Discipleship

Warnings & Encouragement for the Journey (2 John 1-13)

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John’s second letter is written to a local congregation (‘the elect lady and her children’ – the bride of Christ). The apostle has been encouraged to have come across some of the congregation who are ‘walking in truth’ as God wants of us (2 John 4).

The Christian life is often depicted as a journey – a path that is to be walked out. Although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, this does not result in inactivity. Movement, even intentional effort is implied by the word picture John and other writers of Scripture used for the Christian life.

John uses ‘walk’ three times in this short section each time, indicating that progress and intentional effort in a certain direction are expected of believers.

It is a great encouragement to know that all believers in Jesus are on the same road/journey. We might be at different points along the way, but we share the same road!

Roads have borders that define the road’s edge; in this instance, it is the commandments of God define the roadway that God has laid out for us to journey along. We are to be those who ‘walk according to His commandments’ (2 John 6), commandments which have not changed since the beginning but commandments which we ‘should walk in’ (2 John 6).

It is safe to summarise the two borders of the Christian road as love for God (1 John 5:2-3 & Matthew 22:37) and love for people (2 John 5 & 1 John 3:11).

In 2 John 8, the apostle shares wisdom for the journey with these believers and with ourselves;

Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 8)

This one verse is richly dense with meaning! In it, we find assurance and warning and encouragement.

1. Warning! ‘We are to watch ourselves.’

Don’t go off the path; don’t get distracted or diverted by the schemes of the enemy. Obeying God’s commandments & listening to the Holy Spirit will keep you on the road. We have a responsibility to do this ourselves, but we are helped greatly if we have others around us who can spot if we are veering towards the edge of the path. It’s your responsibility to watch yourself, but it is wise to enlist the help of some brothers or sisters who will love you enough to keep watch too.

2. Warning! ‘So that we do not lose what we have worked for.’

There are serious consequences if one does not adhere to the first warning. You can lose something; you can have regret even as a believer. But what can you lose?

The apostle says that we can loose ‘what we have worked for’. And what have we worked for? Well, we know that we haven’t worked for our salvation! Jesus did the heavy lifting, not us; Jesus did what could not do. So what is in focus here is not us losing salvation which was given to us not by works but by grace alone so that no person can boast (Ephesians 2:4-8)!

In what way have we ‘worked’? Well, we have worked out the impact of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), we have worked harder than anyone in response to the grace of God in us (2 Corinthians 15:10). We worked in that we have responded to God’s free gift in giving us salvation. We have worked in that we should ‘work for’ our reward…

3. Encouragement: ‘But may win a full reward.’

This is what God’s desire for us, to give us our full reward that He always intended to give us. God is so good; He saves us not on the basis or our work/merit but purely by grace. Then God inspires us, works in us by the Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13) changing us at the level of our desires so that we now want to do His will and obey His commandments. And then God plans to reward us for walking the road He has laid out for us – incredible!

If you have believed in Jesus, your salvation is secure, guaranteed! But whether or not you will ‘walk God’s road’ obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings and God’s commands is not guaranteed. And so, the possibility exists that some of your reward that God wanted to give you may be lost, that we by our lack of response, our lack of working and walking God’s ways may lose some of what He had always intended to give to us – rewards.

John doesn’t want this for the believers he is writing to, and God doesn’t want it for you either. So take heed of the warning, watch yourselves and ask others to watch you too. Invite people into your life who can speak with a loving honesty and who in turn will be blessed if you do the same for them.

Gullible? (1 John 4:1-6)

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Gullibility is a liability! Not everything that ‘sounds’ spiritual or deep is Godly or helpful. We live in an age of information overload, the access to options or alternate thought positions has never been easier.  

Therefore being able to discern right from wrong, good from evil is an important life skill. The apostle John writes warning believers affectionately; “Beloved, do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4:1) or as the NLT puts it; “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.”

In our day in the name of God, church leaders are sadly often in the news for telling those who follow them to perform all manner of crazy acts, claiming this is what God wants or torturing Scripture to say that what they are teaching is what Scripture commands!

Discernment, therefore, is a vital aspect of faith for all Christ-followers. But how does one discern orthodoxy from heresy?

1. Listen to God’s Holy Spirit!

 God’s Holy Spirit will always make much of Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us. So listen to the content and the focus of someone’s teaching and if Jesus is not the BIG IDEA, if anyone, anything is, then tune out! Remember that;

  • The Holy Spirit will teach us and will remind us of everything Jesus said. (John 14:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus (John 15:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)
  • The Holy Spirit will bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14)

Hearing from the Holy Spirit is not for some elite group of Christians. Adam and Eve used to walk and talk with God in the Garden. Now that you have been reconciled to God through Jesus, you too can walk and talk every day with God. This is your joy and your privilege as a believer!  

Try this: As you read, or listen to anything/anyone – ask the Holy Spirit to confirm in your Spirit whether this is helpful or unhelpful in your spiritual walk.

2. Use the Weapon of Scripture

One of the primary ways God has put on display His will for our lives is in Holy Scripture. The more you read and internalise Scripture, the better equipped you will be to discern spiritual nonsense from the good stuff.  

So, if some teaching doesn’t line up with Scripture – toss it out! Our LORD did this when He was tested in the desert by the devil, and yet Jesus resisted him, Jesus exposed the falsehood through quoting Scripture to the enemy.

So read your Bible daily, commit to that discipline, and it will protect you in ways you cannot begin to imagine. Internalise Scripture, memorise Scripture – doing so is that arming yourself with the sword of the Spirit, taking the sword out of its sheath to protect yourself from enemy attacks (Ephesians 6:17).

3. Be in intentional Christian Community

Being on your own, isolated with your thoughts, leaves one vulnerable to false teaching and potentially being persuaded or lead astray. The people John was writing to had a relationship with the apostle John, and that relationship helped them to remain strong in the face of false teaching as they could ask John for his opinion. 

Who are you in intentional Christian Community with? Is the Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit a key aspect of that friendship? In Reconciliation Road Church we urge every believer to be in a TRIO or a COMMUNITY GROUP or to be in both if possible. Why? Because Community protects one, keeps us from the pain of being diverted from the path God has for us.  

Do you have an intentional Christian Community? If not, take a step and reach out to some other people.

May we, may you be fortified against gullibility. May you obey the Holy Spirit daily, devote yourself to Scripture daily and may you have an authentic and intentional Christian Community around you to protect you from dangerous spiritual gullibility.

Two Ways (1 John 2:15-17)

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As Christ Followers, what should our relationship to the world be? Such an important question for every Christ Follower to consider.

Over the centuries, there have been many varying responses to this question. Some believing that they are at risk of being contaminated have tried to remove themselves from contact with the world. Others have reached out to the world and so immersed themselves in it that they have risked accommodating themselves to it.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

Reading 1 John 2:15 & John 3:16 side by side, one can get easily confused. Which is it? Are we to love the world or not?

To unravel this, we need to consider the variations of meaning Scripture has for the Greek word ‘kosmos’ -translated as ‘world’ in English.

‘Kosmos’ can mean;

  1. All that is created and sustained by God, or 
  2. All of humankind (the apex of God’s creation) or 
  3. The ‘organized system of human civilization and activity which is opposed to God and alienated from him. It represents everything that prevents man from loving, and therefore obeying, his creator.’ (David Jackman)

John has been using stark contrasts so far in the letter, light and darkness (1 John 1:5&2:9), truth and lies (1 John 1:6&2:4), love for God and love for the ways of the world (1 John 2:15).  

In vs15 John is forcibly urging Christ-followers to see that love for God and love for the world’s ways are mutually exclusive. They are like light and darkness.

But, in what way is the system of the world anti-God or dangerous for us? John goes on to elaborate;

‘For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.’ 

John highlights three aspects of the fallen worldly system and correspondingly the devil’s strategy against us;

  1. The desires of the flesh.  Physical appetites themselves are not evil since many like thirst are God-given and essential for human life. However, our natural desires have been distorted and exaggerated in fallen humankind so that we crave a level of self-indulgent satisfaction that can lead us to ignore God’s commandments and wander into uncontrolled excess. Unrestrained desires have an insatiable appetite that can lead someone off-course from the path of following God. Desires are natural, are God-given, but we are not to be lead slavishly by our desires. ‘John is concerned that we should realize that we cannot love the Father and live that way.’ (David Jackman)
  2. The desires of the eyes. Desire often starts with seeing something desirable. This reminds me of the original sin in the garden… ‘When Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise’ (Genesis 3:6) Much of the world’s marketing runs on this operating system – selling us a desirable image and enticing action. John knows that our eyes can and do get us into trouble.
  3. Pride in our achievements and possessions (NLT). This worldliness can easily slip into our lifestyles and thinking under the radar, undetected. The world we live in loves to celebrate achievements! From ticker-tape parades for rugby world champions to endless prize-givings at every education institution. The problem is not in the achievement or possession itself – but rather in what a person hopes these things will do for them. To look to our achievements or possessions as things that define who we are or to hope that they will open doors of acceptance or feeling like we belong – is worldly and does not come from the Father. Our identity, belonging, and purpose are ultimately only found in a relationship with Jesus alone, which leads John to the final thought in our passage for today.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (vs17)

John concludes, reminding us that not only are the world’s attractions, not God’s way for us, they ultimately fail to satisfy us, and they are fleeting.

We need to be more eternally minded; we are wise if we think long and not short! The person who focuses on God and God’s ways, God’s commandments not the ways of the world ends up fulfilling the will of God which is good for us for eternity and will bless us not just in the short term but bless us eternally.

Although following God’s ways and doing God’s will sometimes involve saying ‘NO’ to some desirable thing, in light of eternity it is not Scripture’s view to see such as a sacrifice but rather a wise investment.

So John challenges us to make Godly decisions about the way we are living today. Do not love the world and its ways, love the Father. We face these little decisions daily, but John challenges us to keep loving the Father and to follow His ways, not the way of the world in all things. ‘For the world and those who live for it will pass away, but the Father and his obedient children will live forever.’ (David Jackman)

So what is our relationship with the world to be?  

We are to love people, as God loved people going to extreme lengths to share His love with them (John 3:16).  

However, we are also to be extremely careful of the tempting and corrupting influence of the world’s ways, wisdom and systems which are anti-God and dangerous for us from the perspective of eternity (1 John 2:15-17).

For consideration:

  1. Look through the three aspects of the world’s ways that John highlights and ask God the Holy Spirit to speak to you about any of these which you need to address
  2. ‘Love for God is the ultimate antidote for sin’ – how does loving God more fortify you against sin?
  3. Are you truly living with an eternal perspective?  How would having a clearer eternal perspective help you in daily decisions?

#SinlessSinBearingSaviour&Advocate (1 John 1:5-10 & 2:1-6)

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Do you like torches? I do, always have been fascinated by how this small device can illuminate a path or space. Go into any camping shop, and you’ll agree by the array of choice of torches and lights that others share my interest in a good bright torch. Light displaces darkness, and something in us really likes that.

A dim light might be insufficient to light up a whole room, and so conditions can exist in which darkness and light seem to cohabit. However, even with just one light bulb, most average-sized rooms are lit up, and darkness flees.

Not to mention how every morning the Sun rises in blazing glory banishing the night across an entire swathe of the globe north to south all at once. Light displaces darkness; darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. There is no struggle, just darkness receding when the light appears.

John says, God is light (vs5) – a light on another magnitude entirely! John doesn’t say God is like light or like the Sun, rather light is God’s essence, His very nature.  And because God is greater than my torch or a light bulb, greater than the Sun in all its brilliance, because of the greatness of God’s light – there is no darkness in God at all (vs5).

Describing God as ‘light’, is John’s way of explaining that God is entirely and utterly holy, sinless, blameless, pure.

All of which leads us to vs6. The apostle John says to you and I – that just like darkness can not cohabit with light of any significance, so too you and I can not claim to be ‘following Jesus’ or ‘walking with God’ if we lie and do not practice the truth if we are living a life of sin and compromise (darkness).

Light dispels darkness, so if we are living a lifestyle of sin and darkness, then the truth is we are not walking with God, we are far off from the brilliance of His light.

I urge you at the start of this year to reconsider your lifestyle, your patterns of behaviour and thoughts your rhythms and habits. It’s all too common to find believers in Jesus who claim to be following Jesus, and yet their lives reveal the truth.

The apostle John sounds a warning, that it is ridiculous to claim to walk with God and yet to live as though God’s moral commands and imperatives are optional or unimportant.

But John knows the human condition and John knows the Gospel. No one can claim to have no sin in them – not one (vs8). According to Tim Keller the Gospel is that;

‘We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we dared to believe, yet at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.’ – Tim Keller

So we have a problem. God is holy, and we are not – we need a Saviour! God is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all, and darkness and light cannot cohabit, and we are dark in our sinfulness! So what are we to do?

Enter the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

‘The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin’ (vs7). Which then makes it possible for us to ‘confess our sins’ (vs9) trusting that God will respond to our confession and our trust in Jesus’ saving work and will forgive us of our sins and to make us clean, holy, pure, light (vs9). And so because of this work of Jesus, we can have fellowship with God who is holy. What a Saviour!

What darkness is there in your life at present? What sin are you involved in? Don’t lie that what you are doing is not sin and don’t grovel either that you have sinned.  Rather confess, acknowledge to God your sin and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to make you clean again. Then walk free of it, live in the light, makes changes to your life pattern and walk with God thanking Him always for this amazing gift of forgiveness because of the cross of Christ.

Consider this, who is God faithful too in vs9 when it says; ‘he (God) is faithful’?

You could think God is faithful to you because you confessed your sin and trusted in Jesus to be forgiven. However, I believe John is saying that God is faithful and just to Jesus. How so?

Because God’s righteous, holy wrath was satiated by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross in our place for our sin (1 John 2:1-2), it would be unjust for God to punish us for sins Jesus paid for already!

So, God is faithful to Jesus, honours Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice for us every time we ask for forgiveness. Next time you need forgiveness, worship Jesus for making forgiveness possible and thank God the Father for being faithful and just to Jesus – which makes your forgiveness possible and glorifies Jesus again and again.

‘My little children’ – says John (1 John 2:1). He urges them to not sin but knows that they will at times sin, and so assures them that we have one who argues our case on our behalf in the heavenly realms – Jesus our advocate, Jesus the righteous (2:2), Jesus the one who took the penalty of our sin away (2:3). What assurance, what good news!

How now shall we live in response?

Don’t deny that you do struggle with sin & don’t continue living in sin. Aim to live free of sin (2:1), aim to keep Jesus moral commands (2:3-4), aim to follow the counsel of His Word (2:5), make your goal to follow Him in the way that you live (2:6), and confess your sins when you do sin and receive His forgiveness (1:9).

Discipleship

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(2 Timothy 1:13-18 & 2 Timothy 2:1-3)

In the first part of Timothy we visited a few ideas: 

  • godly mentorship (discipleship), 
  • being unashamed to share the gospel, and 
  • having an eternal perspective in times of suffering.

In today’s devotional I want to continue with focusing on discipleship and the need thereof. 2 Timothy 13-14 and 2 Timothy 1-2 speaks concerning this, read it again.

Jesus set out on his mission to change the world by choosing disciples, this is one of the first things he does, and in what is recorded as some of the last things said to his disciples, he encourages them to do the same.

Matthew 28:18:  ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’

Just like Jesus discipled the twelve to go on and change the world (read disciple others), so too Paul was discipling Timothy. He encouraged Timothy to imitate him as he imitated Christ and in 2 Timothy 2, he gives the structure we ought to follow in discipleship of others.

2 Timothy 2:2: ‘and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.’

Paul teaches Timothy, who in his own time, teaches faithful men and they then go and teach others. It always baffles me that Jesus could change the world through only twelve people. They were not extremely smart, nor extremely holy, they were not especially good with words, no; they were ordinary people just like you and me. Imagine what He could do through us if we are willing to disciple and be discipled!

One of the beautiful examples of discipleship was described in 1 Timothy, Paul honours the role of Timothy’s grandmother and mother in shaping the faith he now possesses. Two godly women not only raising their children, but actively discipling them. That is ultimately the goal of parenting: discipling. 

We have all received good deposits from other people in our lives; our faith would be worse off if it had not been for those people who prayed for us, encouraged us and loved on us. It is our responsibility to not only receive these ‘good deposits’, but also to guard the deposits entrusted to us in order to deposit it to others.

Matthew 28:18: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’

Questions:

  • Are we being actively discipled and are we actively discipling others like Paul teaches?
  • Are we teachable enough to receive other people’s deposits?
  • Are we only raising our children or are we also discipling them?
  • Who do you look up to in the faith, that you could ask to walk this road with you on a more intimate basis?

Leadership Note:

There are so much godly wisdom in our church communities today, so many lived experiences and so many testimonies that could be benefited from. God has placed people in our lives so we can share our ‘good deposits’ and receive the ‘good deposits’ from others. In this way the church will be ever growing into the image of God. Now, go therefore and make disciples!

Affectionate Mentorship (1 Timothy 4:11-16)

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Words have value and power. When spoken words can heal, restore and build. Conversely, they can be used to cause pain, bring down and tear apart. All words have power. However, the words that matter the most to us are the words that come from the people closest to us. The value of these words comes from the value that we hold for the people that are speaking. The people closest to us hold our affections, passions and commitment. Therefore they’re words represent a communication of they’re heart towards us.

Throughout this book I have found the intimate relationship of Paul and Timothy beautiful. It has endeared my heart and warmed my soul, because the relationship is a beautiful model that is so tragically missing in many churches today. In our devotionals we have already seen how this relationship has been leveraged to encourage and strengthen Timothy. Paul has been pouring himself out onto paper, with the desire of equipping his spiritual son. In secular places we would call it ‘mentorship’, but we can call this ‘fathering’. The active, on-going, ‘doing’ of a strong and loving father figure towards his children.

We see throughout 1 Timothy, but I highlight this now because Paul seems to get personal. Beautifully personal.  Lets remember two things at this stage. Firstly, Paul has given Timothy a challenging assignment. Going to Ephesus without backup, confronting the established, power-hungry, leaders. Correcting behaviour from church members. Secondly, Paul has been writing about holiness, and the need for the Ephesian church to reclaim godliness as a means of displaying the power of the Gospel.

We should remember these two things as we enter this part of the chapter, because it explains why Paul gets personal with Timothy. After admonishing and encouraging the church towards holiness, Paul turns his focus towards his son-in-the-faith Timothy. He strengthens Timothy towards strong and brave leadership when others might look down on him (verse 12). He encourages Timothy towards practicing leadership gifts wholeheartedly (verse 13). He reassures Timothy that his leadership is based on grace gifts given by God and recognized by church Elders (verse 14). Finally reminds Timothy to intentionally steward these grace gifts as well as his own holiness (verse 15 & 16).

Paul’s words are a blindingly bright display of his affection for Timothy. Look at Paul’s desire to see Timothy pursue holiness and live out the gospel. As Matthew Henry says, “Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life.” Look at the desire to protect and strengthen Timothy’s leadership; to see him thrive and establish himself. Look at how specific he gets. Paul knows what to check, what to encourage and what to challenge. The church today is meant to be filled with these discipleship relationships. It will advance the kingdom, transform the church and bring glory to the one we are all imitating (1 Cor 11:1).

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. How does Paul guide Timothy in this passage?
  2. What do you think are Paul’s main concerns for Timothy?
  3. How are you being a Paul or a Timothy in the church today?
  4. How has this passage challenged you to grow your personal leadership gift?

LEADERSHIP NOTE:

Paul strikes a great balance in this book between guiding Timothy, and letting him discover and develop himself as a leader. Paul gives some instructions, some pointers, but he isn’t in the trenches with Timothy in Ephesus. Timothy has to build the strategy himself. Have the confrontational conversation himself. Change procedures and disciple new leaders himself. The ‘discipler – disciplee’ relationship is a balance, and this passage can be instructional for both roles. Invest the time. Commit to the challenge. Raise new leaders. Be transformed.

Who are you following & who’s following you? (Philippians 3:17-21)

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Having just described how he had abandoned all trust and pride in human lineage or achievements (vs1-7) so that he could place all his trust in Jesus Christ and progress in knowing Him better (vs7-11).

Paul then clarifies that he knows that he hasn’t arrived yet. He knows that he hasn’t finished his faith journey but is pressing on to lay hold of all that Jesus laid hold of him for (vs12-16).

Then he says some thing which can sound out of place to the modern ear; “Brothers, join in imitating me” (vs17).  

He urges the Philippian believers to imitate him in all that he has just described regarding his personal faith journey.

This is not the only place Paul says things like this;

  • Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
  • to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. (2 Thessalonians 3:9)
  • What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)

Paul unashamedly calls people to imitate his followership of Jesus. Essentially he says, imitate me, don’t be like those who ‘walk as enemies of the cross of Christ’ (vs18) who’s god is their desires, who glory in their shameful acts & who’s minds are fixated on earthly temporal things (vs18-19).

There are plenty of examples of people around us who deny the power of the cross. They live as though Jesus never died for them, they live as though Jesus is not the King of kings or that He ought to be loved, worshipped and obeyed.

As a result, such people live to satisfy their own desires and so celebrate whatever feels good to them regardless of how shameful such things might be. Because they deny the truth about God, they can only see the present (vs19b), but in so doing, they fail to see where the path they are on is leafing – destruction (vs19a).

Paul doesn’t want the Philippian believers; God doesn’t want you and I to be like such people. And so we are called to imitate Paul, to imitate his faith and his walk with Jesus.

All around us, people are looking for a sense of identity and belonging. But we who have believed in Jesus can be secure knowing that we belong already, that our identity was secured the moment we believed in Jesus.  

We who have believed in Jesus all have dual citizenship. We belong to the country of our birth or our adopted country & we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven (vs20).

This world, therefore, is not our home forever. We are visitors here; we are passing through. However, the best is yet to come. We have incredible hope in Jesus; we have something to live for! We belong to God and His kingdom.

We know that Jesus is coming back and His second coming will usher in a new era. There is a day when God will declare; ‘behold I am making all things new’ (Revelation 21:5) and that bright future is ours as believers in Jesus (vs20-21)

So don’t lose heart. Remember who you are and who’s you are. Remember that this life is just the dress rehearsal for the main event – eternity. Don’t undervalue eternity and in so doing make some monumentally bad decisions because your timeframe was way too short.

Find someone to imitate. We shouldn’t place people on pedestals but we ought to imitate the faith we see in others so that we can learn how to have robust faith and so that we don’t walk alone.

Who are you going to imitate? Why don’t you speak to someone today? Or who are you going to say; ‘imitate me’ to? Who are you going to invest your life and faith journey into? This doesn’t mean you’ve arrived, just that you have made some progress and if you want others to mentor you, you should be willing to mentor others too maybe.