Agents of God
*Authors Note: We have been looking at the Christmas story these last few days, so it might be worth going back to our last devotional on 2 Timothy 2 so you are familiar with the book again. Paul is writing his final words to Timothy, and is discussing themes of leadership, suffering, perseverance and holiness.
Ever looked in a mirror and not liked what you saw? Ever had that flow of dread run through your body when you saw something that you wish wasn’t there? Maybe your hair was having a crazy day, or the pimple quadrupled in size, or that smudge you thought you’d rubbed off was actually still there.
Reading 2 Timothy 3 is ugly and painful. It is painful because it sounds eerily familiar. In the previous chapter we saw Paul urging us Timothy (and us) to pursue a holy perseverance in the midst of challenges around him, and now in this chapter we get a striking description of those challenges. With surgical precision, Paul exposes societal sin that feels like a modern day commentary of our own cultural moment.
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
Do you feel the awkwardness of these verses? I visibly shrunk lower on my chair when I read this. It grieved me in my heart, because these are the sins so clearly seen in the world around us. People who care only for their own self-advancement in life. People passionately pursuing money that corrupts the soul. People so desperate for pleasure that they will participate in self-destructive patterns of behaviour. We should not be surprised; the outworking of sin has a familiar historic pattern. Furthermore, we are not facing any new version of sin today that has not challenged the church before. Sin is sin, and godlessness is destructive wherever it goes.
Let me pick up on one of these societal sins that Paul is exposing, and demonstrate why it feels like it is a critique of our society today. “For among them are those who creep into households and capture women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions…” In verses 3 & 4 we see the seeds of violence (“abusive”, “brutal”, “without self control”), but verse 6 seems like contemporary resistance against Gender Based Violence. A society without God is a society in sin, and in a society infected with sin we will always find the sinful pursuit of evil desires, such as we have right now in this country. This passage is hard to read, just as every new story of the abuse of women by men becomes more and more painful to digest. We must connect the current crisis of Gender Based Violence with the spiritual degradation of our society. Look at how Paul exposes and challenges the societal sins of his day. This is a charge and a challenge to us to do the same – we should not stay silent.
Paul’s immediate response to the societal sins that threaten to compromise our holiness is to “avoid such people” (v5), having followed his godly example (v10) and to continue living out the truth that we believe (v14) by relying on the bibles power and relevance in all situations (v16). This correlates with Paul’s deliberate and fatherly concern for the holiness of believers that runs throughout 1 & 2 Timothy.
I have been so struck by the way Paul exposes societal ungodliness that I want to suggest that we should have a similar understanding of our cultural moment. In John 17:14-16 we read that as believers we have been intentionally sent into the world by God to make Him known by proclaiming the gospel. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 has made this our core purpose. Therefore, as we pursue this great aim, part of our proclamation must involve a cultural analysis of what societal sin the gospel must confront.
As we consider the society around us, where is the brokenness? Where are people hurting? What patterns of sin are there? What self-destructive behaviors do the people in our communities regularly pursue? What ideologies/political thoughts/worldviews/perspectives of morality to people claim to? Where must the church challenge cultural norms? Who is being marginalized and cast aside?
In our cultural milieu, we must learn from Paul and use the gospel to challenge Gender Based Violence, the ongoing injustice caused by the legacy of Apartheid, politically divisive rhetoric, growing inequality, a pursuit of sinful and self –destructive passions as well as the elevation of the individual before all other things.
For the gospel to transform people of any culture, the church must endeavor to study and participate in that culture. The gospel can only be good news to the people around us when it is seen as the answer to all brokenness and sin in their lives. Trevin Wax states: “As we learn to identify the prevailing worldviews of society, we look for ways to present the gospel of Jesus in ways that are more likely to resonate.”
Study the world around you. Participate in it. It will increase the effectiveness of your gospel proclamation to it.
I love the remarkable inclusivity & certainty of Romans 10. Paul is determined to make two things abundantly clear;
1. That ‘everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4), ‘everyone who believes in Him (Jesus)’ (Romans 10:11), that ‘there is no distinction’ (Romans 10:12) between various groups of people ‘for the same Lord is Lord of all’ (Romans 10:12), that God will ‘bestow His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13), for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13) will be saved!
It could not be clearer; the Gospel is the good news to whoever believes in Jesus. The Gospel is the most significant unifying force in the world! Nothing else unifies human beings in this way. We all have a common problem (sin), and God has made His solution to our problem available to everyone who will believe. Which leads to the second matter Romans 10 makes abundantly clear…
2. That everyone who believes in Jesus ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:9), the one who confesses this belief ‘is saved’ (Romans 10:10), such a person who believes in Jesus ‘will not be put to shame’, but God will respond to their faith by ‘bestowing His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13) for those who call on Jesus’ name ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:13).
What assurance! What confidence and clarity the apostle Paul is writing with. There is no uncertainty, no qualifying statements such as “if…” just absolute pronouncements of what God will do in response to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.
No wonder Paul was not ashamed of this Gospel; no wonder he believed that it really was the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16). Do you share his conviction? The conviction that the Gospel is for all people and that you can share the Gospel with confidence knowing that anyone who simply believes in Jesus will be saved by Jesus from their sin and will be welcomed by God into eternal life with Him?
How assured are you of your salvation? God wants you to be assured and at peace if you have put your faith in Jesus if you have believed the Gospel that’s on display in the book of Romans. Do you battle wondering whether you genuinely are accepted by God or not? Read Romans 10 again and again, be fortified by the inclusivity and certainty.
Because it is clear that the Gospel is for everyone who will believe in Jesus, and because we have certainty regarding the power of the Gospel to save completely all those who believe in Jesus we can and should share the Gospel with an incredible confidence knowing that it is the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16).
People will not believe unless someone shares the Gospel with them (Romans 10:14-17), and it is the responsibility of every generation to reach their generation with the good news about Jesus.
So, who are you investing in relationally, reaching out to, living in proximity with so that you can share the Gospel with them? How will they be able to believe the Gospel without you sharing it with them at some stage? Remember that ‘faith comes by hearing’ the word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and God has placed you in the lives of people, in proximity to people who God wants you to share the Gospel with so that they can hear and believe.
Don’t hide behind the often quoted nonsense that says; “preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necesary”; when Scripture makes our words necessary! “It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behaviour.” – Duane Liftin
The Gospel is the announcement about the good news of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do and offer to all those who will believe in Him. That announcement, those words of life must be shared by people living out transformed lives which put that Gospel power on display through their lives, but the power to save people is the good news about Jesus not the good news about your behaviour.
May the Gospel’s clarity & certainty fortify us giving us the confidence to take up our responsibility to share it will all those God has sent us to in our everyday lives.
Life is a sequence of many moments isn’t it? Yet not all moments are equal in their importance for our lives. Some of the moments in our lives are what one could call; ‘God-moments’. These are moments, which are often unexpected in which radical change can happen, faith can be birthed or strengthened, in which we can learn something new about ourselves, God or others.
Today, God wants to bless you. This devotion could be a God-moment in your life. God wants to bless you, to encounter you, change your view of Him, to change you, to pour His love into you, wants to heal and restore you…
Back to the story, this woman at the well is about to have an unexpected God-moment in her life as she comes to draw water at the well but finds Jesus there! After some interaction about Jesus’ thirst, Jesus’ offered her water that would satisfy her thirst forever, she then asked Jesus to give her this water so that she would never thirst again.
Jesus knowing everything about her, asks her about her husband, asks her to call him. She didn’t want to talk about these things, it’s too personal, she tries to cover up this sad aspect of her life. We are often like this woman aren’t we? At first she resisted God’s loving, kind advances, and she tries to hide from the King of Glory. But He’s all-knowing, He knows about all 5 of her previous husbands & He knows of her current sinful relationship with the man who is not her husband but whom she is with.
At this point you might expect Jesus to draw back. After-all, she has been exposed and it’s messy. Yet,
amazingly, graciously, God still pursues her as He pursues you and I. Amazingly, what God knows about you and I doesn’t cause Him to re-coil and run from us.
Yet Jesus stays with her keeps pursuing her in this moment and reveals to her that He is the Messiah (vs26). God accepts us as we are, warts and all, God wants to transform us from who we have been and who we are today into worshippers who will worship in Spirit and truth!
And so in this God-moment the woman has a revelation of God, a revelation of the grace, mercy & forgiveness of God. What she thinks about God, what she knows is re-written in a moment as God reveals His true character to her in this God-moment…
You might have thought that her past and her present disqualified this lady. And yet actually her mess strangely qualified her to speak to others about who God is and what God is like! Having slinked out of town to come and get water, ashamed, at a time when not many others would be there.
Having met Jesus though she runs back into town effectively shouting; ‘Come and see a man who told me everything that I ever did, I think He is God!’ This woman’s shame actually became her proof of who God is! Her shame was what qualified her to testify to who God is and what God is like. In that God-moment, her sin became her God-story of redemption which in turn then showed off the grace, love & mercy of God to her whole town.
In one sense, you and I can’t be entrusted by God to share with others about Him until we have received, encountered, grace from God towards us first. Receiving grace from God qualifies us to tell others about God’s grace and mercy.
God’s grace is that He accepts us, just as we are, warts and all. God accepts us not on the basis of our merit but on account of His goodness and His lavish grace and kindness to us in Jesus. Although Jesus knew every sordid thing about this woman, He still accepted her and forgave her! Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He didn’t come for those who think they’re doing just fine, stuck in their self-righteousness, He came for sinners like me, like you…?
The end of the story is amazing. One woman’s God-moment, one woman encountering Jesus as the God of grace, results in her sharing her God-story with her town so that Scripture then records that; “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39)
So what are you ashamed of? What do you feel disqualifies you from being used by God, from being God’s agent for change, His channel of grace and blessing to people? Can your sin potentially actually become a God-story which ends up showing off the God of grace?
Ask Jesus to forgive you, to pour His grace and mercy into your life right now and then go and tell the world how great and good and loving Jesus is! Needing grace, doesn’t disqualify you, it qualifies you to share with others about the incredible grace and mercy and love of God.
Let’s re-cap for a moment the story thus far… Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension, ‘wait for the Promise’! Then the promised Holy Spirit came with a remarkable manifestation of joy & power which resulted in a boldness in the disciples that catapulted them onto Jesus’ mandate and mission for their lives.
Peter preaches the first sermon and 3000 people put their faith in Jesus on that first day! The new community formed through the Gospel is a radical one which starts sharing life and possessions and devotes themselves to God in prayer and to one another.
In the days that follow, Peter and John then meet a paralysed man begging at the temple. However, rather than meeting his financial need they decide to give him the very best that they have to give – faith in Jesus! They pray for him and this man crippled for 40yrs is instantly healed in public which creates a crowd and a context for Peter to preach again about who Jesus is and what God did through Jesus on the cross in fulfilment of myriads of Old Testament prophecy.
All the commotion, the big crowds and the multitudes professing faith in Jesus (now about 5000 men so more like 10 000-15 000 women children!) raised the ire of the Jewish religious authorities who subsequently arrest Peter and John.
The next day they are hauled before the council and questioned about under what authority are they acting – Peter full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8) stands up and preaches again proclaiming with razor sharp clarity the Gospel crescendoing with;
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The Jewish council are dumbstruck! They remark at the incredible boldness and clarity of these everyday men, who are unlearned fishermen and yet proclaiming with clarity and boldness regarding the Scriptures. They can’t deny the miracle of the healing of the crippled man standing before their eyes and witnessed by the multitudes. But they want to shut this movement down and so call Peter and John in again and try to intimidate them commanding them to stop speaking about Jesus as if He was Messiah and in authority.
Peter and John boldly refuse to be shut down, and so reply to this command saying effectively; ‘you decide whether we should obey you or obey God! We cannot stop speaking about Jesus and all we have seen and heard!’
The council threatened them again and then had to let them go because the multitude was praising God for this miracle God had done.
It’s so important to hear the assessment of the Jewish council, Peter and John were ordinary men! However they had been ‘with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13) and we know that they were now also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit & full of faith in Jesus. Incredible things are possible if we will walk closely with Jesus in our daily lives, if we will be full of faith in the power of the name of Jesus and if we will be continuously full of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit!
- What’s God saying to YOU through this passage?
- What are you going to PRAY for as a result?
- What do you want to START doing more of?
- Is there anything you feel you need to STOP?
After the rousing sermon that followed the remarkable prayer meeting and the incredibly deep fellowship of the early church all recorded in Acts 2, Acts 3 has an air of normality about it as it starts.
Peter and John are about to enter the Temple complex at around 3pm in the afternoon which was the time of prayer. The earliest believers had been raised all their lives up to the present of Jews, and the earliest church assimilated it’s new revelations about Jesus with their habitual rhythms (like daily prayer here in the Temple complex).
At an the entrance was a man who was lame, who had been unable to walk since birth. He was seated at the gate asking people for money considering his state.
What do Christ Followers do when faced with human needs like; this man’s physical, emotional, financial & spiritual need?
They SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.
Like Jesus with Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:46-52) who stopped for Bartimaeus, Peter and John stop for this crippled man. They SEE him, they LOVE him enough to acknowledge his presence and this action of SEEING and STOPPING must have communicated value to him.
They didn’t just toss some coins in the dust although he would probably have been happy with that. Rather they stopped and looked at him saying; “Look at us… Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
They loved him enough to stop and to see him, to recognise him as a person but then they met a deeper need than even the need he would have identified as his need. He was asking for money, they saw past that need and saw how being crippled would never allow him to do anything except beg for money and so they reached out and acted with faith speaking life, healing & health into his body all in the name of Jesus!
Having spoken with faith, Peter then reached out in faith with his hands to lift the man up and as he did Dr Luke records that the man’s feet and ankles were immediately made strong. Peter and John, SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith when confronted with this man’s need.
The way Dr Luke records this miracle and the sequence of events, I can’t help be wonder whether the man would not have been healed unless Peter had had the faith to pray believing God would heal, and then also having the faith to stretch out his hand to lift him up so as to take his first steps ever as a person born cripple.
What life transforming things are passing us by every day?
What would God have you do, small or large that can transform someone else’s life?
Are your ears and eyes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit?
Dr Luke knows this condition was congenital, knows it had lasted 40yrs (Acts 4:22), and so he records the medical evidence of this wonderful instant healing in response to Peter and John’s faith and their stepping out in faith. Dr Luke tells us three times that this man was now walking, in fact more than that he was walking and leaping!
Thomas Walker comments, ‘the power was Christ’s, but the hand was Peter’s’. Peter and John saw, loved and acted on their faith in Jesus and this man’s life was transformed!
What does God want to do through you in the life of others?
May we be those who SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith. Amen.
Picture the scene, the disciples (who by now are a core group of 120 men women and children, no more than an average size small church) have had a wild, exhilarating & challenging last three years with Jesus leading them. So much has happened!
Jesus taught and performed countless miracles, engaged with countless people but then dies at the hands of the Romans on the cross but then rises again from the dead as He promised He would! Jesus then re-appears to them at many times and in many ways over a remarkable period of 40days after his death & resurrection and before His ascension into heaven (vs3). Who would have missed out on those meetings?
During this time Jesus kept telling them about his kingdom. Telling them what His kingdom was like, what people who have Him as their king are like, what a community of people with Jesus as their king are like, how Jesus wants them to take His kingdom rule and reign and invade the known world setting people free from the kingdom of darkness and bringing them into His gloriously good kingdom characterised by grace & love, healing and wholeness, joy and peace with God.
At one time Jesus draws them all in and tells them all to;
‘wait for the Promise of the Father…John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’ (vs4-5).
And after some questioning from those gathered which just reveals how little they were getting at the time Jesus carries on with what He was saying;
“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (vs8)
Something had been promised by Jesus (see John 14-16) and by the Father (Joel 2:28-32) that was about to happen, to be fulfilled! The disciples were instructed to wait for it. They were not to proceed until they had been totally filled to overflowing with the presence and the activating power of the Holy Spirit.
That in-filling of power from God would activate them as Jesus’ agents in the world, sent by Him to bring His kingdom to all those they met right there in Jerusalem, in the surrounding regions too and ultimately to the very ends of the earth! (vs8)
This book we’re reading in July/August is the eyewitness account of what those 120 did once they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and as they obeyed Jesus command to be His witnesses to the world.
So what relevance does this have for you and for me?
Ask: You have been walking with Jesus, you have put your faith in Jesus like they had. They were told to wait until they had received an out-pouring of Holy Spirit power on their lives that would activate and enable them to be Jesus’ agents in the world! Have you prayed and asked God to fill you with His Holy Spirit so that you too can be activated for God’s mission through you? Pray now, ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit for power to be an agent of Jesus’ today.
Consider: This book is not some nice church history, some nice stories of the early church. This book is not meant to be exceptional but rather an example of what God wants our lives and our church to be like and to do for God in our day. There were just 120 in that room listening to Jesus, no more than most little local churches but consider what God did through them!
Pray: Oh, Lord do it again through us, through me! Fill us, fill me with your Holy Spirit, with Your power and glory and send us, send me out on Your mission to the world.
In what is a long section of brutal narrative…
Exactly what God promised through Elijah in response to Jezebel and Ahab’s killing of Naboth for his vineyard in 1 Kings 21 is now fulfilled and Ahab’s sin and Jezebel’s sin and evil is punished by God in 2 Kings 9-10 by Jehu.
What can we learn from this for our lives?
Sin is extremely serious. If we don’t recognise the seriousness of sin before a Holy God we are deluded, we cheapen grace and ultimately we don’t need a Saviour to rescue us from our sin or to forgive us for our sin.
“Salvation shines forth brightly when it is seen against the dark background of divine judgment. We cheapen the gospel if we represent it as a deliverance only from unhappiness, fear, guilt and other felt needs, instead of as a rescue from the coming wrath.” – John Stott
Don’t prematurely decide that just because people don’t seem for the moment to be accountable before God for their sin and their rejection of Him that they won’t be held accountable by the Holy One.
All people’s only hope is Jesus Christ who was the propitiation for our sin! That means, Jesus was the sacrifice that was paid in our place for our sin, the sacrifice which took away the wrath of God;
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)
Another feature of this section and all through 1&2 Kings are the little cameo’s in the BIG STORY of human history and salvation by often unremarkable individuals who did the work and will of God in the midst of a crooked and evil age.
Little cameo’s like;
- The little Jewish girl who was carried away by Syrians and served in the house of Naaman who believed God could heal her master (2 Kings 5:2-3)
- The unnamed servants of Naaman who helped him not miss his healing because of his reaction to Elisha’s instruction (2 Kings 5:13)
- The four lepers (2 Kings 7) through whom God ended the brutal siege of Samaria
- Princess Jehosheba who hid Joash from Athaliah for 6yrs in the house of God with the priest until the priest anointed him as king at the tender age of 7yrs old.
- Joash the young 7yr old who listened to Jehoiada who discipled and instructed him and so he did amazingly good things reforming Judah and dealing with sin and Baal worship and repaired the temple.
What can we learn for our lives?
You never do know when you are going to do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, or whether you have just done it! – Michael Eaton
God’s kingdom advances through people just like you and I doing often what might not seem like extraordinary things. Live every day as if it is the day you will do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, live on the edge in anticipation and serve God with whatever and whoever God puts before you, disciple, reach out, love, speak the words of God….