Psalm 131 is a little Psalm with a big message for us on day 60 of our national lockdown due to COVID-19.
Peace is an active choice; it is not a state of being that is arbitrarily obtained. This Psalm reveals how peace is the result of choices we make. In this Psalm, David makes four active choices that together result in peace and calm in the midst of trying circumstances.
vs1: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
The first thing David chooses is to reign in his heart. David won’t let his heart get proud. Humility and peace are interconnected. Pride leads to lofty thoughts about your ability or ideas, your grasp on a situation. And so pride multiples agitation and frustration – the absence of peace.
When our hearts are proud we bemoan; ‘Why isn’t what I think should happen, happening?’ Pride gifts one with opinions, and strong opinions don’t tend to lead to peace, especially in the face of an unprecedented national and world crises!
Every time we hear; “My fellow South Africans…” the state of our hearts is tested. The humble heart will see a man, a group of leaders and experts doing their very best, might think; “Phew that must be a hard job!” and won’t just complain and moan & criticise.
Do you need to reign in your heart?
vs1: my eyes are not raised too high;
The second choice David has to make is to curb ambition. Ambition, like pride, doesn’t lead to a peaceful state of being. Proud or ambitious eyes that look up to selfish & ambitious future plans that are being frustrated by the present circumstances are agitated ones – not peaceful ones.
In contrast, humble eyes don’t think too highly of oneself but rather submit to the Almighty hand of our sovereign God who holds all things together by just the words of His mouth. Humble people say things like; “If the LORD wills, we will do this or that.” (James 4:15)
Humble eyes see clearly, understand who God is and who they are in relation to God. Humble eyes rest in the sure knowledge of the goodness of God. They rest in God’s everlasting love for His children and the sovereign omnipotence of God. We can only rest in humble peace when we know that God is good and loving and in control of all things for us who believe in Jesus.
vs1: I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
Anyone who has studied something, in particular, will probably know the paradoxical feeling; that the more you know about anything, the more you realise how little you know!
As human beings created in the image of God, we have this incredible God-given ability to advance knowledge and understanding. But even with all that data and insight, we are finite & limited. God’s ways aren’t ours; God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).
If I am honest, I don’t even know how my toaster works just that it does what I want it to the bread I put in it. I can use this computer, but I honestly don’t know how the computer is transforming touches from my fingers into characters and streaming data to the internet that can be read by yourself..!
David’s third choice that leads to a peaceful and calm life is that he has embraced his limits. He knows that there is much in life that is honestly beyond his ability to comprehend, and so he has chosen not to fret and occupy his thoughts with that which is beyond his grasp.
I don’t believe that this is laziness on the part of David but wisdom. It is wise to know your limits, and wise to trust God where your comprehension is outstripped by circumstances. In bewildering moments we can fathom or control we can either choose to fret and worry, or we can trust our omniscient, omnipotent Father in heaven.
vs 2: But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
David’s fourth choice is his active decision to calm and quieten his soul (his whole body) satisfied to be in God’s presence. David is like a weaned child nestled into the bosom of God, drawing comfort and security from just being there in a relationship, intimate and close to the one who loves him.
In contrast to a weaned child nestling with their mom, a breastfeeding child in that position and posture close to their mother’s breasts will often have their desire for food awakened – they will not be content to just nestle there safe and secure but will want to be fed.
This is a picture of our relationship with God. Are we like a breastfeeding child coming to God looking for something from God, or a weaned child coming close to God simply for that, to be close to God?
In times of personal, community, national and world-wide crises, we can easily be those who are coming to God always asking for something. David challenges us to come to God in a different way, to come close to God not because we want or need something but simply because we love God, and we know God loves us! Come to God contented like a weaned child, come to God not to always ask for something but simply because you get to come into God’s presence because of Jesus!
Think through your prayers, your devotion times. How much of them are just nestling into the bosom of God because you belong there because He loves you and you love Him? Ask God to forgive you of coming just to ask for something else…
vs3: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
The Psalm closes with an exhortation; ‘Hope in Yahweh!’ Put your hope in God alone. Do this now in this global pandemic, do this today and do it for the rest of this life God’s given you. Hope in God for eternity to come. Hope in Yahweh alone, and you will truly be at peace.
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.
Shadows point to something, represent something but aren’t the thing themselves. More than this, shadows are ethereal with no substance of their own, empty without that thing that’s having light shone onto it.
The Colossian believers were at risk from people making more of the shadows than the Saviour! This is still a challenge that can assault believers in Jesus.
Paul is adamant;
So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. 18 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.” (Colossians 2:16-19 in NLT)
Don’t let anyone look down on you or condemn you as less than them because of what you do or don’t eat or drink. Food is just that – food. It is not something that can earn you ‘spiritual-brownie-points’! The old covenant food laws were about purity and holiness (set-apartness), but they are a shadow. They existed prior to Jesus’ coming but now that He the bridegroom has come everything changed. True holiness is found through faith in Jesus, not in ritualistic, moralistic righteousness. True holiness (set-apartness) and is going to be found finally when we are glorified by Jesus at the return of Jesus for eternity with Jesus.
More than this Paul says, don’t let anyone be condescending towards you for not observing certain traditional days/celebrations in the calendar, or fasts either.
God instituted the old covenant festivals as a rhythm of rejoicing, thanksgiving, consecration, repentance and worship to God, a constant reminder of God’s covenant with His people and their specialness to Him. They were a grace to God’s people prior to Christ in the old covenant, but now that the Covenant Maker had appeared, He reinterpreted them and showed that they were all pointing to a life-giving relationship with Him made possible by His once for all sacrifice. They are shadows of an eternity of rejoicing, thanks, consecration and worship to God in eternity. The big idea here is that Jesus is the focus, not the festival! The festivals pointed to Him, and now He is here, He has come and revolutionised what following God looks like.
And finally don’t let anyone trick you, saying that they have visions of angels or special revelations as if these shadows were more important than the ONE TRUE REALITY – JESUS CHRIST. The people troubling the Colossian believers claimed ‘special knowledge’. Paul counters that praying that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and that they would have all spiritual wisdom and understanding because Paul had prayed for them not because they had some special angelic visitation or revelation (Colossians 1:9-11)!
People wrongfully often get off track so that they end up majoring in the minor and minoring in the momentous! People let the shadows (vs17) fascinate them when the ONE TRUE REALITY – JESUS CHRIST (vs17) is right there in front of them and available to them.
Friends, Jesus is our head. The most vital organ in the whole body, the organ that all other body parts are connected to vitally so that they all work together. Hold on to Jesus, who He is and what He has done for you and for me. Find your life-source in Him and Him alone, be more amazed by Jesus Christ, more in awe with Him than anything else. Jesus is all you need,
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent (Colossians 1:16-18)
So make much of Jesus – our SAVIOUR not the shadows.
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!
In the face of heresies, false teachings about secret truths and other such nonsense the apostle Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to remain on course as they walked with Christ Jesus.
Sadly it is all too common for believers to start one way only to go on some serious detours, getting lost along the way because they lost their focus and got their eyes off Jesus.
So, Paul writes to these believers;
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7)
How did you start?
The Apollo 11 space mission on the 20th of July 1969 aimed to hit a specific target in space orbiting the moon 383 000km away from the launch pad. At its maximum velocity, the rocket was travelling at 38 000km/hr. So just a slight deviation of trajectory would have been catastrophic to the whole mission. Getting the trajectory right at the start and remaining fixed on those coordinates was essential for the mission.
Similarly, if we misunderstand our salvation or lose sight of its magnificence or depart from it along the way – it can have a catastrophic impact on our spiritual trajectory.
Paul urges these believers to continue in their faith walk in the same way ‘as you received Christ Jesus’ (Colossians 2:6). It’s worth then pausing to think about how we received Christ if we are to continue in the same trajectory.
- Saved entirely by the grace gift of God (Ephesians 2:4-8) & so we must continue to work out our salvation and God’s purposes for our lives secure in the grace of God. God’s free gift of grace is not just how we begin our faith journey but is its entirety! God’s grace will teach us to renounce ungodliness & worldly passions, to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives, filled with good works in this life as we look forward to Jesus’ return (Titus 2:11-14).
- Saved by a sovereign work of God and so we can live secure knowing that God will complete what He began in us (Philippians 1:6). We can live in the confidence that our hope that we will persevere until the end is anchored in Jesus Christ who Scripture promises; ‘will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord’ (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). What certainty, what security!
- We were chosen & saved because of God’s great love for us, which God fixed on us before He even made the world (Ephesians 1:3-6)! So, because this is how God loved us while we were still his enemies, how much more do you think He loves us now that we are His beloved children? So, live in the goodness and the warmth of the love of God! Let that eternal, unchanging love transform and melt your heart to receive more and more of His love and then to love Him back with your whole life safe in the knowledge that you are loved in the most remarkable way.
- Saved by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3 & Romans 8:1-16) so continue in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit and don’t try to walk the Christian life in your own strength like the foolish Galatians did (Galatians 3:1-6).
Meditating on the wonders of our salvation does something to us. It grounds us, puts our roots down deep into the solid ground that will ensure we don’t get blown over in the storms of life (Colossians 2:7), it stabilizes us because we have foundations (Colossians 2:7) that are strong and secure because they are established in Christ.
Continue in that same trajectory
So, stay on track brothers and sisters. Keep meditating on the wonder of your salvation, thank God for it, mull it over, delight in it and then continue on the very same trajectory. Because then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness to God (Colossians 2:7).
[In the month of April our church’s (Reconciliation Road Church) ‘s Bible Reading Plan we will be reading through the books of Philemon and Colossians. If you want to track with us you can download the BRP by following this link – RRC BRP for April]
Philemon is a very personal letter written by the Apostle Paul to someone called Philemon. Remarkably, the letter was read out to not just Philemon but also to the whole church that met in his house in Colossae!
In the next few days, we will uncover the vital issue the letter dealt with that needed to be challenged.
Today, however, we will concern ourselves with what can be gleaned from the introduction regarding a question that is so pertinent South African Christ-followers at present – what is a church?
We are on day 6 of a national lockdown (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). All public meetings have been banned, including church gatherings!
A unique situation indeed, one that strikes at the very core of what the church is. So in this unique time, it is worth considering what the church is?
Now, Philemon is not a treatise defining & describing the church – however, tucked away here in its introductory verses, are three answers to the question – ‘What is the church?’
What is the Church?
1. A Gathering/Community of Saints (vs1-2, 5&7)
The church is more than, but it can never be less than the gathering of those who have been rescued & redeemed by Jesus.
The church is a gathering, an assembly of believers in Jesus. People who have no righteousness of their own but through their common faith in Jesus are rightly referred to as ‘saints’ in Christ Jesus (vs5&7).
Meeting together as Christ-followers is integral to the church; it isn’t an optional extra that can be easily replaced by some online experience.
There are times when the church is scattered, but it is defined by its gathering together.
In our world so increasingly filled with isolated individuals, the church stands out as a community that gathers together physically in regular rhythms of meeting for worship, prayer, God’s word & fellowship – and those meetings shape and define us.
In this unique time, when we can’t meet physically all together as a church – we ought to feel like something is wrong. The present situation should rub us the wrong way; it should leave us feeling like something is not quite right. It should make us long for the day we can physically gather together in one place all together again – and not just in our homes tenuously connected by some online experience.
And yet from vs2 we can also be encouraged in this time of being apart, that there was a church that met in the house of Philemon!
So, may we remember at this unique time that Jesus promised that He would presence Himself anywhere where two or three people gathered together in His name are (Matthew 18:20).
And, so as you gather as the scattered church know this – Jesus is amongst you as you gather to worship, pray and listen to His word. So meet as the scattered church with faith and expectation for the presence of Jesus amongst you in your homes!
2. A Community of Faith, Love & Mission (vs5-6)
This church Paul wrote to, was known to him – it was a community and a family of faith. Philemon’s family are greeted in the letter, Apphia his wife & Archippus his son.
Paul knew the people in the church; he knew details about their lives. They were defined group whom this letter was addressed to(vs3), a community of faith working out their salvation and working out God’s purpose for their lives (vs6) alongside one another.
The Gospel always creates a community! Wherever the Gospel is preached and received a church, a community of faith is born. The Gospel had been preached in Colossae, and this community which had previously not existed was now a definable group.
In this church, there was faith and love (vs5). The church does not exist to meet our felt-needs. Rather, together, we as the church care for one another’s needs, loving each other as prompted by the Holy Spirit.
The church is not a building, a programme or a random group who all happen to Livestream at the same time!
The church is an identifiable community of people joined together by their common faith in Jesus, commitment to Jesus’ mission (vs6) and by their love, care and commitment to one another(vs5&7).
3. The church has defined leadership (vs2-7)
These people didn’t just meet in Philemon’s house; he led them. Philemon’s faith and love for Jesus overflowed into their lives so that they were encouraged and spurred on in their faith (vs5) and in sharing the Gospel (vs6). Leaders ought to inspire those they lead through their own devotion to Jesus, calling people to do what they are doing!
Philemon’s faith in Jesus and love for Jesus inspired the church he led (vs5) to follow. Similarly, at one point Paul as a leader wrote to the Corinthian church he helped lead, saying; “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
More than this, we read that their hearts were refreshed through his leadership (vs7). They were revived, encouraged, spurred on in their faith walk. Leaders have a crucial role in spurring on and encouraging believers in Jesus and urging them to urge one another as well!
In this time of church scattered, it is vital to remember the relationship God has established between a church and its leaders God has appointed.
It is not God’s will for people to float around leaderless, unaccountable and drinking from every stream of content. In God’s wisdom and love, God gives leaders, shepherds to His church for the good and the benefit of the church. Their role is to shepherd, guard, guide & govern the people God has entrusted to their care (1 Peter 5:1-5 & Hebrews 13:17).
At this time, may you know who it is you relate to as your leaders! God intends that you know your leaders and that they know who you are and that God has entrusted you into their care and that you are committed to them as your leaders.
In closing, these are not obviously all the answers to the question posed, however, they are some of what resides in today’s passage and are relevant to this present moment. God bless you and keep you!