This is The Living Word Story for September 25, 2022
Based on The Living Word Bible Study theme: Living with a heavenly perspective
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 — Investing in God’s plans and purposes
Luke 16:19-31 — How earthly sufficiency can lead to losing all
1 Timothy 6:6-19 — Pursuing a life that satisfies, close to God
• Watch this week’s 15-min. video How to Keep an Eternal Perspective Amid Life’s Urgencies in wide format for desktop and tall format for mobiles
In The Living Word article, we take excerpts of the Bible readings set in the Revised Common Lectionary and let them tell the emerging story, free from any denominational colour — which this week is about how to keep an eternal perspective amid life’s urgencies.
First, an episode with a very contemporary ring to it. It’s about Jeremiah paying his cousin for a plot of land, even though it was under enemy occupation — and worthless.
Then we hear Jesus’ story about a rich man’s opulent lifestyle, with a desperate beggar in poor health seeking scraps at his gate — and what happens to both of them in eternity.
And Paul’s young protégé Timothy is urged to remain distinct from property-owning and wealth-loving folk in prosperous Ephesus. Rather he was to fight the good fight of faith, trusting God as his provider and holding firmly to those things that endure and which go with eternal life.
Our starting point for this exploration of eternal perspective are these powerful verses of promise for any believer seeking God’s deliverance from strife and trouble. This is from Psalm 91:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty… Surely He will save you from… snare and… pestilence. Under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. “Because he loves Me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name. He will call on Me, and I will answer him; I will be with Him in trouble, I will deliver Him and honour Him… and show him My salvation.”
(Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 excerpted)
Jeremiah would have known these words and was probably standing on them in faith, while restricted to the palace guard room. After a year of siege, it was only a matter of time before the invading army broke in — as Jeremiah had prophesied — and all would be lost.
Including land and property — that’s what happens in an invasion, as we are being reminded in our world today — but Jeremiah has heard God give him the strangest instruction, and his nephew has just persuaded the guard to allow a visit, just like the Lord said. Outside, the situation is hopeless but through Jeremiah’s prophetic act, God is showing that He has a greater plan, a future purpose, to bring His blessing out of the disaster Judah had brought on itself. We pick up the story in Jeremiah 32:
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord… [when] the army of the king of Babylon was…besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined… in the royal palace of Judah. Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy… ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it.’ ” Jeremiah … [replied that the Lord had told him to buy a field from his cousin].
[He said:] “Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field… in the territory of Benjamin… since it is your right to redeem it…’ “I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field… signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver… in the presence of my cousin… and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and… all the Jews… in the courtyard of the guard. 2c “In their presence I gave Baruch [the Lord’s] instructions: ‘Take… both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For… the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’ “
(Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 excerpted)
Jeremiah is a renowned prophet, not just because many prophetic words that continue to speak to us today, but for his stubborn insistence on believing and relying on what God was saying about the difficult circumstances he lived in.
Jeremiah is teaching us that, however acute the crisis or great the catastrophe of the moment God is above is above them. He has a higher purpose and an eternal perspective. And with practice, we can grasp that, too.
Jesus takes this further. He challenges us with His parable where a very rich and apparently secure man, is contrasted with a very poor one who is forced to beg. There are two scenes, first on Earth, and then a glimpse into the heavenly realm.
At the same time, Jesus confronts the assumptions of many of the wealthier Jews, who saw their well-being as a sign of God’s blessing. Poverty was evidence of blessing withheld, surely, they reasoned, from historic sin and alienation from God.
Today, we as comfortable, well-dressed, middle class churchgoers — many of us anyway — can fall into the same trap, of holding worldly values and tolerating spiritual blindness. God is no respecter of persons or earthly status. This story, in Luke 16, illustrates how God has gracious love for the least, the last and the lost — and how we separate ourselves from Him, when we do not.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury… [And] at his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table… The beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. “So he called… ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip… his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted… and you are in agony… A great chasm has been set in place, [and no one can] go from here to you [or] cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my…five brothers [and] warn them… not [to] come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.’”
(Luke 16:19-31 excerpted)
Being poor and of low status is never easy, but it is less of a handicap than a fixation on wealth and possessions, and the barrier this creates to spiritual growth and maturity.
Jesus’ story was directed at his Jewish hearers and the distorted worldview that they often held. Now as Paul writes to Timothy, who in this letter is stationed to look after the church in the prosperous city of Ephesus, the younger man, part Greek himself, must understand how the Greek business ethic and the kingdom of God lead in different directions. The teaching in the many Ephesus house churches was being given by business and property owners — not that there’s anything wrong in that, unless reliance on things other than God results in a dissonant gospel. This excepted passage from 1 Timothy 1 begins with a saying that is widely misquoted. Jesus spoke a lot about money, second only to His focus on the kingdom of God, but in Paul’s words it is the love of money which creates the pitfall:
The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
…Flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. In the sight of God… and of Christ Jesus.. I charge you to keep this command… until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time — God…the King of kings and Lord of lords… who lives in unapproachable light… to Him be honour and might forever. Amen.
Command those who are rich in this present world not… to put their hope in [uncertain] wealth…but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to… be rich in good deeds… generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves… for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the [true] life.
(1 Timothy 6:6-19 excerpted)
Money and anxiety about money, roots us in the here and now of our world — we have enough, or we don’t! When there’s too much month, at the end of the money, that is a temporal problem — this world, this moment.
Turning to God is turning away from this world and this moment to the ultimate source. Choosing to place our reliance on Him is trusting in His eternal provision, with no constraints of time or space. He knows our needs before we ask Him. But it comes down to this test: will we trust Him, or will we prefer to rely on what we ourselves can gather or create?
Faith is not easy. Nobody finds faith easy. It is not meant to be easy! But faith becomes less difficult as we learn to exercise it, and as it grows in us.
Faith honours and magnifies God, and His goodness – and that is an expression of our worship of Him. If there is a reward of faith (and Jesus’ story hints at this), the reward comes in eternity. Our generosity, as a pale reflection of God’s goodness, builds up a deposit in God’s bank — and that, says Paul, is the sound investment, that we believers should be making and modelling for others.
But let’s not forget Jeremiah’s lesson for us. Jeremiah’s world was falling to pieces around him, and what was left of his worldly property and security was being seized and broken up.
Yet, through the din of armies and sentries and arguing political leaders, he continued to choose to hear God’s reassuring voice, that the end was not the end.
In God’s kingdom order, failure was not the last act before the curtain came down. Man may not have had any plan left, but God was already mapping out the future. So it is for us.
As those who believe in Jesus, God’s Son, and put our complete trust in His work of redeeming and saving us, rather than any efforts of our own — this is what becoming a Christian believer means –we are making a parallel stand to Timothy. Timothy, in his situation of property and business and people of influence, was to choose a different stance, putting reliance on God and His eternal and true perspective. So it is for us.
Either we struggle to fix the problem — or we proceed less urgently, but more prayerfully, knowing in faith that God already has the solution and is leading us into it. This is how He works within us to Keep an Eternal Perspective Amid Life’s Urgencies.
Father, as we come to You through Jesus, we humbly ask You to fill us with Your Spirit that we might have Your values within us.
And as those who often fail the test of who or what we put our trust in, give us we ask a spirit of wisdom and revelation of the knowledge of you.
May Your way, Your perspective, Your solution and Your provision become the picture that starts to come into focus for us. May we grow in resolve to choose Your way whether we understand it or not.
May we grow in upholding Your kingdom — and be a light of Your presence and truth for others around us. In Jesus we pray, Amen.