Life is a response
It’s hard not to put ourselves at the centre of our lives. Our will, our desires, our plans, hopes, dreams, thoughts & emotions.
We go back to this fleshly sinful ‘default setting’ all too easily – don’t we? I know that I need to fill my vision with God continually, worship again, pray again, meditate on Scripture again to re-focus myself.
Jesus knew this was the default trajectory of our hearts and minds and so taught us to pray; “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10) to our heavenly Father.
The Apostle Paul is such a striking example of someone who has clearly prayed that prayer of Jesus’ over and over again and so had a remarkable outlook on life.
As we journey through the letter to the Philippian believers keep in mind where Paul is writing from – prison! What would your letters be about if you were in prison unjustly? If the self-centred default human setting for the mind and heart is ON, then you would be complaining about the circumstances you find yourself in, how you feel about the injustice and the hardships.
But not the apostle Paul! He is grateful while in prison because he has come to see that his imprisonment has allowed two things to happen.
- The Gospel has advanced to those guarding him, people who would maybe never have come to a church, God took the Gospel to through Paul being in prison. (vs12-13)
- Paul’s fellow-workers have been encouraged to share the Gospel more boldly because of Paul’s imprisonment!
Both of these perspectives are only possible because Paul had displaced himself from the centre of his life & installed Jesus Christ and His Gospel at the centre.
The lens through which he saw his hardship and his experiences as a Roman prisoner was God’s will for his life and God’s plan for humanity, God being glorified in all things (vs20). To the Roman believers, Paul wrote; “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
This was Paul’s life’s operating system – God’s purposes, God’s glory! Not personal comfort, convenience, plans or safety – but God’s plans, God’s will.
Paul is a wonderful example of a God-centred, gospel-centred believer. May I, may we keep disciplining our thinking and our emotions to follow his example and to be inspired by it.
What are you facing today? What hardship, what injustices. How might God use them to advance His Gospel through you? Fill your vision with Jesus again, our great Saviour who surrendered his will to the will of the Father for your sake and mine. So that in turn, we would live like Him and do the same and live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
From the time of Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to find a place to prepare for and then celebrate the Passover with a meal we now call ‘The Last Supper’ to Jesus death is a period of just 24hrs.
And yet, these 24hrs take-up 92 verses in Mark, 103 verses in Matthew, 74 in Luke 74 and a massive 225 in John’s gospel. The gospel’s all slow down at this focal point of our faith. So much happens in this one 24hr period of Jesus’ life;
- Preparations for the Passover
- The Last Supper
- An agonising prayer in the garden
- Jesus’ betrayal and arrest
- Peter’s denial & the abandonment of all Jesus’ followers
- An unjust trial before the Chief Priests utterly alone
- A night of mocking and mistreatment by soldiers
- A hearing before Pilate & the crowd
- A hearing before Herod
- Pilate’s capitulation to the blood-thirsty mob releasing Barabas and sentencing Jesus
- Scourging Jesus by the whip
- The walk to Golgotha through the streets
- The crucifixion & death
So, what was the joy in the heart of Jesus that sustained Him through this most terrible 24hrs?
We know from Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus’ passion was to please Father God in all He did. Jesus desired to obey God the Father and fulfil the will of the Father. We know this because Jesus prayed;
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)
Therefore we can say that the greatest joy in the heart of Jesus, the joy that sustained Jesus was the joy of pleasing the Father, fulfilling the plan and the will of the Father.
Jesus’ whole life, His coming to earth as an incarnate human being, His 24/7 life and obedience and His death was all fueled by this same passion. Jesus prayed in John 17:1-4 that the Father would glorify Him ‘so that the Son might glorify’ the Father and He prayed saying that He had ‘glorified the Father on earth, by accomplishing the work the Father had given Him to do.
In addition to this, we also know that Jesus endured all that happened in these 24hrs because He also had another joy in His heart. Hebrews 12:2 reveals to us that part of what sustained Jesus through these horrific 24hrs was His longing for you and me.
“Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2 in the NLT)
Brothers and sisters, you and I were in Jesus mind’s eye when He endured all of this pain and suffering. The joy awaiting Jesus was us! It was our being reconciled back to a right relationship with Him, which was only possible because of what He was doing by suffering in our place for our sin.
This means that as we see, as we contemplate the ghastly ordeal Jesus endured in these 24hrs we should feel the love of Jesus in each injustice committed against Him, in every droplet of spit sliding down His face, in every strike of the whip tearing flesh from His back, in every agonising step being led like a lamb to the slaughter in silence (Isaiah 53:7-8), in every thunderbolt of pain from the nails in His wrists and the crushing suffocation of the crucifixion. This is love!
“This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10 in NLT)
Why don’t you pause now and pray? Contemplate these 24hrs Jesus endured, bring the details to mind and know this, He did this all out of love for you! Bask in that incredible love of Jesus’ for you! And then love Jesus back in this moment, love Him with your whole life, don’t give Him the left-overs give Him everything. What a Saviour!
Mountain tops and valleys! One moment Peter is exclaiming; “Messiah!” (Mark 8:29), the next Jesus is bursting Peter’s messianic bubble, saying that He “must suffer many things…and be killed!” (Mark 8:31)
Keller writes in his excellent book (King’s Cross) how from Peter’s earliest memories learning from his parents would have been hearing that the Messiah would come and defeat evil and injustice.
Now the Messiah was telling Peter; “Yes, I’m the Messiah, the King, but I came not to live but to die. I’m not here to take power but to lose it; I’m here not to rule but to serve. And that’s how I’m going to defeat evil and put everything right.” (Kings Cross pp95)
Bewildering! What is remarkable is that Jesus while referring to Himself says; “the Son of Man (a divine title from Daniel 7) must suffer…and be killed”
Why MUST Jesus the Messiah suffer and be killed?
Well, in one sense He doesn’t have to at all. He is not obliged in the slightest. After all, He has never sinned, and so deserves no wrath against sin or punishment. He is God, and so His will is not constrained in any way.
But because of His love for You and I – He must suffer and be killed. Because there was no other way for our sin, guilt and shame to be dealt with and the wrath of God propitiated.
I am reminded of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in agonizing prayer asking the Father if there was any other way (Mark 14:36), and the Father said nothing because nothing could be said because there was no other way but the cross and calvary.
Jesus had to die; the Messiah must die if our sin was to be atoned for, and if we were to be ransomed and reconciled back to a right relationship with God. What love, what sacrifice for you and me!
This is the turning point of the whole Gospel, WHO Jesus is has been the main idea, now Jesus has just introduced the focus of the second half – WHAT Jesus came to do for you and for me!
This is the lamb of God who came to take away, to atone for the sins of the world by dying as our substitute sacrifice – John recalls in his Gospel (John 1:29)
Peter is horrified and rebukes Jesus (the same word for Jesus’ treatment of demons) but ends up being the one rebuked as Jesus refuses to be tempted into believing there is an easier way. Jesus presses through the resistance with clear conviction and begins again to teach those gathered around.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
Jesus’ teaching makes sense since it follows what He has just revealed about His own purpose (Mark 8:31). Since the Messiah is going to lay His life down, those who choose to follow Him are called to do the same. Jesus’ purpose shapes our purpose.
Jesus literally dies. Most Christ-followers don’t necessarily have to die literally, but we are all called by King Jesus to die to our old way of living. We die to a life that has ME, MYSELF & I at the centre of it all.
Who is really at the centre of your life? Who is the focus of your attention? Is it yourself or is it King Jesus?
We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the One who died for us, and in response decide to live the rest of our lives no longer for ourselves but rather for Him who for our sake died (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
We live like this, believing that what Jesus said is true! We live believing that this is really the only way to live. We believe Jesus when He warns us that spending ourselves collecting things and experiences in this present life trying to satisfy ourselves will only leave us empty.
We believe Jesus who urged us to live our whole lives as a whole-life response to His love for us. Making pleasing Him and sharing His Gospel our whole life’s purpose, believing Him that living like this will result in us enjoying life that’s truly worth having, having satisfaction that is immeasurable and eternal!
You will never regret believing Jesus’ advice on how to live your life. At no point will you look back and think, ‘I really wish I hadn’t trusted Jesus’ advice!’ The Psalmist declares of the ancients of the faith; “They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. ” (Psalm 22:5 in the NIV)
Since Mark 8 records the turning point in this Gospel that is so focused on WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do, I pray that it would be something of a turning point for you too. Meditate on Jesus’ words captured here to you in Mark 8:34-38, don’t gloss over them let their eternal wisdom go deep into your soul and begin to produce a life wholly pleasing to King Jesus. The One who went before You and lovingly laid down His life for you and rose again victorious (Mark 8:31).
In his book Future Grace, John Piper shows how God’s grace to us in the past is the foundation for faith in both the present and future.
When when we consider what God has already done for us in the Gospel when we are secure in what has happened to us purely by God’s grace – that rock-solid assurance motivates and mobilises us to live a certain way in the present.
God’s grace motivates us! It doesn’t leave us unchanged and unmotivated to change; rather, it puts a fire inside of us that spurs us on to even greater life change.
However, what is critical is that the motive for that action & intentionality in us is not anymore to try to earn God’s favour or forgiveness but rather because those are ours already because of Jesus.
So we don’t have to get all knotted over whether we should take the imperatives of Scripture seriously or not, wondering whether they apply to us or not. Of course, they do! The issues worth considering are;
- Motive: Why do you do what you’re doing?
- Purpose: What you think what you’re doing is achieving?
All through a passage like Colossians 3:1-17, I see the Apostle Paul interweaving assurance & action like a tightly-knit garment that only makes sense when all the weaves remain together.
Read the passage, and look for all the assurances woven into its fabric. I count at least nine assurances in the past-tense, two assurances in the present & future tense.
These nine assurances inform us of the correct motive for our action, which this passage commands us to take in its thirteen odd imperatives.
Do you see what Scripture is teaching us? Present-day action and obedience are founded on past grace. We obey God’s word in the present because of what we know; God has already graciously done for us in the Gospel. Because we are so secure in grace and God’s love for us, we respond actively working to see our lives transformed more and more into the image of God’s Son, Jesus(vs10).
Because we are saved by grace we;
- Seek things that are eternal (vs1)
- Set our minds on things that are eternal(vs2)
- Put to death old earthly ungodly sinful practices(vs5-7)
- Put away ungodly attitudes and speech(vs8)
- Do not do certain things anymore (vs9)
- We put off the old sin-soaked life (vs9)
- We put on the new in-Christ-life (vs10)
- We put on God-like character traits since we are God’s chosen children (vs12)
- We forgive just as God forgave us (vs13)
- We put on love which sums up our new life (vs14)
- We let the peace of Jesus rule our hearts (vs15)
- We let the WORD of God saturate our daily lives (vs16)
- We give thanks in whatever we do! (vs17)
The Scriptures are jam-packed with imperatives, commands for us to obey, instruction that ought to be observed and followed. This passage alone is an example of that.
But notice that it’s the assurance of what is already ours, and what will be ours who’ve believed in Jesus that is the thing that motivates our action in response to God’s grace.
God’s grace teaches us (Titus 2:11), motivates us to work harder than anyone else at our growth in godliness (1 Corinthians 15:10), motivates us to really consider our lives carefully and the thirteen imperatives in this little passage that challenge us!
May your life and mine be an endless tapestry of threads of assurance that look back and stretch forward woven daily into action that’s inspired by the myriad of imperatives in Scripture and the voice of the Holy Spirit in the present.
In the face of heresies, false teachings about secret truths and other such nonsense the apostle Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to remain on course as they walked with Christ Jesus.
Sadly it is all too common for believers to start one way only to go on some serious detours, getting lost along the way because they lost their focus and got their eyes off Jesus.
So, Paul writes to these believers;
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7)
How did you start?
The Apollo 11 space mission on the 20th of July 1969 aimed to hit a specific target in space orbiting the moon 383 000km away from the launch pad. At its maximum velocity, the rocket was travelling at 38 000km/hr. So just a slight deviation of trajectory would have been catastrophic to the whole mission. Getting the trajectory right at the start and remaining fixed on those coordinates was essential for the mission.
Similarly, if we misunderstand our salvation or lose sight of its magnificence or depart from it along the way – it can have a catastrophic impact on our spiritual trajectory.
Paul urges these believers to continue in their faith walk in the same way ‘as you received Christ Jesus’ (Colossians 2:6). It’s worth then pausing to think about how we received Christ if we are to continue in the same trajectory.
- Saved entirely by the grace gift of God (Ephesians 2:4-8) & so we must continue to work out our salvation and God’s purposes for our lives secure in the grace of God. God’s free gift of grace is not just how we begin our faith journey but is its entirety! God’s grace will teach us to renounce ungodliness & worldly passions, to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives, filled with good works in this life as we look forward to Jesus’ return (Titus 2:11-14).
- Saved by a sovereign work of God and so we can live secure knowing that God will complete what He began in us (Philippians 1:6). We can live in the confidence that our hope that we will persevere until the end is anchored in Jesus Christ who Scripture promises; ‘will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord’ (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). What certainty, what security!
- We were chosen & saved because of God’s great love for us, which God fixed on us before He even made the world (Ephesians 1:3-6)! So, because this is how God loved us while we were still his enemies, how much more do you think He loves us now that we are His beloved children? So, live in the goodness and the warmth of the love of God! Let that eternal, unchanging love transform and melt your heart to receive more and more of His love and then to love Him back with your whole life safe in the knowledge that you are loved in the most remarkable way.
- Saved by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3 & Romans 8:1-16) so continue in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit and don’t try to walk the Christian life in your own strength like the foolish Galatians did (Galatians 3:1-6).
Meditating on the wonders of our salvation does something to us. It grounds us, puts our roots down deep into the solid ground that will ensure we don’t get blown over in the storms of life (Colossians 2:7), it stabilizes us because we have foundations (Colossians 2:7) that are strong and secure because they are established in Christ.
Continue in that same trajectory
So, stay on track brothers and sisters. Keep meditating on the wonder of your salvation, thank God for it, mull it over, delight in it and then continue on the very same trajectory. Because then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness to God (Colossians 2:7).
[Mystery]: something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain…a religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding. ‘Mystery’ is an important category for us who are so finite!
A few years ago, I resolved; ‘to be more in awe’. To be satisfied with being unable to explain everything and satisfied to embrace my limitations and the corresponding magnitude and magnificence of God and His ways.
There is a theme of mystery in the New Testament from the first to the last page. Need I to remind you of the incarnation, angelic visitations, a virgin birth, water into wine, dead people raised, people healed, demons banished, Jesus the God-man walking and talking to everyday people. The King of kings who came to die on a Roman cross as the atoning sacrifice & rise again three days later with a resurrection body and then ascending up into the clouds before His followers promising to send the Holy Spirit and one day return in glory! Mystery – embrace it, believer!
And then there is a mystery in the New Testament that has been revealed, the secret that has been finally told to everyone. God’s mystery, Jesus Christ! (Colossians 2:2)
Jesus is the mystery of God revealed. Paul is defending the church in Colossae from ‘mystery peddlers’, false teachers who were trying to peddle ‘secret teachings’, mysteries they claimed they had ‘special revelation’ about. Paul won’t have any of it. Jesus is God’s mystery revealed. Don’t waste your time with people who are more excited about some supposed new revelation, extra-knowledge they’ve gained that they want to share with you – Jesus Christ is God’s mystery revealed. In the past, God spoke in many ways, through many people & prophets but now;
“…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:2-4)
And what is the mystery which is Christ?
1. The Gospel of Christ: that in Jesus God has revealed a righteousness of God apart from the law (Romans 3:21) that for all who will believe in Jesus (Romans 3:22), Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:29-30). That those who believe are justified by God as a gift of grace (Romans 3:24), declared righteous before the Holy God because of the redemption from the slavery of sin, Satan and death that was made possible by the saving work of Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). This happened so that God could be both just and the justifier of anyone who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Such people are therefore entirely free from sin and given new life in Christ, given the privilege of becoming the children of God (John 1:12) with the certain hope of an eternity in a loving relationship with God. What a glorious mystery revealed!
2. Christ is the King of all kings: The mystery of Jesus is that Jesus is not just the Messiah for the Jewish people. But that Jesus the promised Messiah came to save all types of people, to be King of all who would believe in Him. God’s chosen people had a history of thousands of years cherishing their chosen status, the honour of being God’s covenant people, awaiting a Messiah who was coming to reign and rule for them. The mystery of the New Testament is that God’s Messiah, Jesus came for Jews and Gentiles alike. In Jesus God has made;
“…known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)
Therefore through faith in Christ “you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-28)
Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah-King. Who has come and conquered the great enemies that stood against us and proclaimed the freedom of His kingdom rule and reign. He will come again for ALL who will believe in Him and reign with them forever and ever in a new heaven and a new earth. Magnificient marvellous mystery revealed.
3. Christ in us the hope of glory: A miracle happens when we put our faith in Jesus. We die to sin & we are made alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:7-11), we are those who have been brought from death to life, but the life we now live is, in fact, the life of Christ in us (Galatians 2:20)! One of the most profound and prolific statements used in the New Testament is the phrase ‘in Christ’, which appears 90 times. The life of Jesus pulsating through every believer is the source of our new way of seeing the world, our new desires, identity, sense of belonging & purpose, our sanctification our assurance, our peace, our relationships and our hope for the future…
In Colossians, it says; “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27)
Do you want to grow as a believer? There is no secret knowledge you need to make progress. Because Jesus is God’s mystery revealed. The One; “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)
So make much of Jesus! Meditate on Jesus, worship Jesus, spend time with Jesus, love Jesus… Doing so will result in your encouragement, in your being knit together in love with others who love Jesus (the church), will result in you growing in assurance and confidence in your walk with God and will cause you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of God (Colossians 2:2). So make much of Jesus, God’s mystery revealed.
You know, one person’s redemption can become another’s challenge. No sin is unredeemable; no sin trumps God’s lavish grace (Romans 5:20). All sin can be repented of, and all sin will be forgiven if we truly repent (1 John 1:9).
Incredibly good news. But our good news can become another’s challenge!
Years ago in our church, we had a courageous person share about how they had committed adultery and one day God brought them to their knees in repentance so that they confessed their sin and received forgiveness from God.
But this confession of sin, this reaching out for God’s redeeming grace became a challenge for their spouse who now faced a new challenge – the problem of forgiving.
One person’s redemption can become another’s challenge!
I was in court once supporting a minor who had been sexually abused. The man who had perpetrated the abuse was there near to me. Looking smug, his lawyer was there too… I’m glad I didn’t own a gun that day because I wanted to dish out some instant justice as the sense of righteous indignation pulsed through me.
And then it struck me!
I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to consider; ‘What if this man calls out to God and asks God to forgive him of all his sin? What then? What will be required of me and of those I was supporting? Would Jesus forgive Him if he repented? And how would we have to change our feelings towards him if he approached us having repented?”
I knew the answers to my questions.
I knew if he repented and called on God for forgiveness, God would forgive him, and in that instant, he would become my brother in Christ. What he had done would not be changed in the slightest, and yet the way I related to him would be challenged in a whole new way…
And this is something like what Philemon faced with Onesimus. Paul wrote to Philemon challenging him to re-think, to forgive & to reconcile with Onesimus.
For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. (Philemon 15-17)
Paul wanted Philemon to receive him back not as a slave or an employee or as the scum of the earth but to receive him back as a brother in Christ (vs16), loved and honoured because Onesimus had accepted Jesus as his LORD & Saviour (vs17).
Onesimus had stolen from Philemon (vs18), so Philemon’s sense of having been wronged was understandable and yet the now the strong exhortation of the apostle Paul’s to him was – forgive & reconcile(vs15-18)!
Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is unfair; it isn’t a response to deserved behaviour but undeserved behaviour. Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is only necessary when there has been hurt, pain or a wrong committed. Forgiveness is not earned; it’s given.
What a challenge! So how can we grow in forgiveness?
Remind yourself of what you’ve been forgiven:
Unless we see the extent of the grace and mercy of God that has extended to us, we will be unable to extend grace and mercy to others in forgiveness.
Sitting in that court, looking at that man, I realised that without minimising his sin at all, my sin was just as bad as his, different but just as bad.
Like him, I was rotten to the core, and yet God had saved me! Not because of anything I had done or managed to not do, but purely because of His infinite grace and mercy. I sat there realising that God had justified me – the ungodly (see Romans 4:5). God did not justify me because I deserved it but purely because of His goodness and grace. I was no different from that man; I needed grace as much as he did.
And that realisation is the foundation on which forgiveness is built. We are to forgive others’ just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:32).
Paul wanted Philemon to recognise God’s gracious work of redemption in Philemon’s life SO THAT he would see that extending grace and forgiveness to Onesimus was what God required from him now.
Paul writes to him;
“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” (Philemon 18-19)
Philemon is reminded that he owes God (and Paul) everything. So before he demands pay-back or withholds forgiveness from Onesimus, Philemon should pause and consider how God has treated him.
In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus connects our being forgiven by God with our forgiving of others! And in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus similarly taught through a story of how serious unforgiveness on our part is when we have been forgiven by God! I believe Philemon knew the weight with which Paul was writing when He urged Philemon to forgive and to be reconciled to Onesimus.
Brothers and sisters, when we see the grace of God extended to us, it fills our ‘grace/mercy tank’ enabling us to then pay it forward and share the grace of God we have received with others, SO THAT we can be restored in our relationships with one another.
- Who’s your Onesimus?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to freshly reveal to you the depth and depravity of your own sin which God has forgiven you for.
- Now, prayerfully move towards forgiving your Onesimus as God in Christ forgave you.
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.
In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.
Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.
Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).
The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!
The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.
True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.
I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!
True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.
And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!
Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.
So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.
- Who are you finding hard to love right now? Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle. What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you? And what ought you to do now?
- Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others? Be encouraged. We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress. Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.
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).
[This month in our church’s Bible Reading Plan we are reading the letters of the apostle John – 1-3 John]
Happy New Year! May your year be filled with the presence & power of Jesus in your everyday life. May you listen to Him and His promptings by His Spirit and through His word, so that you may glorify Him with your every moment and advance His kingdom rule and reign while you can.
Last night I was asked by a friend; ‘What’s the plan for our church (www.recroadchurch.co.za) for 2020?’
I have pondered that question many times, and I always come back to the same answer essentially…
Which brings me to the focus of our devotions in January – the final letters from the apostle John to the believers (1 John, 2 John & 3 John).
The historian Jerome tells us that when the aged and last surviving apostle (John) had become so weak that he could no longer preach, he used to be carried into the congregation at Ephesus. Weak and unable to contribute much to the assembly of believers, John would then content himself with bringing but a single short word of exhortation each time.
‘Little children,’ he would always say, ‘love one another.’
When his hearers grew tired of this message and asked him why he so frequently repeated it, he would respond,
‘Because it is the Lord’s command, and if this is all you do, it is enough…’ (David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters)
As the last of the apostles of Christ who was an eyewitness of the events we read about in the gospels, John would have had exceptional authority, and these letters of 1-3 John were probably the last Scripture written.
The apostle John wrote his letters from the pagan city of Ephesus in a time when the authentic Gospel was under attack from false Gnostic teachings.
These teachings claimed special knowledge that leading their proponents to deny the reality of Christ’s incarnation, atoning death and bodily resurrection, and with that to redefine sin and redirect Christian behaviour! (David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters)
The errors of John’s day, which challenged the church, were a result of accommodation of the Christian faith to the prevailing ideas of the secular culture – and a resultant loss of the Gospel.
Every generation has to face up to this same challenge – holding on to faithfulness and relevance. Every generation needs to choose to either stand and lovingly confront or to be conformed to the culture of its day. The danger is no different for us today.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
John begins his letter wasting no time in establishing his core foundational belief – who Jesus is.
- Jesus is the eternal God (‘from the beginning’ vs1). This opening line reminds one of Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 (look them up).
- Jesus, as God, took on flesh, became a man. John testifies that he knew personally. He heard Jesus speak, and He saw Jesus, He touched Jesus’ real body (vs1-2).
- This is John’s eyewitness testimony! Jesus Christ is and was God incarnate, divine & human (vs2).
John starts his letter with this focus on the divinity and humanity of Jesus because most theological error starts with an undermining of who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us in his incarnation, life, death & resurrection.
Every person on the planet will ultimately have to answer two questions and these two questions are answered in John’s letters we will be reading; ‘Who is Jesus?’ & ‘What does this mean for how I live my life?’
CS Lewis famously said of Jesus;
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – CS Lewis
So what do you believe? Who is Jesus? Is He God incarnate? Is He LORD of your life? Does the pattern of your life, do your life rhythms and choices reflect what you say you believe?
As we will see again and again in John’s letters, loving Jesus is connected to loving people. When we love Jesus and seek to obey His leading in our lives, we will end up loving people too!
So, do you want to be happy in 2020? John wanted those who read his letter to have their joy made complete (vs4). Joy is a stated purpose in his writing to them. Joy is a hallmark of Christ’s kingdom (Rom 14:17) and yet needs to be fought for sometimes and is only found in a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ as your LORD, obeying His word and His Spirit.
Back to my friend’s question about 2020… In Mark’s gospel it’s recorded that a person asked Jesus;
28… “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
So let’s make that our goal in 2020. To love God more deeply, to obey Him more fully so that we will, in turn, love people more clearly.
Old Testament prophecies are a little like onions in that they often have layers of meaning. They meant something in that day to those people; they often prefigure Jesus the Messiah in some way, they often have direct application in our lives in the present and sometimes they have an as yet unfulfilled future relevance too.
Hosea 6:1-3 is one of those portions of OT prophecy that from our perspective in redemption history suddenly takes on a fuller meaning.
“Come let us return to the LORD” – vs1
God’s repeated call to His people is that they would reach this point, that they would come to their senses and would return to the ONE who had covenanted to love them. Here the prophet includes himself and appeals to Israel to join him in returning to the LORD.
The good news of the Gospel is this – is it not? God has openly displayed His love for us; God has made it possible for us to have our sins forgiven so that we could return to Him and be reconciled through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.
Have you sinned? Confess your sin and then return to God through Jesus Christ, your Saviour King.
‘For he has torn us, that he may heal us…’ (vs1)
God has punished Israel’s sin, purifying Israel so that healing could come to them. God justly struck them down, but God will bind them up…
Israel was punished for their sin; they were struck down; some were killed; they were exiled.
We too deserve the wrath of God against our sin, our compromise and rebellion against God. And yet God doesn’t strike us!
No. God allowed Jesus’ back to be torn by whips, ripped open by the rough wood of the cross. God allowed Jesus to be killed in our place for our sin. This all happened to Jesus so that it won’t happen to us, to those who put their trust in Jesus. Jesus was struck, we get bound up, healed by His finished work on Calvary.
“On the third day…” (vs2)
The prophet announced to Israel that although their sin was about to be punished, it would not last forever and they would be revived. Hosea and the people of his day could not have known what all was contained in these words of the prophet.
But we know the story. We know that Jesus died but ‘after two days’ (vs2), ‘on the third day’ (vs2) God raised Jesus up just like Hosea prophecied!
Jesus was struck for our iniquities, but He rose again victorious. Not even death could hold him down and because Jesus rose again from the dead we too who believe in Him have His resurrection life in us.
This all happened so that; ‘we may live before Him.’ (vs3). This is the Gospel, hidden in the pages of OT prophecy. Jesus took on Himself the punishment that was ours and rose again victorious on the third day SO THAT we might be forgiven of our sin, cleansed from all our unrighteousness and be reconciled back to right relationship with our Holy God.
We are a ‘third day people’. We have hope because Jesus died and rose again on the third day. It was foretold about 740yrs before Jesus Christ – this was God’s gracious plan all along.
‘Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD’ (vs3)
All that Jesus did for us is worth nothing unless we take hold of the opportunity God has given us and press on, press in to know the LORD.
Jesus has removed every obstacle, removed the sin that separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2); there is no reason why we ought to be far off from God. We can know Him.
But will we? Will we remain far off or will we press on to know God intimately, deeply?
About 28years ago, my Father in law was once asked by my friend who had recently given his life to Jesus on a youth camp; ‘Jeff, pray that I would know God better.’
To this, Jeff replied; ‘I can’t pray that!’
My friend (and I) were horrified at his seemingly unloving response. Then he said words that I have never forgotten; ‘I can’t pray that you would know God better, that’s up to you. But I can, and I will pray that you will WANT to know God better.’ And so he did, and now that friend leads one of the most significant churches in Cape Town South Africa.
Do you know Jesus? Let us press on to know the LORD! The more we know, the more we will love and worship Him.
How long was Gomer waywardly unfaithful to Hosea? We don’t know exactly, but it was long enough to have conceived and weaned two children – so presumably a minimum of 4-5yrs!
All that time, Hosea must have cycled through the whole exhausting range of conflicted emotions. Then God spoke to the prophet; “And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and loves cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1)
This woman who is not named, who is not even called Hosea’s wife she is so estranged relationally from him (see Hosea 2:2), is still rightfully understood to be his wife Gomer for this is the dominant illustration of the book.
And yet God commands Hosea to love her again. Since this is what God does to us, His people, loves us even when we are unlovely.
Hosea obediently goes and buys his wife back from some form of slavery or bondage she has gotten herself into. The fact that Gomer had to be purchased back reveals the desperate situation she has sunk into. No detail is given as to how she got into this situation but for Hosea to reconcile her back to him would cost him the guiltless one.
Forgiveness always precedes true reconciliation, and forgiveness always costs the one who was wronged.
Hosea’s having to pay a ransom price to be able to be reconciled with his wife foreshadows what it cost God to be reconciled back to right relationship with us wayward sinners (Rom. 5:6–11).
God was going to purify Israel through exile in a foreign land – a time when they would have no king of their own. In exile, they would be removed from what had become their everyday idolatry so prevalent in the Northern Kingdom during the years preceding this. (Hosea 3:4)
But after that appointed time, Israel would; ‘return and devote themselves again to the LORD their God and to David’s descendant, their king’ (Hosea 3:5 in NLT). God would reconcile them to Himself after this time of exile. The wayward tribes of the Northern Kingdom who had been in rebellion against God’s appointed line of kings will have to return to be included in the covenant promises to David’s line and the ultimate King of kings who will come from that line – King Jesus!
What does this mean for us today?
- God is patient, merciful and forgiving!
- God loved us and still loves us even when we are unlovely & ungodly.
- God wants a real relationship, a loving, committed relationship with us, and because of that God paid the ransom price by sending Jesus the Son to die on the cross in our place for our sin SO THAT we could be freed from the penalty of our slavery to sin and be reconciled back to right relationship with God.
- What a love story! What a King, what a Saviour. Worship and love Him with all you have for He is worthy.
Unity, harmony and love within the family of God (the Church) is not just a nice to have but essential!
Jesus said it like this; ‘by this will all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:35).
When Paul thought of the Philippian believers and thought of what would make his joy in them complete (vs2) he urged them to do three things;
to agree, to be of one mind
to have the same love
to be harmonious (‘in full accord’) with one another
As believers, a family of faith, a gospel-community, Scripture urges us to be united in our thinking. Disunity of thought brings uncertainty in relationships and damages trust and the vulnerability that trust thrives on. But is such unity even possible?
Yes, it is! Unity is possible for those who have been included and encouraged in Christ. Unity is possible for those who are living in the power of the Holy Spirit. Unity is possible for those who have all experienced God’s love poured out into their hearts (vs2).
Unity without these shared experiences would be impossible, but within a gospel-community, it is possible; otherwise, Scripture would not command it.
More than this, gospel-communities are to be harmonious according to vs2. The Greek word translated ‘being in full accord’ (ESV) can also be translated ‘harmonious’.
Harmony is not the same as unity. By way of example, an orchestra is not an orchestra unless there is unity in diversity, not uniformity. Both unity and diversity are essential for there to be harmony. An orchestra’s beauty is its harmony of diverse instruments united one piece of music. It is having one conductor arranging their unique contributions in such a way that each contributes their unique sound, thus creating a beautiful harmony.
Gospel communities, likewise, are to be united but not uniform. They have a diversity of personality & gift but are united around one desire – to bring glory to Jesus Christ and to serve His mission in the world.
This was a passion in the heart of the apostle Paul, and thus, he makes this appeal to the Philippian believers urging them to be united and harmonious.
So what hinders unity and harmony? Its things like selfish ambition, pride (conceit). Such things ruin relationships and damage people and gospel-community.
Therefore, in the Church, let’s be those who humbly consider others more significant than ourselves. Let’s prefer others, be one another’s greatest fans and be very slow to posture or put ourselves forward (vs3).
Let’s also ensure that we are not selfishly looking after our interests but that we are considerate of the interests and needs of others seeking to serve others always (vs4).
What could possibly motivate us to act in these ways? There is only ONE; His name is Jesus! The single mind that we are all to have (vs2) is that we are all to have the mind of Jesus (vs5). We are to follow His example as He did not live selfishly or proudly but in humility, He came to serve you and me. Jesus, although He was God, emptied Himself taking the form of a servant (vs7), and humbled Himself to the point of death, death on a cross (vs8) for us!
He is our example; He is our motivation. He is the one we worship and live out our whole lives as a response.
Unity, love and harmony matter. But they are only possible when a gospel-community together fix their eyes on Jesus our great Saviour and example and live out their lives with one another as a response to Him.
- Ask God if there is any way you have been contributing to disunity in your gospel-community (Church)? Is there any way you have been acting selfishly, ambitiously or proudly? If the Holy Spirit shows you anything, then repent now of such things.
- Meditate again on what Jesus did for you (Philippians 2:5-11). What do you feel God is showing you about Jesus? What is God showing you that might need to change in your life?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more ‘other-aware’, looking out not just for your interests but also the interests of others.