first and last
TLW41: Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 14
Theme: How much have we caught God’s heart, and He ours?
Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression. A righteous man is blamed by his
Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower. Mark’s story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love.
Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes. Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands
Also: Psalm 22:1-15
OLD TESTAMENT READING
Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression
A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice
Eliphaz, in the previous speech, has treated Job as a sinner, in the darkness of sin and for whom he has a remedy. Zophar, the the speech before that, went further in aligning Job’s grave difficulties with his rebellion before God. There is some truth in both positions, but Job does not accept either of them: he humbly asserts that they do not apply. Job is an interesting exception to the general assumption, that everyone’s need can be met by preaching the gospel.
1-3 Then Job replied: “Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
3 If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling!
“If only I knew where…” – Job, true to his name (‘iyyob, Where is the heavenly Father?), is trying to find God from his sense of abandonment. Eliphaz had instructed Job “Return to the Almighty” but Job (vv. 8-9 below) cannot find God to encounter Him anywhere.
4 I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would find out what He would answer me, and consider what He would say to me.
6 Would He vigorously oppose me? No, He would not press charges against me.
7 There the upright can establish their innocence before Him, and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.
“I would be delivered” – Job is confident, as a God-fearing worshipper, of a fair hearing, leading to acquittal. The gospel is here in this passage, which looks forward to the justification to be found, not in the tally of our good deeds, but through the relationship we have with Jesus Christ alone, Romans 4:25-5:1; 8:1.
8 “But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him.
9 When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.
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16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me.
17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.
“Made my heart
IN PRACTICE Despite physical illness and mental torture, Job’s heart is proving to be true. Far from blaming God for his misfortune, the devil’s scheme, He is trusting God for his deliverance. He feels sure that if he could have that conversation, that hearing, that He would find that God was for him. God is for us. It will always be the devil’s strategy to sow thoughts in our minds that God is for others, but not us; that we have done (or not done) something that exposes us to judgment and keeps us out of favour. This is the folly of the religious mind. The spiritual person, who knows God personally through Jesus, will know that it is our heart, and the relationship with God that guards our heart, that gives us assurance – and ultimately deliverance.
QUESTION Why would God allow such a good person as Job to go through this trial of sickness and a feeling of “thick darkness”? How does Job’s faith, even while questioning, help us?
Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower
Mark’s version of the story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“A man ran up” – previously in Mark’s story Jesus encountered small children who had no standing and were completely dependent. By
“What must I do” – the question of a religious, but not spiritual, person. He showed respect to Jesus (“fell on his knees”) but simply didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching of how the kingdom of God is entered, Mark 10:13-16.
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone.
19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’”
“Why do you call Me good” – Jesus is not denying His goodness, but making the man think about his question and focus on God. Will he recognise the goodness of God incarnated in Jesus? Will he recognise that only God Himself is intrinsically good?
“You know the commandments” – Jesus mentions the six that address wrong actions and attitudes to others including “fraud” for covetousness.
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
“All these I have kept” – this doesn’t read well to us. But the man is sincere. For him, the law is about conforming to the doing, the externals (like the six commandments Jesus quoted). Jesus makes him think: what is missing? The requirement to have a good heart, to love God and, by extension, have God’s love for others, Mark 12:29-30; Exodus 20:3; Deut. 6:5. Entering the kingdom of God is always a step of repentance, Mark 1:5; 6:12.
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
“Sell everything… give to the poor” – not a general command, but addressing the stronghold of self-sufficiency that was holding this man back from salvation.
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24-25 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
“Camel…through the eye of a needle” – the largest animal and the smallest opening. The idea of a laden pack animal shedding its baggage to be led through a narrow postern gate is a great illustration that may (or may not) have been in Jesus’ mind.
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
“Amazed…Who then can be…” – Jesus has overturned the generally accepted idea that riches are a sign of favour from God.
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
“Who then… with man this is impossible” — this man, they would have thought, was an outstanding candidate. Jesus explains that there is nothing we can achieve of ourselves to gain salvation. It comes only by relationship with God and receiving His gift.
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29-30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.
31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
“Left… for me… will receive…” — followers of Jesus share a family generosity that transcends social and geographical borders. In this context, the hospitality if a hundred homes and families sharing the same values.
“First… last and… last first” — the kingdom order up-ends the accepted order of wealth, privilege and the merit of having kept the externals. The kingdom is experienced by disciples with no other claim than looking to Jesus and accepting the challenges of His humble way.
IN PRACTICE This favourite story, also told by Matthew and Luke, goes right to the heart of our walk with God. Here was a man who had done all the right things that the law said were to be done, but how he felt about God was still a bridge to be crossed. Throughout history, man has put the first commandment – to love God with all our heart – on a shelf while working at all the others. The intention was to be so captivated by God and broken by His love, that everything else follows as a consequence. The rich young man had a theology of ‘doing’ – we might call it religiosity – but who had his heart?
QUESTION Jesus asks us the same question from time to time: where is our heart? Can we do no other but to follow Him wholeheartedly, or is our human desire for self-sufficiency holding us?
Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes
Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
“The word of God penetrates” – a warning to those living a sham that faithless disobedience will be exposed by the living power of the word of God which acts like an all-seeing eye.
“Soul and spirit” – the human spirit together with the thinking, feeling, wilful soul. Taken together to mean the whole inner person.
13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
“Everything… laid bare” – The word of God (v.12) is speaking and acting as the judgment of God Himself. All our thoughts and intentions are exposed, and accountable to the living, written Word, John 6:63, 68, Acts 7:38 as to the living God who is the author.
14-15 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.
“Great high priest” – for Jewish Christians, coming out of the Old Covenant priest and sacrifice tradition, knowing Jesus as the Great High Priest of the complete, final sacrifice was an important faith connection.
16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
“Confident… that we… receive mercy and grace” — because this high priest has the unique qualification of having been tested through suffering and death for us, Hebrews 2:9-10.
IN PRACTICE The ‘quiet time’ of starting the day with God and the Bible, letting Him speak through His word, has deep roots in Christian tradition. Fashions change in discipleship,
QUESTION The devil will always find ways to try to prevent you having a quiet time in the word. How resolved are you not to be put off meeting with God in this way?
TLW41/October 14 to print in A5 booklet form
Proverbs 31:10-31 – Greatness comes through character and diligence
Mark 9:30-37 – Greatness comes through being able to defer
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8 – Greatness comes through embracing humility
Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 1
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SUMMARY The theme of the week is True Greatness
Proverbs 31:10-31: Greatness comes through character and diligence, as exemplified by Proverbs’ depiction of the “wife of noble character” whose skill, diligence and business acumen are all examples of the wisdom that comes from “the fear of the Lord”, meaning a willingness to submit everything to Him.
Mark 9:30-37: As the disciples argue about their individual status, Jesus teaches the Suffering Servant’s way of greatness through being able to defer.
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8: The teaching of the Early Church emphasised conquering pride, envy and personal ambition and embrace godly submission and humility, the true greatness.
MESSAGE OF THE WEEK The fear of the Lord, submission and conquering pride sound like calls to a rigorous, monastic-style obedience – but the reality is that knowing God personally through Jesus releases and enables. The Life of the Spirit is empowering: it brings a freedom from ambition and status, enabling us to WANT to put God and others first.
Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 1
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Alternative OT reading (C of E option) Jeremiah 11:18-20
OLD TESTAMENT READING
Proverbs 31:10-31 | Greatness comes through character and diligence
Book of Proverbs wisdom illustration about character and respect
Last week’s reading, at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs was about wisdom personified and wisdom’s voice – as it happens, a woman’s voice. Here at the end of Proverbs, we meet the wife of noble character. This wife, who is marked out by her fear the Lord, v.30, is also like the personification of wisdom. This chapter was not written by Solomon but King Lemuel, Prov. 30:1, not an Israelite king but a foreigner who had come to know the Lord.
10-12 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
“Noble character” – moral and spiritual, but also very able. Elsewhere the term is used for the military exploits of men. Her husband can trust her because she is godly.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
“Wool and linen” – wool spun from the fleece, linen woven from flax fibres. A linen garment sold for half a month’s wage and a woollen garment for four times that.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.
“Like the merchant ships” – she is enterprising: remarkable in a male-dominated culture and “provides… portions” – also considerate, the opposite of Proverbs’ sluggard, Proverbs 6:9-10, 26:14, not one to have servants attend her in bed.
16-19 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
“Considers a field… sees that her trading is profitable” – showing independent judgment and financial wisdom, not the norm for women of that time. “Her lamp does not go out” – not working through the night but a sign of a well-run house where the lamp was kept burning all night as a sign of life.
“Sets about her work” – establishing a vineyard planting and press in stony ground was an arduous undertaking. By contrast, drawing wool thread from the distaff stick on to the spinning wheel was skilled work undertaken by women.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
“Clothed in scarlet” – implies dyed wool and good quality. She makes good clothes for her household and at the same time shows generosity to the less-well off, a characteristic of wise people.
For further study: generosity is characteristic of wisdom as emphasised in Proverbs, Prov. 11:24-26; 21:13; 22:9,16,22-23; 28:27.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
This woman’s hard work and good judgment brings security and respect to the household and also her husband, who is valued as a decision-maker “at the city gate”.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honour her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
“A woman who fears the Lord” – the poem, an A-Z of wisdom, builds to its conclusion that the reward of wisdom, personified as the woman of wisdom, is about where that wisdom is rooted: in the fear of the Lord, a simple but profound statement, Prov. 1:7, 9:10, 15:33. Being willing to listen to and defer to the Lord is perhaps a more feminine trait, as in this depiction, which wise men do well to acquire.
IN PRACTICE In a hard-nosed world which prizes knowledge and puts a high value on information, something called wisdom looks like a ‘soft skill’. Perhaps in a different way, it is – set in largely male-centric stories and events, the word for wisdom is feminine. Proverbs
QUESTION Out of the many attributes of this ‘woman of wisdom’, which particularly speak to you? Should you ask God for wisdom or just rely on Him to provide it?
Mark 9:30-37 | Greatness comes through being able to defer
The disciples are caught in an argument about status
30-32 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because He was teaching His disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it. ”
“He was teaching His disciples” — they still couldn’t accept His teaching about His death and how it formed part of God’s plan. The resurrection of an individual was a new concept to them – they expected the resurrection of mankind at the final judgment foretold in Daniel 12:2. Luke’s explanation is that “it was concealed from them so that they could not grasp it”, Luke 9:45.
33-34 They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
“Capernaum… in the house” – probably the one belonging to Peter and Andrew, Mark 1:29.
“But they kept quiet” – they expected disapproval of the argument. It would surface again, Mark 10:35-37. Because they had not yet understood Jesus’ destiny, they didn’t grasp the implication for themselves.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
“Sitting down” – as we would stand up, assuming the role of a teacher. Jewish rabbis taught sitting down.
“Want to be first…last… servant” – (here and below) Rank and status were important in Jewish society at this time. Jesus confronted those assumptions by teaching that in God’s kingdom true greatness comes through being the servant, not the master. Finally He demonstrated this conclusively in His death as the Suffering Servant.
36-37 He took a little child whom He placed among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes Me
“Whoever welcomes one of these” – Children had no status and were not romantically considered pure and innocent – just weak and inferior. Welcoming a child was putting yourself last in line, in a dramatically unexpected way.
IN PRACTICE The disciples belonged to a stratified Jewish society – aristocratic and common, rich and poor, politically powerful and oppressed. Status and hierarchy was discussed a lot in their culture. For us (depending on what newspaper you read) there is quite a lot of emphasis on ‘being a celebrity’. But all of this flies in the face of God’s kingdom order, which turns man’s order upside down, twists it around and shakes it for good measure. Jesus was a servant, a suffering servant to the cause of providing a salvation path for mankind at the cost of His life and reputation. His life on earth made Him the greatest human being who has ever lived. True greatness, in His terms, has nothing to do with our imagined ideas of status, but is achieved by conquering human pride and self-sufficiency, and learning to embrace dependence on God and gain a true servant spirit.
QUESTION Think of someone you know who is different because you can see Jesus in them? Why is that? What part of status and position would be costly for you to say ‘no’ to?
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a | True greatness comes from humility, not pride
Teaching about dealing with ambition and embracing godly dependence
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
“Humility” – literally ‘meekness’,
“Humility that comes from wisdom” – true wisdom, like true greatness, has nothing to prove.. James writes to Spirit-filled believers in the churches about “deeds done in the humility
14-16 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
“Selfish ambition… disorder” – worldly teaching based on
17-18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
“Peace-loving… considerate” – the list parallels the character qualities of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 with more than a nod towards the Royal Law James has already mentioned, James 2:8.
“Desires that battle within” – the life produced by the Spirit and characterised by the peace-loving and fruitful unity He brings, contrasted dramatically with the bitter church conflicts and character assassination that result from rivalry and desire to control.
4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
7-8 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
“Resist the devil” – the opportunities given to the devil by unholy attitudes have been set out forcefully. Similarly the remedy – recognising the rule and reign of God in willing submission to His values. This ‘repent and resist’ teaching is paralleled by Peter, 1 Peter 5:8-9, in His letter written at a different time, giving weight to the gravity of this teaching.
For further study: the ‘wearing holy attitudes’ teaching in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Eph. 6:10-18.
IN PRACTICE This week’s teaching follows a familiar pattern. The principles are set out in the Old Testament passage, but at this point, it’s more theoretical than practical. In the Gospel passage, Jesus brings the principles alive in His own life and teaches the values to the disciples. It still needs to be earthed in everyday spiritual life. The epistle is written to believers in the churches who are learning to live in their new life and new identity, as those who are new creations “in Christ Jesus” and who have the Spirit of Christ Jesus in them. They are empowered, they are guided, they have the original Scriptures and the new records of Jesus’ teaching BUT they have to make it work in their lives and their relationships, with all the tensions of a community. They have new life, but as we all find, the test is whether we can avoid being pulled back into what the Bible calls the flesh, or selfish nature. In this case, it’s rivalry, envy and desire to control and, like the weeds in your garden, it’s ready to spring up in every church fellowship to be a vehicle for the conflict and the disunity the devil wants to sow. That’s his strategy to disable the advance of the kingdom of God. We have a better a strategy to disable the devil, and that is the active choice to repent of pride, embrace again utter dependence on God and recognise that whatever we have of worth, is only from Him.
QUESTION What do you feel entitled to control? Where do you have the need to be in charge? Where is the lordship of Jesus – over or under those perceptions?
PRAYER Lord, looking into Your eyes is looking into life itself. Help and empower us to be people of the New Life – and life-givers to others who in their pain may need us to exercise our faith on their behalf. I pray this in and through Jesus. Amen.
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C of E alternative OT reading
Jeremiah 11:18-20 NIV
The plot against Jeremiah revealed
18 Because the Lord revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time He showed me what they were doing.
“Their plot” – people in Jeremiah’s home town of Anathoth. He was a priest from a town of priestly families just north of Jerusalem, Jeremiah 1:1.
19 I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realise that they had plotted against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”
“Destroy the tree” – they wanted Jeremiah and his memory blotted out. They hated him because of his words against the ruling order at a time when God’s judgment was building, which resulted in Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians and deportation of most of the people.
20 But You, Lord Almighty, who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You I have committed my cause.
“Your vengeance” – not personal vengeance. Jeremiah is simply calling for God to judge the actions of his oppressors fairly and handing over any personal desire for retribution to Him.