All through the gospel of John, Jesus uses physical everyday items people knew about to describe spiritual realities. Up to this point in the gospel Jesus has used the following everyday items;
- Light (to communicate the spiritual reality of Jesus’ purity in John 1:4-5)
- Temple (where God & humankind meet, which is now Jesus Himself in John 2:19-22)
- Physical Birth (the need to be born again, born spiritually in John 3:3-8)
- Wind (relating to the move of the Spirit in John 3:8)
- Water (the Holy Spirit within believers in John 4:7-15)
- Food (that which truly satisfies John 4:31-34)
In this encounter with the woman at the well, there is a moment when the disciples return from their mission to find some food in the village. They are astounded that Jesus is speaking with a woman, especially to a Samaritan woman (vs27) but don’t say anything to Jesus.
Maybe they were changing the subject onto something less controversial, maybe they did not wanting to risk delaying lunch with a new teaching from Jesus…? Whatever it was they urge Jesus to eat something (vs31).
Jesus’ reply must have surprised them further. “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” (vs32). I can imagine the disciples maybe even feeling agitated that Jesus had some secret stash of food that they hadn’t shared in or didn’t know about. ‘Had someone in this foreign town brought food to Jesus they wonder?’
But Jesus was once again doing what he often did, using an everyday item to explain a spiritual reality. Jesus goes on to say;
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” (vs34)
Jesus had told the woman that He had water that would sate her thirst forever (vs13-14), here Jesus explains to the disciples that there is something more satisfying to Him than even food! They went into town, hungry, eager to find satisfaction for their hunger. They urge Jesus to eat, in order that He can be satisfied too. Jesus replies; I have something that satisfies me more than food!
Jesus lived with a longing, a desire, a motivation pulsing inside Him to do the will of His Father. Jesus’ passion to fulfill the will of the Father, to please the Father, is a theme that will develop all through this gospel (see John 6:38 for example).
Jesus’ passion to do the will of God was so real, so tangible Jesus likened it to what the disciples were feeling, their hunger for food. Jesus compares the satisfaction they felt after eating with the satisfaction He felt when He had done the will of the Father.
What a challenge! What satisfies you? What do you wake up longing for?
May I, may we be more and more like Jesus who was motivated to constantly do the will of the Father in all circumstances and was in turn satisfied, felt that happy full feeling when He knew He had done the will of the Father.
Why trumps what! Why you do what you do, matters more to Jesus than just what you do.
The Pharisees and scribes are indignant! Jesus and his disciples are not adhering to the strict codes and traditions that had built up around God’s law that regulated every aspect of life in the attempt to keep ‘pure’.
These regulations legislated behaviour in everything, here Mark mentions the scenario of coming home from the market where one could have been defiled by contact with Gentiles and the need to wash hands, pots, plates & even couches!
Jesus’ disciples were being accused of not walking ‘according to the tradition of the elders’ (Mark 7:6). Jesus rebuffs their accusations, accusing them of caring more about their human traditions than about the original commands of God that the traditions were meant to encourage obedience to (Mark 7:8-13).
So what really matters? Jesus quotes the Old Testament to them (vs6-7) which reveals what God wants from every one of us. God wants our hearts not some external compliance that’s not rooted in love for God.
You see, why trumps what! Worship/godliness that’s only skin deep or behaviour that’s not emanating from a heart of worship is not worship at all.
God is after our hearts. What we do does matter, how we live does matter but its the motivation behind the external actions that God really cares about. It’s why we do what we do that matters to God.
This is the difference between religious legalism and the gospel! Tim Keller sums it up when he says;
‘“I obey therefore I am accepted by God” = Religion
“I am accepted by God because of Jesus, therefore I obey” = The Gospel
God freely accepts those who believe in Jesus and accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness for their sins. God then delights as those saved sons and daughters begin to obey His will for their lives, not because they must, not because they’re trying to be accepted but because they already are accepted by Him, because their hearts have been melted by His love and His mercy and His grace and transformed so that they beat now with a new desire – to please their Father who is in heaven! What results, is the motivation for all true godly behaviour. Why trumps what!
So, gaze again at Jesus! Consider who He is and what He has done for you. Be freshly impacted, amazed at Him and live your whole life as a response to His incredible love for you. What will result is observable godliness rooted in worship, and that pleases God.
“God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.” – CS Lewis
I find solace in these words by CS Lewis in that as a Christ follower and as a church leader I desire to hear God, I want to know I am in His will.
Sometimes this means I carve out solitude time, time with no list, no agenda, no pressure and no distractions.
But over many years of climbing up mountains, getting onto quiet stretches of beach or finding a secluded spot in the hills and valleys of KwaZulu Natal I have discovered that God doesn’t speak when I want Him to and I can’t change God.
This used to get me all wound up, I’ve come here full of passion, I need to hear You God and then in those solitude moments there is just myself and…………………………….silence.
God’s not on my timeframe, doesn’t always pick up the ‘phone’ when I’ve decided to call.
Just yesterday I had set time aside for solitude, I had my venue planned, had my camping chair, had some snacks (I’ve found solitude with food way more effective than solitude with fasting) and as I was packing to go found myself saying this to God…
“I know You probably won’t speak to me while I am there and I just want you to know that’s totally cool. I’m going anyway because I know You love it when I do seek you and I love it too!”
What seems to matter most to Him is that I came, that I sought Him, that I want to hear Him. He wants relationship – we often want results, an outcome, a decision or direction.
And slowly I’ve learnt that I can’t change God, so I better change and I’m so much the better for it. My Father will speak to me, what matters is that I seek Him. He will speak in unexpected ways that surprise and thrill me, sometimes He keeps me waiting till the final hour but He will speak to those who seek Him.
Resolving this has helped me grow in my love for God and my understanding of Him. It’s also helped me enjoy times of solitude more and more knowing that what really matters is that I came, that I sought Him out.
By Gareth Bowley
So, as a christian, would you like to be known as the guy who likes to put himself first?
As I read 3 John, I could sense the frown on the brow of the wise apostle John, around 80 years old by this time, he must have mentored numerous church leaders.
He bluntly points out the way in which Diotrephes hampers the work of the kingdom: he talks wicked nonsense against those in authority in the church, he refuses to show hospitality to travelling evangelists, and acts harshly against those who want to welcome these brothers into the church and possibly their homes.
The bottomline is this – he likes to put himself first.
It is really easy to fall into the trap of putting ourselves first. When we get angry, when we insist we are right and someone else is wrong, when we feel our rights have been violated, when we feel entitled, when we feel we’ve been treated unfairly, when we don’t get our way. When we prefer to speak rather than listen. When we treat others unkindly. When we feel, talk or act in rebellion. When we push to get our point accross at all cost. Even when we feel sorry for ourselves – it is really pride in a different garment.
God names rebellion in the same breath as withcraft and idolatry – it means the same thing: we sit squarely on the throne of our lives in obstinate contrast to allowing God to be King. We like putting ourselves first.
John continues to explain that acting like Diotrephes is an evil not to be imitated, and that those who do evil have not seen God. So they are deceiving themselves and others.
Sometimes I listen to how people talk and find it hard to try and reconcile it with how they live and act. Because actions do speak louder than words. Diotrephes seems to have a leadership position in the church, and yet, his actions do not speak of someone who knows, loves and follows God.
In contrast to this, John confirms the good reputation that Demetrius has built up. And interestingly he connects what people know about Demetrius with the truth. His words and actions are clearly reinforcing his good character as a true follower of Christ.
The same is said of Gaius in the beginning of this letter – his fellow christians gave a good testimony of him and John commends him on “walking in the truth”. In other words, there is a clear correlation between what he confesses and how he acts and lives.
Gaius shows their visitors hospitality and love.
He also obviously has a teachable spirit as John uses the opportunity of this letter to give him further pointers to show practical love and support to these workers in God’s field: “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God…”
So, the question to ponder when reading 3 John is: who are you really? Are you living a lie – pretending to love God and others, but really putting yourself first, or are you walking the self-sacrificing path of the truth in Christ?
Anyone can learn church language. The true test is not whether we say the right things, but whether we do the right things – walking the truth in love.
The true test is whether you like to put others first.
May my words be few and my actions speak of the love of God.
by Lise Oosthuizen
There I was sitting on a wooden jetty overlooking an estuary reading a book trying to re-charge after the first 8yrs of ministry in my role as an elder leading the team in the local church I serve. I was tired. No more specifically I was frustrated! I remember thinking/praying/moaning to God that I felt a little like He had not kept his side of the deal…
Embarrassingly, I remember reciting some little “righteousness-list” in my head at the time stating how I had served God as a leader in some form or capacity in local churches for just short of 20yrs already by that stage, I had pursued purity as a young man and was married as a virgin, had never been drunk, followed God’s call and sold-up my stake in a business in Cape Town and moved the family to Amanzimtoti when God called us to…
…and where had it gotten me? The church was struggling again, not many people were being saved or healed, leaders were few, money was tight and at times I felt alone as a leader. I remember this distinct sense that God had somehow dropped the ball, a sinful sense that I deserved better because of my performance!
In God’s grace He rebuked me in the most remarkable way and took me on what became a month-long journey of God revealing the rot in my heart and re-wiring/reforming me to the point where I eventually repented to the Church publicly one Sunday morning of the way I had been poisoning the church with my wrongful heart attitude.
It’s not just what we do that matters but why we do what we do and what we believe doing those things does for us.
In Psalm 73 the writer is perplexed & envious of what he has observed – the prosperity, the good health of the wicked/arrogant/proud who are always at ease and always increasing in riches (vs2-12). His experience doesn’t match his stated belief which is that “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” (vs1) And so eventually he exclaims;
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:13)
The writer bemoans his ‘good works’ because they haven’t produced the results he was looking for. However what this outburst reveals is that his heart’s true motivation was “I DO THIS TO GET THAT’ – it was transactional. He was like me, sitting on that jetty grumpily reflecting…
I have lived like _______ and you, God haven’t done _________!
Like me (in 2011), the psalmist’s WHAT was fine but his WHY was wrong and his belief regarding WHAT DOING THOSE THINGS DID FOR HIM was wrong.
Our lives of holiness, or service to God don’t earn us anything. Timothy Keller says; that it’s religion that says that; “we obey to be accepted”, the Gospel however, says; “we’re accepted and so we obey”. We live lives as worship to God flowing out of a heart response to the most incredible love and grace and mercy that God has shown to us.
So, WHAT we do, how we live really does matter but what it vital is WHY we do what we do and what we are doing it for, what we think THAT ACHIEVES FOR US is vitally important.
This Psalm is so rich because it doesn’t end with the frustrated questioning that it’s first 15 verses are characterised by. The whole Psalm hinges on vs17 when the psalmist enters God’s presence and suddenly gains a new perspective in God’s presence. In the presence of God, eternity comes into view and this perspective changes everything. His timescale has been too short, he has prematurely and incorrectly judged God.
He begins to see his own folly and the sinfulness of his heart (vs21-22) and then unleashes some of the most amazing worship in all of Scripture;
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
Life doesn’t often go according to our plan or timing or even our sense of fairness, but knowing that God is with us personally, knowing that our faith and future are secure in Him is enough for me.
He made me do it! I don’t know about you but I know that I said those words many times growing up as one of four siblings. Excusing one’s own behaviour by pointing to the behaviour of others justifying your own behaviour on the basis of that of others.
In Genesis 37 the story of Jospeh begins and it’s family dysfunction right from the start with Scripture recording no less than three times in the first 8 verses that Jospeh was “hated” by his brothers.
Why? Well this family is a recipe for conflict, it is like the proverbial haystack soaked in petrol just waiting for a spark! Think about this family for a moment with me; Jacob’s family has two wives who are sisters! Two wives must be complicated but two wives who are sisters – phew. There is deep pain and jealousy here as Scripture records that he openly loved one more than the other (Genesis 29:30). To make matters even more complicated these two sisters were competing seemingly in some form of “baby race” trying to produce offspring, jealous of one another so much so that both of Jacob’s wives at some point have their husband there two female servants as additional wives for Jacob.
Now, Joseph and his brothers had not been responsible for this family context, but it was the one in which they were growing up in and were having to deal with.
Based on all that’s gone before, we ought not to be surprised to read in Genesis 37:3 that Scripture records that Jacob loved his son Jospeh more than any of his other sons. He had done this before, with his wives, openly displayed preference.
And so, his brothers were provoked to jealousy and hatred for Jacob. It recorded four times in the first 10 verses of the Genesis account of Joseph’s life story that his brothers were hated him vehemently and were also jealous of his favoured status within the family. Their hatred that only grew as their dad gave him a special robe and also when he unwisely spoke of dreams he had received of the future to come that painted him in a favourable light compared to them.
Can you empathise with these brothers? They must have felt some sense of justification in their heart attitude towards their brother because of all the family history of dysfunction and now also due to the favouritism shown to him by their father.
Is their hatred not justified, caused by the family circumstance and the actions of their father and their brother too?
Paul David Tripp says;
“People and situations do not determine our behaviour;
they provide the occasion where our behaviour reveals our hearts.”
We are not in control of many things, but we are responsible for our response. Joseph and his brothers did not pick their family, they didn’t choose their father or have control over his decisions and actions, but they were responsible for their behaviour, their response.
They hated Joseph, they allowed that hatred to simmer, they shared it, they spoke to each other of it and ultimately they acted on it when they plotted to kill him and ended up selling him as a slave and then they sinned again by deceiving their father and causing him heart ache for years to come.
We need to own our sin, the circumstances, other people didn’t “make us do it” and don’t justify our sinful actions, attitudes or words. This quote by PD Tripp has been so helpful to me forcing me to continually see with clarity that people and situations just provide me with the mirror I need at times to see what is truly in my own heart.