FOREWORD The Living Word for Sunday, November 15, 2020 (Year A) — a Bible study based on the set readings used by many churches, taken from the Revised Common Lectionary. It follows the Bible order, not any liturgical preference, and seeks to draw out its theme from the progressive way wisdom is revealed, from the OT anticipating Christ; the NT gospel about Jesus, His kingdom teaching and how it fulfils the law; and the NT letters, a picture of taking the first two into practical Christian living in the power of the Spirit. Published a week earlier to encourage study and reflection during the week before the Sunday gathering and preaching/teaching.
Theme: If there’s one thing that makes God angry it’s our complacency
See also the linked article ‘Understanding… The danger in our complacency’
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 — In the Day of the Lord there will be no way to pay for salvation
Matthew 25:14-30 — Kingdom riches are given to be put to use, and multiplied
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 — Those who are the Lord’s, live ready for His return
And also read: Psalm 90:1-12
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 — A prophecy about wealth misused
Bribes cannot save the self-righteous from God’s coming wrath
7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has consecrated those He has invited.
“Be silent” — Zephaniah, a contemporary of Jeremiah and Nahum a generation ahead of the exile, uses apocalyptic, poetic language — words which probably encouraged King Josiah to make some reforms.
“The day of the Lord” — judgment for God’s enemies, Joel 1:8-3:8, Zeph. 1:7-3:8, but hope for those who are His, Zeph. 3:9-20; can be interventions in history, Joel 2:1-11, or the final intervention at the end of history, 1 Thess. 5:1-15.
“A sacrifice” — the guilty nation of Judah.
12 “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.’
“Search Jerusalem with lamps” — no hiding in darkness from the Lord.
“Complacent… who think,’The Lord will do nothing'” — complacent people, inactive spiritually, are like the undisturbed sediment underneath the wine, imagining the Lord as being as inert like themselves.
• For further study, see Amos 6:1; Micah 3:11; Malachi 2:17.
13 “Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.”
14 The great day of the LORD is near — near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the LORD is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts His battle cry.
“The great day” — rather than “the day”, v.7, moves the focus from punishment of Jerusalem to God’s final judgment of the world, beginning with Christ’s death and resurrection, Acts 2:19-20, and completed at His second coming, Romans 2:5; 2 Peter 3:7, 10, 12.
“Mighty warrior” — most likely Yahweh, Zeph. 3:17.
15-16 That day will be a day of wrath — a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness — a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.
“Darkness and gloom” — a reversal of creation back to the beginning, Genesis 1:2.
• See also Isaiah 13:9-10; Joel 2:1-2; Amos 5:18-20.
17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung.
“Like those who are blind” — recalling a specific covenant curse, Deut. 28:28-29.
18 “Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’S wrath.”
“Silver… gold will [not] be able to save them” — there had been a long history of kings offering bribes for deliverance, see 2 Chron. 16:1-3; 2 Kings 16:7-9; 2 Kings 23:35. The only deliverance from the Lord’s wrath is through “the precious blood of Christ”, 1 Peter 1:18-19.
In the fire of His jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.
“The whole earth” — the end time judgment will be global.
SUMMARY Zephaniah’s words were heard in Jerusalem when the king and his court were more attentive than they had been. Reforms followed but not the heart change the Lord was seeking. This word was initially fulfilled when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians a generation later.
APPLICATION Perhaps our greatest spiritual danger is a complacency which imagines the Lord to be inactive and remote. In this view He is not really engaged with our world, not really blessing His people, nor caring over much if faith is tenuous. This gross misrepresentation is to invite God’s just anger, or wrath. To deny God’s caring involvement is to deny God’s love — and that is to deny God Himself.
QUESTION To what extent do we believe our money or other giving, entitle us to a different justice?
Matthew 25:14-30 — Kingdom riches are given to be used
Commendation was given to the ones who had multiplied what they had been given
14-18 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“Five bags of gold” — from talanton, often translated talent, originally about 35 kg, or the value of 20 years’ earnings for an ordinary worker. The amounts entrusted were huge.
19-20 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“After a long time” — with the sense of delay. The previous two parables, the faithful chief servant and the prepared bridesmaids, were about delay.
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“See… I have gained… more” — each of these two servants has taken some risk and achieved an extraordinary return.
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Good and faithful servant” — these two servants achieved different gains, but receive the same blessing because. They had both shown faithfulness in using what they had been given.
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
“I… hid your gold” — in a shocking speech the third servant slanders the owner’s character, projecting failures in his own. He clearly does not know his master, and shows himself to be an unfaithful servant — or a false disciple.
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
“My money on deposit” — there was a cautious option; Jews were permitted to lend money at interest to Gentiles.
28 “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“Whoever has… have an abundance” — the point is not in the detail of who receives extra, but the principle of reward for using resources well. Unbelievers will face a judgment at the end time, Rev. 20:11-15; Christians will also stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give account of their stewardship of what is His, 2 Cor. 5:10, cf. 1 Cor. 3:12-15.
SUMMARY Jesus told this parable on more than one occasion, with variations in detail. In Luke 19:12-27 it was a nobleman going away to be appointed as king who was giving out minas, big sums but not as huge as talents. The essential teaching about putting the money to good use is the same.
APPLICATION Those who believe in and belong to Jesus Christ, and who therefore are appointed for salvation, will still have to give account of the stewardship of all that He put at our disposal. Jesus is our King, and He expects us to live faithfully according to a kingdom agenda, aware of our gifts, active in using them, and being disciples that encourage others to be disciples — which multiplies them.
QUESTION What will the Lord’s commendation of us be? How do we see ourselves in this story?
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 — Those who are the Lord’s live ready for His return
Do not be unaware like those in darkness but live as those expecting salvation
1-3 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
“The day of the Lord” — an expression first used by Amos, Amos 5:18, then later prophets including Zephaniah, Zeph. 1:7 (above). In the OT, used of God coming to intervene with judgment or blessing. In the NT it is still the time when God will judge humanity but also “save His people”, Joel 2:21-32, and the “day of redemption”, Eph. 4:30, the “day of God” or “day of Christ”, 2 Peter 3:12, 1 Cor. 1:8, Phil. 1:6, and “the great day”, Jude 6.
“Destruction” — not annihilation but being shut out from the presence and glory of the Lord, 2 Thess. 1:9. In “not escape” the “not” is emphatic.
4-5 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
“Children of the light” — in Hebrew idiom, to be a child of a specific quality meant to be characterised by it. Christians do not just live in the light; they are identified by bearing light. The Thessalonian believers were saved from darkness, John 12:36, Acts 26:18, Ephesians 5:8, 1 Peter 2:9 and belong to God’s new order, Romans 13:12.
6-7 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
“Be awake and sober” — or (NLT) “…be on your guard… stay alert and be clearheaded”, bringing out the need to be morally prepared for Christ’s return at any time.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
“Faith and love as a breastplate” — from Isaiah 59:17 where God is seen as a righteous warrior. The Thessalonians belong to the day but live in a world of darkness where they face spiritual battles armed effectively with faith, love and hope.
• For further study, see Romans 13:12, 2 Cor. 6:7, Ephesians 6:10-17.
9-11 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
“God did not appoint us to suffer wrath” — the unbelieving world that has mocked and rejected Christ is destined for the inevitability of God’s just but terrifying judgment, Rev. 6:12-17.
“He died for us” — it is God’s work to appoint for judgment or to extend grace in salvation, but this is balanced by our freewill choice, to accept Jesus as Lord — or reject Him. To accept Jesus is to accept that He has suffered to bear the judgment wrath of God in our place, whereby we receive salvation, graciously given in Him, instead.
“Encourage… and build each other up” — keep the faith together and also share the faith.
SUMMARY Those who Paul addresses as brothers and sisters are fellow believers and children of God who “belong to the day” and are appointed for salvation through Jesus Christ rather than God’s wrath. Those in darkness are spiritually unaware and unconcerned, not having worked out the sudden frightening separation that will happen. So we should live up to what we know and expect, alert and ready for the Lord to return at any time — and encouraging one another to be prepared.
SUMMARY Those who Paul addresses as brothers and sisters are fellow believers and children of God who “belong to the day” and are appointed for salvation through Jesus Christ rather than God’s wrath. Those in darkness are spiritually unaware and unconcerned, not having worked out the sudden frightening separation that will happen. So we are to live up to what we know and expect, alert and ready for the Lord to return at any time — and encouraging one another to stay prepared.
APPLICATION The Lord’s return has been a long time in coming, and it’s too easy to get complacent about it, not seeing the need to be fruitful disciples. We need to be using our gifts to build up the faith of others and encouraging them to live as disciples of Jesus — and expecting the unexpected, whenever His return will come.
QUESTION How much do we hear about, and talk about, the Lord’s return? Do we give it the emphasis we read here?
PRAYER Lord, stir up Your life and Your gifts in us.
May we take the joy of knowing You further, in living as light to others, and finding ways to multiply and replicate what You have given us, by encouraging others.
May Your kingdom come — both in earthly lives which reflect Your order and purpose, and in Your return to take back what is Yours. Amen.
The print edition of TLW can be downloaded as a PDF to copy on A4 paper, making a 4pp A5 Bible-sized folder. Permission to copy for personal use or church bulletin.