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.
Bible readings for Sunday, June 17 (based on the Revised Common Lectionary)
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 – In God’s order, character trumps appearance
• Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance
Mark 4:26-34 – God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted
• Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence like seed that sprouts from the soil
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 – New life brings vision of the kingdom of God
• Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life
1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 » In God’s order, character trumps appearance
Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance
34-35 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
“Ramah… Gibeah” – it was a separation but archaeology has revealed that Ramah and Gibeah were only a few miles apart.
“The Lord regretted…” – echoes 15:11 and God’s regret at the time of the flood, Genesis 6:7. This is not a conflict with 1 Sam. 15:29 where ‘will not regret’ in some versions means will not ‘relent’ or ‘change His mind’. Saul’s call to kingship had started well, 1 Sam. 9-10, but his character was to self-justify and on this test of how he had followed a very specific command he lied twice, 1 Sam. 15:3, 13, 20-22.
For further study, see 2 Sam. 11:27, 12:7-12, Hebrews 13:7
1 Sam. 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, of Bethlehem.
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
Samuel had reason to be cautious – he had told Saul that God had rejected his kingship.
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’
3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
Bringing a sacrifice gave Samuel a pretext for going to Bethlehem and following what the Lord would show him next.
4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
“The Lord looks at the heart” – a much-quoted verse, which headlines a principle. The Lord is concerned with what is on the inside, i.e. character and spiritual disposition, whereas we are swayed by more evident attributes including appearance. Saul stood out in appearance and height, 1 Sam. 9:2, but in character he turned out to lack stature.
8-11 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
With v. 14 this is the pivotal moment when by this physical anointing there is a transfer of the spiritual anointing of God’s Spirit from Saul to David (which he recalled in worship, Psalm 51:11). It is the beginning of a long process over seven years in which Saul’s hold on the kingship is displaced by David’s growing influence.
It is hard for us to grasp how, with foreknowledge, God can allow something to happen which then turns to failure. This makes a powerful statement about the principle of man’s free will, but also the seriousness with which God regards a failure of leadership through the wrong exercise of free will.
In the O.T. the Holy Spirit comes on a person of God’s choice for a purpose, for them to step up to an anointed role e.g. as prophet or king or leader. In the NT the Spirit was given at Pentecost and all believers can ask and receive, and are later instructed to “be being filled”, Ephesians 5:18, in an ongoing way for an empowered ministry.
The principle of “trust and test” applies to us as it did to Saul and David. Saul’s arrogant and self-justifying personality meant that he lacked the honesty to know his need of God and need to put right with God his mistakes. David made mistakes, but God had his heart – a crucial difference.
We have free will to obey (or to take God at His word) or not. How have you grown through being tested on this?
Ezekiel 17:22-24 (additional reading)
22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain.
“A shoot… and plant it” – one of David’s line, Isaiah 11:1, Zech. 3:8, made king. A parable of a messianic future in sharp contrast to the destruction foretold in the preceding prophecies.
“High and lofty mountain” – Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:2-4
23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.
“Birds of every kind” – people of every nation.
The Lord Himself plants this shoot from the very top growth
24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
“Bring down the tall tree” – 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Isaiah 2:12-18.
Trees represent the royal line. The pride and failure of David’s descendants would not stop God’s purpose for the dynasty of David, which was fulfilled in Jesus.
“ ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”
Ezekiel was a later prophet who became one of the exiles and a contemporary of Jeremiah, Daniel and Obadiah. He had seen how king after king, and generation after generation, had rejected God’s ways – with disastrous consequences. He also caught a higher perspective: God’s purpose would be fulfilled by God’s action overruling man’s failure. When all around us appears hopeless, in the higher, heavenly perspective God is already bringing His good purposes about.
Mark 4:26-34 » God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted
- Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence, like seed that sprouts from the soil
26-29 [Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.
The disciples thought the kingdom of God was a righteous political rule – looking back to David. Not so. All of Jesus’ teaching sought to demonstrate and explain how the kingdom of God, God’s rule and purpose, impacts man’s freewill existence. God’s kingdom exists and grows and produces its good effect in ways that are largely unseen and unrecognised – in our hearts, and through us as changed people, bringing God’s order in righteous, beneficial change to our world.
A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
“He also said” – Mark recounts some further seed parables which are about the hidden life of the kingdom of God which will appear. The kingdom of God is hidden, 4:21, but will certainly become established like a crop, and grow.
30-32 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
“Like a mustard seed – the contrast between a very small beginning – the mustard seed was proverbially small – and spectacular growth.
33-34 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, he explained everything.
Mark shows that he is including a compilation of these parables, not a chronological account.
This teaching reminds us that God’s kingdom does come and does grow whether or not we can see the impact of praying ‘Your kingdom come’. The change and growth keeps on happening “all by itself” as God’s will is done with the patchy support and partnership of His people. This teaching emphasises God’s sovereignty in fulfilling His purpose, but the witness of the Bible as a whole is on the way God chooses us to be His ‘executive partners’ through our lives and relationships.
Heroes of faith like William Wilberforce and John Wesley whose hearts were changed by the Holy Spirit were passionate in their mission and persevering in setbacks and opposition and lack of progress. Centuries later, we see with more clarity what their prayer and persistence achieved for eternity.
Can you recall something you have prayed for persistently without seeing change at the time – and then, looking back, you could see the shift?
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 » New life brings a vision of the kingdom of God
Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life
6-7 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight.
“At home in the body” – spiritual life is constrained by human existence.
This is not an exhortation to be super-spiritual and believing the unbelievable, but rather living one’s whole life with God in a trust relationship which believes His promises and takes an eternal view, not just the immediate one. This looks back to 2 Cor. 4:18-5:1.
8-10 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
“Appear before the judgment seat” – in our courtroom language we speak of being ‘called to appear before the bench’. This was the bēma, where the Roman governor sat to deliver judicial verdicts.
“Receive what is due” – there is judgment in heaven and we will have to give account for what we have done “in the body”, our here-and-now lives. Where we fall short of “living for Him” we should keep short accounts with God and others.
= = = = =
14-15 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.
“Christ’s love compels us” – Paul’s motivation is the strong awareness of the price paid for him by Jesus, and the relationship of love which holds him. The revelation of how Jesus loves us through His sacrificial death compels us to live for Him, not for ourselves.
16-17 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
This is a change of identity, from the old unregenerate person to the new, spiritual person. New creation also brings new perspective – we see things differently and the old, worldly point of view seems narrow and inadequate. The worldly view of Christ as a historical figure and perhaps a model to follow is radically overturned by the experience of the Holy Spirit Christ in us – and a growing understanding of who we are “in Christ”, our heavenly identity.
There’s a tension in living for Christ and in the tension of the world’s ways, in being made a new creation person, but with a lot of old creation habits and attitudes hanging on. The life of the Spirit which is the context of this letter and others written to early church believers demands that we see ourselves as heaven sees us, and live up to this new identity. Too easily we slide back into responding to the world around us as we see it with our eyes rather than as we perceive it, drawing on the spiritual awareness given by the Holy Spirit. People let us down – that is what humans do. The worldly view will be condemning and judgmental; as those in Christ we are equipped to perceive what is going on in a person that impact us unhelpfully, and as those compelled by Christ’s love, we can choose to return to them the grace and forgiveness we ourselves have received from God.
What excites you about the new life, in Christ as a new creation? What holds you back from experiencing it fully?
Living in God’s word like well-watered trees, Psalm 1.
Image credit: Joni Shaffer
Church calendar readings for Sunday, May 13, in Bible order
Prepare for Sunday by reading and reflecting on the word for the week. Formerly this was structured with a passage to read and reflect on for each day, but I felt that was overly prescriptive. Use this as a weekly resource to divide up or come back to, as seems best to you. The principle of ‘having the Scriptures in us’ before hearing the Scriptures preached is well-proven, however. And it is a good stand-alone Bible study! –IanG
Ezekiel 36:24-28 – Living God’s way from within
Psalm 1 – Living like well-watered trees
John 17:6-19 – Living as those united by Jesus
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 – Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive
1 John 5:9-13 – Living the new life that the Son of God gives
The saying “Whoever has the Son has life” in 1 John 5:12 is like a headline over the theme that emerges from this week’s Sunday readings (you may only hear two or three of them in church). This is about living God’s way – living as those who belong to God through receiving Jesus – and give five complementary pictures of what that means.
= = = = = = =
Ezekiel 36:24-28 » Living God’s way from within
• In the regathering, the Holy Spirit is promised to be a personal enabler of righteous living
24 “ ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
“Out of the nations” – out of a pagan land.
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
“I will cleanse you” – as Jews, they were defiled by ungodly pagan practices all around them, but also by their history that had caused the fall of Jerusalem.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
This is a repeated theme in Ezekiel – a revelation the prophet caught and expressed at different times, Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31.
27 And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.
The Law instituted by Moses and subsequently turned into a detailed ‘do this, don’t do that’ religious system was near-impossible to keep – as any religious system is for people trying to work it out in their own strength. To be empowered by the Holy Spirit to WANT to live right by God was to be a seismic change in the whole order of things, that would happen at Pentecost.
28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be My people, and I will be your God.
“Your God…My people” – the covenant language reminds hearers of God’s kind, not harsh, intentions. The relationship between God and His people would be restored.
When the relationship breaks down, God is always looking for ways to restore it, on His initiative. That was always part of His covenant promise. The covenant required His people to obey, but promised to treat them better than they deserved – with His unearned, faithful love – when things went wrong.
Life is like that. Relationships do get strained, damaged and broken. But in God’s view, that is not the end, but the beginning of a restoring process. This is God’s intentional work of renewal. He is always about this work of renewing and inviting us to see the need, and join Him.
These verses also set out a huge change: the Law instituted by Moses had not been working. Man has been created with free will, and that means there is an independent and at times wayward tendency in all of us. The promise of His Spirit was to counter that with a desire and therefore tendency to get better and better at both knowing and following God’s ways. We can only do that with His Holy Spirit in us – a heart change that comes as a result of us recognising who our Saviour Jesus really is, and inviting Him to reign in us.
Is God’s gift of new life an opportunity to decide for Him, or the start of a process of renewal that goes on in us and even through us?
Psalm 1 » Living like well-watered trees
• The righteous person who loves living in the Word is blessed in the relationship with God that brings
1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
“Blessed” – Happy or fortunate
Both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 use the same word, hāgâ, to contrast the righteous person who “meditates” on God’s word, v.2, with Psalm 2:1 where God’s enemies “plot”, or meditate on, rebellion. Another part of the contrast is the determination of the righteous individual to seek God’s way, and not be swayed by the crowd of those who feel they know best, described as wicked mockers.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
“That person” – As in “blessed is the one” (v.1), the individual who goes against the more acceptable unbelieving crowd but who has a philosophy of life that is rooted in the Word. This is the way that “prospers”, knowing the constancy of God’s provision and protection rather than a life of blips and dips.
For further study see Jeremiah 17:5-8, Joshua 1:8, Matthew 6:33.
4-5 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
“The wicked” – showing a disregard for God and his Way. Not being anchored in God’s truth leaves us too lightweight and blown around by mere opinion, to be a good influence in the community (or church)
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
“Watches over” – an intimate, relational word. “Wicked – our ‘I know best’ independence casts us loose from the security of being held in relationship with God.
Those individuals who choose to go against the crowd and maintain a close relationship with God through His Word, are contrasted with the many who are disdainful.
There is no fast track to the prosperity of life that the Bible describes, which is a broad prosperity in which financial sufficiency is just a part. However, there are simple ways we can follow which attract God’s blessing and favour. Because God is essentially relational, these will all be ways for us to stay close to Him. The number one way is to learn to hear His voice, by reflecting on His revelation of Himself in His Word.
If we think we don’t need to read God’s Word and seek His guidance day by day, we are an accident waiting to happen. Independence doesn’t play out well for God who wants us to know His love and respond to Him in a relationship.
What is needed for a tree or shrub to prosper? How well does that picture what we need to grow well and true?
John 17:6-19 » Living as those united by Jesus
• Jesus’ prays for those that are His to be united in knowing God’s love and protected from the tendency to division
6-7 “I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your word. Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You.
“I have revealed You…” – there are two particular ways Jesus revealed the Father. Firstly, by being God in human form – God incarnate, the Word became flesh, John 1:14 – and secondly, by being the Way to the Father, John 14:6. See ‘In practice’.
8 For I gave them the words You gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me.
“They knew with certainty” – that what Jesus taught was from the Father and was truth. They would need more time to fit the pieces together to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection, and how the OT Passover lamb, priest, temple and suffering servant was fulfilled in Him.
9-10 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given Me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine. And glory has come to Me through them.
11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name you gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.
“That they may be one” – of one mind and heart about God’s purpose and their mission.
12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave Me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13-14 “I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them. I have given them Your Word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.
“The world has hated them” – which is why we need the joy of belonging to Jesus to be our motivation. His way, as He is teaching here, also John 15:11, releases something deeper and stronger than happiness. When we get religious about what we think is correct or not, or competitive about our way rather than other ways, the joy (and the anointing) quickly fades.
15-16 My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
Following Jesus brings its own protection, the New Covenant, and it also brings its own attack. Satan does not give up ground easily. We have to learn to live in the world, relating to people and policies that do not reflect our beliefs and values, while drawing our strength from the Father and our guidance from the Holy Spirit as those who are not of the world.
17-19 Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Our coming to know Jesus, who is the truth, and our being empowered by the Spirit of Truth, does change us and set us apart for God – being sanctified, or made holy, in Bible language.
Jesus revealed the Father by giving us a key whereby we could come first to Him, and then know the Father: “I am the way… no one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well…”, John 14:6-7. Once we take that decision, there dawns an awareness of a wonderful one-ness we share with other believers who have come to the Father through Jesus, whatever stream they may worship with.
The difference between what is sometimes described as ‘churchianity’ and true organic Christianity is right here in this teaching by Jesus, about those who are His maintaining a united heart and witness. He knew that there would be a tendency for control and competition and division to creep in – that is man’s way – and He was teaching that His Way was not like that.
It is increasingly common for Christians to disregard denominational barriers to pray and worship together and especially to engage in outreach. Recently, outreach has been found to be particularly effective in towns where there is genuine friendship between different streams of the church, with Christians of different streams going out on the streets in threes. We are in it together, for our protection but also for His mission.
This passage makes it clear that we are not soldiers of the barracks but sent out. However, like soldiers, as soon as we step out, we start getting rather too well acquainted with the enemy of freedom and life, Satan. Togetherness and one-ness is vitally important. No one in Special Forces would ever need to be reminded of that!
What more could we do that would emphasise – and bring – the oneness we have as those who belong to Jesus?
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 » Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive
• The Twelve are made complete again to be solid witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection to new life.
15-17 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about 120) and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
Peter was looked up to as a leader of the apostles in the gospel accounts and especially in the early times of the church described in the first few chapters of Acts. He had (v.20) spoken two well-known sayings from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 “May his place be deserted… May another take his place of leadership” which seem rather like a prophetic word to them to make the Twelve complete in number.
21-22 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who has been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
“Witness with us” – The two particular requirements were that the person was a witness to Jesus’ resurrection – many people encountered Him at this time, so that was not too difficult. But the other requirement was for their experience of Jesus to be similar to the remaining eleven, knowing Him for the three years of His ministry. The first apostles needed to be authoritative eyewitnesses of how Jesus showed Himself to be Messiah, against the denial and threats of the Jewish rulers.
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.
24-26 Then they prayed, “Lord, You know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two You have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
“Casting lots” – possibly shaking marked stones in a jar until one fell out, a bit like our ‘heads or tails’ – is never mentioned again. It became obsolete at the coming of the Holy Spirit who Himself guides and leads God’s people.
Here we see God restoring the Twelve who keenly felt the loss and shame of one of their number who was the one who betrayed Jesus, and then died an unpleasant death in the field he bought with the bounty. It was a messy situation – but we see God’s hand in bringing restoration of the first team of eye-witness apostles.
God’s guidance is something we all seek, but we know it is an imperfect art, even with the help and guidance of prayer and the Holy Spirit. This snapshot taken just before the coming of the Holy Spirit shows them casting lots, and no doubt this was done prayerfully. A short time later, they were all much more confident about what they were hearing and seeing – not to mention much more bold in the face of people who wanted to flog them, or worse.
We find guidance today a challenge, but the lesson from this passage is that God uses many ways to guide, and if we give Him time and listen – they were doing plenty of that in the Upper Room – He does speak to us.
What ways do you know that churches use to choose leaders? Does it matter what way is used if it is done prayerfully?
1 John 5:9-13 (verses 6-8 added) » Living the new life that the Son of God gives
• The testimony about Jesus is incontrovertible
6-8 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. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about his Son.
“Human testimony” – Verse 9 needs the context of 6-8 to be understood. When Jesus encountered people who would not accept His testimony about Himself, He pointed them to His works, John 10:25. The Holy Spirit (Spirit of Truth) gives witness to who Jesus is, and John’s readers would mostly have experience of this, John 15:26. John calls two widely known works of God, Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion. Generally two or three witnesses were needed for human testimony. John calls three ultra-reliable witnesses of God Himself.
10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.
“Whoever believes in…” – There’s a difference between believing that Jesus was a historical figure who did good and set an example to follow, and believing in Jesus, Son of God and crucified Saviour who I call my Saviour and Lord.
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
To have the Son comes simply through turning to and believing in the Son. It is through faith in Christ, not any observances, that we have life, which is experienced as a new dimension of life now, as well as assurance of eternal life (v.13), John 14:6, Acts 4:12.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
The Jewish religious leaders didn’t want to believe who Jesus was, let alone that Jesus is resurrected and alive. The followers of Gnosticism were a discordant strain in the early church who didn’t believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man, and John was writing partly to counter their unbelieving influence.
We get that today. There’s a lot of Christian religion that has been constructed around a set of beliefs and observances but with no recognition that the Lordship of Jesus and personal submission to Him comes first and holds central place.
John would say to us today, the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus both happened and the audible voice of God was heard to affirm His Son. No one seriously challenges that the crucifixion of Jesus happened – secular historians of the time noted it as an important event. But those who have turned to Jesus and believed in Him have their own inward witness, the witness of the Holy Spirit of God who brings a revelation and understanding that goes beyond what can be understood intellectually. They know. They have a new dimension of life which is close to a definition of Christian joy. And they are secure in themselves, held by the love of God and with the assurance of being in the early stages of eternal life with Him.
Have you been invited to pray this prayer? It’s always good to pray it again:
Lord Jesus, I turn to You now, believing that You are the only Son of God, who was born as man, lived a perfect life of obedience to Your heavenly Father, and then went willingly to a shameful execution to pay the price of my sins.
I ask that all my independence from God, my rebellion against God, my selfishness in wanting to be the master of my own destiny – all my sin, past present and future – be put under the cleansing of Your blood shed in your death on that Cross.
And I ask, Jesus, that You fill me with Your Holy Spirit now, to give me revelation of what I do not understand, that I might know the fullness of new life with Your peace, and be empowered to learn to walk with You in life, join You on Your mission and then dwell with You always. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.
This is a big decision that will bring release and joy, but a decision that will be tested as well. Talk it over with your parish priest, pastor, or trusted Christian friend so that you have some prayer and practical companionship on this exciting leg of your journey with God!
The emerging message – empowered to live out the Way
The early disciples of Jesus were known as followers of the Way before they were known as Christians, Acts 11:25-26. They were followers of the Way of God, not the rigid and religious way the Pharisees would have people do it, but the new Way and new life demonstrated by Jesus.
This Way was foretold by Ezekiel who saw in the Spirit a picture of the old, hard, stone-like ‘heart’ which is our inner being – the heart of our desires and motivations – being replaced with a new feeling, sensitive, spiritual heart, alive to God. With this new heart, the Way of God would no longer be a drudge but a joy, not hard-won by effort but experienced through exploration.
The ‘exploration’ is allowing God to speak to us through His word. Psalm 1 puts this rather formally as “the law of the Lord” but says this is something we can delight in. Exploration is fun. When we sense God speaking to us personally through words and phrases that are eternal, it is exciting. The “wicked”, who think they know best, miss out on all of this, but being rooted in God’s word is how we live fruitful lives, following God’s Way.
Everyone who belongs to Jesus has a special affinity with everyone else who belongs to Jesus, although the churches or buildings we gather in to worship may have very different names and represent different styles. That one-ness is spiritually powerful, not just in terms of mutual encouragement, but because the humble prayer “when two of you… agree” Matthew 18:19 is the prayer with God’s power behind it. Jesus, knowing the heavenly principle of one-ness, prayed that believers would be protected in it, knowing full well that the enemy of souls who comes to kill, steal and destroy the new life John 10:10 would be active in sowing distrust, competition and division. The world sees churches in competition, and sometimes they are. The Way of Jesus has nothing to do with this form of pride and everything to do with collaboration.
The Way of the Lord leads us to the Cross, a place where we can be real about those things in our life and attitudes which grieve God but also the place where we can lay them down and receive the forgiveness that cancels the record of sin. The Way of Jesus doesn’t leave us there, but propels us into new life beyond the Cross, the life that is lived in the presence of Jesus who is alive. The first apostles needed to be a full number, strong in their resolve to face persecution in proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. The Way of Jesus for us, is to know and to tell others that He is alive, a very real and also approachable Saviour and Lord.
Those who know Him – “whoever has the Son” – have a dimension of life and joy that is infectious. We are the testimony to who Jesus is, the Son of God, because the Holy Spirit in us testifies, not just to us but through us to others.
As present-day Followers of the Way, we have a new heart and reborn spirit, we have the delight of the Scriptures speaking to us, we have the unity with other believers, the excitement about the resurrection and a desire to be a testimony and witness to others. The Way of God is to walk with Jesus who told people “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” John 14:6. Whether by actions, or attitudes, or perhaps by words of explanation, we have both the responsibility and also the privileged and empowered commission, to show the One who is the Way of God to a world that needs Him.