Wishful Thinking? (Philippians 1:18-30)
These lines penned from prison reveal a world-view so foreign to the secular humanistic world-view the current-day media is saturated with. Paul’s musings regarding his imprisonment and the prospect of dying as a captive can help us navigate thoughts concerning healing and or life and death itself.
Paul rejoiced that the Philippians were praying for him. More than this, he was confident that their prayers for him and the help of the Holy Spirit would result in him being delivered (Philippians 1:18b-19). But was this a vain hope, just wishful thinking?
Biblical Christianity is nothing like wishful thinking!
I love how another hero of the faith is described by Paul in his letter to the Roman believers. Abraham faced the fact that his and his wife’s bodies were as good as dead (being about 100yrs old) and therefore not able to conceive a child. But in the face of the biological facts before him, Abraham chose to believe what God had promised him (that they would have a son) because he was ‘fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises’ (Romans 4:21).
Abraham and Sarah didn’t have a son because of wishful thinking, or the power of positive words, they had a son because they believed God’s word to them in spite of what the circumstances around them were shouting.
Similarly, Paul’s confidence about his being delivered from his Roman prison wasn’t wishful thinking or positivity but was rooted in a biblical world-view. Paul was confident that he would be delivered/saved (same underlying Greek word) from prison either in this life or in the next life.
We know this from the context of the rest of the passage (Philippians 1:18-30). Paul had not tied all his hope to this present life. Paul didn’t know whether his deliverance would be in this life or the next but what he was confident about was that Jesus would deliver/save him ultimately.
So he muses about whether he would rather be delivered from prison in this life or whether he would rather be delivered from prison by going through death into eternal life with Christ (Philippians 1:19-23). If he is delivered in this present life, he will live his whole life for Christ (vs21) and if he is delivered through death into eternal life, he will gain for then he will be with Christ in eternity which is far better than the present life (vs21&23).
The biblical perspective on display here in Paul regarding life and death is so contrasted to the secular humanistic perspective! During a global pandemic, people are being forced at present to face up to their mortality and that of those they love.
What we believe about life, death & eternity directly impacts how we live in the present. If you believe that life simply ends in death, you will have neither a concern about life after death/eternal consequences and you will cling on to this life since it is all there is.
What is striking in this passage is that the apostle Paul is not clinging on to this life at all. But why? He is not suicidal or depressed; he is confident! So what is he confident of?
He knows that life doesn’t end in death; death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. He is confident that death will be swallowed up by victory & immortality, the perishable will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:35-58).
And so he is confident that even if his imprisonment ends in death not release back to freedom in this life, that death will be his deliverance since death can only transition him, promote him into eternal life with Jesus Christ! And that is not wishful thinking for the apostle Paul; it is so real that if he allowed himself to think selfishly, his preference would be to be delivered from the prison he is in into life after death rather than back to freedom in the present day.
So how does this relate to life and death for us?
God wants you and me who have believed in Jesus to live with a rock-solid assurance and peace even in the face of a global pandemic that comes from knowing two things;
- God knows the day and the hour that He will end this present earthly life of ours. The day of our death is an appointment we can not be early or late for and one we cannot reschedule or delay. No amount of anti-ageing cream or anti-oxidants or gym sessions will prolong our lives one minute longer. God alone gives life, sustains life and ultimately ends our earthly lives on a day He determines (Job 12:10, Job 14:5 & Psalm 139:16). And so that makes us immortal until the day Jesus returns or calls me home to be with him.
- Life doesn’t end in death; rather, death is swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:4) for the believer in Jesus. And so, death is not a termination of life but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. This is not wishful thinking; it is confident hope in Christ Jesus!
And how does this all relate to healing or lack thereof?
Just like Paul was confident that he would be delivered by Jesus, so too, we can declare boldly that every single believer in Jesus who is sick will be healed. What we don’t know is whether that healing will be in this life, extending and improving it in the present day or whether it will be in death and resurrection to a new glorious body fit for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). We know that in the new heaven and the new earth there will be no more sickness, sadness, suffering, disease or death, no more tears and no more pain (Revelation 21:3-5) and so we know that ultimately every single believer in Jesus will be healed.
So although it is good to ask God for healing in the present, Jesus encouraged us to do so, and although God does heal people today (I have seen it), let’s be like Paul was regarding his deliverance from prison if it seems like God isn’t healing us or the person we have been praying for.
Paul’s biblical world-view produced such certainty and peace in him that from these lines penned from prison to the Philippians, he really didn’t seem bothered by whether his deliverance was in this life or in the next at the return of Jesus. What a liberating way to live, no fear of death, no wrestle with God over why God hasn’t done what we want him to do for us in delivering us from this or that…
Rather just settled confidence, peace and security that all flow from faith in Jesus which is immoveable (1 Corinthians 15:58). May you, may I navigate this present life and these perplexing and potentially worrisome times with the very same confidence and assurance we see in the apostle Paul in the lines of this letter penned from prison.
Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.
Sweet Assurance (Philippians 1:6)
Since this is the first Global Pandemic I have ever lived through, I can’t make sweeping generalisations. But, from my observations thus far, Pandemics have a way of polarising people if you were to categorise them according to their reactions.
- You get the nonchalant type, who’s in denial or is just ignorant
- The paranoid person petrified even to make a phone call for fear that 5G might transmit the virus
- The conspiracy theorists who seem to abound right now
- The well-read, and so the wisely cautious person
- People looking to make a quick buck off the whole thing
- And, then, of course, there is always the nutjob with a smartphone willing to record themselves to share their nutty ideas with the whole world …
You get the idea! Sadly in Christian circles, we see all of these varieties and then some. As a pastor, I have been inundated with videos/articles sent to me from all the types of people listed above.
The sender typically wants my read on what’s contained in the piece. And, it is no exaggeration to say that they have ranged from the sublimely insightful to the utterly ridiculous.
World shaking events like COVID19 and the ramifications emanating from the unprecedented strategies implored by national governments to try to contain the virus and mitigate the risk of loss of lives have unsettled many people. And Christians are not exempt from this all.
All of this has gotten me thinking a lot about assurance, and the unshakeable faith and confident security; I believe Jesus wants us, believers, to experience even in times like these.
Just the other day we were reading Mark 13 – an unsettling passage about the end times with people being led astray (vs5), a forewarning of false Christs (vs6), wars, earthquakes, famines(vs7-8), persecution of believers, being hated for being Christ-followers(vs11-13), something called the abomination of desolation and great tribulation (vs14-24) and the call of Jesus’ to be on guard and awake (vs23 & 37)…
I was struck by one of Jesus’ commands; “Do not be alarmed” (vs7)! It stood out like the first flower pushing up in a field after the veld has been burnt, almost out of place in the surrounding desolation.
Jesus wanted His disciples, Jesus wants you and I who have trusted in Him not to be alarmed by even tumultuous events and experiences. Jesus wants us to be assured, at peace, secure. Jesus wants us to trust Him who not only made everything but is the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17)
John records similar last moments with Jesus and explodes this theme of what Jesus wanted the disciples to experience in greater detail in the first verses of chapter 14;
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)
Jesus didn’t want the events of the days that would follow to unsettle His followers. He wanted them to contend for peace in their hearts and minds. Jesus wanted them not to let their hearts go to the place of anxiety and stress that they would go to if not restrained by faith.
Jesus wanted His disciples to believe, to trust Him, to trust the Father’s goodness and power. Jesus wanted them to see the final picture; these disciples could be assured that they would dwell with Him for eternity in His the Father’s house. That future hope was something to believe because it could not be seen. However believing it would produce something in the disciples – assurance, peace & security in spite of tumultuous days that would follow.
Assurance for the believer in Jesus is a strong theme in the New Testament, and it is found in our passage for today’s reading (we are reading Philippians + some Psalms in August for our Bible Reading Plan).
I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Paul wanted the same thing for the Philippian believers that Jesus wanted for those first Christ-followers: assurance.
Yes, they might have faced tough circumstances, challenges to their faith, struggle and hardship, but God wanted them to be assured IN IT ALL.
That the God who initiated their faith would be the One who would bring it to completion as well, God doesn’t start our Jesus journey and then let us go to walk on our own like some parent teaching their child to walk hoping they will get the hang of it.
No, rather God alone was both the author of their faith and would be the One to bring it to completion too (Hebrews 12:2). The confidence of these believers wasn’t to be in anything or anyone else other than their Saviour who both initiated and would complete their faith.
Friend if you know that have put your trust in Christ Jesus. If you know that you truly are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone then you can be and should be, God wants you to be the most assured person on the planet. You and I are utterly secure, having believed in Jesus, He will save us completely (Hebrews 7:25).
You are immortal until the Day Jesus returns or the Day He calls you home to be with Him. You need not fret or worry, trying to discern the times and work out what not even Jesus knew when He walked on earth (Mark 13:32)!
So do not be alarmed even in the middle of a Global Pandemic, don’t stress yourself with worry when Jesus’ command to you is not to be alarmed and not to let your heart be troubled. Jesus wants you to sleep secure, live at peace knowing whom You have trusted your life to – and not just this life, but eternal life to.
Speak to Him now in prayer. If you have already believed in Jesus, simply ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to cast off fear with His perfect love and peace. Know this, Jesus wants you to experience the incredible peace that comes from knowing whom it is you have entrusted your present and future eternal life to – so live in the good of the assurance He purchased for you.
But, if you haven’t yet believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your soul, don’t feel any assurance or peace until you have believed in Him. So, call out to Him right now! We really do not know whether any day is our last day, and so as Matthew Henry resolved; live every day as if it was your last day.
And if you know friends who have not yet put their faith in Jesus – don’t delay speak to them share the love of God with them, appeal to them in love to believe in Jesus while they still can.
Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.
Juxtaposition (Mark 1:11-20)
Life is full of contrasting experiences! One moment we are celebrating something the next we can be plunged into hardship by a phone call or some unexpected trouble.
In Mark 1:11-12, Jesus has a thoroughly human experience. One moment Jesus is basking in the love and affirmation of Father God, the next He is being sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan – juxtaposition.
You know the feeling, don’t you? Sunday you’re lost in worship, basking in the love of God, or you’ve just had a great time of personal devotion with bible reading prayer and worship and then BAM!
Someone rear-ends your car in traffic, or something hits the news on the radio that plunges you into despair, or your cell phone buzzes with a message you really didn’t anticipate or need – juxtaposition.
When this happens, we need to remember that our faith is not feelings. We know the God we were worshipping, delighting in and listening to. We know who has loved us and who had proclaimed that love. Feelings are fickle; they come and go, rise and fall, but our faith is anchored by something greater than feelings.
What anchored Jesus in the midst of this sudden change of atmosphere and experience?
- Jesus knew WHO He was, and Jesus knew WHOSE He was. At His baptism, God the Father had confirmed this in an emphatic way through His words to Jesus (vs11).
- Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1)
- Jesus knew Scripture and quoted it when Satan tempted and tested Him (Luke 4:9-13)
And what will anchor you when your life is thrown a serious curveball? I pray that it will be anchored by the same three things that anchored Jesus in his moment of contrasting circumstances.
Verse 12 reveals another surprising contrast. How can Scripture say that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (see also Matthew 4:1)?
We prefer to attribute bad or hard things to our own agency or the sinful agency of others or Satan himself. We are happy with language that places God with us in trials or working in trials, yet all synoptic Gospels ascribe Jesus’ guidance to the Holy Spirit!
God doesn’t just work in all things; God is sovereign over all things. God, the Holy Spirit, lead Jesus into this challenging time for the sake of the purposes of God in and through Jesus. Being tempted by Satan and being without food for 40days could not have been easy or pleasant at all for Jesus. And yet it was God Himself who sovereignly lead Jesus into those circumstances.
At present we are facing a world-wide pandemic, economies are shaking, people have lost their jobs in thousands, businesses are struggling, people are sick, and many have lost their lives. There seems to be hardship on every side, and yet one of the keys to thriving in this world-wide crisis is; “knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it.” – John Piper
Sometimes I think we want to let God off the hook for our tough life circumstances. We feel it is too conflicting to know that God could have been involved in our circumstances or don’t want God to be blamed for not relieving them. But then you can’t have it both ways! “If we try to rescue God from his sovereignty over suffering, we sacrifice his sovereignty to turn all things for good.” – John Piper
The Gospels report without any apology or embarrassment that God the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into this time of hardship and discomfort and testing by Satan, and God sustained Jesus in it too! Luke records also; “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (Luke 4:14). God, the Holy Spirit, never left Jesus from the time of His baptism, strengthening Him through his trial and temptation, and empowering Him in all His ministry (Acts 10:38).
Likewise, God will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5-6)! No matter what you face, no matter what He leads you into for His sovereign purposes, God the Holy Spirit will always be with you to enable and equip you to do God’s will in it all.
So in these times full of juxtaposed experiences, good things and hard things know this – God is sovereign in it all and God loves you and me with an everlasting love.
Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you again today, knowing; “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.
Tapestry: Assurance & Action (Colossians 3:1-17)
In his book Future Grace, John Piper shows how God’s grace to us in the past is the foundation for faith in both the present and future.
When when we consider what God has already done for us in the Gospel when we are secure in what has happened to us purely by God’s grace – that rock-solid assurance motivates and mobilises us to live a certain way in the present.
God’s grace motivates us! It doesn’t leave us unchanged and unmotivated to change; rather, it puts a fire inside of us that spurs us on to even greater life change.
However, what is critical is that the motive for that action & intentionality in us is not anymore to try to earn God’s favour or forgiveness but rather because those are ours already because of Jesus.
So we don’t have to get all knotted over whether we should take the imperatives of Scripture seriously or not, wondering whether they apply to us or not. Of course, they do! The issues worth considering are;
- Motive: Why do you do what you’re doing?
- Purpose: What you think what you’re doing is achieving?
All through a passage like Colossians 3:1-17, I see the Apostle Paul interweaving assurance & action like a tightly-knit garment that only makes sense when all the weaves remain together.
Read the passage, and look for all the assurances woven into its fabric. I count at least nine assurances in the past-tense, two assurances in the present & future tense.
These nine assurances inform us of the correct motive for our action, which this passage commands us to take in its thirteen odd imperatives.
Do you see what Scripture is teaching us? Present-day action and obedience are founded on past grace. We obey God’s word in the present because of what we know; God has already graciously done for us in the Gospel. Because we are so secure in grace and God’s love for us, we respond actively working to see our lives transformed more and more into the image of God’s Son, Jesus(vs10).
Because we are saved by grace we;
- Seek things that are eternal (vs1)
- Set our minds on things that are eternal(vs2)
- Put to death old earthly ungodly sinful practices(vs5-7)
- Put away ungodly attitudes and speech(vs8)
- Do not do certain things anymore (vs9)
- We put off the old sin-soaked life (vs9)
- We put on the new in-Christ-life (vs10)
- We put on God-like character traits since we are God’s chosen children (vs12)
- We forgive just as God forgave us (vs13)
- We put on love which sums up our new life (vs14)
- We let the peace of Jesus rule our hearts (vs15)
- We let the WORD of God saturate our daily lives (vs16)
- We give thanks in whatever we do! (vs17)
The Scriptures are jam-packed with imperatives, commands for us to obey, instruction that ought to be observed and followed. This passage alone is an example of that.
But notice that it’s the assurance of what is already ours, and what will be ours who’ve believed in Jesus that is the thing that motivates our action in response to God’s grace.
God’s grace teaches us (Titus 2:11), motivates us to work harder than anyone else at our growth in godliness (1 Corinthians 15:10), motivates us to really consider our lives carefully and the thirteen imperatives in this little passage that challenge us!
May your life and mine be an endless tapestry of threads of assurance that look back and stretch forward woven daily into action that’s inspired by the myriad of imperatives in Scripture and the voice of the Holy Spirit in the present.
Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.
What do you know? (1 John 5:13)
What do you know? Not just what do you know about, but what can you be utterly sure about?
In South Africa, we are at the start of the academic year. We have thousands of people clamouring to get enrolled in schools and tertiary education facilities so that they can know more, get educated.
Some people know a whole lot about things that are pretty trivial to most. Like how to make perfectly square watermelons! Or what the weather will be in 6-7 days time in Outer Mongolia…
The apostle John wants those he is writing to, and by extension wants you and I to know something of significance. John wants us to know, to be assured that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ if we have believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.
And so he has written this whole letter of 1 John with this express purpose in mind;
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13)
‘These things’ refers to the whole letter, not just the sentences preceding it. John is saying in effect that the entire letter has for this purpose, that these believers might know not some obscure trivial thing, but that they might know that they have eternal life.
This is knowledge worth knowing! To be assured that you have been forgiven and released from your moral debt before God forever is a pretty big deal.
When a child or a person in my care is feeling the gripping hold of fear in some situation or another, my desire as a Father is to alleviate the fear, to neutralise it and to bring peace.
However, it is not always loving to assure someone. After all, to assure the drunken person that they can drive if they are careful is unloving in the extreme. And to falsely assure someone of their eternal destiny in heaven who does not have eternal life because they haven’t as yet trusted in Jesus – is the epitome of an absence of love.
On the other hand, to see someone wilting under the weight of anxiety because they are not assured that they have been forgiven of their sin is equally bad.
The apostle John is passionate about believers knowing that they have been forgiven, accepted and loved by King Jesus. Knowing that they have believed in Jesus and put their trust in Jesus, and knowing that Jesus is entirely trustworthy – he doesn’t want them to doubt for another minute or ever doubt again. He wants them to know that they have eternal life because of their faith in Jesus.
Have you believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of all of your sins? Because if you know that you have believed, Scripture wants you to know that you have eternal life. It’s secure, unchangeable, impossible to overturn – it’s yours, you can rest assured!
Why does this matter?
- God, your Father, wants you to live in the good of what Jesus bought for you with His precious life, death & resurrection.
- God, your Father, wants your life to be characterised by hope, joy and peace not robbed by anxious worry!
- Knowing that you already have eternal life frees you from striving – you are a recipient of God’s grace, and so rest and worship and thanks are the only appropriate response.
- God, your Father, wants you to look ahead to death and life after death with utter confidence knowing whom you have believed and knowing that He will never disappoint you just like God never let down our fathers in the faith (Psalm 22:4-5)
The apostle John was the last surviving eye-witness of Jesus. He knew the ONE whom he had believed in; he had first-hand experience; he was certain.
And John wants the same for you and I. What do you know? Know this, that He who has trusted their lives to Jesus will be saved and will live with God forever and ever.
Go back through the letter for all the indicators John has mentioned (1 John 2:3, 3:10, 3:19, 3:24, 4:7, 4:13, 4:15, 5:13) that help us to know we are truly saved, truly God’s children. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you to know your eternal state before God!
Assurance! (1 John 4:13-21)
In John 15:1-5 Jesus implores His disciples to ‘abide’ in Him promising them that if they do, He too will ‘abide’ in them and that they will have lives that are fruitful in abundance.
Since ‘abiding’ in Jesus was urged by Jesus, and because it promises much – it is reasonable, therefore to ask how one might be assured that they are genuinely ‘abiding’ in Jesus.
On the one hand, it is good to be assured, and on the other, if one is not truly abiding in Jesus, it would be good to know while something can still be done about it.
The apostle John tells us that we can know that we are abiding in Jesus and He in us because we have the Holy Spirit within us – “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:13).
John says that we know we are in Christ because we have Christ’s Spirit in us! Something tangible has happened to the person who has believed in Jesus. Such a person is not just left with an esoteric memory of a moment when they put their faith in Jesus – they have tangible evidence of God’s Spirit in them!
Similarly, Paul described the Holy Spirit to the Ephesian church as the seal that guarantees our future inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer was an assurance, a guarantee of what was to come. It would not be much of a guarantee if the Holy Spirit’s presence was not tangible to the believer.
I believe that what John is referring to is one of the Holy Spirit’s greatest works within us. The Holy Spirit assures the believer in Jesus that they truly are God’s child and that they have an unshakable future hope!
The apostle Paul said it like this; “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:15-17)
Assurance is one of the major themes in the whole letter of 1 John (see 1 John 2:3, 3:10, 3:19, 3:24, 4:7, 4:13, 4:15, 5:13) and here again, John writes how the Holy Spirit’s work and presence in the life of the believer results in a certainty and a firm belief or assurance;
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” (1 John 4:16)
As a Father, I remember many situations when all I wanted was my children to know that I had the situation under control. I wanted fear and anxiety in them to subside and for peace and security and assurance to fill their minds and hearts, putting them at ease. I hear, in John’s writing, that our Father in Heaven wants the same for all those who have believed – assurance, peace, the absence of fear and worry and anxiety.
We have been loved by God’s perfect selfless love by the King of kings and Lord of lords. So all fear and insecurity have to melt away in the presence of such love and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit who keeps reminding and revealing to us the magnitude and perfection of God’s love for us His beloved children.
Friend, if you have believed in Jesus, you have been granted the right, and the privilege of becoming the child of God and that is what you are (John 1:12 & 1 John 3:1). You have been given the indwelling Holy Spirit to remind you of these truths and to make the love of God real and tangible so that you rest secure in your heavenly Father’s love forever!
So, pray now and ask for the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again with the love of God (Romans 5:5) & to fill you with the assurance that you are God’s beloved child forever.
God’s Delight (Psalm 18:1-19)
‘I love You, O LORD, my strength’ (vs1)
What a relief, what joy to be able to declare that God is our strength! What a relief to not have to try to be strong, to not have to seek to hold it all together. Yahweh is our strength, and for that, we love Him (vs1)
Yahweh is our strength in that He is our rock, our strong, immovable foundation, Yahweh is our fortress the strong tower into which we can run and find refuge in times of danger. Yahweh is also a shield defending us from the attacks of the enemy (vs2).
Yahweh is my strength because He is the one I can call on and call out to for help (vs3) when desperate situations or challenges greater than my strength present themselves (vs4-5).
Yahweh is my strength because when I cry to Him, He hears and recognises my voice from His holy temple (vs6). And so my cries are not in vain.
Yahweh rips open the heavens to respond to my cries for help; He rides the wind and thunders on my behalf (vs7-19)!
And why does Yahweh act in such a way?
“He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (vs19)
What astounding words. That the God of angel armies, the LORD most high, the Alpha and Omega delights in me! God takes pleasure in me in us.
I know myself. I know my limitations, my failings, my weakness and my sin, and yet You delight in me. Psalm 18:19 helps us to understand Hebrews 12:2 which explains the motivation in Jesus’ heart as He looked upon the cross;
Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Psalm 18 depicts Jahweh his strength saving him from his temporal earthly enemies. But the great enemy and the greater eternal salvation for you and for me who have believed in Jesus is that we are saved eternally from our enemies of sin, shame, satan & death because of Jesus.
Why did Jahweh do this? Because He delighted in me, in us. Scripture is clear that it was God’s love for us that caused the Father to send the Son (John 3:16) so that He could have the joy of having us in heaven with Him forever and ever (Revelation 21:3).
LORD, thank you for choosing to love me, despite me, for loving me enough to send Jesus to make a way to cleanse me from my sin so that I would be in close relationship with you forever.
And if You did this massive thing in saving me, I am sure that there is nothing in this life, nothing on this earth that you will not rescue me from (Romans 8:32).
‘I love You, O LORD, my strength!’ (Psalm 18:1)
Confidence! (Philippians 1:1-11)
What are you confident in? What are you relying on when it comes to faith and the continuation of that faith? Life is filled with unexpected complexity and challenge – so what anchors you and your faith?
Paul prayed for these Philippian believers, thanking God with great joy and certainty for their faith because he had great confidence that was anchored in God alone.
The early converts of this church were a successful businesswoman, a redeemed fortune teller & a converted jailer (see Acts 16 for the full story of this churches inception). This diverse bunch of newly saved ones must have faced many challenges to their faith. Challenges that came from both from within & from outside the church.
To this group of believers in Jesus Paul could write;
“I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (vs6)
He wasn’t there to hold their hands! But he was confident that they would make genuine progress in spiritual growth. So what was Paul’s confidence anchored in?
1. That salvation is a work of God
No doubt Lydia, the Slave-girl & the Jailer could all remember the day that they put their faith in Jesus. But this is not Paul’s confidence; it is not that they ‘really’ believed. His confidence is that God started it all! Acts 16:14 says of Lydia’s salvation moment; “the LORD opened her heart”. God was at the bottom of it all as Charles Spurgeon said;
One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me; How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures.
How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.” — Charles Spurgeon
Friend, your faith is sure and secure only if God is at the bottom of it all.
2. God will bring what He started to completion.
‘So my faith had a good start, but will I be able to keep it going?’ – I hear you wondering.
Friend, Philippians 1:6 says that not only was God the originator of your faith in Him, more than that it is God Himself who will bring to completion what He started in you.
God doesn’t do half-jobs. God doesn’t get distracted or dejected because of slow progress. The writer to the Hebrews says it like this; “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 in NIV).
It would make no sense; it would not honour Jesus’ life, death & resurrection in our place for our sin for God to start and not bring to fullness our salvation. Friend, God is supremely invested in, God is behind not just the origination of your faith but the sustenance and progress of your faith. For some more verses on this theme check out: 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 & 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 & Colossians 1:21-22.
3. The Outcome and the Day are Guaranteed
There is a timeline when this completion will be fully realised. It is not today or tomorrow or in 1years time, but it is on THE DAY of Jesus Christ – the day Jesus returns in glory.
Sometimes spiritual progress in our own lives or in the lives of those we love or lead can feel like three steps forward and two backwards! Don’t despair, don’t give in during the long dark nights when you feel like you have to hold on to what faith you still have.
There is a day coming. And you can be confident that God who inaugurated your faith will bring it to complete fullness by the time of the return of Jesus Christ. That day on which you will see Him face to face, and you will be transformed & raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-43 & 51-55).
If you have believed in Jesus, you can know with absolute certainty that you have believed because God is at work within your life, and you can rest assured that what God has started in you He Himself will continue until it is fully complete at the Day of Jesus Christ. Be secure, be full of praise and thanks!
Help as you Change (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
Spend some time marinating in these two verses!
What is being promised here that will produce godly hope and assurance in us? Who is doing the heavy lifting here? What is our role in our own sanctification (our continual changing more and more into the likeness of Jesus)?
Don’t rush, read these verses again and again. Let the truth in them assure you of God’s commitment to your holiness. You are not on your own as you seek to please God by growing in Christlikeness (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Pray now and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you afresh, and rest in the knowledge that your personal growth in godliness is something God is totally committed to according to these verses – you are not alone!
Befriend God (James 4:6-10)
Having urged us not to befriend the world (in the sense of compromising so that we live like the world & or putting our trust in worldly things rather than in God), now James urges us to befriend God.
The God of the Bible is not dispassionate; instead, He is righteously jealous for us, yearning for a relationship with us (vs5). God wants us for Himself; He went to great lengths to send His Son Jesus to die in our place for our sin SO THAT we could be restored to a right relationship with Him, so it is unsurprising to learn that God is jealous for us.
And yet our relationship with God is a strange unequal relationship. He is holy God almighty; we are tiny little people, sinful people. It’s like a friendship where one person always does the giving! They take all the initiative; they are continually blessing their friend, paying for everything, lifting the other friend around, giving, giving, giving. And yet both want the relationship.
Because of who we are, because of our frailty and our failings, for us to stay in relationship with God needs God to be continuously gracious towards us. And that’s precisely what He is and does; God gives more grace, all the time (vs6), God lavishes grace on us. He can handle our need of grace, is even drawn to our need of grace, but is offended by self-reliant pride.
So surrender and receive His loving disposition towards you. Tuck into His care and protection, thank Him for and receive His grace. As you do, you’ll become closer and closer to God, which will enable you to resist your enemy.
I think of the tiny weedy Grade 8 at High School who looks like they belong in Grade 6 still because the testosterone hasn’t kicked in yet. They are vulnerable to bullying by the thugs of the school, a target for abuse and taunting. But they have this massive gentle giant of a Grade 12, the Head Prefect of the school. And he wants to be their friend; if only they would stick close with him, the resident school thug won’t risk coming close because they know the Head Prefect will defend his little friend and they know he is in authority at the school and so can’t compete. That small Grade 8 just needs to say; ‘I need help’ and the Head Prefect will rush to his side to help, and the thug won’t dare come close.
If we would just humble ourselves and call out to God, He will rush to our sides. And with God by our side, who can be against us and succeed (Romans 8:31-32)? We have a promise here, that if we draw near to God, if we stay tucked into our relationship with Him, near Him – then the devil will flee from us, will leave us alone because God is greater and more powerful than him.
So, every day. Draw near to God, reach out to God in prayer and worship, knowing He will respond and come near to You because He loves you and is jealous for you. And with God by your side, you won’t have to fear anything or anyone (read Romans 8:31-39).
Promise Maker, Promise Keeper (2 Kings 25:27-30)
God promised king David (2 Samuel 7:11-16) that God would establish for David a ‘house’ (a lineage, a family, a clan or tribe) that would endure forever! In the context of the books of the Kings where king after king was overthrown some within days of their appointment as king, with whole lines of families being wiped out by successive kings more than once in Israel with the constant threat of invasion and capture from powerful nations all around – in that context these are massive promises to David.
And God kept His promise! As one reads through 1 & 2 Kings phrases like this are embedded in the storyline a total of eight times;
Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever. (2 Kings 8:19)
God was faithful to His promise to David, because God is faithful, He cannot be unfaithful even though we are unfaithful to Him as Scripture declares;
“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13 in NLT)
And so here at the end of 1&2 Kings in the midst of lament and the tragedy of the siege and sacking and the exile to Babylon, there are four verses that offer a ray of hope, a glimmer of God’s eternal promise to David – which still stands.
Jehoiachin and the royal family are deported and not killed by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 24:15) and then after 37yrs in prison in exile king Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah in the NT) is released from prison by Nebuchadnezzar’s successor and is given a place of honour and provision for his family! God is faithful, God is the promise keeper, not one of God’s promises fall to the ground.
And so the line of David is preserved, the promise still stands, and in Matthew 1:12 we read of Jehoiachin/Jeconiah’s place in the storyline that all culminates in Jesus the King of kings the one who ultimately fulfills the promise made by God to David, and He is enthroned as King forever and ever.
The whole Old Testament is really about Jesus, it points to Him, shows us our desperate need of Him and anticipates His coming. As Isaiah prophesied of King Jesus;
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government
and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Worship, Jesus! Thank God for His unshakable faithfulness. Trust Him.
Sleep well (John 10:27-29)
Sleeping is a vulnerable necessity. Our bodies need sleep. Sleep is restorative and so essential both in terms of physical and mental wellbeing. And yet sleep is a vulnerable state, one is unaware and unable to protect oneself.
Worry is one of the main enemies of good sleep and so the more one has to worry about the more allusive good sleep is.
People worry about all sorts of things. Some people worry about their salvation, they have believed in Jesus and although Romans 10:9-10 is clear that those who have believed in Jesus ‘will be saved.’ And yet they worry, which just reveals that their trust is focused in the wrong place and on the wrong person.
You and I were not good enough to be saved and we are not good enough to stay saved either! We are saved and justified by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
Yes, there are a number of hard to understand passages that definitely serve as warnings to us, warning us to ‘remain faithful’ to keep our hearts soft and open to God’s words to us, urging us to persevere to the end…
And yet, we need not worry!
Because if you have put your faith in Jesus, if you have asked Jesus to forgive you of your sin, you are justified (declared righteous) on the basis of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, you are adopted as God’s child, you have the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing your inheritance to come…
In addition to this, you and I who have believed in Jesus have words like these from Jesus Himself;
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29)
I love this! Jesus gives eternal life, we don’t earn it through our good behaviour. We will not perish because Jesus has given us eternal life. No one can ever snatch us from Jesus’ hand because it is Jesus’ hand, the same hand that holds the universe in the span of His hand! More than that, you and I who have believed are God’s gift to Jesus and no one is greater than God and so no one is able to snatch us from God’s mighty hand!
Sleep well my friend if you have believed in Jesus.
Live your whole life as a passionate, grateful, worshipful response to God’s grace (Romans 12:1-2), live a life that is worthy of the calling (the grace) you have received (Ephesians 4:1) but sleep well! Jesus has got you, the Father has got you! Sleep well.
The Rich Young Ruler & Jesus (Mark 10:17-31)
Consider for a moment the interaction between the young ruler and Jesus and what God is saying to you from it.
Who is Jesus?
The young man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher” as he asked his question. Jesus, however, resisted. Wouldn’t let the man limit to his own ‘little box’ he’d made for Jesus. Jesus is the majestic Lord of all, almighty God, ruler & creator of the universe, Lion of the Tribe of Judah… You can’t just choose yourself who He is in your life.
You see, Either Jesus really is God or He is not. If He is God then it follows that we MUST SURELY obey Him explicitly in ALL of life. However, if He isn’t God then really don’t bother with anything about him ever again.
Good news not good advice
The young man’s question exposed that he didn’t understand the gospel, he was legalistic and religious. He wanted to know what more he could DO to inherit eternal life. He was focussed on his moral performance thinking that was what God required from Him. He was looking for GOOD ADVICE from Jesus, ‘what more can I DO to please God enough to earn eternal life?’.
Jesus’ response was designed to expose the futility in that thinking. Go and keep all the commandments, and then give away everything you have to the poor! With man this is impossible, Jesus said later on. It is impossible to obey all the commandments fully and to have the right heart that God requires – no one can do it (Romans 3:10-12), no one. That’s why Jesus came to earth, to do what we can’t do!
That’s why the gospel is GOOD NEWS not GOOD ADVICE. It is not information about something we should DO, or something more we should DO (which is what the young man was asking). The gospel is the GOOD NEWS of what Jesus has already DONE for us in our place because with us this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Thank you Jesus for the good news of the gospel!
Letting go to lay hold
Lastly from this passage we see that the young man sadly could not loosen his grasp on his possessions and money, couldn’t let go of what his security and pleasure was founded on and so went away – ‘disheartened’ (Mark 10:22).
You, can’t hold onto Jesus truly unless you let go of what you’re holding onto first! We can’t simply add Jesus to the rest of our lives, following Jesus means laying down of everything in our lives at a heart level – giving it all up to lay hold of Jesus, trusting that Jesus is worthy of that level of devotion and trusting that Jesus is good and will reward those who do lay it all down for Him.
Fear of death or a desire to live…?
Having just had a life threatening scare in having suffered but survived a pulmonary embolism resulting from a post-operative complication resulting in a DVT in my leg I have been reflecting on the difference between a fear of death and a desire to live.
Having previously always been healthy but suddenly facing the reality of how life truly is a gift given by God each and every moment, I was surprised by the emotional and mental impact of my experience.
I know that I am certain of my salvation and as such have no fear of death which I know is not a termination for a believer like me but rather a transition to eternal life with our mortality being swallowed up with life because we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:4). As DL Moody famously said; “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” (DL Moody quoted in R.Alcorn, Heaven pp 31).
I know I have believed in Jesus and that Scripture assures such a person that they “will be saved” (Romans 10:9) and more than that also assures me that “our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you (me) to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).
In addition to this, the Holy Spirit witnesses with my spirit that I am the child of God, and because I am a child of God, I am also a future heir with Christ (Romans 8:14-17).
And yet to be honest, this week’s experience rocked me.
So why? I knew I wasn’t afraid of dying, so what was I feeling? Why was I so emotional?
On reflection, the feeling was not so much fear, but more a fighting even desperate desire within me to live longer on this earth, to be with my wife and family and those I love and a sincere feeling that “the good works God had prepared in advance for me to do” (Ephesians 2:10) were not yet completed.
I know without a doubt that all the days ordained for me are in my Father’s book (Psalm 139:16), I know that I can’t add one to them!
Yet in me is a desire to live – to enjoy this life He has given to me with those He has given me, and to serve my Father’s purposes in this life.
Thank you Father God for every breath, may I truly live each day You give for You and for Your glory, Amen.