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.

Salvation: from God’s judgment by flood to come on the earth

Church calendar readings for the week leading up to Sunday, April 22

MONDAY  Genesis 7:1-5 and 11-18, Gen. 8:6-18, Gen. 9:8-13 – Saved from the flood of judgment

TUESDAY  Psalm 23 – Saved in the valley of the shadow of death

WEDNESDAY  John 10:11-18 – Saved as part of the flock of the Good Shepherd

THURSDAY  Acts 4:5-12 – Ministering in the only name under heaven by whom salvation comes

FRIDAY  1 John 3:16-24 – Demonstrating the authentic character of the saved

This week’s theme is clearly around God’s gracious salvation

MONDAY, APRIL 16
Genesis 7:1-5 and 11-18, Gen. 8:6-18, Gen. 9:8-13

 

Noah, who God found to be righteous in an evil generation, takes his family, livestock and other animals into a huge ark he had obediently constructed.

7:1-3  The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.

“Clean animal” – There was awareness of the correct animals for sacrifices long before the law concerning clean and unclean animals was given, Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14.

4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

“Seven days” – seven is sometimes used for a closing period, so there is a degree of urgency expressed here.

“Forty days” – The number 40 is used in Scripture for receiving the law, Deut. 9:11 and the temptation of Jesus, Matt. 4:2. The wilderness wandering and King David’s reign over Israel are both stated as 40 years. This is a significant event and a significant time period.

5  And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

= = =

11-12  In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month – on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

“Springs of the great deep… floodgates of the heavens” – evokes the creation and a reversing of the appearance of the land. The precise giving of the date is not symbolic, but evidence of an important fact well remembered by oral tradition.

13-16  On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

Noah and his family were monogamous, and numbered eight in all, 1 Peter 3:20.

“As God had commanded Noah” – also v.5. At this early point of salvation history, righteousness is equated with obedience, and leads to salvation. Just when they could have been wiped out by judgment,  God shows a fatherly touch by shutting them in.

17-18  For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.

= = = 

8:6-12  After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

The raven and the dove are something of a parable. The raven is a patrolling presence, like a harbinger, whereas the dove flies out and comes back to Noah as his dove, and in its way communicates with him. Much later on, the Holy Spirit chooses to be seen as a dove, Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32

13-14  By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.  By the twenty-seventh day of the second month, the earth was completely dry.

Noah looked for signs of dry land from 40 days onwards. And looked, and waited. Land appeared and the dove did not return a year and 10 days after the rain started; read together Genesis 7:6, 11 and 8:13-14.

15-17   Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

Noah waited for God’s command before leaving the ark.

18  So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.

There are parallels here with the Creation story in Genesis 1, a picture of returning to “in the beginning”, but this time on the basis of covenant between God and man which is described at length, Gen. 8:20-9:17.

= = =

9:8-11  Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:  “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

This covenant is a unilateral promise, established by God without any particular participation, not just to Noah and his descendants, but to “every living creature”. This is the forerunner to later covenants, which by contrast are mutual and relational.

12-13  And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

The geological data confirms a flood of the proportions described, over a large but limited area centred on Mesopotamia. However the account should be read and understood in its own terms – a judgment in which the entire living scene is destroyed. This informs the N.T. teaching of an impending greater judgment of the universe itself, 2 Peter 3:5-7.

Application

This is a remarkable account of one stubbornly righteous man, Noah, who obeyed God and not the cultural pressures of his generation, and it speaks down the millennia.

God wants us for Himself, and wants us to to be right with Him in our attitudes and intentions. Every conflict recorded in the Bible and in church history and every contemporary tension turns on this truth.

Wanton independence from God’s way does carry penalties – the severest penalties imaginable in this instance. On the other hand, the account demonstrates that keeping God’s way brings salvation, in the broadest sense.

For Noah, it is simply about obedience to God. For us the relationship is more nuanced; it would be better expressed in our knowing God in such a way that, what we want to do most, is to please Him by walking closely with Him.

There is also an early lesson here about waiting for God, and doing what He says, in His timing and not ours. Noah waited the best part of a year after the water started going down, before he knew – he heard from God – that it was time for him to lead the way out of the grounded ark, which had served its purpose.

For reflection and discussion

Think about an area of your life where you can see a way to move forward but you are still awaiting God’s release.

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p class=”p1″>When you see a rainbow, what do you sense God is saying to you or reminding you?

Jesus speaks of His impending death, and God’s audible voice is heard

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14
John 12:20-33

As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him

20  Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.

20  “Greeks” – God-fearing Gentiles from a Greek-speaking area such as the ten towns of Galilee , or Greek-speaking converts to Judaism.

21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 21  Or rather, converse with Jesus. Perhaps they knew Philip, who had a Greek name.
22  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23  Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 23  Jesus had often said that His hour had not yet come. Now it had. Now, what must happen, is about to happen. Jesus’ death, and then His resurrection, were supreme demonstrations of the glory of His actions and the glory of who He was and is.
24  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 24  Jesus’ death results in an abundant harvest, 1 Cor. 15:36-38. The Greeks coming with Philip gave Jesus a picture of the harvest to come which would be a harvest of Gentiles as well as Jews.
25  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 25  “Anyone who loves… who hates their life” – this is an exaggeration for effect, a common Jewish figure of speech

25  The first word for “life” is more usually translated ‘soul’ and has the meaning of individual personality and achievement. The second is usually coupled with “eternal” as ‘eternal life’ or spiritual vitality in God’s presence.

26  Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves Me. 26  Jesus is reflecting on, if not exactly quoting, God’s words spoken to Eli: “Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30)
27  “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 27  We are more familiar with Jesus’ anguish at Gethsemane which the narrative gospels relate, Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46. John shows us that Jesus had already shared His struggle with what his destiny demanded from Him at this earlier time.

28  Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

28  This was the third time that God’s voice was heard audibly in connection with Jesus, each time affirming the authority of Jesus as His Son. People heard a booming sound but John is quite certain that this was God speaking, as he records.

For further study, see accounts of God speaking at Jesus’ baptism, Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:21-22; and at the Transfiguration, Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35.

29  The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.

30  Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

 30  Another Jewish idiom of exaggeration, like v.25, meaning that it would be more enduringly for the disciples’ benefit as they struggled to make sense of the crucifixion and the events surrounding it.

31  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

31  Every revelation of Jesus is by its nature a judgment on those who deny who Jesus is, and a judgment on the devil’s attempts to influence the world and individuals. “The world” in John is often used as a shorthand for religious leaders antagonistic to Jesus.

31  Another aspect of the judgment on this world was what was becoming evident to people at this time (not the final judgment). The revelation of who Jesus is always compels a response, to honour Him or not, with consequences either way (v.26).

31  There are a three references to the ‘prince of this world’ in John’s gospel, John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; other descriptions in John are the devil (diabolos), Satan (satanas from Hebrew satan, adversary or accuser) and the evil one (ho poneros), John 8:44, 13:2, 13:27, 17:15. 

32  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”

He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.

32  John uses elkyo, draw or pull, in the sense of drawing people to Him, 6:44; 12:32;  and drawing in the net with the fish, John 21:6, 11.

32  Jesus’ death on the Cross would draw “all people” to Him. Clearly not all would believe. Of those, not all would trust Him and honour Him as their Lord. The sense is drawing all kinds of people, which he had spoken of before.

Application

The context in which John is writing is another world entirely to our sense of multicultural enrichment. Jesus taught, John 10:16,  about having other sheep “not of this sheep pen” who would be called to become one flock under one shepherd. However, Jesus drawing people to Him who were not like Him, like the Greek speakers, was a challenge for John and his readers to follow.

The greater the distance from Jerusalem, the more the culture was Greek-speaking and less distinctly Jewish. Jews routinely despised those who they thought were not like themselves – the tax collector at prayer, Matt. 18:10. Nevertheless, “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles” was always part of Israel’s mission, just as the Christian church exists for all those who are not part of it. In this passage John recounts Jesus teaching about living beyond ourselves and holding His own life lightly, in the hearing of Greek-speaking non-Jews.

Living for our own achievement is to lose the true meaning of life, which is to live beyond ourselves in the promise of eternal fellowship with God. Just as agape love is not self-seeking but has a sacrificial quality, so true life is able to die to its own ends, to produce an abundance beyond itself.

The prince of this world presides wherever the reign of selfishness and man’s opinion are valued more than  the reign of Christ. Jesus is a confrontation to this worldview – and every revelation of Jesus, such as the audible voice of God, and every glorification of Jesus, on the cross or resurrected and on a heavenly throne, is a judgment on the world and its ‘prince’.

The Cross and Resurrection spell the driving out of the usurper of Jesus’ rule and reign. So the work is done? In one sense, but its all-important enforcement is a task which is now delegated to the continuing Body of Christ. We dare not renege on our responsibility by staying resolutely in our comfort zones.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How free are you, or is your church, to reach out to those who are not like the regular congregation? What would help?

God’s way of mercy, the first unconditional covenant with Noah

Readings this week, leading up to first Sunday in Lent, February 18
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
Mark 1: 9-15
1 Peter 3: 18-22

Theme of the week: God establishes His ways as an invitation for us to follow and so discover Him

 

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12
Genesis 9:8-17

God’s way of mercy established in the first unconditional covenant with Noah

8  Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:

9  “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you…

This is the first of a number of covenants in Scripture between God and His people, some unilateral like this one, others bilateral and participative.

God had already promised this covenant, Genesis 6:18.

10  …and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth. This covenant has a wider scope than God’s providence for people. It includes “every living creature”, livestock and wild, and “all life” which can be understood as everything biological and made of cells.
11  I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” This is the only recorded covenant where God undertakes not to do something.

Worldwide judgment at the end of the Last Times is not ruled out by this verse. It says there will never again be a worldwide destructive flood.

For further study read 2 Peter 3:4-13

12  And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: Covenants in the Bible often go with a particular sign, e.g. circumcision, the Sabbath observance, the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper.

For further study see Genesis 17:11; Exodus 31:13,17; Luke 22:20

13  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Literally “I have set My bow…” Hebrew uses the same term for bow and rainbow. One of the OT images of God is as a warrior who shoots arrows of judgment. This in Hebrew thought could be God hanging up his bow of judgment.

For further study see Psalm 7:12, Psalm 18:13-14, Habakkuk 3:9-11

14  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,

15  I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

16  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

Verses 12-13 and verse 16 together make an ‘envelope statement’ of emphasis.
17  So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

 

 

Application

From now on, in this new start, covenants will be an important feature of the relationship between God and His people. This is the first of five covenants which are called ‘Everlasting’ – looking forward to the end of time.

The other four main covenants which are everlasting are:
• The covenant with Abraham, Genesis 17:7
• The priestly covenant, Numbers 25:10-13
• The Davidic covenant, 2 Samuel 23:5
• The promised New Covenant, Jeremiah 32:40

The covenant with Moses, or the Sinai covenant, is rather different – a rule of life for the Jewish nation until the Holy Spirit was given. It was terminated on the Cross, Romans 6:14, Galatians 3:10-13. Jesus has fulfilled the Law and wants us to choose to live like Him, in the awareness of the Great Commandment, Matt. 22:36-40, rather than live under law. That choice that we make as Christians is both guided, and enabled, by the Holy Spirit, who trains us, “I will inspire them to fear (revere) Me” in the words of Jeremiah, to more than fulfil the objectives of the law (the 10 Commandments and much more) given to Moses – but willingly and intentionally and creatively, in other words, by grace rather than by rule and obedience.

This covenant with Noah makes no demands on Noah or on us. It is all down to God stating, and demonstrating His faithfulness. The seasons will take their course, and rainfall, perhaps heavy rainfall will be a part of that. But the ‘bow hung in the sky’ is a promise that God will keep. It is also a covenant we can go back to in prayer, ‘returning His word to Him’ Isaiah 55:11 whenever the natural order of things seems under threat.

For reflection and discussion

How do you hold on to the reality of God’s promises and faithfulness, while living in a fallen world where bad things happen to ‘good people’ and we are faced with so much uncertainty and unpredictability?