Month: March 2020
I had to go to the mall the other day. I went to collect something and was amazed at how many people were there just carrying on with life as normal.
People everywhere acting as if nothing was happening – as if there wasn’t an unseen virus lurking which there is at present with COVID-19.
People were eating at restaurants, having a baby shower celebration, shopping. There were a few people taking precautions with masks and gloves, but they were in the minority. To see such precautions in a mall would normally have been strange; however, even this attire has become our new norm as we carry on with everyday things.
It occurred to me that this is what we are sometimes like concerning the spiritual battles taking place around us. We can’t see our enemy, and we don’t see the battles going on. So we carry on as if they aren’t happening.
It says in Ephesians 6:12 that our fight as Christians is not against flesh and blood enemies, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world.
Whether you believe the COVID-19 virus exists or not is irrelevant. Similarly, whether you believe the unseen spiritual world exists or not is irrelevant. Whether we believe or not, the spread of the virus continues. Whether we believe or not the battle continues.
However, we have been forced as a country to change our daily routines because of this real and unseen threat to our lives and those around us.
What will force us to be aware of the war happening in the spiritual realm? Perhaps when the Devil’s attacks get our attention, and we’re forced to bend our knee and come before our Father and ask for his help.
Our Father in his grace, love and kindness towards us has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He has given us his Spirit that lives within us and is our Comforter, our Helper, our Counselor and our Encourager. He has given us weapons to fight in this war. We are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus because we have been saved from the enemies camp, we have the word of our Father that is truth, he fills our hearts with peace, and he even gives us faith to believe in him.
Living as though you’re not in a war does not mean it’s not happening!
So, read your Bible so that you can know the truth and fight off the enemy when he attacks you with lies. Meditate, think about and remind yourself of who you are because Jesus died in your place. Ask God to fill you with faith so that you can believe him and trust him with your life. And speak to him, ask him for help, look to Him as your source of comfort, encouragement and wisdom. Be alert and don’t listen to the enemy when he lies to you about no threat of war, he’s then got you exactly where he wants you, vulnerable and unprotected.
To the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote; “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
Later in the same letter, he writes again urging them; “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)
And to the Ephesian believers, Paul wrote that having been filled with the Holy Spirit they were to be those who were; “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)
Expressing thanks to God is a theme woven throughout the New Testament letters. Whether the writer is thanking God for salvation, encouraging believers in prayer or urging them to stand steadfast under trials – gratitude is the consistent thread and exhortation. These verses bring three things into focus for us believers;
1. Believers in Christ Jesus are to have a thankful predisposition, ‘be thankful’ (Colossians 3:15)
Christ-Followers are called to be characterised by thankfulness. Think about that for a moment, is thankfulness your predisposition, your default setting?
Or if you’re honest, do you find living in a state of thanksgiving a continual struggle?
The challenge in this verse is that the imperative is not conditional on something else being present. The context makes being thankful one of the things Christ-Followers are to ‘put-on’ since we are God’s chosen & beloved children (see vs12).
2. Believers in Christ Jesus are to pray prayers filled with thanksgiving continuously (Colossians 4:2)
If you did a quick ‘prayer-audit’ what would characterise your prayers the most? Are your prayers filled continuously with thanksgiving? Or might they be more characterised by complaints & requests for felt needs to be met or circumstances to change? Biblical prayer is filled with thanksgiving; it’s the way into God’s presence, always being grateful for Jesus and our salvation through our faith in Him. Psalm 100 as a helpful reminder as to how we ought to come to God in prayer.
3. Believers in Christ Jesus are to give thanks always and to give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20)
We find it relatively easy to thank God (if we remember to give thanks at all) when something has turned out well, or God has answered something we asked God for. But this passage challenges Christ-Followers to reach another level of thanksgiving entirely. The appeal is to give thanks ‘always’ and ‘for everything’! Those two words make this verse a challenging one.
The context of the passage gives us the key to understanding this verse. The context here is what the life of a Holy Spirit-filled believer will look like. John Stott says the following about Ephesians 5:20;
“The grumbling spirit is not compatible with the Holy Spirit. Grumbling was one of the besetting sins of the people of Israel; they were always ‘murmuring’ against the Lord and against Moses. But the Spirit-filled believer is full not of complaining, but of thanksgiving.” – John Stott
In the coming days of a state of lockdown (in South Africa due to COVID-19) may we be those who filled with the Holy Spirit have a general attitude of thanksgiving and not murmuring.
May our prayers be seasoned with thanksgiving to God because of the enabling power of God’s Spirit, helping us even amid human tragedy on a massive scale – to be still thankful.
One of the main ways God’s Spirit helps us with this is to remind us of our great salvation! We can always thank God the Father for giving us Jesus the ‘indescribable gift’ (2 Corinthians 9:15).
The Holy Spirit also reminds us that Scripture teaches us that regardless of the hardships we endure in this present life, they are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comprehension! (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). And the Holy Spirit fills us with joy and peace so that we may abound in the hope that is eternal and not limited to this short life (Romans 15:13)
- What can you be thankful to God for? Take time to consider this question and begin to express your thanks to God in prayer.
- Ask God to fill you again with the Holy Spirit so that your predisposition will be one of thanksgiving nor murmuring.
- Come to God in prayer starting with thanksgiving and with thanks shot through all your praying.
- Ask God to help you in the coming days that will most likely be incredibly challenging to be still thankful always confident that God is sovereign in all things.
I wrote in my journal this morning that I have noticed a certain word has crept into my vocabulary in the last week or so… It’s the word ‘unprecedented’!
Last night my whole family sat together in our lounge watching the news together – unprecedented!
We then went on to listen to our South African President make some rather unprecedented announcements about our country being in a state of national lockdown from Friday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will remember this moment. Such a drastic announcement with such wide-reaching implications for personal freedom, for businesses large and small, has a way of eliciting a reaction.
Some citizens are compliant, some complaining while others are combative about the measures announced last night.
So, what does Scripture have to say to us at this time? How ought we to respond?
Scripture in Paul’s letter to the Roman believers says the following;
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the One who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)
What is our biblically inspired response when the President has announced such dramatic limitations on human freedom and movement?
Essentially it ought to be; ‘Yes Mr President, you have my full cooperation!’
We respond in this way because we believe something – God is the One who ultimately appoints those in authority (vs1) and so to resist authority is to resist those which God has appointed (vs2). Therefore, we submit to authority ultimately out of reverence to God.
Government and authority structures can be understood as being part of the common grace of God. Without order, respect of authority and law, sinful human nature would quickly descend into terrible atrocities.
For example, at present, the military is about to be deployed in our country to maintain the rule of law and to ensure we as citizens comply with the restrictions introduced as part of the Governments efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in our nation. Without police and the military presence of authority, sinful humanity will likely descend into sin and lawlessness.
Sadly, ‘authority’ is like a modern swearword! We hate the idea of authority rather loving freedom in its place.
However, authority, according to Romans 13, is good. It is part of the common grace of God (vs3), and those in authority over you are there as God’s; ‘servant for your good’ (vs4).
In this unique moment in our nation, may we as Christ-Followers be those who are fully compliant with the measures that have been introduced;
- May we support what our Government is trying to do for the benefit of the whole country by staying home and keeping our families at home too!
- May we be those who show remarkable selfless love at this time to others around us in a myriad of ways
- May we be grateful for the Government we have got
- May we be committed to praying for those in power during these difficult and challenging times
- May we stand in prayer with all those who will be called on in the coming weeks to work tirelessly to care medically for what is potentially hundreds of thousands of people.
- And may we be those who never let go of the certain hope that we have in Jesus!
[A little more for those asking; “But what about ungodly authorities?”]
God being sovereign over all authorities does not mean that all authorities are good or do good things all the time. Rather it means that God is the One who is in control always and that all authority is under God’s ultimate authority.
God’s good intention is that authority is for our common good (it is a form of God’s common grace), and so God can and does use the good that those in authority do.
However, God can use even the evil things sinful leaders do to fulfil His purposes in our lives and on the earth.
An example of this is 2 Chronicles 25:20 where it says; “But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies because they had sought the gods of Edom”. Amaziah would not listen to the advice given him so that God’s purpose would prevail.
Similarly, Scripture says of Pharaoh that God promised to harden his heart so that he would not let God’s people go (Exodus 4:21), but then Scripture makes it clear that Pharoah hardened his heart and would not let God’s people go (Exodus 8:15,32 & 9:34). This evil Pharoah was in authority under God’s control, and even the evil he did accomplished God’s good purposes in the end.
The challenge in Romans 3 is vs3-4. It is a challenge since authorities in their sinfulness do not always act for the good of those they are in authority over!
It’s helpful to remember that Paul is writing as a Jewish Roman citizen, he has experienced hostility from authorities towards Jewish people and towards Christians. Therefore, he is not naive concerning the experience of those who have lived under ungodly leaders. John Stott on this question from this passage writes;
“Paul means rather that all human authority is derived from God’s authority so that we can say to rulers what Jesus said to Pilate, ‘You would have no power [exousia, authority] over me if it were not given to you from above.’ Pilate misused his authority to condemn Jesus; nevertheless, the authority he used to do this had been delegated to him by God” – John Stott
So, in conclusion. The big idea of this passage is that governmental authorities are part of the common grace of God and are for our and societies good – that is God’s plan for humanity.
However, there are many moments in history when authorities in their sin have acted in ways that were not for the benefit of those under their authority.
And so there are times when to obey earthly authority would mean to disobey God. In those moments, I believe it is possibly justifiable to disobey earthly authority to obey God – but such situations are exceptional rather than the norm.
But in this time, with this COVID-19 pandemic let us give our ‘YES’ to our President and let us all play our part at this time of national threat.
We face an uncertain time worldwide. In times like these that we believers in Jesus are to stand out, distinct amongst the crowd. We are to be those characterised by hope because Jesus is our LORD.
In his epistle to believers who are suffering for their faith Peter writes at one point;
“But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:18)
Despite the hardships and the fear-inducing atmosphere they were facing, these believers are exhorted to be prepared to answer anyone who asks them about the hope that is in them. This implies that the hope Peter is anticipating they will have will be surprising, will be rare – otherwise no one would ask them for the reason they have hope!
To do: Discuss these questions amongst your family now or get online and discuss it with your friends, or Community Group or Trio.
- How can we have hope when all around us people are feeling hopeless?
- How can we resist fear and worry & be filled with hope?
- What is our hope?
Our hope rests in the sure heart knowledge that we have believed in Jesus, and therefore, He is our LORD & SAVIOUR. Our hope is that we are His, beloved by Him, the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful Prince of Peace. Our hope is that His care for us extends to both this life and life after death!
In these days filled with much fear and uncertainty all around us, we may be those who are marked by a noticeable hope in Jesus Christ. Pray and ask God to help you to fix your eyes on Jesus, your Prince of Peace. Ask Him to take up residence in your heart, in your thinking, ask Him to guard your heart and your mind (Philippians 4:7).
Please pray for our president and all the leadership in our country seeking to deal with this pandemic. Pray for wisdom from heaven for these leaders.
Please also pray for every person in the health services (Dr’s, Nurses, Pathology, Radiology…) for their protection and for strength for the times ahead.
Please pray for those who’s businesses are under threat at this time, for wisdom, grace and help.