How human dishonour grows God’s nature in us

TLW 27. Readings set for Sunday, July 8 (Revised Common Lectionary).

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 – After years of dishonour, David is crowned

Mark 6:1-13  – Jesus faces dishonour in his hometown

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 – Paul says public dishonour helps to reveal Christ’s power

 

Mount of the Precipice at Nazareth – believed to be where the crowd reacting in offence took Jesus to push Him over the edge, Luke 4:28-30 re Mark 6:3-4. Image: Bibleplaces.com

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 » After dishonouring delay, David is anointed king

The northern tribes seek unity under one monarch

1-2 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ ”

“Your own flesh and blood” –  Despite a separation between Judah and the northern tribes, they still had a strong sense of kinship. Under David, they came together.

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David had been made king over Judah by his tribe, and over Jerusalem by conquest. His kingship over the northern tribes came by covenant, or treaty. This was the third time David was anointed.

4-5 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

“When he became king” – David had been anointed by the prophet Samuel as a youngster, 15-20 years earlier. His God-fearing leadership had been seen by all. The tribal elders had been very slow to recognise the working out of the Lord’s ‘shepherd of Israel’ word, when the crowning actually took place.

9-10 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

David has gone north to Jebus which was a terraced area south-east of the modern city and below the rock, or stronghold that became the rebuilt City of David, Jerusalem. It was a strategic move:  central, naturally fortified and between Judah and the northern territories.

In practice  David was anointed for high office as a teenager – and then had to live with that call on his life, being faithful to God in the face of much public dishonour, even being treated as an outlaw. It was about 20 years many years before even his own tribe recognised his leadership in Judah, and then another wait before he could bring the northern tribes on board. Later he was to write, Psalm 18:25, “To the faithful you show yourself faithful…” Was he faithful? He made mistakes, even serious mistakes like sending Uriah to his death, but he recognised his faults and learned from them, and was revered as a good and godly king who established just rule, the way God wanted. The lesson for us is that our loyalty and trust of God will be tested, and He allows this testing to be like a blacksmith’s heating and hammering, to forge strength and relience.

Question  When you feel you are being dishonoured, where are you between blaming God for not standing by you, or accepting the test that strengthens, knowing that God is faithful?

 

Mark 6:1-13 » Jesus faces dishonour in his hometown

The Twelve are empowered and sent out in twos to minister in the villages.

1-3 Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed.

Probably the same event as Luke 4:16-30 where Jesus reads the beginning of Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor…” (etc).

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him? What are these remarkable miracles He is performing?

“Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t His sisters here with us?” And they took offence at Him.

“Isn’t this the carpenter?” – people had known Jesus in His ‘ordinary life’ prior to His baptism. To them, He is ‘just a carpenter’ and, implied in “Mary’s son”, of illegitimate birth, unlike his brothers and sisters.

“Took offence” – in Luke’s account, serious offence, as the crowd hustled him to the brow of the town hill and tried to push him over the edge.

4-6 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.

“Without honour” – this rejection in Nazareth (the last time in the Gospel where Jesus is associated with a synagogue) is a small version of the much greater rejection to come in Jerusalem. The dishonour shown to him results in a lack of fruit there.

7 Calling the Twelve to him, He began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

“Two by two” — the OT requirement for ‘authority’ was two witnesses, Numbers 35:30, Deut. 17:6, 19:15, Matt. 18:16. Spiritual authority over spiritual iniquity or “impure spirits” would be needed on the mission.

“Authority over impure spirits” – the proclamation of God’s kingdom comes in actions and deliverance, including healing, not just words (vv.12-13).

For further study see Matthew 10:1, 5-15; Luke 9:1-6

8-11 These were His instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

Nazareth had proved to be hard-hearted and scornful with only a “few sick people” healed. This was a lesson to the disciples, to discern which people were open to God by seeing who would welcome them and by receiving their hospitality.

12-13 They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

“That people should repent” – not so much a ‘hard message’ as God working through the disciples. Proclaiming and showing the goodness and grace of God results in willing change of hearts and lives – repentance – among those who receive the Good News.

In practice  With the revelatory insights that Jesus possessed, the “wisdom that had been given  Him”, it is hard to imagine Jesus being amazed at the rejection and lack of faith he experienced in his hometown. He both demonstrated and explained who He was – the signs of the kingdom in His ministry left little doubt of that – but those who had known him as a carpenter/builder were scornful, asking him who He, just a regular working man like them, thought He was.

Often it is those near and dear to us, and those who we would naturally expect to be affirming us, who can present the most difficult opposition. Becoming a Christian by asking Jesus into our lives does change us and does make us seem different – progressively more like Him! And that can be threatening to others. But if Jesus was so dishonoured and rejected, should we be upset if we experience a little of the same?

Question  If Jesus gave His first disciples authority over evil spirits, how are we to view a life made miserable with a spiritual dimension to it?

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 « Paul says public dishonour simply reveals Christ’s power more

His testimony of a heavenly encounter which God initiated has made him especially aware of his reliance on God

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows.

“Third heaven” – not the atmosphere where birds fly, and not the higher ‘heaven’ of sun, moon and stars, but the unseen realm of God’s uncontested presence, the place of blessedness where God dwells, referred to in the NT as paradise, Luke 23:43, Rev. 2:7. Jesus is “exalted above the heavens”, Hebrews 7:26.

3-4 And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

Paul had a vision or visions of such unusual intensity he was reluctant to talk about his experience, using the third person as a way of avoiding appearing boastful about something that was God’s initiative.

5-7a I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations.

87b-9a Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

“Thorn in the flesh” – the meaning of this is disputed. Many commentators explain this by a physical affliction like malaria or migraine attacks. However, the phrase is used in the OT of a personal enemy, Numbers 33:55, Ezek. 28:24 and Paul had persistent opponents – and often quoted the Hebrew Scriptures (or OT to us).

“Three times” – like Jesus’ threefold prayer, Mark 14:32-41, a way of saying that he has prayed to completion and received his answer.

9b-10 Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The Corinth church had a problem with self-appointed and self-congratulatory leaders, who considered themselves more polished speakers than the small, bald Jewish man who had introduced them to Christ. Paul, by contrast, wouldn’t let anything, any ‘success’ of man, get in the way of his utter focus on Jesus as Lord. Divine power only finds its expression in our human weakness and recognition of the need of the Lord’s empowerment — Paul is forthright about his need of help.

In practice  This passage can present difficulties in reading it, because Paul uses an elaborate language and style to try to insulate the person, Paul, from being defined by an astounding and life-changing spiritual experience. As if the blinding vision on the Damascus road wasn’t enough… Paul’s point is that it is all about God and not about him, all about what God does, not what he does, and all the dishonour and difficulties simply serve to beat down any sense of human pride and self-sufficiency. Boasting about our weaknesses doesn’t seem so counter-intuitive in the context of God needing a clear and therefore humble channel for His grace to flow. And God’s way of clearing the channel seems a little less unreasonable!

Question  Could you give an example of God’s strength being able to work, as a result of your own obvious absence of strength?

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p class=”p6″>Prayer  Lord, I hate being mocked and dishonoured, not to mention all the other kinds of spiritual opposition. But I want to learn to pray with authority, to minister to others You may send me to and to bless others with a growing sense of Your kingdom order and peace in their lives. Help me to trust You more, and become more resilient and Jesus-like, as I learn to see the tests of life from Your perspective. In Jesus’ name I pray, 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?

The human heart takes us away from God, His grace brings us back

FRIDAY, MARCH 9
The emerging message

Raising our faith viewpoints reveals the grace God had for us in every situation

These passages describe four common ‘heart conditions’ or attitudes of the heart that are not acceptable to the Lord. They are also explicit about His grace and mercy in such situations which always provides a way back to Him.

Perhaps it is not surprising the Israelites in the desert, short of food and water, should start to grumble. We are inclined to do it if the traffic is bad and this was life-threatening. But when grumbling turns to speaking against the leader, or the Lord, there were going to be bad consequences, and a plague of carpet vipers appeared.

The psalm reading highlights rebellious ways as a second heart attitude to be addressed, and talks about affliction and wasting disease that results from it.

The gospel reading includes one of the best-known verses in John 3 and the heart issue is unbelief. In a multi-cultural, diverse and tolerant society it does not sit well with us to hear that whoever does not believe, stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Then Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, paints a picture of extreme contrast between living selfishly according to the old nature, and the grace of God which saves us and gives us a new identity as those in Christ and with a passport issued in heaven.

It is apparent how God’s faithful love is prominent in all of this, as though waiting for hearts that show signs of changing, if not exactly changed. The keys are repentant prayer and belief in Christ Jesus. The lessons are how we raise our viewpoint – looking up to an image is a symbol of looking up spiritually to gain heaven’s perspective. The first recorded words of Jesus following baptism and the desert testing were the proclamation of the kingdom with the words “repent and believe”.

The selfish nature, or flesh nature, which is our inheritance from Adam, the prototype of humanness, is part of us we have to keep putting to death, because it keeps on kicking. So we should be as ready to repent as we are to take a shower, and for similar reasons. Repentance always opens the way for us to repair or deepen our relationship with God, to hear. Apart from our pride, what is there to hold us back from getting closer to God and raising our perspective to align with His?

The difference between being in transgressions and being in Christ

THURSDAY, MARCH 8
Ephesians 2:1-10

How God sees us in Christ Jesus, seated with Him in the heavenly realms

The context of this passage is God’s kingdom purpose that is being revealed (the mystery of His will) to bring everything together under Christ’s lordship, Eph. 1:9-10. This “unity of all things” happens through the surrender of will and receiving of grace, by individuals.

1  As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…

1  “Trespasses” are lapses, “sins” are shortcomings.

1  “Dead” is without authentic spiritual life, where the most vital, spirit part of the human personality is not operating. In this state we can’t of ourselves meet God’s requirements, or engineer a way of having fellowship with Him.

1  The Jews are no better off – all inherit the sinful human nature and start off in independence and disobedience.

2  in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 2  Before God’s intervention, everyone who is born is physically alive but spiritually dead and alienated from God the life-giver. There is a contrast of opposites “between being in transgressions and sins” and being “in Christ”, Eph. 2:5-7 below.
3  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 3  “All of us” – Paul, as a Jew, doesn’t exclude himself. Possessing the law is no protection from the desires and thoughts of the flesh. We all like to seek a religious framework in which we avert judgment by doing ‘good’ things – it’s the way we are wired. Once we submit to Jesus Christ as Lord as well as Saviour, a transformation takes place and we see things with new understanding, vv. 4-5 below.

3  As in the great treatise explaining salvation by Christ, Romans chapter 1 through 8, the apostle does not turn to the grace of God, verses 4-8, until he has made very clear humanity’s inherently sinful nature and desperate need of a way out. See also Colossians 1:21-22.

4  But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy… 4  “But” points to God, in His perfection, having wrath for man’s misdeeds and unholiness. Only God, in His perfection, can hold together this righteous wrath with “great love” and being “rich in mercy”. Only God can reconcile our independence and transgression, with His desire for us. The Gospel is all about reconciliation, led by God Himself.

5  …made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

6  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…

5-6  The “As for you… but because” long sentence resolves here, a linguistic emphasis. The “blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly place” statement of the introduction to the letter, Eph. 1:3 not moves from general to three particular things God has done “in Christ” for every believer:

– From spiritually dead to new life in Christ

– Salvation, the unearned gift of God’s grace

– A citizenship of heaven, backed by heavenly authority, positionally “raised up… and seated… with [Christ]”.

The choice to accept this, remember this, live in this, is ours alone.

For further study: the ‘look higher, live higher’ exhortation is also expressed in Colossians 3:1-3.

7  …in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 7  “Might show” – endyknymai means ‘display’ or ‘demonstrate’, Amplified, or ‘point to us as examples’, NLT. The church is God’s exhibition to the world of His grace and love, and also His kingdom purpose, planned from long ago to be relevant long ahead.

8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –

9  not by works, so that no one can boast.

8-9  Paul emphasises greatly (as he does elsewhere) that we owe our salvation entirely to the undeserved, unearned favour of God. It is His doing; the only part mankind plays is in the words “by faith” i.e. believing, trusting and receiving what God has done in Jesus. It is this in very small part that we find such great resistance of the flesh. The human nature always looks for something that has the feeling of action and reward. The great danger of an elaborate religious framework is that it supports and even feeds this desire for ‘works’ and provides what seems to be an alternative to responding to God’s love in faith.

For further study: 1-3 “all have sinned” and suffer sin’s consequences, Romans 3:22-23. 8-10  Salvation can never be achieved through works, Rom. 3:20, 28; 4:1–5; Gal. 2:16; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5. 

10  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Christians prove their faith by the fruit of their lives in good character, nature, and in doing good – never the other way round. Paul emphasises this so much, because it is such a widely held fallacy that our good deeds give us credit on heaven. The only credit acceptable is on Jesus Christ’s account, not ours.

For further study, James 2:14-26.

Application

These few verses are some of the richest we can find, in terms of explaining the grace of God and how it works out in our lives. This is God’s initiative in reconciliation, a concept so simple and at the same time so profound, that we find it hard to grasp. And perhaps it is not possible to grasp, without allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us at a deep level, to break down the pride and resistance in us, and bring us to the point of gratefully looking up, to raise our faith to be enabled to live higher, the theme of all these Bible readings.

Of course, this mind-blowing explanation of how God has treated us, has huge implications for the way we set out to treat others.

The actions and attitudes of others deserve our wrath, just as we deserve God’s wrath.  How does He see us? His handiwork, being shaped and polished. How does He treat us? Gently, as His handiwork requires. Do we see others as God’s handiwork? And how do we treat them, when they cut in on us, or worse? Living by the truth is challenging, but the alternative is living by falsehood, and it’s a hard act to sustain.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

4  Think for a moment about your relationship with God, your stance against the schemes and deceptions of Satan, and your relationships of all kinds with other people. What practical difference does it make to be in Christ Jesus and seated with Him in the heavenly realms?