Relationships

Strange but gracious (Numbers 5:11-31)

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Unjust accusations. Who hasn’t felt the powerlessness of allegations made or words spoken that are not true? What a horrible feeling to not be able to clear one’s name or to alter people’s ill-formed impression of you.

Lingering doubts, on the other hand, can gnaw away at us. We might want to trust the person in question but we can’t ignore our suspicions even though we know they are not verified with proof.

These are the types of situations God’s gracious but foreign and strange command to Moses covers in this passage.

Imagine your husband has suspicions regarding you that you can’t disprove. Imagine you have doubts about your spouse that gnaw away at you and are damaging your relationship.

This strange Old Testament practice of the ‘test for adultery’ made a way for the husband to either remove doubts and suspicions or to have the truth revealed. Yet, it also made a way for their spouse to be cleared of suspicion or to face the consequences of their sin.

In this process, we see God’s protection for both the husband and the wife. If she is not guilty she will be vindicated; shame will be cleared, suspicion gone. If she was guilty but had been deceptive, the guilt will be exposed, which then protects the husband.

Sin is always hurtful; it damages relationships. He will be hurting her if he continues to suspect her falsely, hurting her by not trusting her. She would be hurting him if she had sinned and been deceptive. This process instituted by God sought to provide a way of dealing with sin, with accusation or with the doubts due to sin or potential sin.



It is worth noting that both men and women caught in adultery would have both been guilty! It is not just the woman but both who would have been sentenced to death for their serious sin. (Deuteronomy 22:22)

Adultery, as with all sexual sin, is very serious in God’s eyes. So, we ought not to set our moral thermostat by the culture of our day but let it be re-sensitised by the Word of God.

 From this, we also learn that there are no secrets before God; God knows the secret sins that no one else knows about. God, who sees all will ultimately judge all.

The passage ends affirming that the one who asked his wife to consent to the ‘test for adultery’ will be innocent of any wrongdoing for being jealous and needing confirmation or alleviation of his doubts, whereas the guilty one would then bear the consequences of that sin.

A strange yet gracious and no longer relevant practice instituted by God to remove suspicions & to clear the innocent with God as the witness but also to deal with sin.

What can we learn, what ought we to do?

God cares for relationships. God wants clarity in relationships, clear air, suspicions removed. So talk openly and honestly with each other. God defends the innocent and vindicates them. Sin is damaging to relationships! The covenant of marriage really matters. God punishes sin, so repent of sin and be forgiven and set free to sin no more, to hurt no more but to please God.

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Gratitude, Humility & Hope (Romans 11:1-24)

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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.

Gospel Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility (Romans 10:12-21)

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Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility

I love the remarkable inclusivity & certainty of Romans 10. Paul is determined to make two things abundantly clear;

Clarity

1. That ‘everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4), ‘everyone who believes in Him (Jesus)’ (Romans 10:11), that ‘there is no distinction’ (Romans 10:12) between various groups of people ‘for the same Lord is Lord of all’ (Romans 10:12), that God will ‘bestow His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13), for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13) will be saved!

It could not be clearer; the Gospel is the good news to whoever believes in Jesus. The Gospel is the most significant unifying force in the world! Nothing else unifies human beings in this way. We all have a common problem (sin), and God has made His solution to our problem available to everyone who will believe. Which leads to the second matter Romans 10 makes abundantly clear…

Certainty

2. That everyone who believes in Jesus ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:9), the one who confesses this belief ‘is saved’ (Romans 10:10), such a person who believes in Jesus ‘will not be put to shame’, but God will respond to their faith by ‘bestowing His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13) for those who call on Jesus’ name ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:13).

What assurance! What confidence and clarity the apostle Paul is writing with. There is no uncertainty, no qualifying statements such as “if…” just absolute pronouncements of what God will do in response to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.

No wonder Paul was not ashamed of this Gospel; no wonder he believed that it really was the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16). Do you share his conviction? The conviction that the Gospel is for all people and that you can share the Gospel with confidence knowing that anyone who simply believes in Jesus will be saved by Jesus from their sin and will be welcomed by God into eternal life with Him?

Personal Reflection:

How assured are you of your salvation? God wants you to be assured and at peace if you have put your faith in Jesus if you have believed the Gospel that’s on display in the book of Romans. Do you battle wondering whether you genuinely are accepted by God or not? Read Romans 10 again and again, be fortified by the inclusivity and certainty.

Confidence

Because it is clear that the Gospel is for everyone who will believe in Jesus, and because we have certainty regarding the power of the Gospel to save completely all those who believe in Jesus we can and should share the Gospel with an incredible confidence knowing that it is the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16).

Responsibility

People will not believe unless someone shares the Gospel with them (Romans 10:14-17), and it is the responsibility of every generation to reach their generation with the good news about Jesus.

So, who are you investing in relationally, reaching out to, living in proximity with so that you can share the Gospel with them? How will they be able to believe the Gospel without you sharing it with them at some stage? Remember that ‘faith comes by hearing’ the word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and God has placed you in the lives of people, in proximity to people who God wants you to share the Gospel with so that they can hear and believe.

Don’t hide behind the often quoted nonsense that says; “preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necesary”; when Scripture makes our words necessary! “It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behaviour.” – Duane Liftin

The Gospel is the announcement about the good news of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do and offer to all those who will believe in Him. That announcement, those words of life must be shared by people living out transformed lives which put that Gospel power on display through their lives, but the power to save people is the good news about Jesus not the good news about your behaviour.

May the Gospel’s clarity & certainty fortify us giving us the confidence to take up our responsibility to share it will all those God has sent us to in our everyday lives.

Slander Sucks (James 4:11-12)

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In vs11-12, James comes back to the topic of the tongue and the way we speak to one another. Here James summarises; “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers & sisters.”

The church is a family, filled with real relationships; fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters in Christ. Those who come to faith in Jesus Christ get enfolded into a set of family relationships – is the language of the New Testament.

As a father of four children, and having been raised in a family of four siblings I know that siblings and families don’t always speak to one another according to the instruction of Ephesians 4:29! But we ought to. We ought to build one another up in love not speak evil destructive words over those God has put in closest proximity to us.

We didn’t choose our earthly siblings, but we are joined together for life. Similarly, we don’t choose our heavenly, but we are joined together for eternity. And our Father, much like any parent, desires that we use our tongues to build one another up and not tear one another down.

God’s Word in the OT denounced things like slander & gossip (see Leviticus 19:16; Psalm 50:20 & Jeremiah 6:28), and such instructions are repeated for the believer in the NT (Romans 1:30; 2 Corinthians 12:20 & 1 Peter 2:1).

So, to ignore God’s revealed will by speaking slander to one another is to rubbish God’s law (vs11) or to place oneself over and above the law setting yourself up as the judge of what is right and wrong.

And that’s not wise, James says; since there is only ‘one lawgiver and judge’ (vs12). So to speak evil/slander against brothers and sisters & or to judge others (Matthew 7:1–5) break’s both God’s law and shows contempt for God who is the only judge.

We are the family of God. Our Father’s will is clear – that we love one another, with our words and our actions. May we all remain vigilant to build one another up and not speak evil against each other, knowing that in the church, the other person is a beloved child of our Father who is in heaven too.

Personal Activity:

  • Do an audit of your week and your conversations – how are you doing?
  • Is there anything you need to repent of, make right?
  • How can you be more vigilant going forward?

Life that flows when Jesus is Lord (Colossians 3:17-4:1)

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The little section (3:18-4:1) that follows Colossians 3:17 expands on what it looks like in a number of life-spheres, to have Jesus as our Lord. What it looks like to ‘do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus’, to live a life that is ‘fitting in the Lord’ (vs18) and a life that pleases God (vs20).

Now some of a section like this might ruffle your modern-day feathers and ways of thinking but before you baulk at anything in this section it’s worth noting something…

This section of Scripture is not an appeal to some societal norms at a point in history. Why do I say this? Simply because in just nine verses the imperatives are rooted in the foundation of Jesus being Lord (or some similar phrase) seven times!

This is not some out-dated teaching, but is rather instruction regarding the type of life that is worthy of someone who has been saved by Jesus Christ and who has professed Him as their Lord.

  • ….wives.,submit to your husbands and husbands are to love their wives with gentle affirming love – as this is fitting in the Lord (vs18-19)
  • Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord (vs20)
  • Bondservants (employees), obey…fearing the Lord (vs22)
  • Whatever you do, work heavily, as for the Lord… (vs23) knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance (vs24)
  • You are serving the Lord Christ (vs24)
  • Masters treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven (4:1)

Jesus as our ‘Lord’ can also be understood as Jesus being our ‘King’. In a king’s kingdom, it’s the king that determines the way that life will be lived out, what will be prioritised and what will be outlawed. When we accept Jesus as our Lord, Jesus becomes our King and our whole lives need to then be lived out according to His plans and purposes, His ways.

Jesus’ kingship over us impacts marriage, family, the workplace, all aspects of our days and lives regardless of what we do for a living. We are not to resemble the world and its ways, we are to be a different people, walking to a different drum beat to that of the world around us.

So read and re-read this passage as a wife or a husband, as a child or parent, as an employer or and employee and whatever you do, whatever is your life situation – do everything remembering that ultimately; “You are serving the Lord Christ” (vs24) as you obey these instructions.

So read and re-read and ask Your LORD and Saviour to speak to you personally about anything you need to be challenged on or anything that needs changing.

 

Consumer contract? (Mark 10:1-16)

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“Marriage is a long-term binding commitment epitomised in a covenant.” – T.Keller

In Jesus’ day, the institution of marriage had been eroded by the sinfulness of men and women to the point that marriages were discarded for ‘any and every reason’ by some.

As a result, there was a debate amongst various schools of rabbinical teaching as to what God’s will was regarding marriage and divorce with some being very permissive and others taking a stronger view of lasting covenant.

The Pharisees approach Jesus looking to draw Him into their debate, with some seeking to trap or test Him; “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (vs2)

Jesus answers with a question; “What did Moses command you?” (vs3). Here Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where Moses gave some regulations for divorce. The Pharisees summarise saying that Moses permitted divorce.

Jesus then teaches them that divorce was never part of God’s original plan for us, but that broken covenants are now part of our sin-wrecked world and human experience because of our hardness of heart (vs5). Jesus explains that Moses wasn’t encouraging divorce, rather regulations regarding divorce became necessary because of sin.

Jesus then teaches those present about God’s original design for marriage:

  1. Marriage is heterosexual (‘God made them male and female’ vs6)
  2. Marriage is supernatural (‘two shall become one flesh’ vs8) (‘what therefore God has joined together’ vs9)
  3. Marriage is a covenant promise (the word is not in this passage but the concept is) that is not to be broken

Jesus’ day seems so similar to our day when it comes to the brokeness of marriage and how far our experiences are often from God’s original purpose. Today, for many, marriage is not considered as the only God-ordained context for all sexual relationships. In addition, marriage itself often resembles a consumer-contract more than a covenant promise.

Consumer-contracts are merely agreements that remain in force as long as both parties feel that their needs/objectives are being met by the other party and any failure to deliver or change of desired objectives is grounds for breaking the contract as it is no longer serving its purpose.

A good example is the ‘relationship’ (consumer-contract) you have with your hairdresser. You like your hairdresser, might even love them, you’re committed to them, you only go to them to do your hair. But that ‘commitment’ is only one bad experience away from being broken. In reality, what is really happening is you’re committed to them as long as they do what you want them to do for you. It is not a relationship, it is a self-serving consumer-contract that hold reserve the right to terminate whenever terminating it serves you.

Although you won’t hear many talking like this about marriage, it is in fact the default for many these days when it comes to marriage, and it was the same in Jesus’ day – that’s how far we are from God’s ideal.

A life-long covenant promise however is what Jesus and all of Scripture reveals is God’s desire for us in marriage. Unsurprisingly, God’s way of covenant promise has incredible benefits for marriages:

1) Covenant makes love deeper because it enables a covenant relationship to grow rather than consumer-contract relationship
2) Covenant creates a cradle of security allowing for true relational vulnerability and allowing for true sacrificial service of one another
3) Covenant creates stability through tough times, and gives you something solid to hold fast to when storms hit
4) Covenant gives freedom as you are not ruled by your feelings anymore, you’re not just a slave to the moment, to impulses, to feelings. You’ve made and keep these promises in-spite of feelings which makes you a truly free person.
5) Covenant provides a reason & a resource to resolve conflicts

A marriage relationship founded on a covenant promise provides the foundation for intimacy, stability, freedom and beauty!

How do you view marriage? Consumer-contract or Covenant-promise?

Which raises a question; “What should you do when your experience doesn’t match up with what you read is God’s will for you in Scripture?”

  • Do you bend your interpretation of Scripture to line up with your experience?
  • Do you begin to disregard Scripture?
  • Or, do you repent if any repentance is needed and ask God to help your life to get restored back a place where it more closely resembles what is His revealed will for you?

Because of the brokeness of our world and our lives due to the fall and due to our sin and the sin of others against us, it is highly likely that your experience of marriage up to the present hasn’t been what God’s intended plan was for you. If that’s your story, may I urge you;

  • To repent and make changes if you have been treating your marriage as a ‘consumer-contract’ rather than as a ‘covenant-promise’.
  • To renew your covenant-promise commitment to your spouse if you’re married.
  • To come and be prayed for to allow God to begin to heal you, if you have broken marriage(s) already.
  • To honour marriage highly if you’re not married or not yet married, and to keep for marriage only, that which God has created for marriage alone (sexual relationships).
  • To repent and make changes if you have been sinning sexually, to come approach leadership so you can be loved and helped to honour God in this area of your life.

Faith (Mark 5:21-6:6)

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pistĕuō (Greek): to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), to entrust, to believe, commit (to trust), put in trust with.

Faith is believing God.  Faith is to put one’s trust in God regarding something when one has yet to still see the outcome.  Faith is believing and acting according to that belief.  Faith is always rooted in SOMEONE or something.

Jarius the Synagogue ruler had a need, his daughter was desperately ill.  Jarius has seen or heard of myriads of people being healed by Jesus and on that basis Jarius believes that Jesus is worth approaching and reveals his faith when He says to Jesus (Mark 5:21-23); “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live”.

Coming to Jesus revealed his belief that Jesus was worth coming to, imploring Jesus to lay His hands on his daughter puts his belief about what was possible with Jesus on display.

Similarly, the woman who has seemingly unsolvable long-term medical issues believes, has faith.  Scripture clearly explains that the reason for her action was;

She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” (Mark 5:27-28)

Her thinking was, Jesus is the answer to my unsolvable problem – that’s faith!  And faith is what God loves.  Jesus commends the woman for her faith (vs34) and Jesus urges Jarius to keep believing (vs36) when he hears the news that his daughter has passed away.

Why does God love faith?  

Is it because of the relational component that there is to faith?  

I remember teaching my children to swim in the pool and in the ocean.  I remember so clearly just wanting those little freaked out kids to trust their dad, to believe that he would not let them get hurt or worse, to believe that he knew what they could handle.  I know what it feels like now teaching my 18yr old how to drive, when she is panicking that she can’t do something I know she can do, or drive somewhere where I know she can drive, I know what it feels like to just want her to trust me, to trust that I’ll help, I’ll direct and counsel and together we will achieve things she will be proud of and delighted with in the end…  Faith has a relational component to it.

God loves it when we trust Him, when we choose to believe He is good, He is loving and all powerful and that He knows what’s best for our lives.  Will you trust Him, will you have faith like this woman, faith like Jarius?  They saw their unsolvable problems solved because they believed!

In closing, Mark 6:1-6 is set in stark contrast to this.  Jesus goes to his hometown and He encounters the exact opposite of faith, people don’t believe they disbelieve He is anything special and so it says;

And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6)

Jesus still did some miracles, but it was not much, He was astounded at their unbelief and as a result of their unbelief, His hometown lost out on what might have been if only they had believed like the woman, like Jarius.

Will you believe?

Do you trust Jesus in everything?

Are you living today, filled with the faith that God loves?