David prays asking God for 8 different things in 11 requests in this Psalm of prayer to God.
- He asks that God would bend down to hear him praying (vs1,6)
- He asks for God to save his life (vs2,16)
- He asks that God would show him grace (vs3,6,16)
- He asks for more joy in his life (vs4)
- He prays that God would teach him His ways so that He could walk in them (vs11)
- He asks for an undivided heart that would fear God tightly (vs11)
- He prays for God to strengthen him (vs16)
- He prays for God’s answer to these prayers to show his enemies that he is God’s and that God is his helper/saviour (vs17)
I identify with David’s 5th & 6th requests in particular. I love his prayer; “TEACH ME YOUR WAYS GOD”.
This is one of David’s prayers that encapsulates the prayer of my life. Through all of life’s circumstances, situations we face and endure, what I want is to know more of WHO God is, WHAT pleases my God, knowing more of HOW God thinks about me and situations. I see an echo in David’s prayer in the similar statement of the apostle Paul when he declares to the Philippians; “I want to know Christ”…
This is the passion in my heart, to God more and more and more. To learn God’s ways, God’s heart and then to please God and to align my life to God’s ways – to be on God’s path not my own.
These prayers and desires are even in the name of our church – Reconciliation Road Church. It’s the idea of the Christian’s life to be a WALK on God’s path; the ‘Jesus journey’. That’s the path I want always to be on and the path I want to inspire others to walk on too!
And David knows that to learn God’s ways, to stay on God’s path and not his own, he needed to pray that God would give him an undivided heart. A heart that reverently feared God kept God in His rightful place as Holy Father, Almighty God.
Reverence is in short supply in the Christian church these days; there is so much lukewarmness and familiarity in believers towards our Holy God. I pray for my life and our lives that we would love and revere God, never losing sight of WHO He is. That reverent awe and wonder keeps me from sin and inspires me to worship.
Teach me Your ways oh Lord. Amen
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).
Taxes, Tithing and COVID19 – what a combo! We are living in unprecedented times of financial hardship. In South Africa, our statistics are that more than 3 million people have been retrenched in the last three months. So we can safely say that for the majority of people we’ve never faced a time like this. In addition to this, many have had salaries reduced, or people’s businesses are under severe strain. Unemployment and uncertainty are at all-time highs.
And then our bible reading plan comes to this little section in the gospel of Mark that seems to have a bit of a mini-focus on money from Jesus as a result of some of Jesus’ interactions.
But is it insensitive to write about money at this time? No, I don’t believe it is, after-all in times of financial pressure or lack we need to speak more not less about money.
Taxes & Tithes
In Mark 12:13-17 Jesus teaches us to be faithful in paying our taxes making our contribution to the governance and upkeep of the country in which we live and in the same moment Jesus teaches us that similarly, we ought to give ‘to God the things that are God’s’ – tithes (Mark 12:17).
Bear in mind that the Roman authority over the Jewish people of the time would have been seen as an oppressive authority by most Jews. This was not a government the Jewish people welcomed, agreed to or voted for! Yet referring to tax, Jesus says that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
Now for most people, tax is normally a grudge expense! It is not common to find citizens who just can’t wait to pay their taxes. However, taxes are necessary for civil society to function and when taxes when are administered well they provide things like physical infrastructure, policing, a justice system, healthcare, education and social services for the poor and vulnerable.
Before you understandably interject about corruption in South Africa and you’d happily pay taxes if you knew they would be stewarded well – may I remind you of who Jesus was telling the Jews to pay their taxes to!
The rule and authority of the Roman Empire was an authority that was not invited but imposed through military force. Yet Jesus tells His Jewish hearers to pay to that authority the tax it was imposing.
Let’s be clear, corruption and mismanagement of public funds are sinful, corruption ought to be lamented over and exposed wherever possible. However, corruption does not release Christ-followers from paying our taxes.
Although I can’t claim to have ever been excited about paying tax. I have tried to shape my heart and my thoughts by thinking about two things;
- My taxes are my contribution to all the good things that taxes enable; it is nation-building.
- And reminding myself that if I’m paying tax, it means I have a job and an income and that is something I never want to take for granted!
I’ve found that these things have helped me in paying tax with a good heart. Jesus doesn’t stop there but goes on in Make 12:17 saying that similarly just like Caesar is owed taxes, it is right for us to give to God, the ultimate authority, our tithes.
A Wonderful Example:
Jesus comes back to the issue of money when He does a remarkable thing. Jesus sits Himself down in the temple opposite the offering box and ‘watched the people putting money into the offering box’ (Mark 12:41).
Since becoming a church leader, for the past 17yrs, I have always kept myself from knowing what people are or are not tithing, but Jesus did the exact opposite! Jesus sat there, watching. People are coming and placing their tithe offerings into the box in the temple, some tithes are large, and some are tiny in monetary terms (Mark 12:41-42).
Jesus watches one poor widow approach the tithe box. She doesn’t have much, that is obvious to see. She isn’t dressed in fancy apparel like the rich people and the scribes (Mark 12:38).
We don’t know much about her other than that she was a widow and that she was poor (Mark 12:42). We do also know, however, that what she put into the offering box as her tithe impressed Jesus more than any of the other offerings given that day.
You see, in the maths of heaven, her two little coins (worth probably less than ten Rands) meant more to Jesus than the great sums of money given by others.
Why is that?
Well in the maths of heaven what makes your gift substantial is the heart with which it is given not the amount that is given. What matters is the wholeheartedness of the gift in relation to what that person has been entrusted with financially by God.
And so, it didn’t matter one iota to Jesus that she only had two coins to give! What mattered to Jesus was her heart of generosity with which those two coins were given. Giving is all about our hearts. Jesus taught that where our treasure is our hearts are too (Matthew 6:21), and I have found the reverse to be true as well – that where our hearts are there our money flows too.
This poor widow teaches us that giving to God is not about affordability but is about our heart’s condition. Her offering was small, but it was large, relatively speaking when compared to what she had – so she had given much. Jesus knows this and so says to the disciples (I think in her presence to honour her);
“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
She had ‘put in more’ than all the others with their big monetary values! Because her heart of generosity and or love for God overcame her state of poverty. Her heart for God leads her into giving wholeheartedly in rich generosity with faith. We know that she gave in faith because having given she then needed to trust God for the rest of her needs (see vs44).
And because of her example, Jesus makes much of her and honours her above all those giving large monetary amounts but giving gifts that proportionately presumably weren’t generous or sacrificial at all.
Were these others’ tipping’ God rather than tithing?
It seems likely. They were all about appearances, but their hearts were not like hers, seemingly. I think to consider tithing as simply giving to God 10% of the income God has entrusted to you is a really helpful thing.
It is helpful partly because the maths is so easy. It is also helpful because giving a percentage of your income in a church like ours where some people earn more than R100 000/month, and some people earn only R1000/month giving 10% honours everyone’s giving equally.
What matters is not the Rand amount, but that you are willingly faithful with whatever amounts of income God has entrusted you with. And so, whatever your tithe’s monetary amount is it is valuable to Jesus!
We have an older single woman in our church, who actually reminds me of this widow. She is actually supported by our church every month and has been for some time. During the lockdown, she made more effort than anyone else I know to tithe on the money we had given her for her provision! She made a big effort each month to make contact and make arrangements for her small offering in monetary terms but big offering in proportion to be given to God! Amazing.
This is what matters that even amid COVID-19 we have hearts that are wholehearted like the poor widow in Mark 12, that we give from whatever it is God has entrusted to us financially even if that amount entrusted to us is less during this time. And, that we give the whole tithe, that we give with faith and with joy in Jesus.
Jesus seems to like to watch what we are giving and wants to commend us for our wholehearted and faithful consistent giving to God in bringing in the whole tithe. Let’s not be like these rich people Jesus rebuked in Mark 12:38-44 who appear to have been tipping God not tithing and so got rebuked.
Is it lawful?
Sometimes a question reveals a wrong motive that is underlying.
By way of illustration; If a young man asks me; “How far can I go physically with your daughter?” I know already that this guy’s not the guy for my daughter.
He should be asking different questions like; “How can I glorify God? How can I honour your daughter’s integrity and purity? How can I respect her and keep her for her wedding day!”
That guy’s asking the wrong question! So I might even reply with a question of my own; “How much do you value your life dude?” And urge him to think twice before ever messaging my daughter again.
The Pharisees come to Jesus while He is teaching, with a question of interpretation regarding the Law and marriage, divorce and remarriage. Their intention was to ‘test/trap’ Jesus (Mark 10:2). It’s worth remembering that when seeking to understand this passage.
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – wrong question! Just because something is lawful doesn’t mean it’s wise, never mind godly.
Take Wing-suits as a silly example (check this link out if you’ve never seen this sort of thing – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbcbjMhvjEs) It is lawful to throw yourself off a mountain, but it doesn’t make it wise?
Or think of smoking marijuana, it’s legal, but that doesn’t make it a wise or godly thing to participate in. Likewise, gambling is legal but not wise and is discouraged in Scripture.
So with just three examples, it is clear that something being legal is a poor indicator of whether or not it is wise or godly.
So with the Pharisees asking; “Is it lawful…” they were barking up the wrong proverbial tree and in so doing revealing their sinful hearts and the patriarchal culture of the day.
Jesus answers them, asking them what Moses said on the matter and knowing their Pentateuch they reply in effect that Moses allowed men to divorce their wives by giving them a ‘certificate of divorce’. The debate of theirs they were trying to trap Jesus in was probably over what constituted ‘indecency’ in the wife that made it legal for a husband to divorce his wife (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Jesus’ response shows that the law given by Moses was meant to limit evil being committed against women not to give reasons for men to eject themselves out of their marriage vows! A ‘certificate of divorce’ was a way of limiting the evil being committed against women and was not God’s good plan for marriage from creation (Mark 10:6) but due to sin and hardness of heart of men and women (Mark 10:5).
Some Pharisees were teaching that men could divorce their wives for ‘any and every reason’! God never intended that there be any divorces, much less divorce for any and every little reason or because someone else was catching their attention. Their question reveals a sinful motive.
Jesus reaffirms God’s plan as found Genesis (Mark 10:6-9); In marriage, God intends for a man and a woman to leave mom and dad to be ‘glued to’ one another in such a remarkable way that those two people become one flesh, no longer two but one. (Genesis 2:24)
And so because of this remarkable one-flesh union that God creates when a man and a woman get married, human beings should not separate what God has joined together.
Jesus answers them, not with a legal answer but reaffirms that God intends marriage to be for life! That was God’s plan from the start of creation, Moses had to introduce a law because of sinful hearts, but God’s plan for men and women and marriage has not changed one iota.
And so, in the house, Jesus explains further to his disciples that anyone who does divorce their spouse, separating what God has intended to not be separated is doing what God is not pleased with.
So much so, that to go and marry another person is to ‘commit adultery’ meaning that God sees the first marriage as still being joined together (Mark 10:11-12)
I can hear you wanting to interject; ‘But….!’
Remember that Jesus is correcting a wrong, sinful attitude that is underlying the question; “Is it lawful…”. Jesus has answered that question emphatically – God’s plan for men and women is that when they marry it is for life, a covenant that holds through life’s storms, through the up’s and down’s of married life, that creates a context of love, vulnerability and commitment.
And that covenant is sacred to God. Our culture treats marriage like a ‘social contract’ that is only valid while the ‘parties’ are getting what they want from the marriage.
Much like the social contract, one might have with your hairdresser – you really like your hairdresser, you always go to the same one, until they mess your hair up one day and then you are free to walk out and end the social contract.
God doesn’t treat marriage in that way and nor should we. Jesus takes us back to something far more beautiful, more robust and more romantic – covenant love that endures through anything. Covenant love that if broken for any and every reason is a major problem in the eyes of God.
- If you are not yet married: Choose today to pursue God’s ideal for marriage and not the way of the world. God’s plan for marriage is beautiful, it’s not easy, but it is beautiful and will bless you richly if you do marriage God’s way with God at the centre of your married life. Pray for your future spouse now and pray that God would prepare you and keep you for each other and help you to find each other.
- And if you are already married: Remind yourself of those covenant promises you made to each other before God, your family and friends. Find them, pray through them together again, recommit yourselves to them! Those promises were not about romance but absolute statements of commitment and love that are what you’ll need in dark or difficult days to hold you together and see you through.
- And if on some issue in life you find you’ve been asking questions of legality, stop and ask yourself if that is really a question you ought to, or want to be asking? Is it a question you would want Jesus to answer?
- Lastly, in all things a great question to ask is; ‘Jesus show me your will in this thing, what will please you?’
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).
Jesus’ parables are mysterious, ambiguous, surprising, and sometimes they raise more questions than answers.
We know from Mark’s gospel that Jesus spoke in parables all the time to the gathered crowd but then explained everything to his inner circle of disciples (Mark 4:33-34).
Once again, in Mark 4:23-25, Jesus implores the people listening to Him to listen well, to press in and to enquire about what He is teaching them.
Jesus is encouraging intentionality, persistence & eagerness in His hearers encouraging them, that the revelation and understanding they will receive is directly proportional to the degree to which they enquire.
If they listen much, listen well, they will receive much, perceive well! Listening intently and persistently is like an investment that guarantees a return in equal proportion to the amount invested.
So many of us live in a world of ease. Our food comes from the supermarket; it is generally not the result of careful preparing of soil, sowing, watering, weeding, harvesting, but rather a simple transaction involving money.
But for a subsistence farmer, Jesus’ words ring true. There is a straightforward relationship between the degree or measure of effort and intentionality invested by the farmer and the result, the joy and fulfilment and nourishment enjoyed as a result.
This is what Jesus is urging those who are around Him listening. God’s kingdom is like this. As a pastor, I meet people who sometimes lament that they don’t know their Bibles as much as Mr X or Mrs Y. They wish for a deeper love for God, a more robust faith, a life-giving prayer life or heart of worship. But so often they are looking for a ‘spiritual supermarket’ where they can transact for it, go and get it.
But Jesus tells us here that His kingdom, growing in revelation, growing in love for God and relationship with God is not a transaction, there is no ‘spiritual supermarket’ but rather the measure you press into God will be the measure you grow in God.
This is not an earth-shattering revelation, it isn’t complicated, but it is profoundly true.
Those who pay close attention to God’s teachings, to His Word (the Bible), those who invest the time to listen to His voice in daily life – they will receive much from God in terms insight and wisdom into the things of God. That is the person who will grow in God and have a life-giving relationship with God, who will know the joy of faith that is robust and prayer that is vital and powerful.
Brothers and sisters, the measure with which we press into Him is the measure by which we will receive from Him.
This is such an encouragement to keep reading our bibles, to keep going to our Father in prayer, to keep meeting for church on Sunday’s and in small groups, to sit under God’s Word together…
I have found this to be true in my life – the more I diligently seek God, seek to know His ways and His will, the more I come alive spiritually. And as a pastor for many years, I have also found this to be true in others over and over again.
Who wouldn’t want a vibrant spiritual life full of spiritual fruit and abundance, joy, peace, hope and fruitfulness?
Everyone wants that surely. Jesus is telling us, press in, keep investing in your relationship with me, the rewards will never disappoint you.
In closing, the incredible encouragement is that Jesus explained everything to His disciples, His inner circle. Many left after these teachings bemused, but His disciples had personal extra-lessons with fuller explanations and Q&A! Brother or sister, if you have believed in Jesus you have Jesus with you always by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – you are in the inner-circle as it were, you are part of the group Jesus will explain everything to! So be encouraged and keep pressing into Jesus by devoting yourself to His Word and to prayer and fellowship with the saints. Amen.
Psalm 19 starts with creation and how what God has made proclaims who God is most remarkably so that no one has any excuse to claim that they do not know of God (Romans 1:19-20).
But the rest of the Psalm is focussed on something entirely different. David, in vs7-13, turns his attention and his delight to a meditation on God’s words, on Scripture.
David delights in, he cherishes Scripture. David has a high view of Scripture that has shaped his life and his worship of God. His outpouring of words regarding God’s covenantal words to him, God’s commands, will, ways and wisdom are profoundly convicting and inspiring at the same time.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
God’s law given to Moses was a sign of the covenant God had made with His people. God’s covenant is a covenant of grace, an outpouring of love and commitment from God towards people that is faultless and full of unmerited favour and love. God’s choosing us brings our souls to life!
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The ‘eduwth’ (Hebrew) or carved stone record of God’s covenant is rock solid & sure – it can be trusted, and trust in God makes the simple person wise.
8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
God’s ways, His commands and instructions straight and true. God created us, so it makes sense that His ways and instructions are for our good and when followed, cause our hearts to rejoice!
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
God’s royal commandments are pure with no hidden agenda ever, and when they are followed, trusted and obeyed, they bring light to all situations we ever face.
the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
All people need to resolve in their heads and hearts who they are in relation to God Almighty and who God Almighty is in relation to them. The reverent fear of Yahweh is appropriate always is it the only pure way to live both now and forever.
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
The judgements, the verdicts of God, are perfect. God’s perspective on people, on situations and circumstances, is always true and perfectly right.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Knowing God’s thoughts on any and every topic is more precious than gold, it is sweeter than honey! God’s Word reveals the thoughts of God, and because it does, God’s Word is to be valued more than anything else and delighted in more than anything else. In God’s Word, we find God Himself, not just ways to live but God Himself!
In God’s verdicts and God’s revealed will, God warns and instructs His children and when we take heed of His ways and His revealed perspective and will and keep them – we are rewarded greatly.
I can testify to this abundantly. Nadine and I met each other when we were just 14yrs old. We grew up in incredible families founded on God’s Word and were part of a wonderfully Bible-centred church and so from our earliest moments as friends, then as boyfriend and girlfriend, then as a courting couple, engaged couple and then a married couple – God’s Word has been at the centre of our relationship and our daily lives. And we can testify that God’s Word has moulded, shaped, protected, enlightened, guided & inspired us! We have been rewarded over and over again by simply believing the Bible and trusting that what God’s Word says is right and true, trusting God’s perspective on life implicitly. Nadine and I have decided that if there is one thing we want to inspire people to do, its to devote themselves to reading and meditating on God’s Word, making it the cornerstone of their lives, their daily food and the lamp to their feet. Friend, God’s Word is more valuable and sweeter than anything else – what are you waiting for?
Is it any wonder that there are always so many things vying for our attention when we want to commit to reading God’s Word, so many distractions, other priorities, interruptions? Is it any wonder that we always seem to have so many excuses why we don’t read the Bible or think that we can’t read the Bible. Our enemy will do anything to distract you, deceive you or discourage you from reading the Bible and making it the cornerstone of your daily life. So be aware of his tactics & resist him. The best form of defence is attack, so dive in and commit yourself to read Scripture daily, and just keep going and in time to come you too will feel like David did about God’s Word.
David closes this Psalm with the following words that have become a precious prayer of mine;
14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
I am convinced I have Italian blood in my bloodline somewhere! I can be hot-headed and quick to speak, and so this single verse has become a prayer I keep on the tip of my tongue when I feel tempted to react or to dwell on someone or something that is not pleasing to God. What a tether for the mind and the heart, bringing us back to the thing we want more than to have the final Word – I want/we want to please God, our LORD, our rock and our redeemer!
A little example at the end of the Psalm of how God’s Word is living and active, how it speaks and restrains evil and gives God’s perspective in the midst of a moment.
I love God’s Word! Do you? Join me! You will never regret devoting yourself to Scripture, never – that’s a guarantee, and there is not much in life that can be guaranteed these days.
National Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions stopping churches from gathering for Sunday worship celebrations have the potential to expose & bring adjustment to some unbiblical patterns that have crept into the church of Jesus. Our passage for today says;
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17)
1. Corporate not Individual Faith
In our individualistic age, we need first to remember that these words were not written to individuals. “We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Colossians 1:2 in NLT) Why is this important?
We live in a self-obsessed age. The ‘god’ of our age in the Western world at least – is SELF. Sadly, as believers in Jesus, we are not immune to the influence of our age.
It is all too common to have individuals or families opting out of regular church gatherings be those physical or virtual due to lockdowns on a Sun or mid-week or for small group times of worship/prayer/God’s word/community/care.
They do so, rationalising their choice to themselves or others even though they are in flagrant disregard to the command of Scripture not to stop meeting together as the church (Hebrews 10:25).
The problem is that the decision making GRID they are using is too individualistic and is not Biblical – ‘This doesn’t suit me, I don’t have time, I don’t need this…service/prayer meeting or small group.’
But what is entirely missing is the biblical emphasis we see in our passage today – the very corporate nature of our faith! Biblically, we are a family, a body of believers. We are not individuals doing what serves us and suits us. We are to be those who think of others and their needs as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4).
In Colossians 2:19 & 3:12-17, we see radiating out of Paul’s letter his understanding of the church as a body. The church as a community of faith formed by the Gospel and deeply interconnected.
- How are you engaging with your local church?
- Are you acting like an individualistic, selfish consumer connected to your church in whatever ways you decide while it still serves your needs expectations and desires?
- Or are you truly there for the whole body, playing your unique part, totally committed for the sake of the whole body?
- I urge you even in these unique times of social distancing, to repent of self-centred thinking and to ask God to help you to make your unique contribution for the sake of those other people God’s put you into contact with through your local church community.
- Get into a Community Group and show up each week when it meets, spend yourself for others and watch what God will do in and through you!
- Show up for church mtgs, prayer times etc. and reach out to others daily.
2. Saturated with God’s Word (vs16)
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (vs16)
The Apostle Paul’s desire for this church in Colossae (and for all church communities) is that it be one that is saturated with the Word of God!
As believers; we have an innate sense that reading the Bible would be good for us and would help us to grow spiritually. And although we might know that Colossians 3:16 urges us to let God’s Word dwell in us abundantly richly – the dangerous modern pattern is that we simply do not read the Bible enough!
Here are some thought-provoking statistics from LifeWay Research (@https://lifewayresearch.com):
- 88% of Americans own a Bible, and 80% consider the Bible to be a sacred book, yet only 20% of Americans read the Bible regularly.
- However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible
- Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day, and a third of Americans never pick it up on their own.
- 57% read the Bible 4 times a year or less!
We are increasingly in a pattern in the Western church at large of wanting to be spoon-fed Scripture once a week by our pastor through the preaching.
If God’s Word were equated to the physical food necessary for nourishment for health and growth – many believers would be on a habitual hunger strike! We would be we emaciated and weak due to our eating only once a week (assuming you come to church every week & that the sermons and worship are Scripture saturated, which is a big assumption)! Is it any surprise therefore that the Western church’s spirituality is so emaciated, weak & riddled with compromise?
I unashamedly want to inspire you to hit the reset button in your life and to inspire others around you in your church to do the same. Decide today to commit yourself to a personal habit, a personal devotion of reading, believing and applying God’s Word to your life and watch what God will do in you!
“When it comes to spiritual growth, nothing beats the Bible… Scripture reflection more than any other practice moves people forward in their love for God and love for others.” – Parkinson & Hawkins
Reflection on Scripture is the most potent spiritual practise you could give yourself to. Let the word of God dwell in you and in your church richly, abundantly, deeply. Make Scripture not just your daily pattern but make it central to your thought processes, decision making, your conversations with others.
Eugene Petersen said of Bible reading that we should “read the Bible with our ears!”. By this, he meant that we need to read listening to the One who authored it – God Himself. The Bible is no ordinary book, so why not try reading, asking the following three questions as you read:
- What have I LEARNT about God/faith?
- What is God SAYING to me?
- What am I going to DO now?
3. #Everyonehasacontributiontomake! (vs16)
As a church, when we all saturate our individual lives with God’s Word, things begin to change as a result in our community of faith.
- We all begin to teach and correct and counsel one another with all spiritual wisdom rooted in Scripture not the ideas of the world we live in or our opinions.
- We also lose our over-reliance on leadership to teach us once a week through the sermon, rather we start teaching one another from the treasures stored up in our hearts from our own Bible reading.
After all, God promised that we would all know Him (Jeremiah 31:33-34), that we would all be filled with the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29) and Jesus said; ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27).
- And lastly from our passage, we all begin to overflow with lives of worship and thanksgiving and praise to God. We won’t have an over-reliance on the worship band to gather us to worship, we will initiate worship in whatever context we find ourselves in, we will break out in hymns and spiritual songs filled with thankfulness to God because we are overflowing with these things because we have filled our own life-tanks and so aren’t relying on someone else to fill us, but we bring our plenty and splash it on everyone we engage with.
Colossians 3:16-17 teaches us that in a biblical church, everyone has a contribution to make! So, let’s all decide today to get into our Bible’s, to fill up our spiritual tank so that we have an overabundant supply to splash on to others in our church.
What a compelling, inspirational picture of what is possible in your church and in your personal life, if only you and I will allow these lockdown moments to jolt us into a personal and church-wide RESET! Let’s respond to God’s Word to us today and see all that God will do as a result.
Paul has been writing and exhorting the believers with many instructions to do & not do (see Colossians 1:1-13). But all get brought together by one exhortation – to love!
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 in NIV)
This makes me think of a piece of power cord transmitting power from some power generation plant thousands of kilometres away to my laptop via a wall plug and this power cord – allowing me to write to you.
That short power cord is made of multiple thin strands of copper wire that on their own would be of no use to me. Because on their own, none of them would be sufficient to transmit the electrical power current needed to run this laptop. More than that, if they were on their own trying to transmit electrical power, they would be more unsafe than helpful putting my household at risk of electrocution and or fire.
But when bound tightly together and ensheathed in a protective outer layer of insulating plastic, they are not only able to transmit the power needed but also are enabled to do so safely!
Similarly, Paul seems to be saying that in all these diverse exhortations he is making for godly living (Colossians 3:1-14), there is one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) that binds them all together.
And that one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) makes all the other exhortations work together, enabling them to transmit something greater and to do so safely!
‘Single issue Christians’ are like exposed copper wires in a power cord without the necessary insulating covering. Have you ever met one of these people? They are fixated on one issue or command or instruction in Scripture and seem almost always to be lacking the protective binding of love for other people!
Take, for example, the very clear command in this passage for believers in Jesus to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality’ (Colossians 3:5). This is like one copper strand of the power cord of this whole passage.
Now a single issue Christian would be 100% right that God’s will is abundantly clear all through Scripture that sexual sin is serious and that it is ungodly and unbefitting for God’s children to engage in ANY sexually immoral behaviour. That strand on its own can transmit the full force and power of that command.
What the Bible teaches in terms of sexuality is not hard to understand – i.e. no sex before or beyond sex with the man or woman you are married to as a believer. Despite the fact that modern sensibilities have changed, God’s commands have not changed one iota and God’s commands need no updating and never will!
Therefore someone who makes much of this one strand of teaching is 100% right, but as Dallas Willard famously said; “It is possible to be right and to be unlike Christ” This single strand of teaching on its own can hurt and damage people if not encased in God’s love!
In this fallen world, living amongst people who are messed up and have messed up and are still messing up, this Scriptural exhortation ought not to be watered down even 0.5%. It is still relevant and still needs to be applied to peoples lives, however, it ought to be done so with the insulating protective cover of God’s love.
So the command of God to remain sexually pure, exclusively faithful to and having sex only with your spouse, and waiting until they are your spouse before you do so – is still to be taught and obeyed.
But it is done best when this teaching is intertwined with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and then encased in God’s incredible love. When that command is in that biblical power cord, the full power of the command can be at work without fear of fire or electrocution – harm being caused to anyone.
Don’t for a minute think I’m advocating some lax sexual ethic! After all, it is not loving to affirm someone in their lifestyle or behaviour when you know that their actions are in direct defiance of our Holy God and Father.
Many times in life, the most loving action is to stand up to someone, to risk offence and to tell them the truth but to so with all the imperatives in Colossians 3:12-17 tightly bound together and all of them encased, bound together in the insulating protective cover of love.
Brothers and sisters let us love one another not with the weak soppy ungodly modern idea that love = affirmation but with the transforming power of God’s word & God’s love.
- Who do you know you might need to challenge about one of the lifestyle sins described in this passage (or elsewhere in Scripture)?
- Pray now and ask God to tightly wrap all the head/heart/attitude directing imperatives around the strand of rebuke you know is needed from Scripture
- Then pray that God would encase everything in God’s love before you speak or act.
Every day we are faced with choices. We have relatively insignificant decisions like what we’ll wear or eat for breakfast. We also face choices that can have a significant impact on our relationships and the state of our hearts.
How we react to things people say and do is a choice. It can feel like we have no control over how we respond because things happen quickly. Someone says something, and it hurts us or offends us, and our thoughts and feelings run away with us. But you do have a choice. Hurt feelings or offences can be like little pet cubs that we stroke and feed. However, those little pet cubs that seem to comfort us grow into lions that devour us.
We are not perfect; nobody needs to be reminded of that. However, we can expect people around us to be perfect, and we don’t make allowances for people’s faults. Paul urges the Colossians not to do this, but instead to be quick to forgive and move on.
Next time you feel offended, stop for a minute. Remember, you have a choice with how you react. If it’s a silly little thing and you can move on, then do it; if it feels like something harder to overlook, ask the Holy Spirit to help you and speak to the person involved, if possible.
Forgiving others can be challenging, but if we don’t, we are the ones bound up in chains of anger and bitterness. Jesus forgave you and gave his very life to make that possible. I don’t think we need much more motivation than that to forgive. The Holy Spirit is your helper. When he sees a willing heart to obey, he rushes in to help us to do just that.
Read this excerpt from Corrie Ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place, as she recalls forgiving a guard from the concentration camp where her sister died:
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a grey overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear.
It was 1947, and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favourite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.
“When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–”will you forgive me?”
And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
And having thus learned to forgive in this hardest of situations, I never again had difficulty in forgiving: I wish I could say it! I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me from then on. But they didn’t.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned at 80 years of age, it’s that I can’t store up good feelings and behavior–but only draw them fresh from God each day.
I find her testimony so helpful because if we wait for the feeling that we want to forgive someone, we never will. Let’s rather do what our Father asks us to do and rely on him to help us to do it.
So, if we choose not to hold grudges, we need to replace them with something else. We have been given new life in Jesus; our Father is the King above all kings, and we have been adopted into his family. Since this is your new identity, choose to clothe yourself with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. That is who you are.
The reality is that we don’t always feel like these are easy choices to make, but remember, you are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. This is not by your strength, but by just being with him and allowing him to change you and transform you.
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.
I find it such a comfort knowing that we have heaven to look forward to after this life. When I feel harassed and don’t have time for things I love to do, I think that I’ll have all of eternity to do those things. When I miss people who have passed on or friends who live far away, I am comforted to know I’ll see them again, and we will have eternity together. When I get frustrated at things in life that are difficult, I know I have eternity to look forward to without those things.
But, we still have to live and get through tough times and the daily struggles we all face. Our most significant comfort and encouragement of all is knowing that Jesus has given us a new identity. He has saved us from our sinful nature and given us a new nature. It’s like he took the old, dirty clothes we were wearing, and he has given us fresh clothes that are clean and new. The change, however, is on the inside. It’s our hearts that he has transformed.
So, in light of this, Paul encourages the Colossians to set their thinking on heavenly things. That is to put Him first in your life and to live a life worthy of his name.
When I think of putting Jesus first in my life, I imagine all areas of my life revolving around him. My thoughts, my priorities, my choices, my actions; I want them all to reflect that he is the one that everything is centred around. I don’t want to make any decisions or do anything without first assessing, “will this please Jesus?”. I don’t want to say Jesus is important to me, but there is no evidence of that in my time spent, my speech and the way I live.
I think it’s essential to look at your priorities and thoughts and ask yourself if they reflect someone whose focus is on things that are important to Jesus or things that the world says are important. They are very different.
You have been given a new life in Jesus. You, with the help of the Holy Spirit, now get to live in a new way. Your Father is the King of Kings, are you living a life worthy of him? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul lists several things that could be lurking in our lives. He is very definite about what to do about them; put them to death, get rid of them, have nothing to do with them.
This side of heaven, we will never be perfect, and we daily have to rely on the grace of Jesus. However, we are being transformed into his likeness as we spend time with him.
When you meet someone who is a Christian, you expect certain things to be true of them. People rub off on us as we spend time together. If we’re spending time with people who are into bad things, it rubs off on us. As we spend time with Jesus, he naturally influences us. We don’t have to try and be more like him; it will just start happening.
There is no better person to emulate. He is everything good. So, take Paul’s advice. Get rid of sin in your life, fix your eyes on Jesus and all that is important to him. It’s a choice you will never regret!
Paul is urging the Colossians to continue following Jesus. Here is how he suggests they do that. He uses the analogy of plants with roots and buildings on a firm foundation.
Both of those things take time to develop. I recently discovered that I could use the bottom of the celery I buy at the shops to grow another plant. I cut off the leaves and the stalks and then put the end piece in a little water. Over time it grew new leaves out the top and roots out the bottom. I have just planted it in the soil, and now I wait to be able to use it in my kitchen. The point of my story is that it has taken quite some time. The leaves didn’t grow immediately, and the roots took even longer to appear. I have no doubt it will be a few weeks before I can cut off some celery to use in cooking.
Similarly, building something takes time as well. Anybody who has been involved in any building project of any kind knows this to be true. If the process is rushed, essential details will be ignored, and the result will be a building that doesn’t last or one that presents problems over time, like leaking or cracking and unsightly parts to it.
I think Paul chose these analogies on purpose because following Jesus, allowing your roots to grow deep into him and building your life on him takes time. It takes time to read your Bible. There is so much to read and understand, yet as we daily read little bits, the Holy Spirit gently reveals more of himself to us and builds our knowledge and wisdom. It takes time to speak to him. Prayer isn’t always easy, but as we persevere, he rewards us with a sense of his presence and even in his grace answers our prayers.
We are all building our lives daily. The question is on what are we building? Are we trying to gain our sense of security from money, relationships or possessions? God is our rock, our refuge and fortress. He is the only secure thing that will not send our lives crashing down in a heap of rubble if we build on him.
We all have roots reaching out to gain nourishment for our souls. Are you reaching out to Jesus or are you reaching out to the things of this world that will never satisfy the longings of your heart, as Jesus will?
As you are faithful in reading your Bible and pouring out your heart to him, you will grow closer to Jesus, your faith in him will grow, and you will recognize a thankful heart in yourself. It can be disheartening when day after day it feels like you’re plodding through reading your Bible and trying to grow in prayer, but remember how slowly a building is completed and how many days a plant takes to grow to maturity.
One day, after many months of being faithful in following Jesus, you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come. So keep going!
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.