God of ‘rest’ which is a state of peace and trust from enemies.

David’s enemies mostly appeared with a spear in their hands, and his battles are trials of military strength worked out in combat on the battlefield. In our world of NATO and Europol and summit talks, is all that irrelevant? Certainly not. Spiritual conflicts in the heavenlies, where the hosts of the defeated enemy, Satan, are still pursuing a vicious rearguard action, are played out in acts of terrorism, persecution and imprisonment of political opponents, and every kind of cruelty and injustice.

When we encounter evil actions and evil people, we need to see the evil that is finding people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities to work through.

Now turning to submit to God in worship, who has promised His rest, starts to make very present-day, practical sense.

QUESTION  When evil in one of its forms draws near to us, who do we draw near to? How do we bring God’s promises to bear?

 

GOSPEL

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 » The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close

People recognise the Messiah and draw close. Wherever Jesus went crowds gathered and brought their sick

30-31 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

“Get some rest” – two meanings here. Another definition of finding rest is taking time in a quiet place with Jesus.

32-34 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.

Or crossed the shoreline. Gennesaret (modern-day Ginosar) is down the coast a little way, towards Tiberius.

54-56 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus.

The crowd from vv.32-34 could see the boat and follow its progress on foot.

They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged Him to let them touch even the edge of His cloak, and all who touched it were healed. 

“All who touched it…” – a clear statement. See also Matthew 8:16-17.

IN PRACTICE  To seek a divine encounter with the promise of healing is entirely in line with this teaching, but out of line with most of our experience. It’s controversial. We all know people who have struggled with illness. For some, their earthly life appears to have foreclosed early and suddenly.

The account of people flocking to Jesus, pressing in to Him and the statement that “all who touched [His cloak] were healed” leaves us with both a promise and also a problem.

The promise seems clear enough, but so is the expectation of coming to the Lord (who we can’t touch) and trust in Him, when we have so many alternatives to trust in. Some we know from their stories are miraculously healed; for many it is a process and good medicine may be experienced as God’s gift. For some, the healing is total in transition to new and eternal life. Our philosophy is inadequate to explain this, but let’s not let lack of predictability and our sense of control and reason stop us from simply trusting and believing what God has written.

QUESTION  In the battle that goes on in our minds between reason and logic and trusting in what God says, how do we referee the contest?

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 2:11-22 » The promise of access to the Father without exclusion

The new relationship with God includes Gentiles on the same basis as Jews

11-13 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

“Remember that formerly… at that time” – referring to those outside a personal relationship with Christ, as they were when they “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air…”, Eph. 2:1-10. We are either committed to belong to Christ, or we are by default under the sway of the devil.

“You who are Gentiles” – most of those in the church in Ephesus.

The rite of circumcision was a clear mark of distinction and also pride. A major exclusion in the ancient world, between people groups hostile to each other, is reconciled in Christ.

14-15 For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace…

“Two groups one” – believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

“Destroyed the barrier” – a barrier of prejudice. Jews and Gentiles practised strict religious isolation from one another. Gentiles in the Jerusalem temple area were not allowed past the barrier in the Court of the Gentiles.

16 …and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the Cross, by which He put to death their hostility.

“One body” – God sees those who are the Lord’s, those who are His, as one body of Christ.

17-18 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

“Far away and… near” – Gentiles, unlike Jews, had no cultural experience of the Living God and so were not as “near”, although both had shared the same need to come into personal relationship through Jesus and His Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household…

“Foreigners and strangers” – addressing what had been a deep-seated division.

20 …built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

“Cornerstone” – hundreds of years before Christ, Isaiah spoke of God laying a “tested stone” as a cornerstone foundation, Isaiah 28:16, meaning the Messiah to come.

“Foundation of apostles and prophets” – the early church was built on these ministries as people were sent out in ground-breaking roles. Church planting in our time, both overseas and new congregations at home, require the equipping ministries mentioned later in the letter, Eph. 4:11-13.

21 In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

22 And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

“In Him… built together” – Peter also refers to Jesus as the Living Stone in whom we ‘living stones’ are being built into a spiritual ‘house’. See 1 Peter 2:4-6

IN PRACTICE  The third teaching in this theme of God’s promise of our inclusion in His hope and His promises, and therefore our rest, is about who is included and whether there is a kind of hierarchy of privilege. We think there is. We think that our religious obedience, however that is expressed, gets us up the queue line because that’s how we as humans are programmed – so much in our education, professional life and general experience is based on merit.

When ministers began to take the Good News of Jesus outside the confines of pews and pulpit (as John Wesley did in the 1700s and many others since) God’s love and grace for the apparently underserving presented many surprises to the religious mind.  He loves to overturn our comfortable theology! Back in the first century, it was the same. The Jews really did consider themselves God’s chosen people, even if they had largely rejected their own Messiah. They wanted to treat the ‘outsider’ Gentiles as second class, if they had dealings with them at all. God confronted that exclusivity of attitude in them, and He still does in us. Formal religion has created all kinds of barriers to knowing God’s love and He delights in opening another door that needs no ticket other than a desire to enter in and experience Him.

QUESTION  If you see another person in church who dresses differently, behaves differently and just is – different, how do you view them and how does God view them – and how will you love them anyway?

The steps that foreshadowed God’s kingdom plan

Theme: God’s kingdom purpose and its signposts

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 – Bringing the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem foreshadows Temple worship

Mark 6:14-29 – John the Baptist’s execution foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice

Ephesians 1:3-14 – How the Holy Spirit foreshadows our heavenly destiny

David is ‘undignified’ in his priestly ephod and no kingly robes as he offers effusive praise at the head of the Ark of God procession into Jerusalem. Image credit: Darlene Slavujac

 

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 » The Ark of God becomes central to the nation of Israel again

The procession celebrates before the Lord with passion, safeguarding the holiness of the ark

David again brought together all the able young men of Israel – thirty thousand.

He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark.

“Baalah” – the more familiar name is Kiriath Jearim, where the ark had stayed for 20 years during Saul’s reign.

“Called by the Name” – meaning that God owned it. A phrase used elsewhere to indicate ownership.

“Who is enthroned between…” – in 1 Chron. 28:2 the ark is referred to as ‘the footstool of our God’ – the footstool of God’s earthly throne. David, recognising the ark as symbolising God’s ultimate kingship and rule, wanted it to be prominent and central, unlike Saul who concealed the ark, among other failures of spiritual leadership.

3-5 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.

“Uzzah and Ahio” – sons, meaning more broadly, descendants. They decided to move the ark on a new cart (carelessly imitating the pagan Philistines) but the standing instruction was to move the ark by having Levites carry it by its rings, Exodus 25:12-15, Numbers 4:4-6. This was a strategic error leading to Uzzah’s death when he stumbled and touched the ark, verses 6-7 omitted, 1 Chron. 15:13-15.

12  Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God. So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.

“Blessed…Obed-Edom” – The Lord had blessed the Levite who had taken good care of the ark, and David’s deduction was that this blessing would come on Jerusalem if the ark was reverentially cared for there. Aware that his own care and reverence had been found lacking, David is leading the procession in praising, celebrating and sacrificing wholeheartedly.

13-14 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

“Those who were carrying” – now the Kohathite Levites are carrying the ark on their shoulders. After a few steps, David consecrates the new phase of the journey in sacrifice. No need to assume he does this every few steps.

“Linen ephod” – a priestly garment worn for ministering to the Lord, as the boy Samuel did, 1 Sam. 2:18.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

“Daughter of Saul” – also a statement of attitude. David was a very different character, which for her undermined her father’s memory.

“She despised him” – Michal, a princess, was holding values of dignity and royal propriety about David’s kingship. David had another royal propriety in mind, before the King of kings; his sense of submission to the Lord in heartfelt worship overrode his personal dignity, verses 21-23.

17-19 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

“Blessed the people” – as Moses and Aaron had, long before, outside the tent of meeting, when the glory of the Lord appeared, Lev. 9:23. And as Solomon would at the dedication of the temple, 1 Kings 8:55-61.

In practice  Israel had lost the experience of having the presence of God with them, under Saul’s woefully disappointing kingship. The Ark of the Lord was out of sight in an obscure place. The faith of the nation was at low tide.

Saul was a proud person and everybody knew he was king. David was a worshipful person who exalted Yahweh as the real King of Israel – so that sometimes people forgot that David was set apart to lead, and not just one of them.

David made mistakes but he was a quick learner. He recognised that bringing up the ark as the ‘footstool of God’ at the heart of the nation would get everyone looking to God. This led to the Temple, his vision but not his achievement, and looked forward to ‘God with Us’, his descendant Jesus the Emmanuel and a time which each of us would be a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Question  David didn’t care what anyone thought when he was worshipping God exuberantly. How could you be more expressive, more released, more abandoned to God?

 

Mark 6:14-29 » John the Baptist’s execution foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice

King Herod has John the Baptist, a righteous and holy man, executed

14 King Herod heard about [the widening ministry of Jesus and the disciples with signs and wonders], for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

“King Herod” – he was a lesser order, a tetrarch or ruler of four provinces. Perhaps some irony here in Mark’s account

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

“He is Elijah” – the return of Elijah (or one ministering as Elijah did) was one of the last prophecies recorded, Malachi 4:5. As Elijah was the forerunner to Elisha, to ‘Elijah’ would be the new forerunner to the Messiah. It was John who ministered in the “spirit and power of Elijah”, Luke 1:17 and we would say, in the style of Elijah, in being a prophetic preacher and a wilderness-dwelling outsider.

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

Herod was fearful, disturbed by a bad conscience – and superstitious.

17-20 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

John’s imprisonment, in the fortress of Machaerus, is described by the independent Jewish historian Josephus in his ‘Antiquities’.

The vindictive, manipulative Herodias and indecisive ‘king’ Herod parallel the original Elijah’s persecutor Jezebel and weak husband Ahab, 1 Kings 19:1-2, 1 Kings 21:1-16

21-22 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”

23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

“Half my kingdom” – more of a saying than a promise, see Esther 5:3,6. But keeping up appearances mattered in the company of so many military commanders.

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26-29 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.

Clearly Herod recognised John’s integrity, moral courage and prophetic gift, vv. 17-20. But, a vain man in the company of military officers and people of power, he felt constrained not to appear weak.

So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Disciples of John existed for a century or more after his death. He was the last of the Old Testament-era prophets.

In practice  John was an Elijah-like figure who announced Jesus, made preparations for Jesus by baptising in the River Jordan, and made a way for Hims ministry, preparing people for a Messiah who was expected but not at all understood. He completed his forerunner role a little too well and a little too early, by being executed on a whim at the request of the tetrarch’s wife, who resented him deeply. He died a righteous man; His cousin was to die a worse death on a Roman cross a couple of years later as a righteous man who was also without sin.

David’s initiative in bringing up the Ark of the Lord, led to the temple order of worship of the Lord and then to the Lord Himself. John the Baptist’s obedience to his call led to the dawning of an understanding that the realm of God’s rule and realm, the kingdom of God, was starting to be realised.

Question  Can you think of something you have done for God’s kingdom that didn’t seem to result in much glory but made a preparation for someone else’s contribution? Why is this important?

Ephesians 1:3-14 » How the Holy Spirit foreshadows our heavenly destiny

The seal of the Holy Spirit is evidence of God choosing us for the praise of His glory

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.

“Praise be” – or “Blessed be” more literally. This follows the style of Jewish prayers that were recited at times during the day.

Paul is straight in here with a vital statement of the spiritual identity of a believer in this era of the life of the Holy Spirit. These good things are ours because of who we are “in Christ”.

There is an assumption here which we often miss – that there is no disconnection between the “heavenly realms” and our earthly life. Our spiritual blessing and spiritual life is located in heaven, with Christ, influencing our different, but not disconnected, everyday life on earth.

4-6 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 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.

“Chose us in Him” – God is outside the constraints of time and space which define us – which makes it easier to understand how He could choose us, at the beginning of creation, in the Son and for our own adoption into sonship. This is not flowery prose but the most profound statement of how God sees us “in Christ” as those who have put their lives under Christ’s lordship.

“Praise of His…grace” – because it is unearned and conferred. Our worldview which emphasises merit (and deprecates hereditary titles) makes it difficult for us to simply receive God’s grace in Jesus, without imagining we have worked for His favour in some religious or sacrificial way.

7-9 In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ… 

“Redemption through His blood” – The first redemption was the nation of Israel released from slavery in the Exodus, with the Passover sacrifice and applying of the lamb’s blood to the doorframes foreshadowing for Christian believers the provision of Christ’s shed blood from His sacrifice of Himself. The redemption now is Christ’s price paid for our release from slavery to sin and independent action.

“Made known to us the mystery” – the Holy Spirit gives us the key, enabling spiritual ‘mysteries’ to be spiritually discerned.

10 …to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 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…

There is a balance in Scripture between being chosen in a way which was predestined, and putting ourselves in a place to be chosen, which is our decision (below) to 1. put our hope in Christ, 2. hear the message of truth and 3. believe.

12 …in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

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.

The Holy Spirit takes up residence when we invite Him into our lives, which we do by believing who Jesus is and what He has done for us personally – saying ‘Yes’ to Him. The Holy Spirit gives us an inner witness of who we are, and how we are, in Christ – not our righteousness, but His. We know we are saved

In practice  Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is written to a spiritually mature readership. He reminds them of their identity in Christ and their adoption into sonship – with all the connotations of the privileges of a family heir that Roman adoption conferred. But this was living as a believer in a Roman colony of an empire where persecution of those who were Followers of the Way was all too real a prospect and death could be the result. These believers had a real experience of the empowering of the Holy Spirit – and Paul reminds them that the inner witness of the Spirit of God is like a down payment on the experience of heaven. They were to be assured of their destiny, and so are we.

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p class=”p9″>Question  Why does Paul put so much emphasis on us knowing who we are in Christ? Why does this help us to live well for Him?