Life is a response
What’s your lens? (Philippians 1:12-20)
What’s your lens? What gives you meaning in life, and what helps you make sense of all that happens in your life?
As he writes to the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul is a prisoner of Rome because of his faith in Jesus. We know he was confined to ‘house arrest’ for two years, and yet he is isn’t found complaining in his letter to the Philippians.
Consider this for a moment, what would you have been writing about if his experience was yours?
It’s hard to know for sure how I/we would have responded, but a brief analysis of our prayers when life is feeling unfair or hard for us now are probably a good indication.
And yet Paul was rejoicing! (vs18) How could this be?
Paul’s joy, his sense of meaning and purpose was clearly not tied to his personal comfort or freedom – since he wrote this from a period of imprisonment, most likely chained to a Roman soldier.
His lens for life, his life purpose was that the good news of Jesus would be proclaimed & that Jesus would be glorified through his life or death.
And because of this, he wrote; “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (vs12)
His imprisonment gave him access to the praetorian guard (vs13) – a special unit of ten thousand selected soldiers in Rome that had unusual privileges & were influential. He could write that the whole guard knew that Jesus was the reason for his imprisonment. It seems as though God, through Paul’s imprisonment, had inserted him inside the ranks of those who were influential in the great city of Rome, sowing gospel seeds for the future behind enemy lines.
There was meaning in his suffering, in the curtailment of his freedom. And so there could be rejoicing because his lens was God’s purpose, plan and God’s glory, not his comfort or liberty.
What’s your lens? Your lens will focus your attention and define your reaction to life’s varied circumstances.
Paul was strengthened in his imprisonment, knowing that the Philippians were praying for him & knowing that the Helper was with him. And so he was confident that God would deliver him either in the present from Roman captivity or in the glorious future at the return of Jesus (vs19).
Paul embraced his circumstances because of his lens which was that all of his life was to proclaim Jesus and to bring glory to Jesus in how he responded to all of life’s circumstances believing that God was sovereign in them.
And so he wrote;
“…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (vs20)
What’s on display here is the focus of Paul’s life – that Jesus Christ would be honoured by my life whether that means I live or whether I die – Jesus be glorified.
What an inspiration! May his lens be your lens and mine. May Jesus being proclaimed and Jesus being glorified be the priority that pulsates through our every decision and our every thought in every circumstance we endure.
A Prayer for a life that’s worthy (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)
Paul prayed for the Thessalonian believers; he prayed that God would enable them to live a life that would be worthy of the call of God on their lives, worthy of the Gospel.
He prayed that God would give them the power that they would need to accomplish all the good works God had planned for them to do (Ephesians 2:10), good deeds that would be prompted by their faith in God (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
Paul knew that these believers needed;
- God’s enabling power to live holy lives worthy of God
- God’s enabling power to live purposefully fulfilling the call of God on their lives
And so he prayed continually for them so that the name of Jesus would be glorified in the way that they lived their lives.
Amazingly, God has connected our lives and His glory! What this means is that how we live our lives whether we waste our lives on self-centred trivialities or focus on weighty eternal things matters.
And because our lived-out response to the Gospel matters, Paul continually prays for these believers that they would live out a response that would glorify God.
Because Paul prays continually for them, he prays that they would live out a response to the Gospel that is worthy of the Gospel. Because he prays this way, we know therefore that it is quite possible for our lives not to be worthy of the call we have received.
So, what would such a life look like in a believer?
- God and God’s glory not being at the centre but rather self-centredness & worldly thinking dominating their thoughts.
- A lack of a pattern of daily worship and devotion to God (prayer, God’s word, listening to the Holy Spirit)
- God’s church and God’s purposes not being at the centre of their lives, their rhythms and decisions
- Compromise and sin
Paul kept on praying for these new believers in Thessalonica because he didn’t want their lives to look like this list above. He was diligent, even urgent in praying for them no doubt because it was a real threat that they could potentially drift away into lukewarmness and compromise and so he contended for them in prayer.
Having accepted Jesus as our Saviour, we know that we will enter into eternal life with Jesus because we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
However, what is not guaranteed is how we will live out our response to the Gospel! Hence Paul’s continual prayers for these believers.
Brothers and sisters, it is not guaranteed whether or not we will live a life worthy of the call we have received. What is needed is intentionality, devotion, continually choosing to make Jesus the centre of our lives, our thinking, our priorities & decisions. What is required is a continual reliance on and obedience to the Holy Spirit so that our lives will glorify God and fulfil His plans for us.
And then, when our lives do glorify God, somehow this passage says that we will be honoured together with Jesus in some way (see vs12).
“All of this is made possible because of the grace of our God and LORD, Jesus Christ.” (Vs12 in NLT)
May we, may I live lives worthy of You Jesus! Fill me, fill us with your enabling power, help me, help us Holy Spirit to listen and obey You always so that You would be glorified and we would be honoured to along with You. Amen.
Gospel Fruit (1 Thessalonians 1:1-6)
As believers, we have an ancient faith with a modern face! Even though this letter is nearly 2000yrs old, the contents of it still apply today, and the practices and problems of these early Christ Followers are still essentially the same for us today in 2019.
So, what can we learn about our ancient faith from these 6verses? And what is God speaking to you about from them today for your life?
In vs2 we read that Paul and his team were constantly in prayer for these believers. He had shared the Gospel with them but then after only 2-3 weeks had to leave Thessalonica.
So now, separated from them, he continued with what he could do – Paul kept on praying for them. An incredible amount of impact can be made simply through being on our knees in prayer!
Paul knew that he could not assist these believers physically, but he knew that prayer was not just some blessed thoughts but essential for their growth in God and their protection in what was a hostile situation.
Paul was, therefore, constant in prayer for them. How about your life? Is prayer a constant in your life? Prayer is ‘weakness leaning on omnipotence’ – WS Boyd. Are you leaning on God through prayer for others who’s life situations vitally need you praying for them?
“Prayer is an ordinary means to accomplish supernatural ends.” – Mark Dever
Paul goes on to recount how these believers in Thessalonica responded to the Gospel (vs3-5)
The Gospel didn’t leave them unchanged; rather it resulted in three things;
- Work/effort that resulted from their faith in Jesus
- Labour motivated by love for God & people
- And steadfastness inspired by their hope in Jesus
When we are genuinely saved, we are not left unchanged. Thorough changes begin from deep within us but in time become evident to ourselves and to others.
Our energy is diverted & directed towards the things of God. Our efforts become motivated by the new central love in our hearts – love for God. And our lives become secure and stable because our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Think about the Gospel’s impact on your life. How has the Gospel redirected your life’s energy? How has your life-motivation changed? And how has your vision of the future been impacted because of what you know about Jesus?
Lastly, (vs5) Paul knew that these believers were truly saved because of the way that the power of God broke out amongst them when they believed. As Christ followers they were filled with the Holy Spirit and also filled with conviction.
Pray for greater demonstrations of the power of God in your life and in the life of your church. And pray for a real sense of conviction regarding the truth of the Gospel.
Gratitude, Humility & Hope (Romans 11:1-24)
Continuing with his line of thought that reaches back to chapters 9-10 Paul begins chapter 11 asking whether God’s inclusion of the Gentiles means in some way that God has rejected His people Israel (vs1)?
A question to which he immediately replies: “By no means!” (vs1)
After all, we know that God hasn’t rejected Israel because there has always been a remnant of believers in Israel throughout history. A remnant who had been chosen by God’s merciful electing grace (vs5).
And because they were chosen by grace, that rules out their choosing being based on anything else of merit in them. Salvation always has and will always be based on God’s grace and faith rather than human effort, law-keeping or good works (vs6).
Then Paul asks another rhetorical question; Did Israel stumble so that they might fall? (vs11) “By no means!” he replies again (vs11). God has a purpose in all of this.
Israel’s stumbling (over Jesus) has meant that salvation has come to the Gentiles, and those who believed in Jesus have been reconciled with God, they are in a right relationship with God and enjoying His shalom. All of this has a purpose – to make Israel jealous so that they too would desire to be reconciled with God (vs11).
Just imagine how great the blessing will be if Israel is reconciled to God, because if the rejection of Israel meant blessing to the Gentile world, how great much greater will the blessing be to the world if or when the Israelites are included back in (vs12-16). The story of Israel is not finished yet – watch this space!
Gratitude, Humility & Hope (vs17-24)
The olive tree, cultivated in groves or orchards throughout Palestine, was an accepted emblem of Israel. Paul here paints a word picture to teach appropriate gratitude, humility and hope to the multicultural congregation (Jewish and Gentile Christ followers) in Rome.
There is an ancient cultivated olive tree that is being tendered & cultivated by God. This cultivated olive is the people of God through the ages, a tree whose root is the patriarchs whom God chose, and whose stem represents the continuity of the people of God through the centuries.
Some of the original trees branches have been broken off (unbelieving Israel) and in their place Gentile believers, though they are wild olive shoots, have now been grafted in among the other branches. Gentiles who have come to faith now share in the same nourishing sap from the olive root & stem of the history of God’s people through the ages.
The Gentile believers in Rome are being urged to not be arrogant towards those Jewish people who don’t believe (who were broken off so that they could be grafted in vs19). After all, if God did not spare the original tree’s branches, surely He will not spare them either if they too are full of unbelief (vs21). Gratitude & humility are the only appropriate responses.
Then there is a promise of hope to the Israelite unbelievers that they can still be restored and grafted back into the Olive tree because God has the power to do so – if they would only stop their pattern of unbelief (vs23–24).
God’s grace leads any believer and any church community towards three responses – gratitude, humility & hope! These three words must impact our relationships and our community and should guide how we relate to one another in the church.
Faith & Works (James 2:18-26)
Learning to drive a manual shift car one has to learn to coordinate the mind, the feet & the hands. Once you have been driving for a while, you don’t even think about these diverse tasks that need to happen in synchronicity. But during the learning phase, synchronisation is the goal but not always that easy to achieve. Sometimes the engine is getting all the petrol it needs to go forward from the foot, the correct gear has been selected by the hand and head but the clutch hasn’t been released by the other foot, and so much despite their being much in the way of noise and fumes there is no momentum.
Faith and works are a little like the accelerator and the clutch. Having faith without works is like pressing down the accelerator without releasing the clutch.
James uses two examples in our passage from biblical history to show how faith and works are so inextricably intertwined.
The first is the account of Abraham in Genesis 22 when God told him to take Isaac his beloved promised son, and to give him to God as an offering! Hebrews looking back on this moment says; “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham believed God’s goodness & trusted in God’s unseen plan, and so he put his faith into action by placing Isaac on the altar. We know the story, how God intervenes and how the angel of the Lord comes to Abraham to bless him for his act of obedience, his faith in action saying at one point you shall be blessed because; “you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18) Abraham didn’t just SAY he believed God, his faith; “faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (James 2:22).
The second example is the account of Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho who also believed God and acted on that faith. Rahab turned from faith in the gods of her people, she believed that the God of Israel was the one true God and so acted on her faith and harboured the foreign spies making a deal to save her family.
Abraham the father of faith and Rahab a disreputable foreigner, both joined faith and action. In using these two people as examples, James has linked faith and action in such a way that the point he is making in this passage applies to us all without exception!
Our lives, our actions demonstrate that we truly have believed in God. We put no faith in our actions to save us, but having placed our faith in Jesus alone to save us, our actions that follow show that we genuinely have put our faith in Jesus. Our faith is ‘completed’ by our works in response to our faith (James 2:22).
True Religion (James 1:19-27)
What does true religion look like? We live in an age in South Africa where there are sadly repeated news stories of people claiming to be ‘Christian leaders’ doing horrific things.
Many people on a survey form would indicate their religion as ‘Christian’, but their lives belie such characterisation. James says that there is such a thing as ‘worthless religion’ (James 1:26). So, what does true religion look like? What should the life of a Christ Follower be like?
James 1:19-27 offers a few answers to these questions. These 6-things should characterise the believer in Jesus:
1. Restraint, doing more listening than speaking (vs19)
2. Self-control, being slow to anger for anger is not godly (vs19-20)
3. Transformed lives (vs21)
4. Obeying God’s word, acting on it rather than merely listening to it or studying it (vs22-25)
5. Caring for the disadvantaged like orphans and widows (vs26)
6. Keeping one’s life unstained from the sin of the world, being Holy (vs27)
James and Jesus’ thoughts concur we are to be those who bear fruit in keeping with our repentance (Matthew 3:8). Those who have truly believed in Jesus can be seen by the fruit of their lives (Matthew 7:30). We don’t earn our way into God’s heart through good works or a transformed life, we come by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
However, having come to faith, that faith and the love and power of God at work in us produces change from the inside out – that’s true religion. A changed life from a melted heart leading to a faith that’s real and observable both by ourselves and others.
Lord, fill me, fill us again. Make me, make us more and more like You. May, my life, may our lives reflect these transformations and may others be touched by your love in us because we have been touched and transformed by your love for us. Amen.
Do vs believing it’s DONE (Matthew 19:16-30)
A young man, an achiever in life wants to know how to ensure that he obtains eternal life. He seemingly has everything he wants in this life, but maybe he is intrigued by things Jesus has been saying about eternal life and he wants to know how to obtain it.
So he asks Jesus what he needs to DO to get what he wants (vs16). This young man is steeped in religion. Religion always gives one something to DO in order to be accepted.
Following Jesus is nothing like religion and so Jesus is going to reveal the difference between following Him and religion. The man wants to DO something to gain God’s acceptance (that’s religion) and so Jesus plays along with him;
“Keep the commandments” – Jesus says to the man. “Done” the man says, I have kept them all (vs20). ‘You want to be perfect?’ Jesus effectively says to the man? ‘You want to know you DID enough, then just do one more thing’, Jesus says.
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)
This man, in fact no person can DO enough to satisfy God’s requirements. No one is righteous (Romans 3:11-12), all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), the only way to be right before God is to accept the righteousness of God that’s apart from what you DO (Romans 3:21), a righteousness that’s from God through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:23).
That’s grace, that’s the gospel, that’s the good news Jesus brings for each one of us – the way to eternal life is to believe in Him, to trust in what He has DONE for us. And that is the only way to obtain eternal life.
It’s a funny thing, but grace is not appealing to all people. Although God’s grace offers us forgiveness and acceptance soley on the basis of believing in what Jesus has DONE for us, that very offer is offensive to a religious person! How so?
It’s offensive, because in order to receive grace you have to accept that you have not been able to DO enough yourself! In order to receive grace you have to accept that you need grace and that is a humbling hit to the pride that religion breeds.
Scripture says that the young man went away sorrowful, he did not believe Jesus who answered the question he had asked at first. He did not believe that letting go of everything that he had been trusting in, to trust in Jesus was worth it, was the right choice. He didn’t want to humble himself so as to receive grace, and so he went away sorrowful…
Receive Jesus’ grace daily. Trust in what Jesus has DONE for you and don’t ever put your trust in what you can DO in order to please God.
Believe Jesus, believe Scripture. Believe that nothing in this life is worth living for, saving up or hoarding when compared to what Jesus offers those who will lay everything down to believe in Him and to follow Him. Surrender your whole life, all you have to Jesus – you will never reget it. Not in this life and not in eternity either.
9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)
Ten people all in a desperate situation. All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions. Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition. They all needed God.
One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives. Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?
“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?” “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?” “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”…
It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like;
“Guys this is our moment! If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!” And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)
Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith. There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment. But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.
Jesus sees them. Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society. Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help. Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them. Jesus is amazing!
Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter. I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal. A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa). He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say. In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness. Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!
Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14) They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)
It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith. Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him. Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you. Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed. They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.
All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.
Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years. We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear. God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).
But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received. May we be like this guy! May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him. After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come. Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.
Changed… [Matthew 4:18-22, John 1:35-51]
Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus! In Matthew and John’s accounts, at least 7 people have an encounter with Jesus, and in each person’s case that encounter transformed their lives forever.
Simon & Andrew were fishermen. Fishing and sea was their livelihood, it was what they did. They didn’t wake each morning wondering what to do, this was their income, it was even their defining identity. But with just one encounter, hearing Jesus’ compelling and challenging words; “follow me” they immediately left their nets, left their livelihood, left their identities as fishermen all in order to respond to Jesus.
Shortly thereafter, their business partners (James & John) similarly hear Jesus’ call to follow Him, and Scripture says that immediately they too left their nets, their identity, even their father and their servants (Mark 1:19) all to follow Jesus. Luke records summarily, “they left everything and followed Him” (Luke 5:11).
The Gospel accounts don’t record much conversation really. And yet Jesus was so compelling that when He called them to follow Him, they answered and they did so wholeheartedly! Jesus redefined each of these four men. They had been ‘doers’, fishermen, defined by their work. Now they were in an instant defined as ‘followers’ of Jesus, new lives, new identity…
What did they encounter in Jesus that caused this reaction?
John’s account of the same events is full of revelation. John exclaims; “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:35). John in that moment has truly seen who the real Jesus is. Having spent some time with Jesus, Andrew finds his brother exclaiming; ‘we have found the Messiah’ (vs41), likewise Philip finds Nathanael and says in effect; ‘we’ve found the one the whole Law and the Prophets speak of – the Messiah’ (vs45) and Nathanael himself cries out; “Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (vs49). All these people encountered the real Jesus, the King of kings, the Messiah, the got it in those moments…
Those who encounter Jesus are changed by Jesus!
None of them are left unchanged. Jesus changes their vocations, their identities, their relationships even their names! Following Jesus must have been exhilarating yes but it also came at with a high cost, with risk even. All these people have to leave things, people, what they knew for the unknown of following Jesus. They all paid a price in some way or another, and we too will be called to leave or let go at times as we follow Jesus.
Following Jesus was costly, following Jesus came with misunderstanding from others (imagine the thoughts, feelings and questions of the father of James and John’s, imagine their families, those who worked with them and those who knew them as fishermen…), and yet they never regretted it for a moment!
Those who truly encounter Jesus are transformed by Jesus. In fact if your life is not being transformed, if you haven’t felt the call to leave certain things behind, you have to ask whether you’ve met the real Jesus yet?
Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you again and again, in all His glory and majesty.
Hear His words to you; “Follow me”.
What do those words require from you right now today, at this moment in your life?
Is there anything you need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus wholeheartedly?
A new Era! (Acts 2:14-41)
The Holy Spirit has been poured out on those disciples who were waiting and praying as Jesus had commanded them to (Acts 2:1-13), the resultant worship and joy has drawn a crowd of people some of whom are in amazement and some are mocking…
Someone needs to say something! Peter, full of the Holy Spirit stands up and impromptu preaches the first message in the history of the church of Jesus Christ.
He addresses those present, addresses their questions coming from what they have observed (vs15 & 22-24), he draws on OT biblical texts (vs17-21, 25-28 & 34-35) to teach and to convict of sin (vs23) and to motivate them to respond, giving them hope of what God’s response will be (vs38-39).
Many in the crowd are ‘cut to the heart’ (vs37) by listening to Peter’s preaching and as a result they want to respond and so exclaim; “what shall we do then”? (vs37)
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
They asked; “what shall we do?” and Peter’s response is that they should;
- Repent (be contrite & acknowledge your sin before God & then turn from it)
- Receive forgiveness (ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and then receive His forgiveness)
- Receive the Holy Spirit (having been cleansed of sin, be filled with the Holy Spirit and His new life)
- Be baptised in water (make an outward demonstration of the inward step of faith you’ve made)
And then those who did these 4 things, get added to the local church community. The Gospel saves individuals but joins them to a family of faith! There is no such thing as Christianity outside of local church community.
Questions for application
- Have you responded with faith in Jesus to the good news of the Gospel?
- Have you truly received forgiveness and received the in-filling of the Holy Spirit as a believer?
- Have you been baptised in water yet or do you need to still take that step declaring your faith?
- Have you added yourself, joined a local church community as a committed member? What’s stopping you?
Enthusiastic Obedience (2 Kings 13&14)
One section stands out for me in 2 Kings 13-14 and that is the moment just before Elisha’s death when king Joash of Israel visits him. Elisha tells him to pick up a bow and its arrows, then tells him to draw he bow back, and then tells him to shoot an arrow out the east window and he shot the arrow out the east window…
Then Elisha prophesies; “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” (2 Kings 13:17)
God will give them victory over their neighbours who have frequently tormented them, they will destroy them entirely – the constant threat will be gone.
Up to this point Joash has done everything Elisha told him to do. You would conclude that he has been obedient. But then the story takes a strange quirky twist.
18 And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”
Joash obeys the final instruction which does not specify how many times but also doesn’t indicate to stop or do it a short while. Elisha is angry with Joash and tells him that he should have been more enthusiastic essentially and so now because he wasn’t he will not accomplish all that God had planned for him.
Seems a bit harsh?
When I come to passages like this that seem quirky I tend to ask God; Why is this recorded in Your Book? What do you want me to see, hear, understand from it?
I often tell people that quick obedience to God’s promptings is a sign of maturity, but maybe this passage adds another factor – enthusiasm. Without making more of it than one should, this passage does seem to indicate that there is more than one type of obedience. Slow obedience and quick obedience and in addition to that there seems to be such a thing as enthusiastic faith-filled obedience and reluctant faith-deprived obedience.
May I, may we be those who live out quick obedience that is faith-filled and therefore enthusiastic!
Sin is serious & we all have a part to play in the BIG STORY! (2 Kings 9-12)
In what is a long section of brutal narrative…
Exactly what God promised through Elijah in response to Jezebel and Ahab’s killing of Naboth for his vineyard in 1 Kings 21 is now fulfilled and Ahab’s sin and Jezebel’s sin and evil is punished by God in 2 Kings 9-10 by Jehu.
What can we learn from this for our lives?
Sin is extremely serious. If we don’t recognise the seriousness of sin before a Holy God we are deluded, we cheapen grace and ultimately we don’t need a Saviour to rescue us from our sin or to forgive us for our sin.
“Salvation shines forth brightly when it is seen against the dark background of divine judgment. We cheapen the gospel if we represent it as a deliverance only from unhappiness, fear, guilt and other felt needs, instead of as a rescue from the coming wrath.” – John Stott
Don’t prematurely decide that just because people don’t seem for the moment to be accountable before God for their sin and their rejection of Him that they won’t be held accountable by the Holy One.
All people’s only hope is Jesus Christ who was the propitiation for our sin! That means, Jesus was the sacrifice that was paid in our place for our sin, the sacrifice which took away the wrath of God;
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)
Another feature of this section and all through 1&2 Kings are the little cameo’s in the BIG STORY of human history and salvation by often unremarkable individuals who did the work and will of God in the midst of a crooked and evil age.
Little cameo’s like;
- The little Jewish girl who was carried away by Syrians and served in the house of Naaman who believed God could heal her master (2 Kings 5:2-3)
- The unnamed servants of Naaman who helped him not miss his healing because of his reaction to Elisha’s instruction (2 Kings 5:13)
- The four lepers (2 Kings 7) through whom God ended the brutal siege of Samaria
- Princess Jehosheba who hid Joash from Athaliah for 6yrs in the house of God with the priest until the priest anointed him as king at the tender age of 7yrs old.
- Joash the young 7yr old who listened to Jehoiada who discipled and instructed him and so he did amazingly good things reforming Judah and dealing with sin and Baal worship and repaired the temple.
What can we learn for our lives?
You never do know when you are going to do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, or whether you have just done it! – Michael Eaton
God’s kingdom advances through people just like you and I doing often what might not seem like extraordinary things. Live every day as if it is the day you will do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, live on the edge in anticipation and serve God with whatever and whoever God puts before you, disciple, reach out, love, speak the words of God….
Look up! (Colossians 3:1-4)
The letter to these believers in Colossae (and now to you and I) is about to take a turn towards exhortations on how we should live out our response to the risen LORD Jesus. In these verses 3:1-4 the apostle is changing gear as it were, setting up what he is about to exhort us to do, the godly practical life instruction he is about to give…
But before any life instructions are given, Paul calls us to look upwards again, to consider our great and glorious Jesus again.
May Jesus fill my vision, fill your vision. May who He is and what He has done for us captivate us and motivate us to live our lives in a life response that is fully pleasing to Him and is worship to Him (Colossians 1:10).
What is happening or has happened in your life that is filling your vision, your thoughts?
What can you do practically today to fix your eyes again on Jesus, to look up and not down, to worship not worry?
In all the imperatives to godly living that are about to follow in the letter, need something IF they are avoid just becoming like the rule-keeping rituals & regulations of the false teachers that Paul has warned us of in Chapter 2.
You see it is not just what we do, but why we do what we do that matters!
The motivation behind all the instructions for godly living needs to be our love for Jesus. Otherwise these things will become just another religious list like that of the false teachers.
But when we continually contemplate, meditate on Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross, then we are filled with the desire to please Him and when we are filled with the desire to please Him with all of our lives then moral instruction like we have in this letter will not shut down the life of God in us but will stimulate & instruct us on how to live in a manner that is fully pleasing to God – the very thing we want to do.
So, set your mind on Jesus, worship Jesus, love Him more and more and you will want to live the life He wants you to live.
Good News not Good Advice (Colossians 2:16-23)
Religion is both hard work and useless! False teachers had come into the community of believers in Colossae and were spreading false teachings that seemingly urged the believers to live an ascetic life, to give up all sorts of God-given pleasures or joyful things. Their teachings came with rules about special days and ceremonies and rules and regulations that were essential for spiritual growth according to them.
But the Gospel is good news not good advice! Advice requires you to DO something to achieve something, news is hearing about something that has been DONE already. The Christian life is not about list of things we must DO (observing special rules and rites and filling our calendars with special days and traditions…) so as to please God. No the gospel is the good news that God is pleased with us already not because of anything we did but because of what Jesus has DONE for us!
So hold on to Jesus (vs19)! Don’t let anyone who has been taken in by false religious teachings rob you of your joy in Jesus or your freedom in Jesus.
After all, false religion is both hard work and just plain useless! It can appear so intensely spiritual (such people are always so intense) but in fact it’s nothing of the sort. False religion’s foundation is not Jesus but rather self-righteous, prideful, worldly thinking (20-22). Religion and legalistic rule-keeping don’t have any ability to produce true godliness in us or to restrain our sinful desires, such thinking doesn’t bring any freedom or produce any spiritual growth (vs23).
Only trusting in Jesus, responding to the glorious good news of what He has DONE for us at a heart level, only loving Him back and letting His love for us melt our hearts so that our desires change from the inside out, only that will produce true spirituality and godliness.
For sure, the Christ follower’s life does get totally transformed, everything changes as we shall see in the rest of Colossians, but it’s so important to not slip into religious thinking, to not get taken in by false teachings that have the appearance of spirituality but in fact in the end do not help us at all to worship Jesus more fully and live the rest of our lives as a worshipful response.
So don’t let anyone tell you, now that you’re a Christ follower you HAVE to do this or that!
If you’re truly a Christ follower and you’ve seen what He has done you’ll WANT to make changes in your life, you’ll WANT to press in to Jesus and so you’ll do all sorts of things, but you’ll do them from a place of worshipful joy and not duty, you’ll do them because you’ve been accepted and loved by God not hoping that your activity will earn God’s acceptance and love.
Sleep well (John 10:27-29)
Sleeping is a vulnerable necessity. Our bodies need sleep. Sleep is restorative and so essential both in terms of physical and mental wellbeing. And yet sleep is a vulnerable state, one is unaware and unable to protect oneself.
Worry is one of the main enemies of good sleep and so the more one has to worry about the more allusive good sleep is.
People worry about all sorts of things. Some people worry about their salvation, they have believed in Jesus and although Romans 10:9-10 is clear that those who have believed in Jesus ‘will be saved.’ And yet they worry, which just reveals that their trust is focused in the wrong place and on the wrong person.
You and I were not good enough to be saved and we are not good enough to stay saved either! We are saved and justified by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
Yes, there are a number of hard to understand passages that definitely serve as warnings to us, warning us to ‘remain faithful’ to keep our hearts soft and open to God’s words to us, urging us to persevere to the end…
And yet, we need not worry!
Because if you have put your faith in Jesus, if you have asked Jesus to forgive you of your sin, you are justified (declared righteous) on the basis of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, you are adopted as God’s child, you have the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing your inheritance to come…
In addition to this, you and I who have believed in Jesus have words like these from Jesus Himself;
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29)
I love this! Jesus gives eternal life, we don’t earn it through our good behaviour. We will not perish because Jesus has given us eternal life. No one can ever snatch us from Jesus’ hand because it is Jesus’ hand, the same hand that holds the universe in the span of His hand! More than that, you and I who have believed are God’s gift to Jesus and no one is greater than God and so no one is able to snatch us from God’s mighty hand!
Sleep well my friend if you have believed in Jesus.
Live your whole life as a passionate, grateful, worshipful response to God’s grace (Romans 12:1-2), live a life that is worthy of the calling (the grace) you have received (Ephesians 4:1) but sleep well! Jesus has got you, the Father has got you! Sleep well.
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