Psalm 131 is a little Psalm with a big message for us on day 60 of our national lockdown due to COVID-19.
Peace is an active choice; it is not a state of being that is arbitrarily obtained. This Psalm reveals how peace is the result of choices we make. In this Psalm, David makes four active choices that together result in peace and calm in the midst of trying circumstances.
vs1: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
The first thing David chooses is to reign in his heart. David won’t let his heart get proud. Humility and peace are interconnected. Pride leads to lofty thoughts about your ability or ideas, your grasp on a situation. And so pride multiples agitation and frustration – the absence of peace.
When our hearts are proud we bemoan; ‘Why isn’t what I think should happen, happening?’ Pride gifts one with opinions, and strong opinions don’t tend to lead to peace, especially in the face of an unprecedented national and world crises!
Every time we hear; “My fellow South Africans…” the state of our hearts is tested. The humble heart will see a man, a group of leaders and experts doing their very best, might think; “Phew that must be a hard job!” and won’t just complain and moan & criticise.
Do you need to reign in your heart?
vs1: my eyes are not raised too high;
The second choice David has to make is to curb ambition. Ambition, like pride, doesn’t lead to a peaceful state of being. Proud or ambitious eyes that look up to selfish & ambitious future plans that are being frustrated by the present circumstances are agitated ones – not peaceful ones.
In contrast, humble eyes don’t think too highly of oneself but rather submit to the Almighty hand of our sovereign God who holds all things together by just the words of His mouth. Humble people say things like; “If the LORD wills, we will do this or that.” (James 4:15)
Humble eyes see clearly, understand who God is and who they are in relation to God. Humble eyes rest in the sure knowledge of the goodness of God. They rest in God’s everlasting love for His children and the sovereign omnipotence of God. We can only rest in humble peace when we know that God is good and loving and in control of all things for us who believe in Jesus.
vs1: I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
Anyone who has studied something, in particular, will probably know the paradoxical feeling; that the more you know about anything, the more you realise how little you know!
As human beings created in the image of God, we have this incredible God-given ability to advance knowledge and understanding. But even with all that data and insight, we are finite & limited. God’s ways aren’t ours; God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).
If I am honest, I don’t even know how my toaster works just that it does what I want it to the bread I put in it. I can use this computer, but I honestly don’t know how the computer is transforming touches from my fingers into characters and streaming data to the internet that can be read by yourself..!
David’s third choice that leads to a peaceful and calm life is that he has embraced his limits. He knows that there is much in life that is honestly beyond his ability to comprehend, and so he has chosen not to fret and occupy his thoughts with that which is beyond his grasp.
I don’t believe that this is laziness on the part of David but wisdom. It is wise to know your limits, and wise to trust God where your comprehension is outstripped by circumstances. In bewildering moments we can fathom or control we can either choose to fret and worry, or we can trust our omniscient, omnipotent Father in heaven.
vs 2: But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
David’s fourth choice is his active decision to calm and quieten his soul (his whole body) satisfied to be in God’s presence. David is like a weaned child nestled into the bosom of God, drawing comfort and security from just being there in a relationship, intimate and close to the one who loves him.
In contrast to a weaned child nestling with their mom, a breastfeeding child in that position and posture close to their mother’s breasts will often have their desire for food awakened – they will not be content to just nestle there safe and secure but will want to be fed.
This is a picture of our relationship with God. Are we like a breastfeeding child coming to God looking for something from God, or a weaned child coming close to God simply for that, to be close to God?
In times of personal, community, national and world-wide crises, we can easily be those who are coming to God always asking for something. David challenges us to come to God in a different way, to come close to God not because we want or need something but simply because we love God, and we know God loves us! Come to God contented like a weaned child, come to God not to always ask for something but simply because you get to come into God’s presence because of Jesus!
Think through your prayers, your devotion times. How much of them are just nestling into the bosom of God because you belong there because He loves you and you love Him? Ask God to forgive you of coming just to ask for something else…
vs3: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
The Psalm closes with an exhortation; ‘Hope in Yahweh!’ Put your hope in God alone. Do this now in this global pandemic, do this today and do it for the rest of this life God’s given you. Hope in God for eternity to come. Hope in Yahweh alone, and you will truly be at peace.
Paul has been writing and exhorting the believers with many instructions to do & not do (see Colossians 1:1-13). But all get brought together by one exhortation – to love!
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 in NIV)
This makes me think of a piece of power cord transmitting power from some power generation plant thousands of kilometres away to my laptop via a wall plug and this power cord – allowing me to write to you.
That short power cord is made of multiple thin strands of copper wire that on their own would be of no use to me. Because on their own, none of them would be sufficient to transmit the electrical power current needed to run this laptop. More than that, if they were on their own trying to transmit electrical power, they would be more unsafe than helpful putting my household at risk of electrocution and or fire.
But when bound tightly together and ensheathed in a protective outer layer of insulating plastic, they are not only able to transmit the power needed but also are enabled to do so safely!
Similarly, Paul seems to be saying that in all these diverse exhortations he is making for godly living (Colossians 3:1-14), there is one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) that binds them all together.
And that one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) makes all the other exhortations work together, enabling them to transmit something greater and to do so safely!
‘Single issue Christians’ are like exposed copper wires in a power cord without the necessary insulating covering. Have you ever met one of these people? They are fixated on one issue or command or instruction in Scripture and seem almost always to be lacking the protective binding of love for other people!
Take, for example, the very clear command in this passage for believers in Jesus to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality’ (Colossians 3:5). This is like one copper strand of the power cord of this whole passage.
Now a single issue Christian would be 100% right that God’s will is abundantly clear all through Scripture that sexual sin is serious and that it is ungodly and unbefitting for God’s children to engage in ANY sexually immoral behaviour. That strand on its own can transmit the full force and power of that command.
What the Bible teaches in terms of sexuality is not hard to understand – i.e. no sex before or beyond sex with the man or woman you are married to as a believer. Despite the fact that modern sensibilities have changed, God’s commands have not changed one iota and God’s commands need no updating and never will!
Therefore someone who makes much of this one strand of teaching is 100% right, but as Dallas Willard famously said; “It is possible to be right and to be unlike Christ” This single strand of teaching on its own can hurt and damage people if not encased in God’s love!
In this fallen world, living amongst people who are messed up and have messed up and are still messing up, this Scriptural exhortation ought not to be watered down even 0.5%. It is still relevant and still needs to be applied to peoples lives, however, it ought to be done so with the insulating protective cover of God’s love.
So the command of God to remain sexually pure, exclusively faithful to and having sex only with your spouse, and waiting until they are your spouse before you do so – is still to be taught and obeyed.
But it is done best when this teaching is intertwined with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and then encased in God’s incredible love. When that command is in that biblical power cord, the full power of the command can be at work without fear of fire or electrocution – harm being caused to anyone.
Don’t for a minute think I’m advocating some lax sexual ethic! After all, it is not loving to affirm someone in their lifestyle or behaviour when you know that their actions are in direct defiance of our Holy God and Father.
Many times in life, the most loving action is to stand up to someone, to risk offence and to tell them the truth but to so with all the imperatives in Colossians 3:12-17 tightly bound together and all of them encased, bound together in the insulating protective cover of love.
Brothers and sisters let us love one another not with the weak soppy ungodly modern idea that love = affirmation but with the transforming power of God’s word & God’s love.
- Who do you know you might need to challenge about one of the lifestyle sins described in this passage (or elsewhere in Scripture)?
- Pray now and ask God to tightly wrap all the head/heart/attitude directing imperatives around the strand of rebuke you know is needed from Scripture
- Then pray that God would encase everything in God’s love before you speak or act.
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).
Before we jump into the end of this book, there are two small caveats about how this book has been split up/structured that might be helpful here as we continue reading:
- The bible is the perfect and authoritative Word of God, and yet the chapters and verses we use to structure it were added much later on. This means occasionally we get a chapter that starts in a strange way (for example, Acts 8, 1 Timothy 6 or Hebrews 12). When’s this happens, we should go back to the previous chapter to remind us of what the author is speaking about. In 1 Timothy 6, verses 1 and 2 seem to be the end of the discussion of chapter 5, and from verse 3 onwards we enter a new section.
- You might, just like me, read verses 1-2 and hit a big cultural mine (if you are unsure what I mean by this phrase, go back to our post on 1 Tim 2). These verses discuss slavery in a way that can lead to some confusion. I personally prefer the translations that use the word “bondservant” to “slave” because it is far more descriptive of the socio-cultural landscape in the 1st century. If you hit the cultural stumbling block, like me, you may find this article by Common Ground helpful to read. They are a partner church in the Advance network of churches, and it’s great to see these resources being produced! https://commonground.co.za/?resources=why-does-the-bible-condone-slavery
Now getting into the chapter!
1 Timothy contains a clear writing structure that was designed by Paul to communicate his central purposes. There are consistent themes that run throughout, moments of praise (doxology) that break up different sections, and two bookends at either side of this short letter. We can think of them as the two pillars at either end of a building that help to keep everything else standing. Without these pillars, there would be no context to Paul’s words. Everything would feel random and out of place, because we would miss the context in which Paul is writing to Timothy.
The pillars are the sections where Paul directly confronts the bad leadership in the Ephesian church. In both chapters 1 and 6, Paul charges Timothy to confront bad leadership and to model godly leadership. Today, we look at how Paul characterises bad leadership; and tomorrow we get to see how he encourages Timothy towards good leadership.
This has been a repeated theme throughout the book, the essential combination of leadership and holiness, and Paul highlights it here by examining both good and bad leadership. Lets look at some of the marks of bad leadership that Paul provided us with:
- Bad leadership rejects the person and teachings of Jesus (v3)
- It grows from greed and a self-centeredness in the heart (v4)
- It leads to irrational and sinful thinking (v5)
- It is motivated by a desire for worldly gain of some kind (5)
- It will result in the destruction of themselves and others (v9)
It seems relatively clear here that Paul sees all of the physical acts of these false leaders, and yet he shoots straight for the heart. In leadership, never satisfy yourself with the surface level symptoms. Gods Word always cuts to the heart (Acts 2:37) and transforms our deep roots. The root sin here is exposed in verse 10 as an unhealthy love of money. And this love of money brings “all kinds of evil”.
Look how dangerous sinful leadership is. It’s no surprise Paul isn’t pulling his punches here. Chapter 6 sounds similar to chapter one, but it also seems like an escalation. For example, in chapter one, the effect of bad leadership on other people was “swerving & wandering” (1:6), but now it’s “plunging people into ruin and destruction” (6:9).
We should not play games with bad leadership. It’s warfare. It’s live or die stuff. It should not be flirted with or entertained, because it’s destructive power has eternal consequences. However, we should also be weary of our own hearts, and where we’d might see some of these marks of bad leadership in ourselves. We should interrogate our hearts and minds. We should reaffirm our commitment to serving and living for his kingdom. Friends, let’s hear the warnings.
Some Questions To Consider
- Why do you think Paul brings up this theme of bad leadership again?
- What roots of bad leadership do you see in the world and church today?
- Are there any roots in your own heart that you need to repent of?
A godly leader should be especially aware of the state of their own heart, and should hold an appropriate fear of the Lord to remain constantly prayerful that He might keep and protect against any roots of evil that might start to grow.
Reading the second half of this chapter is like walking across a cultural minefield in 2019. There are many different ideas that can offend our ideological sensitivities. This chapter should really come with a warning sign! Yet if we remember the setting Paul is writing into, then we shouldn’t be surprised. This is because 1 Timothy is a wartime dispatch sent to the frontlines. Timothy was sent to wage war in Ephesus, where a mix of different cultural values had combined to undermine the Gospel. Does this sound familiar to our context at all?
As you read through the chapter, you might be able to recognise a theme that runs throughout. For sure, you can easily spot the cultural mines of gender inequalities, or the potential kindling of a toxic purity culture, or perverse patriarchal preferences. However, if you haven’t prematurely stepped on one of these exploding mines, you may notice a road through the mines. A theme that will help guide us and helps us understand how the Gospel actually empowers us to engage our cultural sensitivities. The question when we look at the chapter is: what’s Paul’s purpose?
I believe its holiness. It’s living out this incredible good news (the Gospel) in a way that it affects our public worship. The Gospel transforms the believer’s hearts, lives and church experiences. Let me quickly show you why I think this:
- “First of all, then…” Just as we saw yesterday, what Paul is saying in chapter two is a continuation of his ideas from chapter one. He is talking about Gospel transformation and believers’ living holy and humble lives.
- “…rather she is to remain quiet.” Is Paul here silencing women and robbing them of agency? Well just before we hit a huge mine, let’s focus on the word quiet and its purpose in the sentence. In verse 2 Paul says that “we (all) may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified…” This shows that the word ‘quiet’ is linked to, and for Paul a synonym of, godliness. It isn’t a sinful or cultural attempt to undermine the dignity of women. We know that elsewhere Paul recognizes the important value of women’s contributions to church gatherings (1 Corinthians 11:2-5 & 14:26), and overall leadership (think of Nympha, Mary, Lydia, Phoebe or Junia). Therefore, Paul’s encouragement to pursue this ‘quiet’ holiness is something that every person should aim for. It externally displays our internal Gospel transformation.
- “I desire that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands…” Paul’s purpose is to encourage the holiness of men in the church! This is applied to the men of Ephesus with a specific instruction not to quarrel. So Paul’s desire for holiness involves a correction of the men first.
- “… but with what is proper for women who profess godliness” Paul’s purpose here is now to encourage the holiness of women in the church! He wants everyone to be holy! This desire is applied to the women of Ephesus with a specific instruction to stop being so focused on materialism and looking good to others that they take they’re eyes off of Jesus and ignore the Gospel transformation that should be taking place in their hearts.
- “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness.” Its almost like Paul pre-empts some opposition (this is war after all) and so he repeats his goal, and in the bible repetition denotes importance. Paul is going to some lengths here to make his aims here – he loves everyone in the church and desires that they grow in holiness.
Once we see these things, hopefully a path begins to develop through the mines, and we can appreciate the heart and instruction of Paul here. It should show us one thing; Gospel transformation changes everything about us! Not one thing. Not most things. Everything. Our entire lives should be a display of this quiet, humble godliness that has been supernaturally worked inside of us by God Himself! Furthermore, this should be applied to our churches, as Paul is writing about the whole church in Ephesus. All people in the church, in every context of the church, should display this powerful and graceful transformation. Whatever we do, and however we do it, it just all be pleasing to the God who desires to use us to save others (verse 3).
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Do you find 1 Timothy 2 difficult to read? Why do you think this is the case?
- How does Paul’s uncompromising call to holiness challenge the way you are living at the moment?
- Can your church be characterized by the Gospel transformation described the chapter?
Worldly cultures will try to dismantle your faith and knock you out of the fight. To put it another way, they will try to stop you trusting God. However as leaders we should read this chapter trusting and loving God, which develops some unshakeable beliefs. Belief’s such as the authority of scripture, the perfection (inerrancy) of scripture, the loving nature of God and his good desires for our flourishing. We cannot lead if we get knocked out of the fight. To quote Paul elsewhere, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16). Instead we should be of good courage and faith that God is working powerfully through His Word.
 The word ‘all’ isn’t in the original manuscripts of the bible, yet Paul is talking to both men and women here (as the gender differences only begin at verse 8) which is why I have added it in.
 This is a very challenging passage to read, with many different interpretations avaialbale. If you are confused or interested in RRC’s position, please do email the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org
 This verse is complicated and often misunderstood. Paul isn’t saying there is another way that women can be saved apart from Jesus’ atonement. He is actually referencing the atonement, by mentioning the curse of Genesis 3 on Eve and how He promises to crush Satan on the cross. If you are interested in this, I found this article by John Piper very helpful: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-are-women-saved-through-childbearing.
You are much, much worse than you think you are.
Of all the things that Paul talks about here, perhaps one of the most surprising is to see how he considers himself. In a direct contrast to the proud and arrogant false teachers waging war on the church in Ephesus, Paul recounts how undeserved his salvation is, and exposes the very worst parts of himself to everyone who reads 1 Timothy 1.
We know Paul’s background as a Pharisee who persecuted and murdered Christians. Which is why verse 13 is no surprise to us. Paul really was a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent opponent. It is perhaps understandable why Paul views himself as “the chief/foremost of sinners” in verse 15. He did do terrible things.
However Paul isn’t just talking about his past. In verse 15 Paul says “… I am the foremost…” where he is using the present tense. There are similar accounts in the bible where Paul exposes his unworthiness of Gods love, such “For I am the least of the apostles” or “though I am the very least of the saints.” These are all present tense statements, and they are so surprising! This is the super apostle Paul. This is the Damascus road guy! This is the church planter extraordinaire!
Paul is demonstrating a raw and vulnerable leadership that contrasts so heavily from other leaders. There is beauty in his humbled heart, his lack of ego, and his great desire that Jesus is ‘displayed’ through his ‘example’. Paul hasn’t developed an ego, he has developed a correct understand of how far away he was from God, before God intervened with his mercy. Paul was much worse than he ever thought possible, and God changed that to show the gospel’s power to transform the very worst of us.
Aren’t you utterly amazed, that even though you are (present tense) much worse than you ever thought, Gods arm was not too short to save you, and isn’t too short to preserve you now. Instead the grace of God overflows for us (verse 14) that Jesus would be displayed to those who will come to believe (verse 16).
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- As Paul got older, his conviction over his sin grew. Evaluate your life and ask if the same is true for you?
- How does an accurate view of our sin help to display Jesus?
- Why do you think Paul was willing to bear such a heavy cost so Jesus could be displayed?
Paul’s purpose for recalling his story was so that Jesus might be displayed. Paul was willing to take the cost of appearing unimpressive if it advanced the Gospel. He leverages his story for the sake of the lost. Leadership is all about sacrifice, leaving everything behind and taking every opportunity to make Jesus known.
 1 Corinthians 15:9
 Ephesians 3:8
 1 Timothy 1:16
 1 Timothy 1:13 & 16
I remember encountering the short story genre in senior school with Jeffrey Archer’s, “A Twist in the Tale”. You needed to read to the end of each story to work out what the whole story was about.
Hosea is something like that. If you had stopped reading Hosea a few chapters back, you might have reached an inaccurate, premature conclusion about God.
You might have felt that the God portrayed in these pages of this prophetic book seems too far removed from the God on the pages of the New Testament.
But Hosea 14, however, is a clear demonstration of the fact that God has never changed and never will (Malachi 3:6). The God of Scripture has always been the God of grace.
Hosea 14 begins with the frequent OT refrain; “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God” (Hosea 14:1). God’s harsh words through the prophet have been justified at every point, and yet the heart of God is that His people would recognise their sin and repent, that they would repent and return to God.
God, through the prophet, invites Israel to ask God to forgive them, ‘to take away all iniquity’ (Hosea 14:2). God appeals to Israel to say to God;
- Assyria (humankind) will not save us (vs3)
- Abandon faith in false gods and human-made idols (vs3)
- Say that you will never bow down to these idols again (vs3)
- Say that in God alone will we find mercy (vs3)
And then God will respond saying;
- ‘I will heal you of your faithlessness my love will know no bounds for my anger will be gone forever’ (Hosea 14:4 in the NLT)
- I will refresh Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven causing flowers and fruitfulness (vs5)
- I will be like shade to Israel, and so Israel will flourish again like the vine I originally intended it to be (vs7)
- ‘O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.’ (Hosea 14:8 in NLT)
The question is, will we repent, will we stop our sinful ways and love and worship God only? Only we can respond to God’s invitation – I urge you to respond and to keep responding to God daily.
A wave of nationalism and increased polarisation between diverse groups of people is washing over the world stage with issues like Brexit and the increasingly hostile international trade negotiations between the USA and China just current examples.
Within our nation (South Africa), we are experiencing the same wave of polarisation. In our recent national elections, there was a rise in support for the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum and the rhetoric in the public space is increasingly acrimonious.
The church that received this letter from the apostle Paul was needing to work out its unity in diversity, needing to avoid polarisation within the church. The Christians who were ethnically Jewish seemingly had some heart re-wiring that was required. They were in danger of spiritual arrogance, trusting in their traditions and ethnicity. They were at risk of potentially looking down on their Gentile brothers and sisters as being ‘less-than’ in some way or another.
Paul has been at pains in his letter, to show that salvation for all people is not something we can earn personally through law-keeping, is not something we obtain through our ethnicity but that God has revealed a righteousness that is received by faith in Jesus alone. (Romans 3:21-24) and so God is the God of the Jews & the Gentiles equally (Romans 3:29), God is the One who mercifully ‘justifies the ungodly’ (Romans 4:5).
All believers are in the same position. None of us is deserving of God’s grace and mercy, none of us was able to earn it through good behaviour, no one has any ethnic advantage – we all need God’s grace and mercy to be saved!
(Romans 9:30-31): Shockingly to Jewish believers, Gentile believers who didn’t even seek God or deserve anything – have been made righteous by God’s gracious choosing.
And Jewish people who wrongfully put their trust in the Law and their law-keeping efforts have not been made righteous because God has revealed a righteousness that is ‘apart from the law’ (Romans 3:21).
All people are in the same position, all people need God’s grace, and all people need to put their trust in Jesus, not in their law-keeping efforts or their ethnicity or traditions but to put all their faith in Jesus only.
(Romans 9:32-33): Which makes Jesus the stumbling block that Isaiah prophesied about. The proud religious person who believes they deserve or have earned God’s choosing of them will battle to put their trust in Jesus – He is a stumbling block to them, a rock in the road obstructing their way.
Paul is uniting the believers in the church in Rome, destroying spiritual arrogance, digging up pride in ethnicity and relaying the same foundation for all people – “…and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33).
The great power to overcome polarisation in our nation and the world is the Gospel of Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved! No matter what your upbringing was, no matter what your social standing is, no matter what sin you’ve committed – putting all your faith in Jesus is the answer and therefore is also the great equaliser and unifying power in the world. May we, as believers, be part of churches that demonstrate this unity in diversity that is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?
As we read Romans, it is helpful to remember who this remarkable letter was written to. The church in Rome was a multi-cultural church with both Jews and Gentiles in it. It appears as though this church was wrestling with how to work out the truth of the Gospel in this multi-cultural setting. Paul is building an extended argument that stretches through this whole letter to show off the Gospel and how we should live.
Jewish Christians would have had no problem with Romans 1, probably feeling like Paul had pagan Gentiles in mind. In Romans 2 Paul points the spotlight on all believers by warning the Jewish believer of being judgemental (Romans 2:1-11) and proclaiming radically that; “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11). A radical statement that declares that the problem outlined in Romans 1:18-32 is universal, that all will be judged according to how they have lived (Romans 2:6).
All who have sinned, whether they are Jews under the law or Gentiles apart from the law, all will face judgement equally before Jesus on THAT DAY (Romans 12:16).
The Jewish believers who were rejoicing in, trusting in their heritage, their Jewishness are rebuked here by Paul – “You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law” (Romans 2:23) So, whether you are born Jewish or circumcised is not as important to God as each one obeying God’s moral law (Romans 2:25-29).
Romans 2 could be summarised as a warning to the Jewish believers in Rome not to be self-righteously confident in the wrong things (their Jewish heritage). The problem of sin outlined in Romans 1 is not a Gentile problem, and they who were Jewish believers are not in a privileged position as believers, God looks on all obedience with no partiality. As Paul declares succinctly in Galatians 2:28; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
We are united in our need since no one has fully obeyed the law of God. And we are united in God’s provision for our need, the good news about Jesus, His son sent for us… But more on that when we get to Romans 3.
The things we say to one another have a way of exposing the underlying operating system of our hearts (Matthew 12:34). So, what matters is not just the words we say but why we say them.
Taking James 4:13-17 too literally would lead to one prefacing everything or ending everything you say with “if the Lord wills…” To do so misses the whole point – it’s not about what you say so much as why you say what you say. It’s about the attitude of the heart that is the reason you think and speak as you do.
James 4:13-17 is all about us, setting the dials of our lives on humility, not arrogance. Living with a certain humility that comes from knowing who we are and how temporal and not in control, we are.
Who hasn’t spoken words similar to those in vs13?
- Next year I’m going to study at…
- Next month I’m moving to…
- I’m going to have three children…
- When I am married…
We don’t typically intend to be boastful when we speak like this, and yet if we are not careful these sorts of statements about the future and our future plans are devoid of a sense of;
- Reverence for God (Proverbs 9:10)
- Laying our lives & plans down in submission to God’s will (2 Cor 5:14)
- An awareness of our frailty & our transience (vs14)
- And our inability to control very much of what happens in our lives (vs14)
Jesus taught us to pray; ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done’ (Matthew 6:9-10). This is how to set your life-dial on humility. To pray like this, think like this, live like this. To live surrendered to God, wanting to do His will not boastfully thinking and speaking about the future as if you’re in charge of your life but living your life in reverent worship of Him who is Lord of all.
So, set your life-dial on humility – don’t invite God into your plans for your life, but humbly, daily ask Him to show you His plans for your life.
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).
I love the sense of realism in James. In vs2-4 James challenged and urged us to consider trials “all joy” because we know that the testing of our faith would produce good things in us like steadfastness and growth in godliness.
James knows that the sound advice he has just given is challenging and so in vs5 he encourages the reader to pray to God for wisdom. Such a prayer is humility on display and humility is a vital attitude to hold on to for the Christ Follower.
I like to begin prayer with the simple acknowledgement that my very act of praying is declaring something both to myself and to God – that I need God. After all, if I did not need God, if I had it all covered myself, then I would not be praying. Prayer and humility go hand in hand, and God is drawn to humility (James 4:6) while prayerlessness, on the other hand, is a warning sign of residual pride.
The humble praying person ought to simultaneously have a robust confidence James declares because God is the giving God. God’s nature is to give, and so James states with certainty that God will respond gleefully to any request by you or me for wisdom.
God won’t scold us for hassling Him by asking, God won’t begrudgingly give us as little as possible of the wisdom we need. No, we can pray with confidence because we know that God is the generous giving God and we as His children can, therefore, ask for wisdom in any and every situation with confidence knowing God will provide us with what we need.
Similarly, Jesus promised He would give His disciples the very words and wisdom at the moment we need them (Luke 21:12-15). You and I can have confidence knowing that when we cry out in prayer, God is ever present and eager to answer our humble prayer.
So pray, because you’re realistic about your limitations. Pray because you’re humble, but pray with confidence knowing whom you’re praying to!
Don’t pray hoping God will answer, but pray because you know whom you’re praying to. Your Father who is in heaven, the One who loves you with an everlasting incredible love (1 John 3:1).
The big idea in this Psalm is comparing the futility of worshipping any other so-called gods with worship, trust and reverence of Almighty God. It’s a reminder to God’s people that no other so-called ‘god’ is God, but merely something (an idol) made by human hands, dead and lifeless and therefore not worthy of any praise or fear or trust. Finally it’s an exhortation to trust Yahweh and to worship Yahweh exclusively.
However, in light of our church’s Launch Sunday this coming Sunday it is verse 1 that has my attention;
“Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1 in NIV)
May God and God only get all the praise, glory and honour on our Launch Sunday. This day, this celebration is not about us, not about any person or even any church, or thing that’s been constructed. This Sunday is about God, about His glory and His majesty and about praising and thanking Him!
Because God alone is worthy of praise and honour, God alone has provided, has loved us and has been utterly faithful and true to all His promises. God alone, not us, has sustained us and brought us into this place.
LORD, may You be magnified in Your glory, may You be praised, worshipped, thanked and adored, and may people revere You and place all their trust in You and You alone. Amen.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom and whatever you get, get insight. (Proverbs 4:7)
Wisdom starts with a conviction that you need it. Foolishness is to think the opposite, to think your knowledge or perspective is enough. Wisdom therefore requires not just knowledge applied correctly but a heart orientated correctly, for wisdom requires humility.
The context of this particular proverb is vs1-6 of the same chapter where a son is being exhorted by his father to “hear…a father’s instruction”, to “be attentive…that you may gain insight”, to “not forsake my teaching”, to “hold fast my words” & “keep my commandments and live”…
Wisdom starts with a humility that opens the ears, opens the heart to others in this life, who are further down the journey of following and serving God or who might have a perspective you don’t have but need.
Wisdom starts by getting it, from others. “Get wisdom” is not a command you can heed without the help of others, it’s not like a command like “be self-controlled/patient” where we can work harder at obeying.
So the question surely is twofold;
- How is your heart? Are you humble, teachable, willing to learn from others?
- Who are you learning from?
By Gareth Bowley