WEDNESDAY, MAY 2
The joy and love which are characteristics of those who are the Lord’s have the effect of transforming our world
9 “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.
“Remain in My love” – a parallel, but not identical, statement to “remain in Me” or “abide in Me”, v.4.
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 important and the key to knowing His abiding presence and the security of 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” – a defining characteristic of Christian believers is their joy, the joy of Jesus which is the same as the joy of the Spirit of Jesus. Obeying Jesus is not, as is sometimes supposed, drudgery, John 1:4, John 5:2-3.
“Complete” – our joy in a fallen world flickers in an uncertain way which the Holy Spirit’s joy makes into 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 a depth of love that was sacrificial in a final sense. He calls us to love others beyond what is polite, expected and convenient, but showing His love even when it costs us to do so. 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” – this is not about formality, discipline and duty in the way the language may suggest. What characterises Jesus’ friends is that they seek to grow more like Him and be found doing more of what Jesus Himself did. Appointed to bear “fruit that will last” is broadly about showing Jesus to the world through our changed hearts and attitudes, which itself attracts God’s provision.
“I have called you friends” – a rabbi’s disciples were seen in a relationship of bond-service, but Jesus’ disciples are in a bond of friendship. This is a key to the way the kingdom of God operates – through people and relationships.
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
We are on a mission to transform a selfish and love-deficient world by demonstrating a new way of relating. First of all, we learn this within the fellowship of the church, but quickly we join Jesus on His mission, letting His love and joy, in us by His Holy Spirit, spill out to bless others. This is showing an unbelieving world what God is really like, and it is what Jesus called “fruit that will last”.
It doesn’t just happen – we have to work at it a bit. And we will find the enemy is ever active in making relationships difficult, wherever he can find a foothold to get in. Then, “remaining in His love” gets more costly. We find ourselves having to lay down parts of our life – being right, having what’s fair, letting go of what is ours – and trusting God for the outcome.
That is what Jesus did. It was His way of life and He says it is ours, too, as His “commanded” followers. But as we do, His love for us becomes more keenly felt, the joy that carries us through kicks in and we are reminded that we are not just followers, but teamed up with Him as his friends.
For reflection and discussion
Think of a time when you came to a decision to let go of something in life to do what was right by Jesus. How difficult was it at the time, and looking back, what did you gain by doing what was right?
TUESDAY, MAY 11
Praise for the Lord’s purpose which is to bring joy to His world
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” – This is a song of praise from start to finish, unlike many psalms that begin and end with praise.
“Marvellous things” – Used elsewhere for miraculous encounters such as the picture of salvation which is in the Exodus, Psalm 106:7
2 The Lord has made His salvation known and revealed His righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered His love and His faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
“Made His salvation known” – Praise for His victory in bringing His order. God in His faithfulness has remembered 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” – this psalm was the inspiration behind Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Joy to the World’.
5 make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 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 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 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.
“Judge the world in righteousness” – is expressed here as an eager anticipation of the coming of the righteous Judge, Psalm 96:11-13. God’s judgment, which is always righteous, and His vindication of those who have suffered injustice, often share the same original words, because they are the same idea.
“Judge the earth” – salvation in Christ Jesus (vv.2-3) and the righteous rule of the Messiah brings with it (unlike religions generally) the possibility of renewal and blessing for everyone on earth. All can turn to a personal God.
It’s too easy for us to view our glass as half-empty, when perhaps we should be more ready to praise God for being on standby to fill everybody’s glass.
That’s not always easy – in fact, it might call for an intentional and quite courageous stance, to praise God for His goodness, when our situation seems to be at odds with that. We don’t find ot easy to go against our feelings.
But praise is powerful, especially the praise of Our God for who He is over and above what He has done. When everything is going pear-shaped, it’s time to praise God and remind him and all the heavenlies of who He is. There could hardly be a better place to start than reading out the words of truth in this psalm. It’s telling God that you know His goodness and mercy are following you, even in what seems like the valley of the shadow of death. Try it and see how quickly the oppression and hopelessness lifts!
For reflection and discussion
How ready are you to tell God how good He is, even if events around you seem to be preaching the opposite?
Church calendar readings for Sunday, May 6
Isaiah 55:1-11 – Let us change before God and seek His higher ways
Psalm 98 – Praise God for His changes brought through salvation
John 15:9-17 – Jesus’ way changes the world as we abide in His love and joy
Acts 10:44-48 – Our challenge is to change how we regard people not like us
1 John 5:1-6 – As changed people, we are empowered to live unselfishly
MONDAY, APRIL 30
A call to come and turn to the Lord and know His love
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
“Come…” – Who is speaking? The voice of wisdom personified speaks in a similar vein in Proverbs 9:1-6.
“Buy… without cost” – Reflecting on Isaiah’s earlier description of the Servant who has paid the price, Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
“Listen, listen…” – Literally ‘listen listeningly’ which explains the “rich fare” metaphor. Those who are discerning in what they hear will be feeding on what is truly good.
3 Give ear and come to Me; listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David.
“My faithful love promised to David” – David was a faithful and wholehearted worshipper who witnessed God’s truth over his extensive kingdom. In this, he anticipated God’s Messiah. The blessings promised to David are quoted by Paul, Acts 13:34, in the context of the Resurrection.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for He has endowed you with splendour.”
“A witness to the peoples” – This passage brings together Isaiah’s depiction of the Royal Messiah (chapters 1-37) and the Servant Messiah (chapters 38-55) who is clearly shown to be the Lord’s witness, Isaiah 42:1–4, 49:2–3.
6 Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call on Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for He will freely pardon.
“Seek” – in this context, to come confidently and find. “Forsake” and “turn” are the two dimensions of true repentance, 1 Thessalonians 1:9.
8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
“My ways are higher” – These verses are widely applicable, and they inform our prayer relationship. Start with turning from sin, including the sin of thinking we know best, then find God’s ways and words for the situation – what He has already said and what He is is flagging up now.
10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is My Word that goes out from My mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
“Will not return to me empty” – As we turn to God in repentance, what are we hearing? That act of forsaking and turning opens us up to hear. What word comes to mind as a prompting of the Holy Spirit? That is the word to agree with and to pray back as a declaration, because this is the word that God has already spoken.
Much later, in dialogue with the Pharisees and recorded in the gospels, Jesus spoke of knowing the truth and being set free by the truth, John 8:32, 36. The devil keeps us in bondage mainly through deception and fear produced by thoughts he nags us to believe, which of course are not true. Nothing the devil says is true. He is the father of lies, according to Jesus.
Truth, and especially truth declared, is the most powerful weapon in our armoury against this onslaught. This passage sets out an important principle of a God-orientated life: finding out what is the truth, agreeing with the truth and saying that we agree with it by returning, in other words speaking out or declaring, the truth. This is a form of praying.
For reflection and discussion
When we are under pressure, what is in our hearts is expressed through our words. Are our feelings true?
Is it better to be sincere in how we feel, or to be agreeing with God in what He says about how we feel?
FRIDAY, APRIL 27
1 John 4:7-21
If we have been truly born of God His Spirit will overflow His love through us to others
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
“Let us love” – Literally, ‘beloved, let us love’. John starts off by assuring his readers of his love for them, and then develops his argument of the priority of loving relationships based on God’s nature
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
“God is love” – Not to be understood as one His activities, but what He is in essence. Everything that God does, including judgment, comes out of love.
9-11 This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
9 The essence of God is love, which has to find expression: sending His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, so we could live through Him
10 If the presence of God in us is that same love, it must find expression in our relationships with one another.
12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.
12 “No one has ever seen God” – The Gnostics, in the same way as unbalanced ‘super-spiritual’ believers today, claimed visions of God to support their need to demonstrate that they were more spiritual than others. John has already said the God is seen only in the Son, John 1:18 and Paul similarly, Colossians 1:15. The Gnostics talked about God as light and Spirit, but not as love – hence John’s repeated assertion “God is love”.
12 God is recognised where people love with God’s kind of love. John means first and foremost in the fellowship – “if we love one another” – and in generosity of spirit to others. God’s love finds its fulfilment – “is made complete” – in transforming us from selfish to loving.
13 This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit.
The abiding or remaining principle was taught by Jesus in John 15:4 and following verses. This explains how it works. It is reciprocal. As we heed the command to “be being filled with the Spirit” as Ephesians 5:18 says literally, He will be in us and we will know we are in Him, and it will look like God’s love, v.12.
14-16 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
A trinitarian reference, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Following the OT principle that every matter is established by two witnesses, here we have the first apostles, v.14, together with the Holy Spirit, vv. 13 and 15. This double witness is also stated in John 15:26–27 and Acts 5:32.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
God lives in those who are living in love. Living in God, and living in love, are inseparable (also v.12).
17-18 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
There is a confidence, parresia, about living in God and living in love. As Jesus faced the conflict of the world with the confidence of being secure in the Father’s love, so can we. If we know at a deep level that we are loved by God, who is for us and with us and over our circumstances, there is not much room for fear to operate as a driver. Ultimately fear is to do with punishment and judgment. Living in God’s love exposes the lie and replaces it with humble confidence.
19 We love because He first loved us.
God’s people are known by their being secure in God’s love and able to love others beyond their own resources.
20-21 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
“Claims to love…yet hates” – The love from God that drives out fear, must surely drive out hatred. To claim to be one with God yet living, thinking and acting in any way contrary to who God is, is falsehood – living a lie
The reality of God is love – leaving no room for harsh attitudes – and truth. Jesus said, “I am… the truth”. He said that His way was the way of truth, John 14:6. John described the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth, 1 John 4:6. Professing to be of God yet living at variance with God is falsehood, our willing ourselves a divorce from God who is Truth.
John is not just teaching the churches who would have the letter read out to them, but addressing the confusion sown by so-called Gnostics who had a supposed ‘higher knowledge’ that gave them spiritual superiority and exonerated them from failing to walk the walk while they made much of talking the talk.
In addition to this, the Gnostics didn’t believe that God was love, and they didn’t talk about love – or make a priority of practising it.
These problems exist for us today. We might use the description ‘super-spiritual’ rather than Gnostic but the arrogance of the person who considers themselves above the requirements of Christian discipleship are just the same. There are people who present as having prophetic or other giftings and yet are harsh or judgmental of others. It’s a nonsense – the same nonsense the devil has always used to discredit the fellowship of Christian believers in the eyes of an already cynical world, alert for any hypocrisy. The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of truth and love and empowers us for both. Anyone who wants to be considered ‘Spirit-filled’ needs to make sure they are overflowing what looks like Jesus and not something else.
For reflection and discussion
Jesus was secure in who He was and His difficult call – why was that? Talk about how the experience of God’s love makes you feel.
THURSDAY, APRIL 26
Learning to depend on God for the unexpected opportunity
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
In Jewish thought, an angel of the Lord speaking, or the sense of the Holy Spirit speaking, were closely aligned, Acts 23:9. The point is that Philip received a clear leading, obeyed it and found a connection (v.27) that was clearly of God’s providence.
27-29 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
This story is about an official of high standing from modern-day Sudan (rather than Ethiopia), a minister of the exchequer in the service of the executive rule of the Queen Mother whose title “Eunuch” was probably more related to being a court appointee, than literal. He seems to have been a proselyte, or God-fearer learning the ways of Judaism, who was reading a scroll of the book of Isaiah.
“The Spirit told Philip” – Philip receives a further prompting from the Spirit – perhaps needed to approach someone of high social standing. The ‘chariot’ was probably an ox-drawn conveyance and quite slow – not too difficult to keep up.
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“Heard the man reading” – In those days it was usual to read out loud – or to have a slave read out loud to you.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
“Explains it to me” – The Old Testament in particular needs some interpretation by someone in tune with the Spirit. This is like the occasion on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus in person provided the key to unlock the two disciples’ understanding. Here the key is the Spirit of Jesus in Philip.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
34-35 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?”
There is an addition made by later scribes that appears as a footnote in many versions:“If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
It was common practice for Gentile converts to Judaism to be baptised, so the idea was probably not unfamiliar. But it is also likely that Philip’s explanation of who Jesus is ended with a call for response similar to Peter’s on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:28. However the subject of baptism arose, God provided the opportunity also.
38-40 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
“Out of the water, the Spirit…” – A longer form of the text reads: ‘And when they came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit fell upon the eunuch, but the angel of the Lord caught up Philip …’.
‘Down into the water’ and ‘came up out of the water’ reads like a description of baptism by immersion. The eunuch’s joy afterwards is good evidence of a spiritual impartation.
The Spirit transporting a person is found elsewhere in Scripture e.g. 1 Kings 18:12, 2 Kings 2:16, Ezekiel 3:14.
Philip received a prompting from an angel or from the Holy Spirit or both. The point of the story is that he acted on it promptly, and at some inconvenience to himself, heading down a desert road on foot without any clear idea of where he was heading or what it was about. It was a test of whether he would hear, and obey, with such an inadequate brief.
We live in an information age, and we want all the information up front. We Google the route and check the traffic and prefer to set up our own appointments. We don’t want to be disappointed and we like to control the outcome. We’d like to find someone we like the look of – someone like us – before witnessing to them.
But God doesn’t work like that – or at least, He is likely to test us by getting us uncomfortable, to see how well we will press into Him. This story also contains the test of God’s providence, the sense of Him seeing the need and providing as He did for Abraham on Mount Moriah. Older generations were better at this kind of reliance, but God requires it of us still.
For reflection and discussion
Can you think of a time when, perhaps with hindsight, you received a nudge from God’s Spirit. What did you learn from it?