Relationships

Unity, Love & Harmony (Philippians 2:1-11)

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Unity, harmony and love within the family of God (the Church) is not just a nice to have but essential!

Jesus said it like this; ‘by this will all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:35).

When Paul thought of the Philippian believers and thought of what would make his joy in them complete (vs2) he urged them to do three things;
to agree, to be of one mind
to have the same love
to be harmonious (‘in full accord’) with one another

As believers, a family of faith, a gospel-community, Scripture urges us to be united in our thinking. Disunity of thought brings uncertainty in relationships and damages trust and the vulnerability that trust thrives on. But is such unity even possible?

Yes, it is! Unity is possible for those who have been included and encouraged in Christ. Unity is possible for those who are living in the power of the Holy Spirit. Unity is possible for those who have all experienced God’s love poured out into their hearts (vs2).

Unity without these shared experiences would be impossible, but within a gospel-community, it is possible; otherwise, Scripture would not command it.

More than this, gospel-communities are to be harmonious according to vs2. The Greek word translated ‘being in full accord’ (ESV) can also be translated ‘harmonious’.

Harmony is not the same as unity. By way of example, an orchestra is not an orchestra unless there is unity in diversity, not uniformity. Both unity and diversity are essential for there to be harmony. An orchestra’s beauty is its harmony of diverse instruments united one piece of music. It is having one conductor arranging their unique contributions in such a way that each contributes their unique sound, thus creating a beautiful harmony.

Gospel communities, likewise, are to be united but not uniform. They have a diversity of personality & gift but are united around one desire – to bring glory to Jesus Christ and to serve His mission in the world.

This was a passion in the heart of the apostle Paul, and thus, he makes this appeal to the Philippian believers urging them to be united and harmonious.

So what hinders unity and harmony? Its things like selfish ambition, pride (conceit). Such things ruin relationships and damage people and gospel-community.

Therefore, in the Church, let’s be those who humbly consider others more significant than ourselves. Let’s prefer others, be one another’s greatest fans and be very slow to posture or put ourselves forward (vs3).

Let’s also ensure that we are not selfishly looking after our interests but that we are considerate of the interests and needs of others seeking to serve others always (vs4).

What could possibly motivate us to act in these ways? There is only ONE; His name is Jesus! The single mind that we are all to have (vs2) is that we are all to have the mind of Jesus (vs5). We are to follow His example as He did not live selfishly or proudly but in humility, He came to serve you and me. Jesus, although He was God, emptied Himself taking the form of a servant (vs7), and humbled Himself to the point of death, death on a cross (vs8) for us!

He is our example; He is our motivation. He is the one we worship and live out our whole lives as a response.

Unity, love and harmony matter. But they are only possible when a gospel-community together fix their eyes on Jesus our great Saviour and example and live out their lives with one another as a response to Him.

Reflection:

  1. Ask God if there is any way you have been contributing to disunity in your gospel-community (Church)? Is there any way you have been acting selfishly, ambitiously or proudly? If the Holy Spirit shows you anything, then repent now of such things.
  2. Meditate again on what Jesus did for you (Philippians 2:5-11). What do you feel God is showing you about Jesus? What is God showing you that might need to change in your life?
  3. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more ‘other-aware’, looking out not just for your interests but also the interests of others.

Death & Hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

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“We don’t like to think about death; yet, worldwide, 3 people die every second, 180 every minute, and nearly 11 000 every hour…As human beings, we have a terminal disease called mortality. The current death rate is 100%” – (R.Alcorn)

Many cultures in the world shun speaking about death for superstitious reasons. However, it is ludicrous to think that we can avoid thinking our mortality since it is both personally inevitable and also impossible to avoid since people die every day and in time, people close to us will die.

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, death has been the normal experience of all of humankind; however, that doesn’t make it natural! Death is unnatural since God created Adam and Eve for eternal life in the Garden. And because it is unnatural, we wrestle with this horrible intrusion into our human experience which tears beloved people apart and brings great sadness and loneliness.

 We need to talk more about death, not less. Not talking about death is non-sensical. No one would approach a monumental moment or an epic life-changing trip to an unknown place without some thoughts of preparation. It is normal for travellers to do some fact-finding and engage in discussions with others to find out more about the experiences they are about to have when planning a trip. We all have a date with death. It’s a date we can’t change, can’t be late or early for and one that we cannot change or reschedule! Therefore, surely it is normal to talk about death with others, to ask our questions and to find the answers in Scripture.

Because Paul’s time in Thessalonica was rushed & was brought to a premature end as he had to leave for his safety. It seems as though he hadn’t managed to get to teach the new believers at Thessalonica about death and what will happen when we die. So when some of their congregation died, they naturally had questions about what happens to those who die. And so now as we read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 we get to listen in as Paul assures them by teaching them what will happen when we die as believers.

1. Don’t be uninformed about those who have died are ‘asleep’ (vs13)

Being naive about life and death and eternal life is very unwise. It will leave you either unprepared or unnecessarily worried about things you don’t need to be concerned about. Those who have died are in a state of waiting what theologians sometimes call the ‘intermediate state’ a transition between this life & eternal life. Here, Paul describes them as being ‘asleep’ waiting for a new dawn, the day when Jesus will return in glory.

2. We don’t grieve as others do, who have no hope (vs13)

Because of what we know (which will be expanded on in the verses that follow), we do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope because they have not believed in Jesus. What we know gives us peace and hope both for ourselves and for those we love. Note, however, how Paul does not say; ‘don’t grieve’! We do grieve as believers. We grieve because death is a terrible, unnatural, intrusion in our lives and relationships. Death is our enemy that Jesus came to destroy and overcome, but that victory will be only fully realised at Jesus’ second coming. So in this life, we do grieve, we suffer the pain of separation, but we do so with that pain limited by hope!

3. Our hope is rooted in our belief that Jesus died and rose again (vs14)

Jesus rose again victorious from the dead, and so we know that we too will rise with Him (Romans 6:4). As Rick Warren said; “Death is therefore not your termination, but your transition into eternity.” Famously DL Moody supposedly said; “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” And as PJ Smyth says; “Do you best death – all you do is promote us!” This is why we do not grieve as those with no hope do.

4. The Great Reunion! (vs14-17a)

We know that at his glorious second coming Jesus is going to bring with Him all those believers who had fallen asleep before that moment. They will rise from their state of sleep and will meet with us in the air with Christ! What a day, what a reunion! I am sitting writing this in an airport. I love airports and watching some people both crying and as they hug good-bye, aching for the moment they will be reunited and then also others crying with the joy of home-comings, reunions of loved one. Imagine for a moment all the married couples being reunited, parents and children, best friends. Can you hear the excited chatter? Can you feel the relief and the intensity of the hugs, can you see the Father’s joy?

5. Together Forever (vs17b-18)

Paul goes on to complete this thought with the words; “and so we will always be with the Lord”. This reunion of believers never ends; the joy will never subside or be replaced by a new sadness. This is the era of unhindered & unending proximity to Jesus and one another. The best you’ve ever experienced of the joy of relationships in this life is the worst you could imagine in the new heaven and the new earth because even best things are tainted by sin in some way or end through our mortality. The best is yet to come! So, encourage one another with these words (vs18), speak about our glorious future and allow that certain future to shape today.  

Lastly, maybe contemplating these things will also cause you to have the courage to reach out to someone who doesn’t yet believe in Jesus Christ so that they could be with you in eternity – share your life with them, share the good news of Christ with them, bring them to church.

“It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our final day” (Matthew Henry)

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.

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.