Five marks of renewed lives – Ephesians 4:25-5:2
TLW32 August 12, 2018. Theme: Pride leads to a fall but humbly accepting Jesus is salvation and life
QUICK SUMMARY The story of Absalom’s shameful death, caught up in the mane of hair which was so much his image, is a parable of how not to do life. Absalom’s arrogance and rebellion is a picture of our sinful, independent state and where it leads. By contrast, the story of Jesus patiently explaining that the way to life is He Himself – like the bread that was shared out with no one excluded, and all able to internalise it, – so spiritually internalising Him and what He stands for is our choice to know God personally and receive His gift of life. That brings with it a new lifestyle, the life of the Spirit, which empowers us to say ‘no’ to traits which harms us and others, and to say ‘yes’ to the opposites, which are living and Christlike. The Way of God for us to imitate is to live in an attitude of love. We can do it because we are transformed and Spirit-empowered.
Readings set in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, August 12
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 – Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation
John 6:35, 41-51 – Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 » Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation
Defeat in the Forest of Ephraim ends a life marred by arrogance and rebellion
5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.
“Be gentle” – whether out of fatherly love or a sense of guilt towards Absalom is not clear.
6-8 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great – twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
“Forest of Ephraim” – not in Ephraim at all but an area east of the Jordan in Gilead, settled by the tribe of Ephraim. The larger army was unable to move effectively in the hazards of a forest, and fell prey to David’s experienced force.
9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
“Riding his mule” – the usual mount for the king’s sons, 2 Sam. 13:29.
“Absalom’s hair” – what he gloried in, 2 Sam. 14:25-26, became the instrument of his downfall. As in life he had exalted himself with his own monument, 2 Sam. 18:18, in death he was thrown into a pit heaped up with rocks, like stoning, and a monument of shame.
15 And ten of Joab’s armour-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.
“Joab’s armour-bearers” – David’s senior officer and his close support had conflicting feelings about the leader of a bloody rebellion. The narrator stresses, e.g. verse 5 above, David’s order to spare Absalom, but Joab had fallen for his deception before, 2 Sam. 14:1-24, and with the king’s safety in view, acted against David’s instructions.
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
“Cushite” – “man from Ethiopia’, NLT. Joab had chosen an alternative to the priest’s son to carry the news, in case David overreacted.
32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!”
“If only I had died” – David had lost Absalom’s love and respect, and now he had lost his son and any possible reconciliation. From the tone of David’s exclamation, it appears that he is seeing what Nathan prophesied, 2 Sam. 12:10-11, is now happening – His sin with Bathsheba, repented of and forgiven by God, still has consequences which are now playing out.
IN PRACTICE The story of Absalom’s death, caught in a tree by the long hair he so gloried in, brings with it a reflection on his way of life. He ingratiated himself with others, gained a following over and against his father, and even built a monument to himself just outside Jerusalem. It is a story of pride that leads to a fall, of man-centred values that can never play out well; a story of self-condemnation. In our sinful state apart from God, it’s how we all start. We can recognise the desire to be something for ourselves, and the rebellious streak. This is the ‘how not to” example that brings out the new life in Jesus, and the life of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to make positive choice and live differently – not needing people’s attention to boost our egos, but able to live for Jesus and even look a little bit like Him.
QUESTION What stands out in the story of Absalom and his death that is the lesson for you?
John 6:35, 41-51 » Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation
Some recognise Christ, the Messiah, and His mission to save while others struggle with believing who He is
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.
“I am” – there are a number of statements where Jesus refers to Himself using the words “I am”, purposefully making His hearers think of the Father’s words to Moses in Exodus 3:14, and prophetically through Isaiah e.g. Isaiah 43:25. This is the first of seven such sayings recorded by John.
“The bread of life” – the crowd had said in verse 34, not getting it at all, “Always give us this bread” or ‘keep on giving us free food’. So Jesus makes it very clear He is speaking of Himself.
41-43 At this the Jews there began to grumble about Him because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered.
“Began to grumble about Him” – The complaint recalls the attitude in the desert which was the root of the delay in entering the Promised Land. The synagogue crowd are showing the same inflexibility of thought and expectation – and lack of faith – as their ancestors who grumbled about the provision of manna. They consider that they ‘know’ He is the son of Joseph, miracle worker and possible national leader, and refuse to see beyond, to Him being the Son of the Father.
• For further study, read Exodus 16:8, Numbers 14:27 and the recollection in Psalm 95:8-9.
44-45 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me.
“No one can come… they will all” – the word ‘can’ is dunamai, which has the fuller meaning of ‘no one is able’. Jesus also quotes Isaiah 54:13 – His bigger vision is all being saved and coming to a knowledge of the truth, also the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34. A balanced view holds these tensions of God’s election “no one can come… unless the Father… draws them” and “they will all” in man’s free will in responding to the tug of the Holy Spirit, in tension. This is a process of grace from God to us, to which we are divinely enabled to respond as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. Scripture emphasises in different places God’s initiative of grace, and our responsibility of responding, in the initial spiritual transformation we call salvation or becoming a Christian.
46-48 No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.
“No one had seen… the one who believes” – as in John’s prologue, John 1:18. If we simply accepted what we could see, that would not be faith. We are required to go out on the line of putting our trust in the goodness of someone we have not physically encountered.
49-51 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
“Ate the manna… yet they died”. Manna gave them food at that time, but Jesus, the Living Bread, confers enduring life.
“This bread is My flesh” – ‘this bread is Me’. Jesus is the true living bread who satisfies the spiritual hunger of those who believe in Him. In a more physical sense, He becomes this ‘bread’ by sacrificing His body – “My flesh” – to death on the Cross. His perplexed hearers would reflect on this and some would later understand.
IN PRACTICE The crowd who heard Jesus give this teaching didn’t find it easy to grasp. Many of them had known Jesus for 30 years. But recently, they had seen miracles of healing and provision which pointed to a different kind of identity, His divine Messiah identity, which He was now explaining to them. Some had faith to see Jesus beyond the carpenter’s shop, while others struggled.
It’s the same with us. Every encounter with God requires two things of us: our need of God (depending) and taking Him at His word (believing). John doesn’t use words like ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ but prefers the action word ‘believing’. Jesus, not our efforts or good deeds, is the source of empowered life now and the way to life eternal. He chooses us, reminding us that He does out of love for us, and hold out an offer. When we trust Him for that offer, everything changes.
QUESTION How would you explain to someone else simply, what Jesus had done out of love for them, and how they might respond to that?
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 » Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation
The hallmark of those who belong to the Lord, who is Love personified, is that they walk in love like Him.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…
Each of you must” – in the context of, each of you, redeemed by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is now enabled to live like this. A list of five instances follows, each with an aspect not to do, an aspect to do positively instead, and a spiritual principle.
“Put off falsehood” – twisting of the truth comes with anger and bitterness. The emotional response of anger (like any emotional response of the moment) is not of itself sin, but anger that takes root i.e. carries over to the next day and beyond forms a resentful, bitter and often slanderous attitude that is the visible effect of unforgiveness – and that is denying the gospel.
27-28 …and do not give the devil a foothold…
“A foothold” – all sin gives the devil legal rights to oppress us and the sin of unforgiveness and unresolved conflict is perhaps the most common strategy the devil uses to gain a measure of control over our thoughts and lives. Sin is the access he looks for.
…Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
“Steal no longer but… work” – repentance can be defined as stopping something harmful, starting something positive instead, and a changed lifestyle that all can see.
29-30 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
“Only what is… building others up” – a practical guideline and the opposite of obscene language, gossip and slander which like a rotten fruit spreads and corrupts, doing so much damage to individuals and the whole community.
“Grieve the Holy Spirit” – showing the Holy Spirit to be a person and One who is sensitive to any harshness of attitude, perhaps more than we are
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
“Bitterness…anger” – resentment and malice have no place in people who have been forgiven of much -– and so morally cannot withhold from others that same grace. Failure to forgive results in the anger, clamour and malice which follow logically in the sentence.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
“Be kind” – be kind, chrestos, because of Christ, Christos.
“Compassionate… forgiving – the opposite of the bitter attitude. God’s forgiveness of us is the standard we apply to others: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, Matt. 6:12.
For further study, compare with Hosea 3:1, Colossians 3:13.
Eph. 5:1-2 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
“Follow God’s example” – more literally, “Be imitators of God”. Believers have been exhorted to learn about Christ, and not to grieve the Spirit, Eph 4:20-21, 30. Now they are set the challenge of adopting and demonstrating God’s values to the world around them.
“Walk in the way of love” – a summary of the section. Christ’s demonstration of loving us was fragrant, i.e. acceptable to God; our fragrant offering is following His example in walking in love towards others.
IN PRACTICE The new life which comes through asking Jesus to be Lord of our lives is – new. ‘The old has gone, the new has come,’ in Paul’s words elsewhere. Foul language and petty dishonesty doesn’t seem clever any more. A lot of our more selfish traits lose their hold on us. But there’s plenty of baggage we need to recognise and lay down, and Paul sets out some choices for us – what not to do, what to do positively instead and the spiritual principle involved. In the flesh, or selfish nature, we can be harsh and critical of others, with standards of behaviour that don’t align with our new spiritual identity. This ‘mixed message’ destroys our witness but more seriously, offends the Holy Spirit and causes Him to distance Himself. Someone whose very nature is love is going to be a sensitive person, and the Holy Spirit is that sensitive person. On the other hand, He is the very One who enables us to grow more Christlike and loving. There’s a part we do, but we cannot do it by ourselves – we need to work with His empowering.
QUESTION Out of the “get rid of” things listed and the challenge to love unconditionally, like Christ, which speak to you most?
PRAYER Father God, as we come to You in Jesus, we are so grateful for the new life You hold out to us. Jesus, You are the Bread of Life! Help us to grasp this with both hands, eagerly, and with the help of Your Spirit, to live it out for all to see what You have done. Amen.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 21
Peter’s concern comes from the wrong kingdom
|31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again.||31 Now that the disciples had heard and accepted what Peter had exclaimed: “You are the Messiah!”, Mark 8:29, Jesus gives the first of three teachings about what He would go through to fulfill God’s plan.
31 “Son of Man” is used more than 80 times in the gospels. It was a term Jesus used about Himself because it was not loaded with expectations and preconceptions. In the OT it often just means “human being” eg Psalm 8:4, Psalm 80:17 but it has the sense of a title in the way God often address Ezekiel in this way. But Jesus hearers would also have been familiar with Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man at the end time brings the kingdom to the oppressed people on earth. The Son of Man sayings in Matthew, Mark and Luke generally combine suffering and death with glory at the end-time.
31 For further study: these sayings in Mark particular seem to refer to Daniel’s Son of Man, Mark 8:38, 13:26, 14:62.
|32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him.||32 John Wesley’s notes, “And Peter taking hold of him – perhaps by the arms or clothes”. The Message: “But Peter grabbed him in protest”.
32 Peter understood that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter understood what Jesus meant by “suffer many things” and “be killed”, v.31. But for Him, the Messiah was about strength, not weakness. A suffering Messiah was unthinkable. He would not at that point have associated Isaiah 53, and Isa. 53:3 especially, with Messiah.
|33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”||33 A sharp rebuke – which was intended for all of them. Peter was voicing an opinion of the flesh – not the Mind of God revealed by the Holy Spirit (and the Holy Spirit had not yet been generally given). Peter loved Jesus and did not want Him to be taken – so he expressed a fear, an anxiety. The devil uses thoughts he tries to plant in our minds as one of his most common strategies – our thoughts don’t all come from us and they certainly don’t all come from the Spirit and it takes practice to sift out the ‘junk mail’. Peter was taking the rap for all the disciples making the commonest of mistakes, which we all make, especially at first.|
|34 Then he called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.||34 “Take up their cross” or literally, shoulder their stake, which perhaps better gets across the meaning of shameful death.
34 The starting point of being a disciple of Jesus is to be able to deny self. Ego and Jesus do not occupy the same space.
34 The follow-on point is that there is a cost to following Jesus, and in a world that is very rational and merit-orientated, the values of the servant King can bring plenty of misunderstanding, ridicule – and persecution. The last burning at the stake for presumed heresy, of Edward Wightman, a Baptist in Burton on Trent, was only four centuries ago, in 1612.
|35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the Gospel will save it.||35 Reneging on faith when under trial is not an option. The trials we experience in the western world today are not life and death as they were for our forebears; but our faith is on trial when we either do or do not stand up for Jesus’ values in a world of often opposing values. Do we want to remain popular or do we want to remain and abide in Jesus? Are we sensitive to criticism or secure enough in who we are to be ready for some criticism?|
|36-37 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?||
36-37 The only way we gain salvation is by losing the right to attain it ourselves. Our world is so permeated with the idea of performance and merit, it is hard for us to embrace what leads to spiritual life now, and life eternal, because it cannot be earned. Something that good that we don’t earn is difficult to trust. And earning seems more secure to us than trusting.
36-37 Jesus is saying that we try to hold on to life, to build a better life, to secure hope for a future life by doing the best we can in this life – and all of that causes us to miss the one thing that secures our souls. Giving up our rights to a self-determining life, so that Jesus can guide our determining by the truth about Him and His values, is losing ‘our’ life in exchange for His. This recognises what this passage looks forward to – Jesus exchanging His life, for us to be able to look to Him for eternal life.
|38 If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”|
The difficulty for people of Jesus’ generation is that He didn’t look like a Messiah. Perhaps we would say He doesn’t look like a celebrity. Christ the humble suffering servant is proud humanity’s greatest stumbling block; God in Him is not seen, except with the eyes of faith.
The Anointed One, Messiah, has been linked up to ‘Son of Man’ for Peter and the disciples, but the anticipation of a conquering king so eagerly awaited by Jews who turns out to be the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:1-12 but also the One who would come again in judgment, Daniel 7:13, presented the disciples with difficulty at every level of intellectual, emotional and spiritual understanding. Mark follows this with the story of the Transfiguration, Mark 9:1-10, where those who have recognised Jesus in his lowliness as the Christ are rewarded and affirmed by being momentarily blinded by His glory.
In regarding Jesus, and for that matter in regarding anything that relates to His way, then or now, the challenge for us is seeing with faith beyond seeing what we want to see.
For reflection and discussion
God’s plan is not readily understandable, defies logic and conflicts with our worldview! So what approaches will you explore, to make the Good News of Jesus accessible to others?