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.

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.

How the grace of God demolishes our human barriers

The readings according to the lectionary for Sunday, July 1

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 – God’s grace in David lamenting his former persecutor

Mark 5:21-43 – God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – God’s grace in Gentiles’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church

Kilwa, Tanzania. Image: Jonathan Rendell, Oasis Church, Hereford

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 » God’s grace seen in David lamenting his former persecutor

  • No rejoicing after tyrannical Saul is killed

After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

“After the death of Saul” – the battle of Mount Gilboa did not go well for the Israelites. Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua were killed during the Philistine pursuit, and Saul was critically wounded and fell on his own sword, 1 Samuel 31:1-4.

17-18 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

“Book of Jashar” – mentioned in Joshua 10:13, an early commemoration of Israel’s exploits, now lost. Probably in verse form like the “lament of the bow”, sung during drill with the bow, Israel’s weapon of choice.

19-20 “A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel. How the mighty have fallen! “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

“Gazelle” – figurative language symbolising a special person, here used for Jonathan.

“Proclaim it not” – Gath to Ashkelon was the expanse of Philistine territory. For them to celebrate Israel’s defeat brought reproach, not just to Israel, but to the name of the Lord.

21-22 “Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul – no longer rubbed with oil. “From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.

“May no showers fall” – a curse on the place where Saul and Jonathan perished expressing David’s grief. “No longer rubbed with oil” – the shield no longer maintained, no longer needed.

23 “Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

“Not parted” – Jonathan opposed his father, especially in the way he treated David, but fought to defend Israel and gave his life beside his father.

24 “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

“Scarlet” – associated with luxury.

25  “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights.

26  “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

“Your love for me was wonderful” – No sexual connotation here: Jonathan’s commitment to David, at personal risk, seeing him as God’s choice to succeed his own father, was a truly remarkable bond.

27  “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”

In practice  If someone had spent years cursing you, making life very difficult for you and had attempted to kill you more than once, how would you feel when they themselves have come to a sticky end? Who among us would not gloat, for a while, anyway?

When David hears the news that King Saul and his close companion and friend Jonathan have both been killed while retreating from the Philistines, he does the opposite. He composes a song of lament to honour them in every way he can think of. Human emotions have been overridden – God’s grace is flowing. David had kept his heart clean from resentment for many years; his practice had paid off.

We can do the same and choose not to recount injustice and betrayal, but to love our enemies because we have the Holy Spirit to cause a flow of grace in our hearts.

Question  Why did Jesus say it was so important for us to forgive without condition? Think of the Lord’s Prayer…

Mark 5:21-43 » God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded

  • Two different people publicly put faith in Jesus

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around Him while He was by the lake.

“The other side” – He had been on the eastern Gadara and Decapolis side of the lake, and now crossed back to the Capernaum and Galilee side.

22-24 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet He pleaded earnestly with Him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around Him.

“Synagogue leaders” – laymen, mostly Pharisees,  who organised services.

25-26 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.

“A woman was there” – but ceremonially unclean owing to her condition, and not allowed in the temple court reserved for women.

27-29 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

By the law, Leviticus 15:19-23, she renders Jesus ceremonially unclean. However, He demonstrates that He is greater than purity laws by healing her, and therefore making her clean.

30 At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” His disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched Me?’ ”

“Who touched Me?” – He senses something, a spiritual transaction, more than just touch because He would have felt the nudges of many in the crowd.

32-34 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet and, trembling with fear, told Him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

She had rendered many in the crowd unclean, a shameful thing to have done from the perspective of the Law. Mark depicts how her fear turned to faith.

“Daughter” – from shunned outsider she has become part of the family of God.

“Healed” – the word ‘sozo’ has a broader meaning encompassing healed, delivered, saved. Faith in Jesus which brought her physical healing was the faith that conferred salvation from sin.

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

“Don’t be afraid” – ‘Do not fear…’ as Jesus says to us in many circumstances, ‘but believe’. Fear and faith are opposites, more than unbelief and faith. Once we decide to turn from the grip of fear to regard Jesus, faith dispels fear. We need the willpower to kick-start this change. A big test for Jairus with a dead child.

37-40 He did not let anyone follow Him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Him.

After He put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with Him, and went in where the child was.

“People wailing loudly” – assisted by community mourners who upheld the noisy custom.

“Peter, James and John” – early days of the ministry and a small room, so a call to the ‘senior apprentices’ only.

“They laughed at Him” – the unbelieving crowd created an unbelieving spirituality.

41-43 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Talitha koum” – Only Mark’s fast-paced gospel includes references to the vernacular that Jesus and the disciples customarily used – giving immediacy to the story.

“Not to let anyone know” – Jesus was never self-promoting. In Galilee he faced two problems: He was a Galilean with fast-growing popularity in his own region, and this was attracting growing hostility from religious leaders which was pointing to premature crisis, before His work was anywhere near complete.

In practice  In Mark’s telling, a story of one extraordinary healing, a raising from the dead, becomes an envelope for another healing and crowd scene.

Jesus’ relationship with synagogues and synagogue leaders was patchy, to say the least. He talked about the kingdom of God and demonstrated the kingdom of God with apparent disregard for the conventions about the Sabbath, but here a synagogue officer faces personal tragedy in the death of his small daughter and appeals to Jesus, who turfs out the wailing mourners and speaks life into her dead form.

Before that, and no less extraordinary, was the covert encounter a chronically ill woman had with him in the crowd, forcing through to touch His robe in a desperate gesture of faith.

Both were held captive by fear and hopelessness but broke free of their feelings to express faith in Jesus: His ‘sozo’ – deliverance, healing and salvation – was the result. The lesson for us is plain – defy your feelings and even facts and conventions, and turn to Jesus. Your prayer might be desperate, but maybe this is what he is listening for.

Question  Have you witnessed any extraordinary answers to prayer? What was spoken out in faith as part of that prayer effort?

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 » God’s grace in Gentile believers’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church

  • Corinthians who excelled in gifts exhorted to be earnest in their giving

But since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

The Corinthians – hardly lacking in self-esteem, proud of their public debating heritage and encouraged by Paul in chapters 1-7 – are challenged to lead in financial generosity also.

8-9 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

“Not commanding” – this was not a command to give – telling people to give more often has the opposite effect – but inviting them to test the sincerity of their love. The Macedonian churches in northern Greece like Philippi and Thessalonica, not far distant, had shown their love as they “gave themselves first to the Lord” by giving beyond their means at a time of severe trial and poverty. Would Corinth have the same heart?

“You know the grace of our Lord” – here meaning God’s love shown in saving action for undeserving mankind.

10-12 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

“Eager willingness… is there” – the point is that God looks for faith and joy in giving which is part of our worship of Him. Giving out of duty (by the same logic) is not acceptable. We can encourage each other to give more freely, willingly and joyfully, but to expect people to give more because they ought is the wrong message.

13-15 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

“Too much… too little” –  quoting from Exodus 16:18 which refers to the Israelites gathering manna in the desert, illustrating the kind of equality he has in mind. Like giving out of duty, giving as a kind of religious penance is not the willingness and Spirit-led enthusiasm that God is seeking.

In practice  The Corinthians have taken hold of new life in Christ with enthusiasm – sometimes a little too much enthusiasm, it seems. But they were also early to respond and raise money when news of the need in Jerusalem reached them across the Mediterranean in Greece. But Paul instructs them, it is not dutiful giving that God smiles on, but the joyful kind that relies on His provision and shares it willingly and joyfully. “God loves a cheerful giver” because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or rather, worship.

Question In what ways can you worship God in your freedom to give and meet needs for others?

Following the healing at the Temple gate, Peter explains the continuing ministry of Jesus

THURSDAY APRIL 12
Acts 3:12-19

This is where authoritative prayer in Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him is modelled for us to follow

12  When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

13  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.

Peter’s message explains the healing of the lifelong cripple at the Beautiful Gate by discounting who he is, and setting out plainly who Jesus is.

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… His Servant Jesus” – Peter names Jesus as the Servant of Isaiah 42-53 and particularly Isaiah 52:13 before his Jewish audience.

14  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.

15  You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

Following the mention of the Servant of Isaiah, this passage introduces three significant names of Jesus: ‘Holy One’, ‘Righteous One’ and ‘Author of Life’. (In v.22 further on from this passage there is a fourth, ‘Prophet like Moses’.)

It was incomprehensible to the Jewish mind that the author of life, i.e. God Himself, could be killed.

16  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

The Name was a way that in Jewish piety one could speak of God without naming God – something they felt was improper.

The man was healed by Jesus’ name, and by the faith that comes through Jesus. The Name of Jesus is an invocation of Jesus Himself – Peter’s words in effect became Jesus’ words. The faith was either the faith of the man himself – who later praised God for his restoration – or the faith of Peter, or both.

17  “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 

This is remarkable for Peter’s conciliatory attitude to his fellow Jews and especially their leaders. He even tells them that their actions allowed God’s purpose to be fulfilled, and that (v.19) their simple repentance would bring “times of refreshing” from the Lord.

19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

This kind of evangelistic message in Acts commonly builds toward a call to repentance from unbelief and faith in Jesus as Messiah – with exactly the same good news offered to Gentiles.

For further study, read Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30 and 26:20

Application

This passage contains the basis for authoritative prayers and declarations we make where we discern in a situation what Jesus would have us pray, speak out those words in faith and “in the name of Jesus”.

This is not a religious formula – or if it is used in that way, it is ineffective.

The man referred to was healed both by Peter’s using the words and actions that the Holy Spirit showed him to use –  “in the name of Jesus” – and as a result of the exercise of faith for what was, humanly speaking, an impossibility.

Note also that this was a healing miracle which everyone in Jerusalem would have remarked on – the formerly crippled man’s pitch by one of the main routes into the temple would have made him a familiar figure – quite a change if he was not there anymore. And of course it showed Peter in a very favourable light, but only for the shortest possible time, because Peter lost no time in giving God the glory and denigrating his own role in it. That’s an important lesson for us.

For reflection and discussion

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p class=”p2″>How does Peter’s confidence in this passage help you to move from prayer asking God (supplication), to prayer that calls down God’s will by faith in the name of Jesus?

Following the healing of the cripple at the Temple gate, Peter explains the continuing ministry of Jesus

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11
Acts 3:12-19

 

This is where authoritative prayer in Jesus’ name, and the faith that comes through Him, is modelled for us to follow

12  When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

  13  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.

Peter’s message explains the healing of the lifelong cripple at the Beautiful Gate by discounting who he is, and setting out plainly who Jesus is.

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… His Servant Jesus” – Peter names Jesus as the Servant of Isaiah 42-53 and particularly Isaiah 52:13 before his Jewish audience.

14  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.

15  You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

Following the mention of the Servant of Isaiah, this passage introduces three significant names of Jesus: ‘Holy One’, ‘Righteous One’ and ‘Author of Life’. (In v.22 further on from this passage there is a fourth, ‘Prophet like Moses’.)

It was incomprehensible to the Jewish mind that the author of life, i.e. God Himself, could be killed.

16  By faith in the Name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

The Name was a way that Jewish piety could speak of God without naming God – something they felt was improper. The Name of God, the Name of Jesus, the Name… the languages makes the point that Jesus is God.

The man was healed by Jesus’ name, and by the faith that comes through Jesus. The Name of Jesus is an invocation of Jesus Himself – in effect, Peter’s words become Jesus’ words. The faith was either the faith of the man himself – who later praised God for his restoration – or the faith of Peter, or both.

17  “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 

This is remarkable for Peter’s conciliatory attitude to his fellow Jews and especially their leaders. He even tells them that their actions allowed God’s purpose to be fulfilled, and that (v.19) their simple repentance would bring “times of refreshing” from the Lord.

19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

This kind of evangelistic message in Acts commonly builds toward a call to repentance from unbelief and faith in Jesus as Messiah – with the same good news offered to Gentiles.

For further study, read Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30 and 26:20

Application

This passage contains the basis for authoritative prayers and declarations we make where we discern in a situation what Jesus would have us pray, and having spoken those words, append to them “in the name of Jesus”.

This is not a religious formula – or if it is used in that way, it is ineffective.

The man referred to was healed both by Peter’s using the words and actions that the Holy Spirit showed him to use –  “in the name of Jesus” – and as a result of the exercise of faith for what was, humanly speaking, an impossibility.

Note also that this was a healing miracle which everyone in Jerusalem would have remarked on – the formerly crippled man’s pitch by one of the main routes into the temple would have made him a familiar figure, and quite a change if he was not there any more. And of course it showed Peter in a very favourable light, but only for the shortest possible time, because Peter’s first words were to give God the glory and denigrate his role in it. That’s an important lesson for us.

For reflection and discussion

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p class=”p2″>How does Peter’s confidence in this passage help you to move from prayer asking God (supplication), to prayer that calls down God’s will by faith in the name of Jesus?

Tests of true believers: The test of faith for the impossible

Readings this week

Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21 – The test of faith

Psalm 133 – The Test of togetherness

John 20:19-31 – The test of believing without seeing

1 John 1:1-2:2 – The test of walking in relationship with God

Exodus Route and Nuweiba crossing as researched by Ron Wyatt http://www.6000years.org/frame.php?page=red_sea_crossing

MONDAY, APRIL 2

Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21

The Israelites are challenged to believe God’s promise at the Red Sea crossing

10  As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.

The Egyptians had quickly lost the anxiety of the plagues and the loss of their first-born.

11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?

They had cried out to the Lord (v.10) but quickly switched to Moses, a more accessible target for their all-too-human (and humanly wrong) reaction. There is some biting sarcasm here, because Egypt at that time was obsessed with graves and had large areas of burial grounds.

12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

“Say to you” – to say and to ‘think in the heart’ can be the same in Hebrew. This is the accusation made earlier in Exodus 5:21.

13  Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  14  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

“Deliverance” – literally ‘salvation’ but this is more in the sense of them being delivered from the threat. There is little distinction in Hebrew between salvation, deliverance and healing.

Moses gives three patient instructions in the turmoil: (1) do not be afraid, (2) stand and expect the Lord’s deliverance, and (3) be still i.e. stop all action.

15  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

Reminding Moses of the enduring promise to take them out of Egypt and give them the land of Canaan – the petition is already granted. His responsibility in faith is to keep everyone moving into the promise, expecting a way through.

16  Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.

“Divide” – cleave, form a valley: As happened in the description of v.21-22 “…the water divided… with a wall… on their right… and left.”

17  I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.

18  The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

19  Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them,

20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.

The angel of God and the evidence of the presence of God, the pillar of cloud moved from ahead of the refugees to behind them and produced darkness with the opposite effect on the pursuing army, to the light and reassuring presence for the Israelites.

Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side, and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

21  Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided,

22  and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

The strong wind is a natural element, but the effect of the wind to bank up the water as a heap and create dry ground for the crossing, can only be explained by a miraculous event.

23  The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea.

The exact location is debated, but recent scholarship and archaeological discovery has pointed to the tip of the Gulf of Suez, where divers have photographed unusual coral-encrusted shapes of wheel and spokes, providing evidence for the ”jammed wheels’ of v.25.

24  During the last watch of the night, the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.

The ‘look’ of Yahweh appears to have been more of a blinding flash which caused the charioteers to run into each other. The wording of Psalm 77:16–20 suggests a thunderstorm, or a frightening occurrence resembling a thunderstorm.

The last watch of the night, 2am-6am, is the traditional time to mount an attack when visibility and morale are at their lowest.

25  He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Chariots with open unprotected wheels would be prone to lock if they touched. Rather than wheel around the Israelites, they were confined to the same narrow channel between the walls of water.

26  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”

27  Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea.

The action by Moses was necessary to show that the return of the water was an act of God, not just a freak of extraordinary weather.

28  The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

“Not one of them survived” is qualified by “that had followed the Israelites into the sea” – those that went into the gap, perished in the gap when Moses called down the return of the water.

20  But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

30  That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.

There is a Twentieth Century Fox finality about this scene which made this miracle at the Red Sea the enduring symbol of Israel’s salvation, recounted in verse and song by one generation to another.

20  Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.

Miriam (the same name as Mary in the NT) was probably a praise leader of the women and is described as a prophetess, an unusual word also applied to Deborah, Judges 4:4. She claimed to bring God’s word just as Moses had, Numbers 12:2. Although she is Moses’ sister, she is described as Aaron’s sister, perhaps making a point about lesser rank.

21  Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.”

Application

This was a huge and miraculous deliverance in every aspect. God is loving and God is strong – and God is faithful when His people turn to Him in repentance and prayer. There is also a note of desperation here, but Moses is hearing God in it all. What is God saying in a situation? We need to persist and hear. “Faith comes by hearing”, and then we know how to pray – and act.

For reflection and discussion

What helps us to hear God in the emotional clamour of a crisis situation? See verses 11-15 for what not to do, and what God looks for.

The emerging message

RECAP

Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

Mark 8:31-38
God’s great plan of redemption through Jesus is a stretch of faith for His disciples

Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

The emerging message – ‘It’s all about faith, stupid’

God’s desire is to reveal Himself, to make Himself known. But there’s a problem – God is Spirit, and in our unregenerate state we are not. Even when we have come to know God personally through turning to Jesus and inviting him to be our Lord, there is still a gulf to be bridged. That bridge is what we call faith. It is choosing to believe beyond what we see, what we know, what we understand, what is logical or feasible to us. To see with the “eyes of the heart”.

Abraham is the father of faith, not just to Jews, but to all who look to God in faith. God appeared to him on a number of occasions and made promises that didn’t stack up and didn’t happen – or so it seemed. Abraham hung in there. God had said it – that settled it. This was a 25-year test; Abraham believed, and kept on believing, and “it was credited to Him as righteousness”.

We face trials, and seek what God is saying – and we may hear clearly. And we hang on to that word and it seems to us that nothing happens. What was all that about? The way God grew Abraham through a test of faith, is the way He grows us.

David, in Psalm 22, writes (probably prophetically) about desperate anguish and pain and the questioning of where God is in that. Where we pick up the reading the tone changes to praise, based on God’s character, never mind what it feels like. And the result of that barefaced, impudent faith to praise God in the face of the enemy is a knock-on effect of people turning to God. We call it revival.

Jesus explains to His disciples, now that they have recognised that He is the Messiah, that God’s plan for mankind will be fulfilled in His capture, mock trial and torture to death. No one wants that – but this most difficult-to-grasp purpose has to be seen with eyes of faith.

We have tried to turn faith into religious practice, as the Jews did with their complicated system to achieve righteousness. Peter teaches us that it doesn’t work that way. Look back to Abraham, He says, and you can see that salvation by faith alone began with Him. We want something more complicated, something to work at rather than – simply believing.

Sometimes the straightforward way, looks way too simple – but the straightforward response of faith is what God desires from us more than anything else.

Abraham is not just Father of the Jewish nation, he’s the father of all faith

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22
Romans 4: 13-25

The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

13  It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

13  Now in Paul’s words Abraham is seen, not just as the father of many nations, but the father of all who relate to God by faith.

13  Abraham’s heritage in the sense of its geography lies between the River Euphrates and Egypt Genesis 13:14-15, Genesis 15:18. However the NT sees the promises in a spiritual sense, as world-wide and enduring as the Gospel itself, Romans 10:18. The Promised Land in Hebrews is not on a Middle East map marked ‘Canaan’ but “a better country – a heavenly one”, Hebrews 11:16.

13  The promise that Abraham would be “heir of the world” is not so explicit in Genesis. Paul is seeing a bigger picture here. Abraham is a man of huge faith, influencing faith down the centuries.So this “world” is the world of the faithful for whom Abraham is our “father” because, like Him, we are justified by the means of faith. All people of faith are blessed through Him – well in excess of two billion worldwide and growing, which Abraham might have wondered at.

For further study, read Genesis 12:3, Gen. 22:18

14  For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless… 14  A promise which is hedged about with inflexible conditions (in the manner of the law) doesn’t look like a promise anymore.
15  …because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

15  “The law brings wrath” because it demanded obedience and performance; violations were likely so the law may even have encouraged sin, Romans 7:7-11. If the law was violated, wrath ensued – it was not a system of grace.

15  People can certainly sin without the law. The point Paul is making is that can be no transgression – crossing a line – without having a benchmark of law to measure the transgression against. His argument is that the law serves to show people where they have transgressed, but living right by God is all about faith, not about rules. Keeping the rules is not the same as walking with God by faith, and it is the faith relationship He is looking for.

16  Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

16  Abraham had physical offspring, but ethnic descent is secondary compared with spiritual descent – “children of the promise”, Romans 9:11-13.

16  The promise to Abraham was not through the law, which would not come for another four centuries, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

For further study, read Galatians 3:16-18

17  As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. 17  God called the earth into being from nothing. And so God can speak something into being as if it already exists. God is all powerful and His words have this creative ability. And He operates outside time. Our understanding is on a ‘then – now – to be’ timeline, but in a way we cannot explain, God does not have to operate within this constraint.
18  Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

18  “Against all hope” – from human perspective, impossible.

18  “So shall your offspring be” – The “count the stars” passage quoted from Genesis 15:5.

19  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 19  Abraham and Sarah kept a stance of hope for a quarter-century. Both hope and faith are in this passage. Hope is confident expectation in God; He is good, His purposes are good, He is faithful, fair and just. Faith is more specific and stands on a bedrock of hope. When God has spoken something concrete, a confirmed word, through any of the ways God speaks to us, that is when hope moves into faith.

20  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,

21  being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

19-21  Abraham’s outlook changed as God spoke to Him with the original promise, Gen. 15:5, and after waiting till it was physically impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have children, spoke again, Gen. 17:5. With no naturally possible way out, he was shut up to God and “strengthened in his faith”, not weakened. His faith grew through this test.

22  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

23  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone…

22-23  Abraham’s experience was more than individual – it had broad implications. If justification by faith was true for him, it is true for all (and all people)
24  …but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  24  Justification in the specific faith that Jesus is who He said He was, and the resurrection really was the Resurrection of the Lord who lives and speaks to us as Lord of His church today.
25  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  25  The core of the gospel. What we couldn’t pay for, he paid for. A justification we couldn’t earn by any amount of good works, He secured for us and still intercedes for us as those justified in Him.
Application

Abraham was counted a righteous because of his deep faith – he believed God and was tested in this over a quarter century. When we wonder where God is, in a situation that stretches our trust and patience, it is worth remembering that Abraham came to the deep – an iconic – place of faith and trust as he grew through the test. God wants to grow us!

Justification by faith, the keel timber of the Christian gospel and indeed the Reformation of the 1520s, is as old as the patriarch Abraham – and much older than the law which Moses expounded.

Judaism has tended to view Abraham as a great man of obedience to the law, an oversight of history as well as theology. Paul redresses this by showing that justification  by faith been taught by Scripture from the beginning.

Justification by faith was the great biblical discovery of the Reformation. Yet, strangely, much of the Christian church is in a muddle, with a stress on ritual and obedience and a ‘salvation by sacraments’ which is seldom overtly taught but preached persuasively in what we emphasise. Yet what was credited to Abraham as righteousness is what God looks for in His church today – faith that simply takes Him at His word.

For reflection and discussion

If you think of your own faith and values – how much is based on faith and believing and trusting, and how much leans towards observance and obedience?

Would Paul need to write to us today and remind us that we are not under law?

The stretch of faith that sees beyond

Readings this week focus on Sunday, February 25 (Second Sunday in Lent)

MONDAY – Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

TUESDAY – Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

WEDNESDAY – Mark 8:31-38
God’s great plan of redemption is difficult for people to understand

THURSDAY – Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

FRIDAY – The Emerging Message

Abram receives the second part of the promise and a new identity

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 19
Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16

God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me faithfully and be blameless. 1  Hebrew El Shaddai. The exact meaning of Shaddai is debated. It amounts to ‘El’, Lord, ‘Sha’, who and ‘ddai’, ‘boundless sufficiency’. The ‘ddai’ part of the word has some connotations with ‘mountain’ or ‘great size’. It is a way of ascribing extraordinary power – hence Almighty.
2 Then I will make My covenant between Me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

2  This comes 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, and Sarai is now 89 years old.

Why did God need to make what appears to be second covenant? Better to see this as two aspects of God’s covenant with Abram in which God gives him the promise of the land, Genesis 15:18-21, and here in part 2 is the promise of an abundance of descendants.

2  Unlike the Genesis 15 covenant, this part of the promise is conditional on Abram’s commitment to God.  Abram has to “walk before God and be blameless”.

3    Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,

4  “As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.

5  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

3-5  This “father of many nations” statement is part of a threefold promise, unmistakable and memorable. This is an enduring covenant between God and Abram, whose name changes to reflect his new relationship with God, and who he is to become, according to that covenant. God changes his name to ‘Ab’, father, ‘ram’, high, ‘hamon’ (contracted to ham), nations. So from ‘Great Father’ to ‘Great Father of Nations, or Father of a great many Nations. See Romans 4:17.
6  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 6  Not, as might be thought, one tribe or nation, the tribe of Abraham – but ‘nations’ and each nation has to have a king. So “kings will come forth from you” reinforces this part of the promise.
7  I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 7  The repetition around “everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you” emphasises that this covenant will have the same meaning and the same force for the descendants many generations down the line, as for Abraham himself. It is in effect a generational blessing as expressed later to Moses, Exodus 20:6.
8  The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

8  “To be your God” is reinforced by the first person direct statement “I will be their God” in verse 8. This is a much-repeated saying in the prophets, and Jeremiah repeats it in his ‘turning point’ prophecy of the New Covenant written on hearts, Jer. 31:33. It is also quoted three times in the NT.

8  For God to say “I will be their God” and for Abraham and his descendants to repeat what God has said in the way of celebrating it, is more important than the detail of lands or offspring. Spiritually a covenant is established personally, God to man and man to God, in these words, rather like the “I wills” of the covenant made between bride and groom in the marriage ceremony.

15  God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 15  This name change is from “my princess” to the more regal and enduring “princess”.
16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 16  The language does not state but implies “princess of nations” meaning “mother of nations” as the translators’ render it, parallel to “father of… nations”, verse 5.

 

Application

There is a controversial issue which comes out of this passage, and that concerns the present nation of Israel, and the land of Israel which is the cause of tension and even wars.

This goes with another controversial point, the nations which come from Abraham and the story that precedes this passage, of Hagar and Ishmael, Genesis 16:10-12. The angel’s prophecy to the fleeing Hagar is that she, too, will have many descendants, and strife is forecast in the prophecy!

The Bible gives us reasons for the present-day tension, but it doesn’t give us black and white answers of how to resolve that tension. How does that covenant play out today, in different people groups, many thousands of years later, with many different views of how instructive it is?

The teaching that we gain from this is about the nature of God’s covenants, which can be in the form of a unilateral decree that He will do (or in the case of Noah and the rainbow) not do something. Or it can be a statement that has conditions. Then we have to enter into what is said, and keep on demonstrating our commitment to the proposer of the covenant.

Our idea of commitments and even legal contracts can be quite situational. There is the concept in law of a “voidable contract”. As is often the case, our worldview and the worldview of heaven are rather different. God’s purposes and intentions are eternal, while ours tend to be more selfish and short-term.

For reflection and discussion

To what extent are we, as non-Jews, descendants of Abraham? As Christians living in the benefit of a new and better covenant established by Jesus, founded on better promises, how do we understand this original promise of one of the covenants: “I will be their God”?