Welcome to The Living Word for Sunday, May 9 (TLW18B). This Bible study uses the set readings of the Revised Common Lectionary shared by many denominations and draws out a theme for the week. It is non-denominational and doesn’t lean to any liturgical preferences. It’s best to read the passage as a whole first, and then return to dig deeper with the verse by verse commentary and reflections.
Theme: The joy and love the Lord gives us transforms others
• See also the linked article Love and joy that transforms which tells the story of this theme.
• And the short video introduction
OT: Psalm 98 — Praise and joy celebrate the Lord’s purpose
NT gospel: John 15:9-17 — The Lord’s joy and love transform our world
NT narrative: Acts 10:44-48 — Dealing with our prejudices to share the gospel
NT letter: 1 John 5:1-6 — True believers are seen by how they love each other
Psalm 98 — Praise and joy celebrate the Lord’s purpose
The psalmist extols God’s faithfulness, fairness and gift of salvation
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvellous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.
“Sing to the Lord” – a victory song of praise throughout, not just (as many psalms) at beginning and end.
“Marvellous things” – also used for the picture of salvation which is the Exodus, Psalm 106:7
2-3 The Lord has made His salvation known and revealed His righteousness to the nations. He has remembered His love and His faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
“He has remembered” – praise for God’s restored order, and faithfulness in maintaining His covenant of steadfast love.
4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music…
“Shout for joy… all the earth” – the inspiration behind Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Joy to the World’.
5-6 … make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
The psalmist invites the whole earth to join in making music to praise God, see also Psalm 96:1. This psalm parallels Psalm 96 in many places.
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
8-9 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
“He comes to judge the earth” – salvation in Christ Jesus (vv.1-3) and the righteous rule of the Messiah (vv. 4-9) brings the possibility of renewal and blessing for everyone on earth. This is distinct from the exclusive ways of religious thinking.
“Judge… in righteousness… with equity” — eager anticipation of the coming of the righteous Judge, Psalm 96:11-13. God’s righteous judgment, and His fair vindication of those who have suffered injustice, are the same idea.
SUMMARY AND APPLICATION God is love and He is known for salvation, bringing His righteous and fair judgments to steer everything to align with His goodness. Heaven is calling everybody and everything to join the praise and share the joy, and those who truly belong to Him catch this and respond.
QUESTION Why should we praise God with joy when people are dying of Covid?
John 15:9-17 — The Lord’s joy and love transform our world
Jesus tells us to keep on growing more loving and so more like Him
9 “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.
“Remain in My love” – compare with “remain in Me” or “abide in Me”, v.4. This implies union with Christ (through new spiritual birth) and then maintaining that fellowship.
10 If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.
“If you keep…” – a condition. Doing what Jesus said to do is the key to knowing His abiding presence and being secure in His love. Jesus, fully God but also fully man, stuck closely to His Father’s instructions and intentions in His human life.
11 I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
“My joy…in you” – what defines Christian believers is having the joy of the Spirit of Jesus — and love. Obeying Jesus is joyfull, not drudgery, John 1:4, John 5:2-3.
“Complete” – in a fallen world our joy flickers but the Holy Spirit’s joy is a secure connection.
12-13 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
“Love each other”, John 13:34.
“As I have loved you” – Jesus demonstrated sacrificial love, ultimately on the Cross. He calls us to go beyond what is polite and expected, showing His kind of love even when it costs us. We can’t claim to love God without showing love that extends beyond ourselves, 1 John 4:11-21.
14-17 You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you. This is My command: Love each other.
“If you do what I command” – the languages suggests formal duty but what characterises Jesus’ friends is that they are always seeking to grow more like Him, and be found doing more of what Jesus Himself did. Appointed to bear “fruit that will last” is about showing Jesus to the world through changed hearts and attitudes.
“I have called you friends” – disciples of a rabbi entered a form of bond-service. By contrast, the bond for Jesus’ disciples is friendship. The kingdom of God operates through people and friendships.
• For further study, the OT prophets foresaw an era of people of joy, Isaiah 25:9, 35:10, 51:3, 61:10, Zeph. 3:14-17, Zech. 9:9.
SUMMARY Earlier in this teaching Jesus had urged, “Remain in Me”. Now He instructs, “Remain in My love” and “Go and bear fruit”. First we need the close, committed and submitted relationship. Then we need to uphold His values — and share them.
APPLICATION Jesus didn’t come to start a religious institution, and especially not a solemn one. With His joy in us, and His love in us, His command is to go and share the love and joy of the Good News in a way that it seeds and multiplies.
QUESTION How do we reduce our reliance on organisation and become more organic?
Acts 10:44-48 — Dealing with our prejudices to share the gospel
Peter steps out in faith to tell his story in a Roman household
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
“Heard the message” — Peter’s vision and hearing the audible voice of God telling him not to call impure anything that God had made clean, was still fresh when he was invited to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, to speak to the household. Peter found a new love for these Romans and told them how God had anointed Jesus of Nazareth with power to do good, only to be crucified — yet was miraculously resurrected on the third day and instructed His disciples to proclaim that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness through His name.
• For further study: compare Acts 2:38; Acts 19:1-7.
45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.
“Even on Gentiles” — the Scriptures, reinforced by Jesus, taught that the Good News was both for Jews and Gentiles. Jews found this hard to accept until they saw it for themselves.
46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
“Speaking in tongues” — the release experienced at Pentecost, and by other disciples at Ephesus, Acts 2:4,11 and Acts 19:1,6. The presence of the Holy Spirit on them confirmed their salvation, showing that God had initiated the mission to the Gentiles.
Then Peter said,
47-48 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
“Baptised with water” – when a believer declares their decision to trust in Jesus (so not infants!) and symbolically buries their old life, rising again again, symbolically washed clean, to new life.
“Received… just as we have” – The Gentile believers had received the same gift as the Jewish ones, Acts 11:17, and were given an unlearned prayer and praise language, just as the Jewish Christians had at Pentecost, v.46 and note above. This was unarguable evidence for treating the Gentile believers as one and the same.
SUMMARY As Peter is telling the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit comes on the non-Jewish household in front of him who begin to praise God in a heavenly language, like the Jewish pilgrims at Pentecost.
APPLICATION The Good News is given, to be given away. Our natural tendency is to keep it for ourselves. But we have to rise above that, as Peter did, and go out of our comfort zone to love people who are not like us.
QUESTION To what extent is what Peter expected and saw what we should expect? What has changed, God or us?
1 John 5:1-6 — True believers are seen by how they love each other
The faith and love of true believers puts Christ’s victory into the world
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well.
“Born of God” – born again, the spiritual rebirth. John quotes a common saying to emphasise that true believers who love the Father, will be known by their love for other believers, His children.
2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.
“How we know” — as love for one another is evidence that that we love God, 1 John 4:7-8, 20; the other side of the coin is that loving God is inseparable from loving His way of unconditional love and therefore being loving towards all who are His children.
3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome…
Following God’s way may be demanding, but that doesn’t make it a heavy burden. If we are His, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be like Him; through faith, rather than effort, it comes (super)naturally.
4-5 …for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
“Born of God” – the decision to believe and trust Jesus as Lord triggers a spiritual rebirth. If we have decided to allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives, we have resolved to “overcome” the pull of the world’s values, to live by His. This is saying ‘no’ to selfishness and independence. It is victorious Christian living.
6 This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
“By water” – Jesus was empowered “by water” at baptism for His ministry which was fulfilled “by blood” at the Cross. John emphasises that Jesus was fully God and fully man – the Son of God as He was affirmed at His baptism, but also the human son at His death.
SUMMARY John writes to encourage believers in his young churches who face ridicule and persecution. Believers who have experienced spiritual regeneration and are truly “born of God” show it by the way they uphold His kind of sacrificial love. Others see the love there is in the fellowship. This speaks to them.
APPLICATION It’s the joy and love that show who the Christians are. People can work out what is real, and the most cynical of them will take notice of Christian love which does not expect to be repaid. The Christian gathering that’s a real fellowship, while looking out for others to invite, is offering what everyone is looking for: love and acceptance.
QUESTION Why is keeping Christ’s commands not a burden for those that are His?
PRAYER Lord God, the joy we have of knowing You through Jesus is our inner strength, keeping us afloat when the world seeks to drag us down.
And the love you have put in us by Your Holy Spirit is what tells people about You when we can’t see the opportunity or find the words.
With your help, may we see others you bring across our path with Your eyes, and bless them with our actions.
May we contribute to a loving fellowship that everyone will want to be part of, to find You there. Amen.
PRINT EDITION A PDF of the print edition can be downloaded from the link below, with permission given to copy for your own use, for your small group or inclusion in your church bulletin. Prints on A4 paper to make a Bible-sized folder.