Faith Community

Week 1

1.The community of faith

Acts 2:37-47

 
It has been said that the church was not born in the upper room – it was conceived in the upper room but born in the market place! On the day of Pentecost the promised Holy Spirit came to all those who were gathered together waiting on him. They then left the room where they were gathered, went in to the market place and began to tell people about what had happened..
 
Peter who was the disciple that denied that even knew Jesus and along with the other disciples had been hiding ever since Jesus was crucified now somehow had become a man of courage and he stood before the crowd and preached to them about their sin. When he concluded his sermon as recorded in Acts chapter 2, many of his hearers, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit asked what they needed to do to escape the judgment of God. Peter responded that having believed in Jesus they should turn from their sins and as an evidence of their belief be baptized. On that day 3000 people were added to the number of the disciples – this was the birth of the church. Baptism was the method by which new believers became members of this body.
 
This new church was not an organization as such but a gathering of people drawn together by a common desire to identify in their shared faith in Jesus. As they met together there were some things that they did which were particularly noticeable. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles – they were eager to learn all about Jesus and how they should give evidence of their newfound faith in daily life. They participated together in all of life – they ate, learned and prayed together. They demonstrated fellowship at its deepest level.
 
As these new believers met and prayed, ate and learned together they discovered more about the person of Jesus and all that he had given to them. The consequence of this was a sense of awe felt by everybody. They witnessed many miracles that were an evidence of the Holy Spirit in their midst, however there was also a very practical aspect to this new found faith and fellowship.
 
The common faith the people shared resulted in unity and concern for one another. So much so that those who had the ability shared their own possessions with those in need, they took every opportunity to meet and worship God and to visit each other in their homes and to share meals.
 
The attitude that pervaded this first church was joy, cheerfulness, sincerity and love. They spent much of their time giving thanks and praising God. The result, not surprisingly, was that they enjoyed the favour of the whole community. So attractive were they in their lives together that the Lord added to their number new believers every day.
 
As believers in Jesus we become part of a household of faith that worships and serves together seeking to know more about Jesus. As we demonstrate his forgiveness and love we should expect God to make himself known through miraculous acts and also to gain the favour of the wider community. As we do, God will add new believers – every day.
 

  1. How would you answer someone who said that they didn’t believe that is important for a Christian to be a member of a local church?
  2. What were the characteristics of the early church as it met together?
  3. What was the result of these early church meetings?

 

  1. Growing Through Difference

1 Corinthians 12:4-7

 
As individual believers join together as the church they are described in the Bible as the ‘body of Christ’. This is a reflection of God’s desire that the church continue to do on earth the things that Jesus began to do in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
 
While it is clear that all believers everywhere comprise one church or body, it is also true that any group of believers meeting together also represents the body of Christ. Indeed, even when only two or three meet in his name, his fullness is present with them. Each local congregation of believers is made up of a diverse group of individuals who are often quite different from each other in matters of taste, social and ethnic background, talent and ability. Nevertheless, they are moulded together by the Holy Spirit to become one body.
 
In this process of moulding the Holy Spirit gives to each person a particular gift that he intends to be used to build up the other members. These spiritual gifts differ from one person to another and are not decided by an individual’s own personality, talent or abilities but by the sovereign choice of God himself. As we use our gifts not only do we build each other up but we make known to the world the nature of God. Each gift is a representation of God’s character, as it is used his very essence is displayed. When all the gifts are on display, so too is the manifold nature of God.
 
The gifts that God gives vary in function. Some gifts have to do with the explanation and preaching of the Word of God, others include healing or exhortation, acts of compassion and mercy while yet others have to do with the practical aspects of our life together. In each case the gift is given with the expectation that it will be used in the household of faith that is the church. The gifts are not intended for the benefit of the one using or having the gift, nor are they to be exercised outside of a relationship with the broader body of Christ. The gifts we have are not only intended to build up the church but to reveal God to those who have yet to have faith in Jesus. It is only as each gift is used, as the Holy Spirit enables and as Jesus as Lord directs, that the who nature of God is revealed.
 
No two people are the same; we all have different characteristics including our personality and abilities. However, although we are different we are equal in God’s eyes. One member is not more valuable than another or more important than another. God by his grace gives good gifts to all his children so that they may work together in building up the Church. As we work in harmony God’s nature will be made known and people will be drawn into the community of faith.
 
Do you know where you fit into the body? Have you identified the gift God has given to you and are you using it? Each day seek opportunities to build up your brothers and sisters in faith as you exercise your God given gift.
 

  1. What is the purpose of gifts given to the body?
  2. Which of the gifts do you think the non church community would most want to see?
  3. How do you see this working out in your life?

 

  1. Having Favour with The People

Luke 4:14-21

 
The first church grew day by day with the addition of new believers because it had favour with all the people. Those people included the religious Jews who didn’t share the beliefs of these first followers of Jesus and the Romans who were occupying Jerusalem as a foreign power. The enthusiasm the new believers had for the teachings of Jesus and their desire to serve each other and the wider community meant they looked on favourably and  church that is  well thought of if it is an asset to the community. The sense of fellowship, love and unity that existed in the first church not only benefited them, if benefited the whole town!
 
When Jesus stood up and told his hearers that he was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy, as recorded in Luke 4, he didn’t intend that only those of faith enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom– they were for everybody. It is by no means clear that all those that Jesus healed, or fed or ministered to became his disciples– but their needs were met anyway. As the church is the embodiment of Jesus we are to continue doing the things that he did when he was physically here on earth. He healed the sick, he fed the poor, he set the captives free and he bound up the broken hearted – and so must we. The Church must continue to do these things and of course if it does, it will gain the favour of all the people.
 
Jesus didn’t heal people just to be a person pleaser – he was motivated by genuine compassion for the needy and the hurting. We too as his continuing presence in the world need to experience this same compassion and demonstrate his love to those we meet. As Mathew records in his gospel, Jesus, in the middle of busy ministry engagements stopped and saw the people and had compassion on them. He saw their need and he responded to it. In the midst of our busyness we must stop and see the people and do what we can to alleviate their need. (Matthew 9).
 
Among the gifts God gives the church are mercy, compassion, liberality and healing. It is as we use these gifts that not only do we see the evidence of changed lives but we also make known to our community the whole nature of God. The added benefit is that we will enjoy the favour of the people. The church should never be just a social agency, its primary responsibility is to tell people the good news about Jesus, but it does this in while responding and meeting the needs of a hurting community. Of course it is neither intended nor possible that we as individuals do the work alone. One of the advantages of the church as an organized body is the increased ability to work together to meet genuine need. But that doesn’t mean that was as individuals leave it all to an organization, we must also do what we can with what God has given to us.
 
It is as we manage our gifts, resources and abilities effectively that we are able to meet the needs of the lost and the hurting in our world. God expects us to see people as he sees them and then to do all in our power, individually and collectively to meet their needs.
 
Are there ways you can put your talents, gifts and resources at the disposal of the church that will assist it to meet the needs of our community?
 

  1. In what ways would the activities of Jesus help establish favour with the people?
  2. How might the spiritual gifts you have been given be used to help in this task?
  3. According to Jeremiah 29:5-7 how else can we seek the benefit of our communities?

 

  1. Now The People

1 Peter 2:4-10

 
Coming in to relationship with Jesus Christ results in our having a new status given to us. We are now the People of God. Before this we represented different nationalities, social classes, educational groups, races and so on – we were not ‘a people’ but now we are! We are special – we have been chosen by God to be his people, we are a royal people a holy nation set apart for God’s own possession. It is natural to identify with our country of birth or the one in which we live and be loyal to it. If we were disloyal we may even be called traitors! But once we become followers of Jesus, we are citizens of a new ‘country’ – the Kingdom of God. It is that nation that to which we owe our loyalty and whose values we adopt.
 
The people that we have become is characterized by Peter as a building, a spiritual house. Each one of us is a living stone that is shaped to fit perfectly into the place prepared for us, a building that is perfectly fitted together built upon the foundation that is Jesus. But the building that we have become is not just any building. It is a spiritual house, a place where God chooses to dwell. Peter goes on to say that this spiritual house becomes a place for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God.
 
But what are these sacrifices? A little further in the text Peter tells us that the reason that God has chosen us as his special people is so that we can tell the whole world about his glory and majesty. We can explain that we have been called out of darkness into his marvelous light. The highest form of sacrifice we can offer our God is to tell others about him. We are to be a holy people – to be holy means to be set apart for a special purpose. The purpose we have been set apart for is to tell others the good news.
 
We are to be living stones that grow. We are to grow in such a way that we will be better able to fulfill the purposes he has for us. Our growth is to be spiritual growth and it is to be continuous. As we contemplate our lives over recent times, are we able to discern how we have grown spiritually? As new believers our growth can be quite rapid and obvious to others, but as we get older in our faith the growth becomes a little less evident. Sometimes it seems that we have achieved a certain stability as a Christian and no new progress is made. While this might be acceptable in our physical lives, and unfortunately as we get older sometimes our faculties decline, this is not to be the case in our spiritual life. God wants us to keep growing, to be daily changed and increasingly conformed into his image. Dr. D. James Kennedy once said that the problem with most people today is that they are satisfied with where they are spiritually, but dissatisfied with where they are materially. It ought to be the other way around.
 
The building that we are part of is expected to grow, as the stones grow. That is not the physical place we meet in one or twice a week, Jesus is not impressed by the size of our building, the number of people that fit in it or the colour of our walls. He wants the community of his followers to grow together, to stretch and adapt to one another so that it increases in its ability to make the change in the world that his kingdom will bring. Our challenge is to never stop growing which means that the building we are will also always continue to grow
 
 

  1. What new status does a Christian have?
  2. What does it mean to be a ‘living stone’?
  3. What are the spiritual sacrifices that you can offer up?

 

  1. Plants in the Garden

Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

 
Of the many metaphors or pictures that are used in the bible to describe the people of God, gardens or vineyards are popular. Any gardener knows that the quality of the flowers and fruit of the plants in his or her garden depends upon the quality of the soil. (Please no one bring up hydroponics!) For this reason considerable time and effort is spent on getting the soil right. Rocks and debris need to be removed, compost, fertilizer and trace elements need to be added and water made available. The more time that is spent on cultivation, the better the result.
 
Jesus tells the parable of a farmer who went out to scatter seed. All of the seed was good quality; it was all capable of becoming a plant that would bear good fruit. Unfortunately not all of the seed fell on good, well prepared soil. Most of it still took root and survived for some time, but only the seed that fell on good soil produced fruit. Some seed never even took root, it was snatched away immediately. All of the other seed had a chance to grow – if the ground had been more receptive it would have done.
 
The good news of the gospel is the seed that is scattered into the hearts of the people in our community. We are those who sow the seed, but we have an added responsibility  – to prepare the soil of the hearer’s heart so that it can receive the seed and ultimately bear fruit. Jesus said that Satan snatches away the seed that is sown into the heart of the one who doesn’t understand. Our responsibility is to do all we can to bring understanding to the hearer, to explain things in word and action in such a way that the message is clear.
 
In other illustrations that Jesus used the primary responsibility for bearing fruit rested with the hearer. However the Christian community still bears responsibility. Sometimes a person may respond emotionally to the good news and when the pressure of life comes on, the shallowness of this response causes the plant to whither. We need to ensure that the person who receives the good news responds intelligently and not just emotionally. They need the knowledge of truth and encouragement during times of testing.
The person who receives the gospel but isn’t prepared to separate themselves from their old world and values are like the seed growing among thorns. Eventually these thorns will grow up and strangle the good plant to death. It may struggle on, but there is no vibrancy, no life and no fruit.
 
All of these people exist in the body we call the church. Many have responded, often with joy, but their lives have become stunted because of the reasons mentioned above and we as the church have a responsibility to care for and nurture these people just as a gardener tends his or her  plants. We must work to remove the weeds, rocks and debris that choke out growth. Pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to add the nourishment that brings growth and that he will also apply the pruning shears to areas of deadness. But even after pruning the wound that is caused to the plant may need to be treated and protected so that no disease gets in.
 
Of course the church also contains those that bear much fruit and we celebrate that together. But those that are fruitful still need to be pruned, fertilized and to have the soil in which they are planted improved. Our task is to collectively work together to create and maintain a garden in which all the plants of the kingdom can flourish.
 

  1. How important is it to sow seed in good soil?
  2. How can we improve the soil before we sow?
  3. How can the church tend the plants in the garden, for example pruning and applying improvements to the soil?

 

6. Belonging to God’s Family

John 3:1-15

 

The Christian life is one that has a different nature to normal physical life. While all of us share the common thread of humanity – some have an added dimension which gives to them a quality not possessed by all. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that while all men and women are born of water not all are born of the Spirit. It is only those that are born of the Spirit that can know that they have the promise of eternal life. Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again (or from above). This was not only true for Nicodemus it is true for all who want to enter the Kingdom of God and receive the promise of eternal life. The Kingdom of God is present in the world today in the life of the church. It is only those that have had this experience of being ‘born again’ that are truly members of the body of Christ that is the church.
 
Not everyone who is a genuine believer in God can point to a specific time when they knew without a doubt that they had gone through the experience of new birth and yet they know that it happened. Few of us can remember the events or details of our own physical birth, and yet we know it must have occurred. There is evidence of life and growth, the testimony of others and probably family resemblance. Others may have witnessed the birth and can tell us about it. We know we have been born because we have life! So that may be true of your birth into God’s family – you may struggle to name a time and date it happened, but you know it did, all the evidence is there!
 
The person who is born of the Spirit has the witness of the Spirit within. There is evidence in their life and resemblance to other family members. There is something about the Christian that binds him or her together with other family members. The organised or institutional church will sometimes contain persons who, while having some of the characteristics of other family members do not share the same life giving Spirit. It is not sufficient to attend ‘church’ or to involve yourself in the activities of Christian life, you must be born again. Each person must come to an experience of receiving the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Even those who have grown up in the Church and enjoyed the benefits of membership in the body must know that they have personally been born of the Spirit.
 
It may be that you have always been part of a community of faith and you have participated in the life of the Church, but still you are not sure that you have in fact received this new life personally. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal himself to you and confirm the fact of your new birth. If you are not sure, there is no shame in asking him to baptize you with his presence and establish the fact of your birth, filling you with his love and grace and guaranteeing you an inheritance as a child of God. The word baptize can cause some confusion, it means to be overwhelmed or immersed and that is how it is meant when referring to an experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. It does not mean that there has to be dramatic evidence but it will produce certainty in the believer of their acceptance into God’s family. Some people will have an immediate emotional or spiritual response, but that doesn’t always happen. When Peter, Paul and others baptized new believers it was to signify that they had been immersed in the body of Christ and adopted into God’s family. Water baptism is a public testimony of an inward reality. If you have come to faith in Christ and have not been baptized, then it a  great (and Biblical) way to make sure your friends all know!
 

  1. What is required to become a member of a family?
  2. Can you live in the same house with others but not be of the same family?
  3. In what ways does your church demonstrate that it is a family?

 

  1. That the World May Know
    1 Corinthians 13:1-13

    The passage in 1 Corinthians 13 is often used in wedding ceremonies as an illustration of the love that should exist between a husband and wife. While this is a most reasonable thing to do, the passage actually is intended to explain the relationship that exists between the members of the church. Jesus said that the world would recognize his disciples by the way they loved each other. Sometimes it seems that Christians believe that what Jesus meant by love was grudging tolerance, however he intended the type of love described by Paul in his letter to the Corinthian Church.

    That Paul used this illustration in the midst of his teaching on the use of spiritual gifts in building up the body is no accident. The type of love required of Christians is a gift of God’s grace. It is not possible to act toward one another in this way unless the Holy Spirit enables it.It is also noticeable that it is more important to love one another than to exercise any or all of the gifts.  In 1 Thessalonians 4:9,10 Paul encourages the church to make it their ambition to excel at loving one another-the evidence of God’s presence is not the use of charismatic gifts but of love. The type of love that is patient and kind, that is not arrogant or boastful, doesn’t always insist on its own way or remind others of their past failures. It doesn’t get irritable but bears and accepts injustice. This love doesn’t take pleasure in the failure of others but is always glad when the truth is made known.
     
    If the church typifies this type of love then the world will sit up and take notice. God is not asking us to tolerate one another, but to love each other and to do it in such a way that the world notices. We need to remind ourselves that love when used in the Bible is not an emotion, but a verb, a doing word! When we are told to love someone, just as husbands are instructed In Ephesians 5, it means to do the things are that show we love, like the list in I Corinthians 13. It is more than showing an emotional reaction.
     
    In writing to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2 God commends the members for their hard work and perseverance. They had even suffered physical persecution and had not surrendered their faith. They had worked hard to maintain good doctrine – by all accounts they were doing everything they should, as God would want. But after this encouraging pat on the back, God delivered a stern warning – they had lost their first love and if they didn’t recover it he would remove the Holy Spirit from their midst.
     
    While this first love related to their attitude to God himself it also concerned the relationships of the individual members to one another. God required that they do the things they did at first, that is, love one another. They were to show this love by demonstrating the qualities of love spoken of by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.
     
    Do we as a church love one another? Is there evidence in our lives of the presence of God’s love? Perhaps individually and collectively we need to seek a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit of love so that we can convince the world that we are his disciples.
     

  1. According to John 13:34-35 what is it that will convince others that we are disciples?
  2. How would you expect this to be demonstrated?
  3. How do you see the description in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 lived out in your church?

 

 

Week 2

1.First Place in Everything

Colossians 1:15-29

The centre of our faith is the incomparable Jesus Christ. Our beliefs are not based on a series of philosophical truths or logical arguments but on a person. A person who is at one time fully human and fully God.

Christians are not called to follow a systemized religion but to come into a relationship with a person. This person is Jesus Christ. The Scripture tells us that he is the beginning of all things; it is he that initiates and maintains all of creation, all things in heaven and on earth owe their existence to him. This does not mean only men, women, plants and animals but to angels and demons as well. No demon in hell exists except by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

He existed before all of creation and it is by his creative act the world and all its inhabitants came into being and they only continue to exist so long as he intends they should. His creative activity finds its fullest expression in the act of reconciling all of creation to God through the work of the cross. It is in his own body that he has made peace with God.

When Jesus rose from the dead he demonstrated that the power Satan has exercised over men and women everywhere has been taken away. As the first born from the dead Jesus destroyed for all time Satan’s works. Death no longer holds any terror for the Christian – the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is made available to all those who believe in him so that they no longer need to subject themselves to the activities of the devil. Now they can have the assurance of eternity in peace with God.

This person, the first born from the dead, the initiator of creation is also the head of the church. The church is described as his body because it acts in accordance with the desires and wishes of the head. The head is also the place of authority  – the church has authority over the heavenly realms because its head is Jesus Christ. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, the place of all power and authority and the church possesses this same power and authority because it is connected to him as its head.

The church has been given all power and authority in the world to accomplish God’s purposes. So long as we, the body, remain connected to our head, Jesus Christ, we have no need to fear the works or power of the devil. The church has authority over him and needs to confidently exercise this as it fulfills the commission given to it by Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the centre of our faith, he is to have first place in everything. As we listen to him and discover his plans and purposes we know that we have all the power and authority we need to accomplish his desires for us in this world. The kingdom of darkness must retreat as the Kingdom of Heaven advances. As we, the church, resist the works and activities of the devil he must flee.

It is God’s desire that Jesus reconcile all things in heaven and on earth to himself and Jesus has determined that we as his body should be his agents of reconciliation in our world. Let us go forward with all the power and authority that is ours as part of the body of Christ and invade the kingdom of darkness.

  1. If Christ is supreme in all things, how should this be evident in us as individuals and in the church?
  2. Is truth something that is primarily known or experienced? What does it mean for you to know Jesus as truth?
  3. Is Jesus the centre of your life?

 

  1. Heaven Rules! – OK
    Isaiah 9:2-7In Daniel 4 a dream of Nebuchadnezzar was interpreted by Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar was told that all his power and success would be taken from him because he had trusted in them rather than in God. However he was assured that a remnant would be left to him, and his kingdom would be restored, when he recognized that Heaven rules.Isaiah the prophet looked forward to a time when one would come who would rule on earth as a heaven’s representative. When he comes all those who live in darkness will see a great light, all those who are oppressed will be set free and the government that he brings will be typified by justice and righteousness. (Isaiah 9)
     
    Of course Isaiah’s  prophecy looks to the person of Jesus Christ. It is in him that heaven rules. The government of this world and all that it contains, the heavens and all of their hosts will rest upon his shoulders. He came as a son, but reigns as Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace.
     
    When Jesus came to earth and commenced his earthly ministry he announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand. It is Jesus that holds the keys to death and Hades and it is him who has authority over all things whether in heaven or on earth. In Matthew 16 Jesus told his disciples that these keys were to be given to the church. The authority that Jesus has by virtue of his place in the Godhead is given over to the church to be exercised on earth. The authority and the power remains in heaven, Jesus said that whatever was bound by the church on earth would be bound in heaven. While it is the church’s task to announce it to the kingdom of darkness, the authority rests with the Lord Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father. A Hallmark of Jesus’ reign is peace, he came to announce peace on earth, it is by his life, death and resurrection that this becomes possible. It is these things that destroy Satan’s power and takes away the enmity that exists between man and God.
     
    There will come a time when all those who believe in him will enjoy peace on earth. In the meantime we live with the assurance of Peace with God and the anticipation of a future where sin and all of its consequences will be destroyed. It is our responsibility as citizens of the light to bring light into our world, to proclaim peace and to do justice. Even though we see the kingdom of darkness all around us and it seems that the church is losing the battle, we have his assurance that his government will increase and go from strength to strength until his coming again. Let us act as citizens of a Kingdom that has won the battle and is advancing day by day with all the authority of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us remind the devil that no matter what he does or says – Heaven Rules! – OK?
     
     
  1. What does it mean to you that you are a citizen of Heaven?
  2. How does the church exercise Jesus’ authority on earth.
  3. If heaven rules, why is there so much strife in the world?

 

  1. Not of This World
    Romans 12:1-21As believers in Jesus Christ we have become citizens of Heaven. Colossians 1:13 tells us that we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Son. Philippians 3:20 adds that our citizenship is in Heaven. Because we belong to this Kingdom our lives and values should reflect those of the one who is King. Romans 12 instructs us that we are no longer to be conformed to the world of which we were once citizens but to be transformed by a complete re-orientation of our minds. Our values should no longer reflect those of the world we have left, our language, values and priorities have changed.We are now citizens of Heaven – the ideas and aspirations of the one who rules in Heaven should be ours. Our responsibility is to live in this world as ambassadors for the Kingdom we represent. We still live in this world, but we carry ‘diplomatic immunity’ which protects us from its ruler. We are protected by all the power and might of the Kingdom of Heaven. Any attack on us is an attack on heaven itself and all the might of our King will be brought to bear against the one who attacks us. An Ambassador does not spend his or her time trying to convince the people of the land in he or she is placed that their country exists, their role is to tell everyone how good their country is and explain why they should want to go there! You and I are ambassadors for the kingdom of heaven living examples of the benefits of citizenship brings.We know that a time will come when the devil, the ruler of the earth will be brought before the judgment seat of Almighty God. His punishment has already been determined and he will be locked in the pit of hell for eternity. Meanwhile as ambassadors in his kingdom we must be careful not to conform to its standards. As we daily renew our minds by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit we will declare to the world what Gods good and perfect will is.God’s desire is to bring peace to all mankind, he has provided the means for this in the person of his son. The evidence is given in the lives of his people as they conduct themselves in the world. Romans 12 tells us how we should live in relationship with one another and it is as we live this way that we overcome evil. As each member of the body serves the other and uses the gifts and graces God gives we build one another up. As we serve God with diligence, being careful to remain fervent in Spirit we announce to the world that the Kingdom of God has come.

    We are called to be ambassadors of Christ, peace makers in a hostile world. We make peace not by demonstrations of force but by doing good. So far as it is possible we are to be at peace with all – we are not to take revenge for injustices done to us but to allow God to bring justice to all. The values of God’s Kingdom are not the values of the kingdom of darkness. We are citizens of Heaven, our lives must reflect that citizenship, therefore do not conform to this world but each day allow God’s Spirit to bring your mind into harmony with his.

  1. What rights does a citizen have?
  2. What does an ambassador do?
  3. What makes a ‘good citizen’?

 

  1. Put Away the Gods
    Joshua 24:16-24At the end of Joshua’s life he reviewed, with the people, their history. He reminded them of their escape from Egypt, their testing in the wilderness and their entrance into the promised land. As he brought back to their memories the blessing, provision and protection of God he put to them a challenge.Joshua’s challenge to the people was that they serve God in sincerity and truth. They had received a land they had not worked for, a land full of promise, but in order for them to enjoy the blessings of the land they needed to be wholehearted in their worship of God. If they expected God’s protection they needed to serve Him, and Him alone. The evidence of the people’s sincerity would be that they put away all the gods and idols of the land from which they had come. God expected them to serve only him and not allow any other object of worship to take his place.Joshua expressed doubt that the people could do this, he was certain about himself – he and his house were going to wholeheartedly serve the Lord, but he thought this too big a task for the people. But the people of Israel insisted that they would put away all of their gods and idols and would serve God wholly and sincerely. So, having received the assurance of the people, Joshua led the people in making a vow to God of their faithfulness.

    There is an obvious parallel for us, the people of God. As we come to Christ he gives us an inheritance that we have not worked for and he promises his blessings and protection as we live in a land of peace in the midst of a hostile world. But he demands from us that we be absolutely loyal in our allegiance to him. We cannot live in his kingdom enjoying the benefits of his protection and blessings while serving the gods of other kingdoms. The gods of the nations we have left behind are the things we trusted in for our identity and security. They may include wealth and possessions, careers and homes, accomplishments and education, training and even families. None of these are wrong in themselves and they only become gods and idols for us when we trust in them rather than in God himself.

    Do we place our confidence in our earning capacity or our achievements? Are we able to face the future with confidence so long as we have paid off the mortgage? Do we spend more time and energy maintaining our interpersonal relationships than our relationship with God? If we do these things then perhaps they have become idols and false gods for us. God will allow us to place our trust in these other things but as long as we do he doesn’t guarantee his blessing or protection. Of course some who choose to follow Jesus come from different religious cultures and experiences, all of which require commitment to their own gods. It is not possible to serve the gods of other religions and expect God to protect deliver and bless us. He say he is a jealous God that does not stand for rivals. Like the people of Joshua’s day a choice is needed. Choose God and worship him, or find some other god and accept what they can offer.

    If we desire the privileges of living in the Kingdom of Heaven then we only have one choice – the Lord, he is God serve him!

  1. Are there things in your life that you tend to depend on, more than the promises of God?
  2. Do we sometimes resent giving God our time or talent or even our treasure because we have to go without something we want?
  3. Can we, like Joshua, confidently say “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”

 

  1. Our Certificate of Citizenship
    1 John 4:7-21According to the apostle John there was one quality that all children of God possessed that would identify them as belonging to the Father. Unless this quality was present then the children were not legitimate and could not share in the benefits that came from being co-heirs with the Son of God.All of God’s children must demonstrate the quality of love. In the first place they must love God and then they must also love one another. The Christian takes on the very nature of God when he or she is born again by the Spirit of God and adopted into his family. God is love, it permeates every aspect of his being and out of this great love he sent his Son to take away the penalty of our sins and make it possible for us to be brought into peace with him.
     
    As a demonstration of his love God also sent his Spirit to dwell within us. This Spirit confirms to us that we abide in the Father and that his nature abides in us. Because the very nature of God is love, his love must dwell in us. He has demonstrated his love to us by sending us his Son and we demonstrate this same love by the way we relate to one another. We do not have the freedom to choose whom to love rather we are to abide in love so that it becomes part of our very nature. We will respond to all people from a heart of love, one that looks beyond the fault or weakness and sees as God sees. Giving love unconditionally and without reservation.
     
    This love, the love God supplies grows from day to day is perfected as we surrender our hearts and our will to him. It means that on the day of judgment as we stand before the Father we have confidence because God will come to us and be able to say ‘I know you are my children because you love others as I love you.’ This love of God takes away any fear we may have. We do not need to be afraid of the future or of the present. We have no fear of condemnation or the attacks of Satan because we share the love of God – and his love casts out all fear.
     
    To have the fullness of the love of God in our hearts is to be confident in all the things we do. We can face any eventuality confident with the assurance that we are God’s children and we are being made perfect by his love. As his love grows in our lives it dispels all fear. Fear and love cannot co-exist, one displaces the other and while earthly love can be overcome by fear, the love that comes from the Father, the very nature of God himself cannot be overcome or even diminished by any thing in heaven or in hell. The antidote to fear is not toughening up, or practicing some methods of relaxation or similar it is allowing the love of God to overwhelm you and fill you, because where the love of God is fear cannot exist.
     
    The love, which is the evidence of our relationship with the Father, is also the seal on the certificate of our citizenship. We are citizens of Heaven and we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit. This seal carries the stamp of love imprinted upon it and unless we carry that seal then we are aliens in the Kingdom of God. Let us be sure that we give evidence of the love of God as we love and serve each other and that we daily grow in that love expecting God to perfect it in us.
  1. What is the evidence that God’s love dwells in us?
  2. How can you experience the love of God?
  3. In a world where the media and others seem intent on creating an atmosphere of fear, what is the antidote?

 

  1. Established in Love
    Ephesians 3:14-21As Christians we are planted in the love of Christ. This is the fertile ground in which we grow. The apostle Paul prays that we grow according to the riches of Christ’s glory and that we be strengthened by God’s power in our inner being. Having been established in this love and with the strength God provides we are to do all we can, together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to learn about the extent of this love. How broad is it? How high? How deep? Can we ever comprehend the extremities of God’s love?

    Of course there are no limits to God’s love – he is love. He is the author and perfector of love, to find the limits of his love is to find the limit of God himself and he is infinite, unlimited, all-powerful, and ever-present. No matter where we go – God’s love is there. No matter how far we feel we have strayed from him, his love finds us there. Whether we find ourselves in the depths of despair or the heights of ecstasy God’s love is with us. It can never be exhausted or outrun or escaped from.

    And yet despite our endeavours to discover the extremities of God’s love we are reminded that it can only be known through a relationship with Jesus Christ. God does not want us to simply understand that his love is unlimited and inescapable; he wants us to experience it personally. We must come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and it is in this that we discover the reality of his love. This love surpasses knowledge; it must be experienced not simply comprehended. To experience God’s love and to grow in relationship with Jesus Christ causes us to be filled with the fullness of God. This is his will for us, not just as individual believers but as the church. He doesn’t want us to grow in isolation but together with all the saints. He wants to fill us with his fullness, for us to know the depths of his love and the enormity of his power.

    This power that God causes to work within us is able to do more than we can dare to even imagine. He wants to abundantly supply all we need to bring glory to him. As we discover the love of Christ we learn that it is his will to bring all people everywhere into relationship with him. It is this that will bring him glory.

    We know that God desires to redeem all people to himself and we know that he will supply more than we can ever imagine to accomplish this purpose. Let us with confidence reach out into our world with his gospel believing that he can do all things through the power that is within us by the love of Christ.

It passes knowledge, that dear love of thine
My saviour Jesus, yet this soul of mine
Would of thy love in all its breadth and length
It’s height and depth and ever-lasting strength
Know more and more

Mary Shekleton and Ira D Sankey

 

  1. How can the church together learn about God’s love?
  2. If Christ’s love surpassed knowledge, how can we comprehend it?
  3. What limits God’s power?

 

7. Nothing is Impossible

Luke 1:26-38
 
When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Mary he announced that not only was she going to have a child but that the one who would be born was going to be the ruler over the House of Jacob. To say this was a shock would be the understatement of all time. Not only was Mary not married, she was still a virgin!
 
As a Jew Mary would have been looking forward to the coming Messiah. The one who was to come to restore to the people of Israel the promises of God. She was no one special, didn’t come from an influential family, and certainly would not have expected to be the mother of the anointed one. Not surprisingly Mary queried the Angel, not on the basis of her fitness to be the mother of the Messiah, but because she was a virgin. Perhaps she thought the whole idea was so fanciful, so bizarre, so impossible that it simply could not happen.
 
However the angel assured her that she would indeed become pregnant and she would give birth to one who be called the Son of God. And to confirm that God is the God of the impossible informed her that her older cousin Elizabeth, who was supposed to be unable to have children, was 6 months pregnant – ‘for nothing is impossible for God’.
 
The promise that God made to Mary through the angel was that a son would be born who would have the throne of David and whose kingdom would never end. What would have been going through Mary’s mind during her pregnancy? What did she think, how could she make sense of it all? At the time of Jesus’ birth shepherds came and confirmed the words of the angel, a little later Jesus was presented in the temple according to Jewish custom and two prophets; Simon and Anna also confirmed the destiny of the child. Within a short period wise persons from a distant land also came bringing gifts and worshiping him.
 
The coming of the Kingdom of heaven is summed up in the person of Jesus. He was conceived by a miracle and born in the most humble circumstances. He came as the promise of God to fulfill the eternal promises of God. God chose a humble woman who had found favour with him to be Jesus’ mother. A young woman of no particular merit – except that she enjoyed the favour of God. She was the agency by which God chose to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. A young woman faced with the prospect of disgrace because of her place in God’s plan and yet God exalted her, blessed her and protected her because of her faithfulness. Because of her obedience and faith a child was born who became the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
 
God uses the most humble of means to accomplish the most extraordinary purposes – he delights in demonstrating that nothing is impossible to the one who believes and acts in obedience to his call. God sets before us a tremendous challenge – ‘go into all the world and make disciples’ he gives us all authority in heaven and on earth to accomplish this task and promises to be with us always. Let us accept his commission with confidence daring to accomplish extraordinary tasks believing that the power that works within us can do far more than we even dare to imagine.
 

  1. What made Mary suitable to be the mother of Jesus?
  2. What makes you suitable to accept his commission?
  3. What limits your willingness to accept his challenge?

 

 

Week 3

1.Excel Still More
1 Thessalonians 3;4

 Three times in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica Paul urges his readers to excel still more. They were already doing well but there were some areas in which they could do better. Paul was encouraged by the way these young Christians were growing, he had received a report from Timothy that they were continuing in their faith and had expressed their love and concern for him and his companions. They were standing firm, resisting temptation and were genuine in their commitment – but there was still room for growth.
 
The first area Paul suggests that they should strive to excel in is in relation to their love for one another. He goes further than this, the love that they have for one another should extend to all men (and women). It is comparatively easy to show love to those we like or get on with, but to love all people, even those that are sometimes objectionable and even offensive? In this context Paul is reminding the Thessalonian Christians that they were not to confine their affections to those in the church but to extend them to those who were not part of their fellowship. If we are to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ we must love them in the same way that Paul loved those he lead to faith in Thessalonica and that Jesus showed when he gave up his life for us all.
 
Secondly Paul urges these young believers to excel in their personal lives. In particular they were to be pure in their behaviour, especially when it came to their sexual relationships. At the centre of the need for constraint in the area of sex Paul points out the need not to defraud a brother. To take something that belongs to another is fraud, it is inconsistent with any notion of the expression of love. The attitude of the community in which this church lived was casual in regard to sexual relationships. It is evident that it was common for lust to be given fairly free reign and fidelity in marriage was not held in high regard. As a consequence Paul reminds these believers that their behaviour was to be different, it was not appropriate to pursue relationships with another man’s wife or to commit adultery. Our own generation is very casual in its attitude to sex. It is no longer expected that sexual relationships will be confined to marriage or that a marriage will be of lifetime duration. In the midst of these lax moral views Christians are called to be different, to be pure and whole heartedly committed to their own marriage. They are to excel in their marriages so that they may not reject the Holy Spirit that God has given to them.
 
The third area in which these Christians was to excel is in business! The reason that they needed to excel in their work life was so that they could behave properly toward outsiders. When Paul uses this term he is referring to those who are not Christians, their salvation is always at the forefront of Paul’s thinking. The way we conduct ourselves at work and in business is essential to the way we communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. In fact it is only as we work hard that we are able to conduct ourselves properly toward those outside of the church.
 
Our work is not just something we do to earn money, or the way we occupy ourselves between bible studies and church meetings. It is the primary way we demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ to those outside of the church. Paul calls us to strive to excel in the area of business and work. We are to demonstrate to the whole world that our work is important to God and we are to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to excelling in the way we work and do business. It is as we excel still more in our relationships, marriages and work that we make known the good news of Jesus to those outside of the household of faith.
 

  1. What things does Paul suggest we should excel in?
  2. How is it possible to love all men (and women)?
  3. What do you think about the idea that we should excel in business?

 

2. Make It Your Ambition

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

 
Three times in Scripture Paul talks about ambition. In Romans 15:20 he writes that it had been his ambition to preach the gospel, not where someone else had preached but in new fields, to people who had never heard the gospel before. In 2 Corinthians 5:9 he declares that it has always been his ambition, in whatever he did to be pleasing to God and now in 1 Thessalonians 4 he urges his readers to make it their ambition to mind their own business and to work hard with their hands so that they would be able to behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
 
We can well understand the first two of Paul’s ambitions because they involve the spiritual aspects of life. Surely it is reasonable to be ambitious to reach the lost with the gospel and every Christian should obviously do their very best to please God in whatever they do. But to make work an ambition? Surely this is worldly, a desire that belongs to unregenerate life. Not so, Paul makes it clear that it is his desire that the Christians to whom he writes should strive to be successful at work.
 
The word that is translated ‘ambition’ in many of our Bibles comes from the compound Greek word meaning to love honour. In other words Paul is suggesting that his readers should deliberately seek to receive honour from people, and from God, they were to be ambitious and successful. There is a tendency among some Christians to assume that success is somehow unspiritual, that it is wrong to be recognized as an achiever in our chosen and God given fields of endeavour. Nothing is further from the truth. God does not delight in failure; in fact many times in the Scripture he gives instruction on what must be done in order to succeed. It is suggested by some that we should seek success in spiritual concerns such as soul winning, answers to prayer, even preaching but we should remain silent about our achievements in the business world. Somehow or other our work is unspiritual, unfortunately this idea reflects a total misunderstanding of ministry and the opinion that God has of the work we do.
 
All of the things we engage in should be expressions of worship, our activity at church, the songs we sing and the prayers we offer, but also how we spend our recreation and the business we conduct each day of the week. Most believers will spend far more hours at work than they ever will at church, and it would be unreasonable to presume that God is not interested in the way we spend the majority of our time. He is not only interested, he wants to see us succeed, and in fact he wants to work alongside us so that we will succeed.
 
The ambition that Paul speaks of however does not draw attention to itself. We are not be ambitious for glory and so even in our success we do not promote ourselves but instead point to the one who gives that success. It is as we remain in right relationship with God that we can not only expect to succeed in all of our endeavours but we can also be sure that the focus remains on God. It is not wrong to succeed – God expects it. Christians are not called to be mediocre; they are to be ambitious to do well. They should exert every effort to succeed in their God given fields of service. It is not only reasonable but right that we receive the respect that comes from others when they see that we have been diligent to apply ourselves and gain the profits and rewards that come from hard work and integrity. Paul says to excel still more as we make it our ambition to mind our business, to work hard and therefore conduct ourselves properly toward outsiders. How ambitious are you? Are you working with God to ensure that you do succeed in the things you commit to?
 

  1. What three ambitions did Paul speak of?
  2. What ambitions do you have?
  3. Is it right to be ambitious?

 

3. A Quiet Life

2 Thessalonians 3:11-13

 The first thing we are to be ambitious to do is live a quiet life. These two things seem to be in conflict with one another. Most ambitious people are far from quiet, they like to make sure that other people are aware of their achievements – they want to draw attention to themselves. But we are to make it our ambition to live a quiet life.
 
Success and self promotion are not the same thing. Many very successful people are known for their humility, they are self effacing often pointing out the achievements of others while minimizing their own. While the brash, in your face, cocky self-promoters are seldom appreciated and often find that their success is short lived and may even be tinged with controversy. Tragically this equally applies to some prominent church figures. Preachers who draw a crowd because of their personality, making promises of success that almost suggest that God will come on demand. These men and women cannot be said to be living a quiet life, they love the limelight and the attention. When the ministry succeeds it is because of their talent, hard work, or gifts and God seldom receives the glory. Of course this is a bleak picture that paints an extreme but these figures do exist and we have all seen them. But given that all of us are called to ministry and that ministry is where we spend the majority of our time, the workplace, those same excesses we deplore in preachers and other figures of prominence in the church should equally be deplored in the workplace or on the sporting or academic field.
 
There is some sort of paradox that suggests that it is right and proper to pursue work choices and careers that provide greater material benefits and badges of success while this same attitude is condemned among pastors and church leaders. I am not suggesting that pastors should accept a call to a church on the basis of the financial package they might receive or see a move to another church as a promotion, but if we are to extend the notion of ministry to activities outside of the pulpit, as we should, then shouldn’t the values we find reasonable in the market place be equally reasonable in the pulpit? Rather than condemn pastors for having a worldly or mercenary attitude to their roles, perhaps we, in the marketplace should adopt the notion that we are called to our workplace, it is our place of ministry – it is a divine calling whose success is not determined by the salary package or retirement benefit we receive.
 
We are exhorted to live a quiet life, a life that does not draw attention to itself; one that is at peace, a life that is at rest and content with its lot. We must not confuse ambition to succeed with discontentment. Paul wrote that even though he had experienced hunger, deprivation, imprisonment and other sufferings he had learned to be content. He also experienced success. He established churches, spread the gospel into uncharted lands, preached before religious leaders, performed miracles and witnessed the salvation of many and was one of the pre-eminent religious leaders of his day. In all of these things he says that he had learned to be content, but his ambition remained. He pressed on for the prize that was to be given to him at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s life was one of constant activity, even when chained to a soldier or locked in a prison cell he remained active, he wrote and prayed, preached and taught. Yet he remained humble, he was self conscious about his appearance before other people and the effect he might have on them. He didn’t promote himself, he was conscious of the authority and calling he had but he did not draw attention to himself or seek any credit.
 
We are to be ambitious to succeed but also to live a quiet life, to be content with our lot convinced that if we work hard and remain in relationship with God, success will take care of itself.
 

  1. What do you think it means to live a quiet life? 
  2.  In what way do you see being quiet as related to peacefulness and contentment?
  3. Is it possible to successful but still quiet?

 

4. Minding Your Own Business

1 Corinthians 3:6-15

 How easy is it to be more concerned with what everybody else does than our own business? It is much easier to point out the weaknesses in others and their own lack of success than to honestly evaluate our own performance. But Paul exhorts us to be ambitious to mind our own business. We are to make a determined effort not to get caught up in affairs that don’t concern us.
 
In his second letter to the Thessalonians Paul expresses concern that he had heard that some of their number were acting as busybodies, not working but living undisciplined lives. These people were told to get to work and eat their own bread. They were to mind their own business. When he wrote to Timothy, Paul singled out young widows as those who could learn to become idle, going from house to house as gossips and busybodies. They get this way because they do not have anything with which to occupy themselves . His expectation was that these young widows should remarry and keep house! While such a suggestion today would probably get the militant feminists among us up in arms, in the context of the day it was not usual for women to pursue careers (although there were obvious exceptions) and the norm was for them to be fully engaged managing their own home. For married women their primary ministry was managing a good home. This was not some activity that was accepted merely out of necessity but because it was a high calling that God had placed on their lives.
 
In whatever vocation we find ourselves there are times of drudgery and boredom. Not everything we do is exciting or challenging. This is not only true for the vocation of housework, but for that of teaching, gardening, machine operating or banking. It is often in those times when we are carrying out repetitive tasks that don’t require our full attention that our mind wanders into other people’s areas of concern. Rather than just concentrating on the job at hand we start wondering about what others are doing, sometimes those thoughts become negative and even detrimental. If we are not fully occupied in our work the temptation to engage in conversation with others, or to meddle in their affairs increases and unfortunately, for most of us we eventually give in. The protection we have is to be fully occupied. Not only does this give us a defense against the temptation to be a busybody it will also gain for us a reputation for hard work, diligence and industry.
 
Paul was quite specific about our attitude toward busybodies – we are to take special note of them and then to refuse to associate with them. However we are not to treat them as enemies, but by our attitude to convince them of their folly (2 Thessalonians 3:11-15). How easy is it for us to fall into the trap of engaging with those who are idle? Whether it is over the water cooler, the telephone or the office desk it is easy to get into a conversation that starts OK but ends up somewhere else. A few minutes turns into a lengthy chat and our work suffers because of it. Too often Christians are criticized at work because they talk too much about their faith or their church and while we should always want to take the opportunity to share the good news, when we are at work our time belongs to the person who employs us.
 
If our ambition is to mind our own business we will need to make a determined effort. It won’t happen by accident and the devil will take every opportunity to throw barriers and temptations in our way. When the two-minute chat threatens to turn into a lengthy conversation, move away. When the office gossip approaches your desk, get busy or move away. Learn how to finish ‘phone calls and discourage the person who loves to waffle about things that are really of no importance when you and they should be more profitably employed. Make it your ambition to earn a reputation for discretion, hard work and industry and in this way you will behave properly toward outsiders.
 

  1. What should be our attitude toward busybodies? Why?
  2. Why do you think Paul singles out young widows as potential busybodies?
  3. What deliberate actions can you take to make sure you mind your own business?

 

  1. Work With Your Hands

Acts 18:1-3

 
When Paul writes that we should work with our hands is he suggesting we should all aspire to manual labour? Even though there is some undoubted benefit in doing creative things with our hands and exerting ourselves physically I do no think this is what he meant. His emphasis is that we should provide for ourselves and not depend on others for our daily needs.
 
Paul was trained as a theologian but also as a tentmaker. In Acts 18 we read that he stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked together with them because they were all tentmakers. This was their occupation not just some handy work they were employed in, at some point in Paul’s life he must have received training in this particular trade. There were many times when Paul was not working at his trade, he traveled the world as an itinerant missionary and was often supported by those he ministered to, but on the occasion he was in Corinth he went back to practicing his art. At other times Paul writes that rather than be a burden on the young churches he had established he and his companions supported themselves, they were entitled to support but they chose to meet their own needs.
 
Preaching, teaching and pastoring are all legitimate occupations and Paul makes it abundantly clear that those who engage in these activities are entitled to be remunerated. To be a teacher or pastor is a high calling and of no less value than any other occupation, but it is no more important as a ministry than any other either! All vocations are equally valuable, they are all places of ministry and it is hoped places that God has called men and women into rather than just some job they do. However the fact that something is lawful or legitimate does not mean that we have the right to claim it. Paul could legitimately call on the churches he had established to fund his missionary endeavours, but he chose not too. Rather than impose a cost on them that would have been difficult for them to bear, he chose to find employment in an occupation he was trained in to pay his own way. In doing this he also made it possible for these young churches to use their money in other ways to alleviate the needs of the poor or spread the gospel.
 
The point that Paul was making is that it is important to work hard at whatever vocation we are called to. It may be that over time we will be expected to do things that seem a little outside what we would normally do, perhaps you feel absolutely called to full-time pulpit or pastoral ministry and yet you have to work at something else in order to pay the bills. If this is so, then God’s command is to work hard at whatever it is you are called to do and accept it as a ministry that he has called you to. At other times you may be convinced that the job you are doing is the one that all of your life’s events have led to. It is the result of your education and training, the courses you have done and the disciplines you have exercised. If this is so, then take it as God’s call on your life and his ministry for you. Work hard and expect to succeed and then use the benefits you receive to assist others and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
 
While I am sure that Paul did not see tent making as God’s primary call on his life I am equally sure that the tents he made were good tents. I am confident that when he put his mind to completing his trade he was fully committed. He did not just see this as a means to earn a living but an opportunity to use his skills in the marketplace to bear testimony to his faith in Christ. Whatever workplace you find yourself in right now accept as God’s choice for you until he tells you differently. Until that happens work hard at what you do as though you are working for God not for man and then you can be sure that he will give you the opportunity for higher honour.
 

  1. How do work and ministry relate to one another?
  2. What is the most important ministry you can be involved in?
  3. What reason is there to ‘work with your hands’?

 

6. Behaving Properly Toward Outsiders

Colossians 4:5

 
The reason Paul gives for why we should live quiet lives, avoid being busybodies and to work hard with our hands is so that we can act properly toward outsiders. He sees a real connection between how we conduct ourselves at work and the way we will be received by those outside of the church. Too often we, as Christians, fail to take our work importantly as if it doesn’t matter how well we do in the workplace as long as we turn up to church on Sunday’s and ‘worship’ the right way. Paul sees it differently.
 
Most of us will have far more contact and opportunities to share the good news at work than in any other place. This is where we connect with non-believers and spend most of our waking hours. It is unlikely that our testimony will have much credibility however, if we have a reputation for laziness or are lax in our attitude to work. Christians must aspire to being known as hard working employees, fair and just employers and honest buyers and sellers in the market place. We will only achieve this as we mind our own business and live quiet and unpretentious lives.
 
In his letter to the church at Colossae Paul wrote that his readers should be wise in the way they acted toward outsiders, making the best use of their time and every opportunity. In particular he points to matters of speech, we are to let our words be seasoned with salt so that we will know how to respond to everybody. Acting wisely toward those outside of the church is very important. If we expect to reach people with the good news we must be credible, the message must be reflected in the way we live. As Christians we often emphasise the need to do the right thing and this often reflects in those activities we choose not to get involved in. Over the years Christians have been more known for what they are against than what they are for and as a consequence they are caricaturized as non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling, non-swearing, non-dancing wowsers who think all enjoyment is sinful. While many of the values Christians do hold can be Biblically supported, the shame is that they hold them while having a less than ideal attitude to their work and involvement in the community in which they live. It is not my intention to comment on the rightness or otherwise of these Christian taboos, but simply to point out that it is disappointing that the reputation we have is not one that is positive but almost entirely negative. Where is the caricature of the hard working, industrious men and women of integrity that live quiet lives, refusing to gossip and meddle in other people’s affairs? Where are the people who insist on employing Christians because they know they will always turn up on time and work hard while they are there, always paying their bills promptly and never overcharging?
 
Make no mistake your work matters. It matters to God and also to those who are not Christians. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work hard with your hands, and then you will act properly toward outsiders. Then you will be able to make the most of every opportunity and people will want to listen to what you have to say because you have earned the right to speak. Your primary place of ministry is your place of work; it is where God wants you to be, it is what he has prepared you for and why he has given you the gifts, talents and abilities he has. Now all you need to do is add to those God given resources the desire to work hard and succeed and the attitude to please him in all that you do.
 
Is the way you work pleasing to God? Does it open up doors of opportunity for the gospel to be proclaimed? Make these things your ambition and trust God to make the way open for you.
 

  1. What is the connection between work and proper behaviour toward non-Christians?
  2. How are Christians thought of in your work place?
  3. How does your work, or the way you do it, open opportunities for the gospel?

 

7. Not Be In Any Need

Acts 20:33-36

A consequence of working hard is to be free from need. While God expects that those with the capacity to do so should help those in need he also wants us that can, to provide for ourselves not only so that we won’t be in need but so that we can contribute to the relief of others who are less fortunate than us.

The profit motive is a powerful reason to work. No one goes into business with the intention of losing money (apart from those who are manipulating the tax system), and very few, if any, would put in the hours they do without the desire to make a profit. There is nothing wrong with being successful, and to be successful in business almost inevitably means making money. Most of the great men and women of the Old Testament were financially successful, but unfortunately many of them also came to grief because of their wealth. Abraham and Lot separated because their possessions were too great for them to live together. There is a significant difference between not being in need and not being in want and the balance between the two is not easy to find.

In the early church there were those who were in need, but also some who had more than was necessary for their own needs. The consequence was that those that had an abundance made available to the needy the resources required to alleviate the need. The bible says that because of this there was not a needy person among them (Acts 4:34). The great tragedy was that even in this atmosphere of generosity there were those that tried to gain for themselves a reputation by the way they used their wealth. Paul makes it clear that his attitude towards wealth was simply that it was a means to an end. By earning money he did not become a burden on others, he was not in any need. Of course we know from the biblical record that there were many times that Paul suffered hunger and personal loss and his idea of his needs being met were probably quite different to many of our own.

Paul was able to write that by working hard he could be an example of how others could contribute to the needs of the weak. As we make it our ambition to work hard and succeed in our vocation we will inevitably reap financial rewards, but as it has been said before if God gives you a million dollar salary it is not so you can have a million dollar lifestyle. It is quite clear from Deuteronomy 8:18 that it is God who will ultimately determine whether or not you will be financially successful, your power, talent and ability come from him. When we make our success a source of pride we are headed for a fall. God chooses to give some the capacity to earn great wealth and to others he gives the capacity to succeed with less. Unfortunately because we live in a world where sin is dominant and men and women generally do not equally share the benefits and blessings God has given to them, there are those in our community, and even in our churches who are in great need. It is as we make it our ambition to live quiet lives, to mind our own business and work hard that we are able not only to act properly toward outsiders but we can help those who are in need as well. 

The example of the early church is one we should want to copy. What a marvelous testimony to God’s grace it would be if it could be said of the modern church that with ‘great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them’. The members of this church understood that wealth was given to some so that all could benefit. Ask God to give you the ability to see that the success he gives you is a testimony to the trust he places in you to use his resources wisely.

1.    How does your work help alleviate the needs of others?

2.    What is the reason why some people succeed more than others at work?

3.    How does your experience of the church reflect that of Acts chapter 4?

 

 

 

Week 4

1.Made Ready for Work
Ephesians 2:10

For many years whenever I read Ephesians 2:10 I immediately connected the idea of good works with those ‘spiritual’ activities that were done in connection with the church and its program. They obviously included feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting prisoners and so on. While there is no question that these are very definitely good works, are they the only works God prepared for us to walk in?

Paul describes these works as ‘good’, that is to say they are morally or physically benevolent. In Colossians 1:10 he tells us that we are to bear fruit in every good work. Assuming that the activities we involve ourselves in are not, by their nature, evil or else intended to bring some disadvantage to somebody or offence to God, they are good works. The question that remains is whether these activities are those that God, before the foundation of the world, prepared for us to walk in.

To walk in something suggests that we are engaged in a particular activity over a reasonable period of time, there is a sense of continuity and purpose in our actions. It does not give the impression of infrequent, casual activity but rather a long-term, determined course of action or behaviour. So whatever the works are that God has prepared, they are something that should occupy a significant part of our time and energy. Obviously these works are significant, because God prepared them even before we were saved, they are not trivial or valueless. Most importantly God prepared them and he intends that we walk in them.

The activities that occupy most of the time for those in business or the workplace are of course their employment. Most of our life leads us to the job we have, whether it be our schooling, training, natural inclination or abilities. As we look back on our lives, quite often we can see the various things that have prepared us for things we are doing now. Of course this is not always so and some of us can be found in jobs that are just fill-ins, or a means of providing money so that we can do the things we want to. But if we are involved in meaningful employment it is usually because of the circumstances of our life and the choices we make. God has not only prepared good works for you to walk in, but he has also moulded and enabled you so that you can do so adequately.

There sometimes seems an implication that work is, if not actually evil, merely a necessity to meet the needs of life that occupies our time before the more meaningful activity of church affairs. Spiritual work is done at church; our jobs and places of employment are secular. This is nowhere taught in Scripture, while mankind was forced to live a life of work and toil because of his disobedience to God, work itself was never considered to be evil. In fact we see that on the 6 days of creation God worked, and then he rested. He insisted that his people should work 6 days and then rest on the seventh. Work is God’s idea; he planned it and intended that his sons and daughters should engage in it. Even before Adam and Eve sinned they were given the privilege of working! (Genesis 2:5 and 15).

What then are the good works that God has prepared for you to walk in? Do you believe that the job you are now doing is the one God prepared for you? Is it the one that all of your training, education and circumstances has shaped you for? Or are you just filling in time until something more spiritual comes along? Unless you are sure that the job you are doing is not the one God wants you to do, in which case you shouldn’t be there anyway, assume that it is God’s choice and commit yourself to bearing fruit in these good works. 

1.    What good works has God prepared you for?

2.    What things in your life have prepared you for the job you have now?

3.    What should you do if you realize you are not in the job you should be?

 

 

2. A Calling or Just a Job?
Acts 18:1-4

Is the job you are in a ministry, a calling – or is it just a way to make money to pay the bills? Have you ever thought about your job in terms of it being God’s chosen place of ministry for you? If you haven’t now would be a good time to start. God has prepared and equipped you to glorify him in the work that he has provided for you, but sometimes we are less than sure that the place where we work is where God wants us to be. How can we know that we are in the place of God’s chosen appointment?

In the first place it is really important to think of your work as your ministry, not just the place of your ministry. Sometimes we get the idea that the workplace just provides the context for us to do spiritual things like witness and pray. But we don’t always see the work itself as being a spiritual undertaking. We must start to see work itself as something that God takes pleasure in and is therefore a means by which we may worship him. Whether you are a carpenter, a nurse, an engineer or a salesperson God is interested in what you do and he is pleased when you do a good job. Secondly it may be appropriate to ask yourself whether or not you prayed about your career choice, or whether you actively sought God’s counsel and felt a sense of call to the place you work. After all we expect our missionaries and pastors to be ‘called’ to their ministry so why shouldn’t you?

It may be that you have a sense of calling to be a teacher, or pastor, evangelist or some other type of ‘full time’ ministry, but you need to work in order to pay the bills. Paul found himself in this position when he engaged in the trade of tent making. It is unlikely that he saw this as God’s primary call on his life but circumstance made it necessary or desirable for him take on this work. What then about your work in these situations? I am sure the quality of Paul’s tents was beyond reproach, I am equally sure that he didn’t overcharge his customers or cheat his suppliers. I am quite certain that everything he did in his place of work was with a mind to glorifying God and acting properly toward outsiders. This clearly is to be your attitude to your employment when you find yourself in need of finding work in order to support the ministry that God has called you to.

The Bible tells us that Peter left his nets to follow Jesus, while he did go back to fishing for a while, this was not God’s calling on his life. Matthew stopped being a tax collector when he decided to follow Jesus, but there is no suggestion that Zacchæus resigned from his business. In fact his encounter with Jesus caused him to start doing business in a Godly way. Erastus continued as the city treasurer while a follower of Paul and there is nothing to indicate that Lydia gave up her business interests after her conversion. On the other hand there were others who were dependent upon the church for their financial support. The issue here is not whether the type of work you are doing is spiritual or not, in fact all work is, for the believer, spiritual, but whether or not it is God’s idea for you to be in that place of work.

Are you working in the place God wants you to be? Is this so that you can serve him in other ministry elsewhere or in addition to your work, or is it the primary place of service for you? Be clear in your mind about these things, it is not that your attitude to your work should change (unless it’s out of sync with God’s will now) but that your understanding of God’s eternal purposes for your workplace and your part in it may need to be re-evaluated. If your work is your primary place of ministry, then it must be first priority in your service. Other legitimate activities, even church based activities, must not be allowed to encroach on the time and energy you give to your ministry. Remember this is not your job – it is your calling. It is the ministry that God has equipped and enabled you for.

1.    In what way are you called to your job?

2.    Is your job your ministry of just a means to pay the bills?

3.    How can you treat your job as your ministry?

 

3. Signs Along the Way
Jeremiah 31:21

What do we do when we are unsure that we are in the right place? What if we don’t think our job is the one God has in mind for us, but we are not really sure? Is every job, no matter what, our ministry? These are all legitimate questions and most of us have faced them at one time or another – even those in the pastorate! For a number of years I was (what was called in the denomination I was part of) a pastoral carer. That meant that I was responsible for looking out for a number of other pastors, making sure that if they were struggling or facing difficulties it didn’t go unnoticed. A good number of these pastors confided that they were unsure of whether they were really called to their ministry or if in fact they were in the right church. I confess that as a pastor I have faced similar doubts. What is true in the pulpit is also true in the pew. Many people are uncertain that the job that occupies so much of their time and energy is in fact the one that God has picked out for them.

There are a number of measures that can be taken to gain some sort of assurance that we are where God wants us to be. In the first place do the activities we engage in conflict with the what the Bible teaches? Are our values and morals compromised; are we able to be ethical and honest in all our dealings? Some occupations are clearly outside the will of God, the young women who has made her way through prostitution will certainly need to change her occupation, as will a stripper or seller of pornographic material – these are obvious, but some less so. What if your company sells tobacco products or alcohol? What if you are involved in part of the gambling industry such as horse racing? What if the news agency you own sells dubious materials? Some people will be quite clear in their opinions about these things while for others there will be uncertainty. The three obvious things to turn to are prayer, the Bible and the counsel of Godly people. If these three line up then there is a clear indication of what is right to do. Sometimes however it remains for the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit to direct you in the way you should go.

If you become convinced that the job you are in is not where God wants you, or if you seem to be going through a succession of career choices that leave you unsatisfied it may be a time for some healthy reflection. What led you to make the decision you have about the job you are in? What were your circumstances at the time, how was your relationship with God? Was anything special happening in your life? What was your motivation? Jeremiah suggests we should set road marks on the road so that we will know the way we have come – what are the road marks in your life? What are the pivotal experiences that have caused you to make the choices you have? As you consider these things it may bring into perspective the reasons why you are where you are or why you feel unfulfilled. There is nothing more certain than if God has called you to a ministry, vocation or arena of service and you turned aside, you will remain unfulfilled until you put it right. Go back to the time you made the decision to work where you do and ask yourself whether you were being obedient to God. If you weren’t then repent and ask God’s forgiveness. He may then either give you a sense of fulfillment in your present job or provide the way to leave and this time when he tells you to do something, do it! On the other hand if you are convinced that you are where you are because it is where God wanted you, thank him for it, accept it as your ministry and until he moves you elsewhere work as hard as you can in the job you are in. Your job is not a life sentence, it may be that after a season God will move you to another field of ministry, be open to it, but don’t push.

Remember your workplace is a place of spiritual warfare, expect opposition but be confident of the victory. Frustration, dissatisfaction and boredom are tools of Satan to render you ineffective, don’t become fooled into making wrong choices about your work – seek first the Kingdom of God and he will make your way plain.

1.    Are you convinced that you are in the right place of ministry?

2.    What three things do you need to line up to be sure of God’s will?

3.    Do these things line up for you?

 

 

 

4. Gifts, Talents and Abilities
1 Corinthians 12:12:4-7

Much is written and said about Spiritual gifts, the Bible clearly teaches that all Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them and that he gives each a special enabling for service. These gifts are described in various places in the Bible and no doubt these lists are not meant to be exhaustive but rather an indication of the range of the characteristics of God that are to be displayed by their use. One thing that is clear is that each person is given a manifestation of the Spirit. In common language a manifest is a document that discloses something that would normally be hidden from view, and in this sense the gifts of the Holy Spirit disclose those aspects of the character of God that would normally be hidden. How does this relate to the workplace?

The work of the Trinity in Spiritual gifts is that the Holy Spirit according to his choice distributes the gift, but the place of ministry where that gift is to be exercised is to be determined by the Lord Jesus Christ. Even then we cannot presume upon the effectiveness of that ministry; that is decided by God the Father. Each of us have received a gift, even though many are unaware of what gift they have, but what is our place of ministry? For many years it has been taught, or assumed, that the place to exercise your gift is the church. If the purpose of these gifts includes making known the invisible attributes of God to the world it would make no sense to confine their use to the church, one hopes that those inside already know God and have the means to understand him better. However those outside of the church do not have either that knowledge or the ability to discover for themselves. What better place than the work place is there for you to put God on display? And how better can you do it than by allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal him by the gifts he has given to you?

If you were to ask the average person in your work place what aspects of God’s character they would most like to see it is probably not going to be preaching or teaching. They probably get enough of that already, but they may want to see mercy or love or compassion. They may have a need that requires healing or a problem that needs solving. Maybe your business needs a miracle or an employee a word of encouragement. These are the gifts God gives to his children and your place of ministry is where the Lord Jesus Christ has put you – for most of us, the workplace.

We should not confuse our gifts with our talents or abilities. You may have been trained and educated in administration but know that this is not the way God wants to supernaturally reveal himself through you. But this does not mean that you should not honour and glorify God in the way you administer. Perhaps you work as an engineer but God has supernaturally given you the gift of healing. While you glorify God in your engineering you will be constantly aware of the needs in the workplace that can be healed by an act of God’s grace applied through you. If you have the gift of compassion you will probably notice the wounded and hurting gravitating to you with their pain, while at the same time you are making efficiencies as a cost accountant. Sometimes your gifts will be reflected in your career, perhaps the nurse has the gift of mercy, or the manager that of administration. Sometimes God will add the supernatural edge to your job, but at others there seems no obvious relationship between your work role and the gift you have. 

Whatever the gift you have, and you do have one; it is up to you discover what the place of ministry is that Jesus has prepared you for. Remember that he puts you there so that you can reveal his character and nature to those who would not otherwise see him. This is an awesome responsibility, but also a privilege, imagine how much more effective you could be if you and number of others all showed different aspects of God’s character, so that his whole nature was revealed in your business?

1.    How does the Trinity work in the use of the gifts you have?

2.    How are you able to use your gift in the your place of ministry?

3.    Are your gifts the same or similar to the natural talents you have?

 

5. Work That Produces Fruit
Colossians 1:10

God has prepared work for us to do, some of that work is acts of charity and mercy, and some so-called spiritual activities in and through the church and others are in the vocations and careers in which we are employed. I say so-called spiritual activities because all work that Christians engage in is spiritual. There is no distinction between secular and sacred for those who belong to the church. It is significant that in some non-Christian cultures all of life has some spiritual significance and yet we in the Christian church make a distinction between spiritual and secular activities as if God is not interested in the things we do outside of the church. We know of course this is not true. God expects that we bear fruit in the work that he has provided for us to do, but what is that fruit?

We know that the Bible speaks of fruit of the Spirit which is identified in Galatians 5:22 and consists of characteristics of life which glorify him. They include love, joy, peace and kindness. Elsewhere in Scripture Jesus tells his disciples that they are to bear fruit and so prove that they are in fact disciples. While the fruit spoken of here is no doubt consistent with the fruit of the Spirit it also has a stronger application, that of reproducing. The vine that Jesus speaks of in his analogy of bearing fruit needs that fruit to reproduce. The seed is contained in the fruit and unless this seed is formed no new plants will grow. God expects that we will set seed that will produce new life, new believers who have come to faith through our example and witness.

In the work that we do we should expect to bear the fruit of new life. Our witness and example should provide opportunities for us to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those we work with or for. Peter reminded his hearers that they should always be ready with an answer for the hope that is within them, this should be our example also. As people become curious about the reason why the fruit of the Spirit is evident in our lives they may be prompted to ask what it is that makes us tick. This is the opportunity you should be waiting for. God expects that we bear fruit, this is why he has prepared good works for us to walk in. We must be always on the alert for an opportunity to share the good news, not by preaching at people but by allowing God to make himself known through the way that we live, the attitudes we display, and the Spiritual gifts we employ as we engage in the workplace we are in. It was said to be Francis of Assisi who is reported to have said: ‘by all means preach the gospel, and if necessary use words’ (though there is no actual evidence that he did!) This may be good advice for the work place, but if we are to see people discover the good news for themselves there will come a time when we will have to speak. We need to be ready with an answer when they ask. How ready are you? Are you confident that you could explain to those you work with how to become a Christian and what that will mean to them in the future?

We are expected to bear good fruit in the work that we do. Certainly God wants to bless our efforts and make us successful but the primary reason we do these works is to advance the Kingdom of God. When Jesus received the anointing of the Holy Spirit he declared that he was going to do a number of good works, and these he did. But he also stated that the came to earth to seek and save those who were lost. Jesus never lost sight of the fact that his primary purpose was to rescue men and women from the grasp of Satan. He did good works but they never interfered with the best work he could do. The fruit he bore are the lives of the boys and girls, men and women who will reign with him in eternity because they have received the good news. God has prepared good works for you to walk in, but never lose sight of the fact that his primary purpose for you is that you make disciples wherever you go, teaching and training them so that they too can become disciple makers.

1.    What fruit does God want you to bear at work?

2.    What pruning needs to take place for you to produce more fruit?

3.    How does being successful at work relate to bearing fruit?

 

6. The Marketplace Church Connection
Ephesians 4

If our primary place of ministry is the workplace, what then is the role of the church? Is congregational meeting necessary, does being a Christian require that we attend a regular meeting with other believers? These are all valid questions and while there are times when they are asked by people simply looking for an excuse not to go to ‘church’ they deserve a considered response. In the first place, as we have already discussed, church is not a building or an organization but is the term used to describe all those people who are united in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. On this basis we do not ‘go’ to church, we are the church. Wherever two or more believers meet together it can be said the church exists in that place. Whenever those two or more make an agreement to meet at a particular place or at a particular time, organisation is required, there is nothing spiritual about this, neither is it unspiritual, it is just necessary. Apart from this it is only natural that believers will want to meet with others who share their beliefs, values and aspirations. 

In the days immediately after the church was born the new Christians met in each others homes, in synagogues and in other places to have fellowship, pray and learn. They ate together and encouraged each other in the things that they were discovering. As they grew in their faith they also arranged to collect money to assist others in need and to send out missionaries, they appointed leaders to give them guidance and they adopted rules that governed their beliefs and practices. These things evolved with time and developed to meet needs as they arose. This fledgling church did not set about planning a corporate vision with constitution and by-laws attached, they listened to the Holy Spirit, responded in faith and then put in place the organization that was required to carry out the instructions they received. In its simplest form the church is the gathering of two or more believers with the intention of mutual encouragement and growth.

With this understanding it is evident that the church is not the place that we invite people to hear the gospel, it is the gathering of believers. We have tended to make the congregational meeting the primary place of evangelism, and while there is no question that large public meetings are appropriate vehicles for evangelists to proclaim the good news, this is not the primary purpose of the church. The early church met together to learn and to grow. It did this in the context of worship. This ought to be the purpose of the church meeting today. It is a place for believers to come to be built up and equipped so that they can walk in the good works that God has provided for them to do. Church is where we go to recover from the week we have had and to be prepared for the one to come. It is a place of healing and nourishment. The connection between the church and the marketplace is that the church prepares us for our ministry in the marketplace.

Each week, as we gather with other believers, we should be built up and equipped for the ministry we have been called to. It is not the pastor’s job to evangelise your friends and workmates, it is yours. It is his job, and that of other gifted people, to equip you so that you can do the work of the ministry. It is as we each do this work that the body grows. It grows numerically because day by day new people are added and it will grow in maturity as our spiritual character is developed by doing works of righteousness. 

If you want to grow in your faith, if you want to be effective in your ministry then it makes sense to take the time to meet with like minded others who will be able to encourage and support you. You will also be able to multiply your effectiveness as you pool your resources and complement each other in your shared responsibility to share the good news.

1.    What is the connection between the church meeting and the congregation?

2.    Do Christians need to go to church?

3.    What should happen at meetings of the church?

 

  1. Working Together
    1 Corinthians 3

    Early in the church’s history there was competition. Some believers wanted to be known as followers of Apollos, others of Paul or of Peter. Some wanted to be preachers, others teachers or workers of miracles and healing. More glory was given to some than to others and there was an unhealthy preoccupation with personal ambition of the type that did not glorify God. Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth addresses a number of these issues. His emphasis throughout was that we are united in faith and love and our desire should be to work together and in harmony.

    It is the Holy Spirit that determines the gift that any believer has; it is not given on the basis of individual talent or ability, but by the sovereign choice of God. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who chooses the place where that ministry should be exercised and God who determines what the results will be. There is no place for selfish pride in our ministry; it is not we who receive the praise, honour and glory but God himself. Paul reminds his readers that we are co-workers in God’s vineyard, one person may sow the seed, another water the growing plant and yet others who do the pruning and harvesting. No one worker is greater than another and each needs the other to be successful.
     
    Our workplace is the place where seed is sown and it may be that the ministry you have is to sow that seed. Perhaps a word here or there or the consistent reliable witness of your behaviour will result in a seed taking root and beginning to germinate. Or it may be that as you develop relationships opportunities emerge for you to share your testimony or minister to a particular need in a workmates life – you are tending the seed that has been sown. On the other hand you might be just in the right place when that plant is ready for harvest. Perhaps you are the one that is turned to when your friend is ready to reach out to God. Each of us has a part to play, no one is more valuable than other, all of our contributions are equally vital.
     
    Paul reminds his readers at Corinth that they are responsible for their contribution. They need to pay strict attention to how they build on the foundation that is laid by Jesus Christ. We do not need to be concerned with how someone else is doing, but we must be very careful to build as well as we can with the resources we have been given. Each of us is given gifts, talents, ability and time to use to build the Kingdom of God. Some of us will build by teaching, others by encouraging or acts of generosity. Still more will be enabled to pray for miracles or healing and so on. Whatever the gifts we have been given they are to be used to build God’s Kingdom. In any building endeavour people of differing skills and abilities are brought together to work side by side. Usually the plumber does not do the work of the electrician and the plasterer does not fit the roof tiles. Each tradesman knows his or her area of expertise and works in that area. They depend on the others to complete the job. So too in the task of building the kingdom we each have a part to play. We should not to do the work assigned to others, but we do need to pay attention to the job we’ve been given.
     
    If it is your job to sow the seed in people’s lives that others will nourish and bring to harvest, then it is necessary that you do it. If you don’t, who will? If you don’t share the good news with your workmates, who will? God has placed you where you are in work, life and community because there is a job you need to do. He hasn’t given this job to anyone else – just you. We all know what it is like at work when one person doesn’t pull his weight an extra burden is placed on everyone else. So too in the work of the Kingdom, if you don’t do your job, others will have to do your share. As we each do what is assigned to us, alongside others who are doing what they have been equipped to do, then the whole building will grow.
     

  1. How do we work together to build God’s kingdom?
  2.  How does what we do at work affect this?
  3. What tools has God given to you to do the job he has provided? How do you use these tools to assist others?

 

 

Week 5

1.See the People
Matthew 9: 35-36

Some years ago I was in Argentina attending a conference on evangelism with delegates from around the world. As part of the conference we traveled by bus or air to various towns and cities to assist the local church in ministering to their community. It was a great time of blessing, miracles were experienced, people saved and lives changed. One morning however God led me to read Matthew 9:35-36 and it wasn’t until later in the day that I realized the import of what he was saying. As a group of us traveled by bus to the city of Rosario we enjoyed fellowship and encouragement together anticipating what God was going to do, but as we approached the city the bus rounded a bend and came upon what can only be described as a slum. The contrast between the green fields, comparatively affluent travelers, the luxury coach and the slum and its inhabitants was stark.

God reminded me of the passage I had read that morning. These verses relate the activities of Jesus as he traveled through towns and villages preaching the gospel, healing the sick and teaching in the synagogues, all of the things we were doing on our conference. But the significant thing that God lead me to in this passage was that Jesus stopped what he was doing and saw the people. Depending on the version of the Bible you use, this verse may be translated slightly differently, but in any event – he saw the people. What God was saying to me at that time was ‘don’t get so caught up in your agenda, the things you are doing and even the miracles and the blessings that you fail to see the people’. I was a ‘full-time pulpit minister’ at the time, by which I mean I was employed to be a pastor in a local congregation, and I confess that there were many times that I got so caught up in the next part of the church program, the next activity, conference, spiritual retreat or evangelistic endeavour that I failed to see the people. In fact sometimes the whole thing would have gone a lot better if there weren’t any people, especially those with needs. God was very clear, I had to stop and see the people; this is what it is all about.

Sometime later I was getting ready to attend a breakfast with a visiting Christian politician from Asia and once again God drew me to this passage. In the past I had been ‘full-time’ in the pulpit and worked in the secular world in order to pay the bills and fund the ministry, but at this time I was ‘full-time’ in the business world and pastored a church ‘part-time’ – these descriptions are all wrong – but you know what I mean! Now I saw my primary place of ministry as the marketplace I was engaged in, but God brought me back to this passage of scripture. What he told me was ‘the message I gave you in Argentina when you were a pastor, is the same for you in the marketplace – in other words stop what you are doing and see the people’. God was telling me that my primary role in ministry whether it was in the pulpit or in the marketplace is to see the people.

In business it is very easy to get caught up in making profits, increasing sales and reducing costs so that the people become a commodity or a resource. In fact the language we use reflects that – we don’t refer to our employees as people but human resources. As a minister in the marketplace our primary responsibility is to care for the people that God has given us responsibility for, of course we need to make a profit, otherwise we won’t be in business very long – but we must not get so caught up in our agenda that we fail to see the people and their needs. We can start by learning their names and finding out a little about them. We may discover their needs and probably also their strengths. Once we know them and the things that are important to them we are better able to pray for them and on their behalf and start to fulfill our pastoral responsibility in the marketplace to which we have been called.

This week as you go about your day-to-day business in the marketplace remember to stop and see the people, and have compassion on them.

1.    In what way are we to ‘see the people’ in our part of the marketplace?

2.    What happens when we see the people as Jesus saw them?

3.    Why do the people need a shepherd?

 

 

2. Sheep Without A Shepherd
Numbers 27:16-20

As the people of Israel came to the end of their wandering through the wilderness God spoke to Moses and reminded him that he would not be the one to lead them into the Promised Land. Even though Moses tried he could not change God’s mind so his concern immediately transferred to the people that he had been leading. These people had given Moses a lot of grief, they had been stubborn, disobedient, had argued and complained, had threatened to kill him and more than once rebelled against his leadership, but even now as he was facing his own death his prayer was for them.

Moses asked that God would appoint a leader for these people, someone to teach them what to do and where to go, otherwise they would be like sheep without a shepherd. This same thought was reflected in Jesus’ words in Matthew 9. Whether Jesus voiced his cares aloud or in private conversation to Matthew is not stated but we do know that he had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, distressed and dispirited. He was presumably thinking back to the request of Moses many years before. The people that Jesus saw were poised to enter the Promised Land but they didn’t know what to do or how to get there. The Promise for these people was not a geographic locality but eternal life in the Kingdom of God, and the entrance was through faith in Jesus Christ, but they needed a shepherd to show them the way.

Jesus said that the people were distressed and dispirited because they had no shepherd. He saw the people and he had compassion on them, they didn’t know where to go or how to get there, how would they without anyone to lead them? As you look out at your marketplace what do you see? Do you see people who are lost and lonely and do you have compassion on them? The people in your world need shepherds; they need men and women who are called by God to lead the sheep into good pasture and to protect them against wolves. As Jesus looks at these same people what does he see? Does he see sheep without shepherds or does he see faithful men and women caring for the sheep that have been entrusted to them? 

Ed Silvoso writes that the conditions are right for revival in a community when every sheep has a shepherd. In other words when every man, woman and child has someone looking out for and caring for him or her. Revival actually comes when these people know who their shepherds are. Wherever you have been placed in the marketplace you have been given sheep to care for. Not all of these sheep are in the fold yet, some are still wandering the hillside waiting for someone to find them and lead them into safety. The first step is for you and I to take seriously our responsibility for the spiritual well being of the sheep in our care. We do this by praying for them and meeting their needs when we can. You don’t need to go and announce to your workmates and associates that you are their shepherd, just start bringing them and their needs to God. After a while your compassion will be obvious and so will the answers to your prayers and at the right time God will let you lead the sheep into the fold.

Sometimes your ‘sheep’ will give you grief, in the workplace you will probably have to exercise discipline and that may even result in an employees dismissal, but it is essential that just like Moses, you continue to pray for them and seek their welfare. You are their shepherd and it is your responsibility to ‘lead them out and bring them in’, pray that God will give to you, just as he gave to Joshua, the empowering of his Holy Spirit so that you can accomplish the task.

1.    Who are the people in your world that need shepherds?

2.    Who are those in your flock?

3.    What can you do to shepherd the sheep you have been given?

 

 

3. A Shepherd’s Code of Practice
Ezekiel 34:2-10

The words spoken through Ezekiel are very harsh; they make for uncomfortable reading for those who consider themselves to be shepherds. And of course this means you and me. God condemns the shepherds of Israel for the things they had not done and finished up by telling them that he had rejected them. We must remember that the things that apply to shepherds apply to all of us in our responsibility to the sheep in our care, whether this is in ‘pastoral’ ministry, the workplace or as mothers and fathers.

The shepherds are first of all condemned for feeding themselves while not looking after the flock, they had not only provided for their own basic needs but in fact had lived luxuriously while failing to care for those in their charge. For those in business this is a serious message, how dare we live in luxury while denying reasonable income to those who work for us? How can we enjoy the pleasures of life while those from whom our profits are derived struggle to make ends meet? The judgment goes further, these shepherds had failed to look after the sick, bind up the broken, bring back those that had gone astray or seek for those that were lost. In fact their severity had caused some of the sheep to go astray and become prey to those that would feed on them.

From this list of offences it becomes clear what sort of things that God expects of his shepherds. They are to look after the sick, help to alleviate emotional and practical needs, assist some to find their way and provide help to those in need. They are to do this in the context of justice and mercy. The shepherd was to care for his sheep before he looked to his own needs. A good shepherd would not go to sleep at night until he was certain that all of his sheep were safe and in the fold. And if there was danger, he may not go to sleep at all. 

God looks out at our communities and marketplaces and he expects to see shepherds caring for the sheep. I suspect that too often he will see shepherds  who are more concerned about their personal needs, salary levels and creature comforts than the lives of the people they are responsible for. And while I do not refer only to paid ‘pastors’ I do not exclude them either. Too often pastors in congregations are more concerned about their budget, buildings and the numbers who turn up on Sunday than they are the personal and spiritual needs of the people in their charge. They work ‘business’ hours and surround themselves with the trappings of office that often make it difficult for hurting people to even get an audience. Pastors in the marketplace do likewise. They are so consumed about the bottom line that they fail to see the hurt in their employee’s faces. The size and furnishing of their offices reflects their image and position while the workers struggle for reasonable facilities to eat in. The manager’s office is air-conditioned but the factory staff swelter in unrelieved heat, dust and dirt. 

God demands better from his shepherds. He has appointed them to lead his sheep into good pasture and to keep them safe. Whether those sheep are in the congregation, the community or the marketplace it makes no difference, the shepherd’s responsibility is the same. Who are the sheep that God has entrusted to you? Start with your family, then your neighbourhood, the part of the marketplace you are engaged in, either at work or as you carry out your day-to-day activities and if you pastor a local congregation, then those as well. But remember not all of the flock are in the fold, some are outside and need to be brought in, others have gone astray and need to be brought back. Wherever you are you have sheep to care for, their needs are greater than yours, God has given them to you because he trusts you to look after them – but if you don’t he will take them from you and give them to somebody else!

1.    What are the elements of a shepherd’s code of practice?

2.    What sort of things can distract the shepherd from the things he or she should be doing?

3.    What happens if we don’t do the things God requires of shepherds?

 

 

4. The Great Example
Hebrews 5:1-3

The great example to shepherds, as in all things, is the lord Jesus Christ. He is the model on which to base all that we do, and this is no less so with his role as chief shepherd. Jesus combines the role of shepherd and Great High Priest in a way that we cannot because it is he who became the sacrifice that satisfied God’s demand for justice and took away the penalty of sin. It is in his role as High Priest that he mediates this sacrifice and secures salvation for all those who exercise faith in him. But we are all called to be priests and to exercise this office in a pastoral way.

A priest makes representation to God on behalf of those that he or she is responsible for. This applies especially to those who are not yet in the fold. In other words those people that have yet to come to faith in the lord Jesus Christ do not have access to the father and they need someone to pray on their behalf. The priest also speaks to the people on behalf of God. In this way the priest mediates between God and his people. The writer to the Hebrews explains that a priest was ‘taken from among men on behalf of men in things pertaining to God’. It was their responsibility to take a stand for those who did not have access to God and to act on their behalf. In your part of the marketplace there are many men, women, boys and girls who have not yet come to faith in the lord Jesus Christ, they need someone to intercede on their behalf. More than that they need someone who understands their needs and their weaknesses, someone who is just like them. 

When the person who prays for someone else comes from the same circumstances and background as they do they understand and can treat them and their needs gently. The priest that is taken from among men can ‘deal gently with the ignorant and the misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness’. As a priest in your part of the marketplace you are God’s representative – it is your responsibility to speak on his behalf to those in your care. You are to extend his mercy and love to those who stand in need, offering healing and relief to the broken and sick and giving guidance and direction to the lost. But you are also the representative of the people. It is up to you to bring the needs, hurts and burdens of the people to God and ask on their behalf. You stand in the gap between God and them.

God has chosen you because you understand the needs of those in your community; you have suffered the same pain and frustration. You know what it is like to be rejected and hurt. You have experienced lack of direction, confusion and loss. You have faced similar temptations and trials and you can empathise with those around you. Because of this you can treat them gently and pray on their behalf. You will not be quick to judge because you know that except by God’s grace you would be in the same situation. God can use you because you have experienced his mercy, love and grace and now you have hope you can offer it to others. God also depends on your ability to make his word clear to those you care for and he places confidence in your ability to make his good news plain.

This is why you are in the place you are, as a shepherd of God’s sheep he has given you a priestly role. He has chosen you to act on behalf of the men, women and children in your world and to speak to them on his behalf. He has appointed you to intercede for them so that they will receive mercy and help in their time of need. You are there by Divine appointment, God knows that you are able to be a witness to his grace and is relying on you to make him known in your marketplace.

1.    What was the example Jesus gave us?

2.    Why is it important that the shepherd be drawn from the sheep?

3.    What is Jesus depending on you to do?

 

 

5. Sheep Know Their Shepherds
John 10:1-29

In the days that the gospel was written the role of the shepherd was different from what it is now. In Australia today sheep stations can often be more than a million acres in size and the shepherd carries out his duties by motorbike or even helicopter. A flock of sheep consists of thousands of animals, but in Jesus’ day a flock was small enough that the shepherd would know everyone of them and they would recognize his voice. The sheep got to know the voice of the shepherd because he spent every waking minute with them; he fed them, led them to water, protected them from harm, attended their needs and even assisted in the birth of lambs when necessary. 

Jesus was able to claim that his sheep would know his voice and would follow him anywhere. He was so intimately acquainted with his flock that they could tell his voice from others that might try to steal them or lead them astray. He was so concerned for his sheep that he was prepared to lay down his life for them. These are the same examples that we should follow.

Of course this suggests a number of things, in the first place the flock that we minister to must be small enough for us to know intimately. In these days of mega churches where the emphasis is often on numbers rather than intimacy of relationships the congregational pastor is more like a modern day rancher than a shepherd. He attends the needs of the sheep by remote control and calculates what are the acceptable losses that the business of sheep farming can bear. The idea of leaving 99 to fend for themselves while going to search for one that is missing would be laughable. What a far cry from the shepherds of Jesus’ day.

You are not called to be the shepherd of every sheep, just those that the father has given to you. There is a flock that you are responsible for and it is these sheep that you must answer for. Jesus was able to say that no one would ever snatch his sheep from him because he carried the authority of his Father in heaven and he is greater than any who would try to snatch his sheep from him. While you are not responsible for the salvation of the sheep in your care, or their eternal destiny, you do carry that same authority from your heavenly Father and you are expected to care for and protect them. Do you know who your sheep are? Paul instructed the elders at Ephesus to take heed to the condition of their flocks, what’s the condition of yours? 

As you show compassion to the sheep in your flock, praying for them, meeting their needs when you can and extending mercy and grace out of the treasury of God they will come to recognize your love and genuine concern for their welfare. They will begin to recognize your voice and will follow you when you lead. There is an old adage that a shepherd leads the sheep, but a butcher drives them. A butcher is not concerned for the welfare of the animals he is about to slaughter; they are just a means to an end for him. They are the stuff of business, the more he kills and processes the more profit he will make – so he drives them to the slaughterhouse. On the other hand the shepherd is concerned for his sheep’s welfare, it matters to him if they get sick or lame. He leads them gently along the way that they should travel; he feeds and nurtures them. The sheep in our care need to be led, not driven. Their welfare is important. Do you drive your sheep so that your profits increase, or do you lead them into good pasture?

Do your sheep know your voice? Do they trust you to care for them even more than you care for yourself? Will you put their welfare beyond your profit margin; will you put aside your busy program to meet their needs? If you do, then God will enlarge your flock.

1.    How can the sheep know their shepherd’s voice?

2.    Who of us would leave 99 sheep to look for one that is missing? Why?

3.    What do you think of the statement ‘the shepherd leads the sheep, but the butcher drives them?’

 

 

6. The Sheep and The Fold
Micah 2:12

While it is true that not all sheep are in the fold, or indeed any fold, this is the ultimate purpose of seeking them out. The fold that the sheep need to become part of is God’s fold, and Jesus is its chief shepherd. The fact that he is chief shepherd suggests that there are other shepherds of less authority; that’s where you and I come in. All of those who come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can be said to be part of God’s fold and under the care and protection of the Good Shepherd, but this fold is made up of smaller folds scattered throughout the nations all of which have shepherds or pastors to care for them. Some folds are known by church names, while others are formed in households or business places, still others may be made up of groups that share a common identity such as surfies, bikies or athletes but they all have some things in common.

A fold that belongs to God will always have Jesus at its centre. It may assemble in different places and conduct itself in different ways, but Jesus will always be the focus. There is no right or wrong way that determines how a fold should organize itself, there are certainly some Biblical principles but they stop short of giving a prescription that has to be followed. What is certain however is that all sheep need to be brought into the fold. They need the protection and guidance that comes from God appointed shepherds. Predators easily pick off a sheep that does not have the security of the fold; those that wander the wilderness alone are obvious targets.

As you minister to men and women in the marketplace, it will be your desire to bring them into the fold and it may be that there is readily available a group of like minded people that will accept the new sheep. Unfortunately however this is not always the case and you might experience difficulty in finding a ‘fold’ that is right for them. Of course like any metaphor we can push the sheep and the fold illustration too far. You and I suffer something of an identity crisis in that we are both sheep and shepherds at the same time. We identify with fellow sheep and may enjoy the company of others in the same fold as them, but at the same time we are fulfilling our role as shepherds to the sheep God has made us responsible for. We are part of a fold, and indeed we must be if we want to flourish in our Christian life, but those we shepherd may not become part of this fold, what then should we do? Should we start new little folds wherever we go or do we take the new believer into an established fold somewhere else, often uncertain about how they will be treated? This is a tough question and there is no easy answer.

It is certain however that the sheep must be in the fold and it may be that in the short term (or even longer term) that the fold they become part of is a small group with you as the shepherd leading them along the first steps of their Christian life. This group may form in your workplace, your home or amongst other like minded people in some other place but like the first believers after Pentecost you will want to enjoy fellowship, learn together from the Word of God and worship. Your role as a shepherd in the marketplace will include bringing the sheep into the fold. It is possible that you are part of a worshiping community that your new sheep will comfortably fit into and your task will be simply to make the connection, but increasingly it seems that this is not the case and there needs at least to be a place of transition for the new believer. As the shepherd of these sheep you will lead them into good pasture and keep them safe from the wolves that will try to devour them. 

God does not intend that his sheep be scattered on the hillside, he wants them safe in the fold. He has appointed shepherds in the marketplace to lead and care for them and this is the ministry to which you have been called.

1.    What is the difference between the sheep and the fold?

2.    What are things that all of God’s folds have in common?

3.    How do you bring sheep into the fold?

 

 

7.  A New kind of Shepherd
Jeremiah 23:3-4

In many of today’s farms sheep have become little more than a commodity. They exist merely for the purpose of making a profit and while their health is cared for it is more to do with ensuring a good return than it is out of genuine concern for their welfare. Without stretching our metaphor too far, it is sadly true that we can make a comparison between the sheep of the modern farm or station and the sheep of God’s pasture. Whether these ‘sheep’ are in the congregation, workplaces or elsewhere in community they are often perceived as a means to an end rather than the end in itself.

What church pastor isn’t asked ‘how big is your church’ at gatherings of other pastors? Which businessman doesn’t evaluate his or her employees on the basis of their utility value to the company? Where is the football or sporting club that isn’t concerned with the number of its supporters, irrespective of their individual need or circumstance? In each of these examples the sheep have become numbers or commodities, they cease to have any value except in so far as they provide some sort of return. It is true that pastor’s measure themselves and their success on the basis of the number in their congregation, the bigger the flock – the more effective the shepherd. The sad fact is that while the number of sheep that come into the gate of the fold may grow it is often at the expense of those who have gone over the back fence. Many of these sheep have become lost and once more wander in the wilderness.

Some time back I sat next to a lady on an international flight, in the course of conversation she mentioned that she used to attend a church in the city in which she lived. Unfortunately she found the style and emphasis of the pastor difficult to accept and so she had left. Since she had gone no one had visited her and probably were not even aware that she was no longer there. She is not an isolated case. Everyday men and women are leaving congregations because they are not cared for, and many of these are no longer part of the fold. In Jeremiah’s day the shepherds were condemned because they had not tended to the sheep, instead they had caused them to scatter. In our program driven society it is difficult to remember that the fundamental task of the shepherd is to care for the sheep, our own driven ness in achieving the goals we have set for our congregations and ourselves has all too often driven the sheep away. This is true too in the workplace, our drive to succeed, to make more profit and achieve our goals sometimes causes us to see our employees as a means to an end, just another resource to be used in filling our business plan. Employees performance may deteriorate because of personal issues but because we are so preoccupied with the bottom line we fail to notice and to stop and care for them.

God is raising up a new generation of shepherds. He will place them in congregations, businesses, community groups and politics. These shepherds will have compassion for those in their care. They will remove fear and give a sense of security and they will be genuinely concerned for the welfare of those that God has entrusted to them. The day is coming when God will raise up elected officials who will shepherd their nations, business leaders who will put the spiritual welfare of their employees above their profit margins, community representatives who will genuinely look after the needs of their community and pastors who will know the names and condition of their sheep and who will commit themselves so fully to their God given call that not one will be missing.

God has promised he will do this, and by his grace will you be one of this new breed of shepherds? Will you declare today that you will fully commit yourself to the sheep that he has entrusted to you and trust him to give you the grace, favour and strength you need?

1.    How do shepherds fleece the sheep?

2.    How important are numbers?

3.    What are the new generation of shepherds that God is going to raise?

 

 

 

Week 6

1.A Church Is Born
Acts 2

Apart from a couple of references to the church by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, the first time the term is used to refer to an identified group of people is in Acts 5:11. Some translations of our Bible include the word in Acts 2:47, but most do not. This word that we have come to understand as ‘church’ refers to a group of people who have been called together for a particular purpose. It doesn’t refer to an institution or building, although in order for a purpose to be accomplished some organization would seem to be required.

Jesus final instructions to his followers were that they should wait in Jerusalem until they received power from on high. When this happened they were to be his messengers, going everywhere with his gospel leading people to faith in Christ. On the Day of Pentecost, a Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after the Passover in thanksgiving for a completed harvest, Jews from every region gathered together in Jerusalem. Acts 2 tells us that at this time the followers of Jesus were gathered together in one place, and while they were there, perhaps praying together the Holy Spirit came down and engulfed them. Where they in an upper room? Or down in the marketplace? The Scripture is not clear; it simply says that they were together in one place. What is clear is that after this dramatic event the disciples started to preach.

The result of the preaching of the disciples, and in particular Peter, was that thousands of believers were added to the number of Jesus’ followers. It has often been remarked that the church was not born in the upper room, but in the marketplace. The disciples needed the upper room, a place to wait in obedience to the instructions of Jesus but if they had stayed there after the Holy Spirit had fallen on them they would have just had a wonderful experience. They had to leave the upper room and go down among the people who needed to hear the good news. It wasn’t until they did that the church was born.

There was already some organization in place, clearly Peter was identified as a leader and they had made arrangements to replace Judas and keep the number of apostles at 12. Those that believed were baptized, and you can’t baptize 3000 people without some sort of organization! They also started to share their abundance with one another so that there would be no one in need. But it was not their organization that made them a church; there was something about them that set them apart from the rest of the community. It was their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

You are not part of the church because you have some denominational tag, or because you attend a particular building once or twice per week. It is not because you are organized or even institutionalized in the way you conduct your religious affairs, it is not because you engage in charitable works or share some religious experience. You are the church because you have been called together for a particular purpose, and that purpose is to glorify God through a relationship with his son, Jesus Christ. Whether it is in the place you work, or the community in which you live, you have been called from among them because you have chosen to commit your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There is one church but it gathers together in many places. Sometimes it is in a specifically designed building at others it is in a park or place of employment. Jesus said wherever two or more are gathered in his name, he is right there among them. This is the church. The church was born in the marketplace and to be faithful to God’s purposes it must continue to live there.

1.    What where the circumstances that led to the birth of the church?

2.    Why were the disciples together?

3.    What organization did the first church have?

 

 

2. The Public Square

Acts 17:17

In recent times much has been said and written about the need to take our faith and the gospel into the marketplace. Sometimes however we seem to confuse the marketplace with the workplace. In New Testament times the marketplace was a place of public gathering, an arena where the city elders would sit and talk, where conversation took place and entertainment was provided. It was also the venue for traders to bring their produce for sale and for gossip to be exchanged. In short it was the heart of every community.

In the days before television, Internet, radio and even newspapers exchange of news and information was conducted in an entirely different way than it is today. The marketplace was the forum where everything happened. Travelers from other regions would share the latest from the places they had been, the latest philosophies were discussed on street corners and on the plaza and beggars came to receive a few coins to relieve their suffering. Any new religion or belief would be a topic for discussion. The Bible tells us that some religious leaders loved the recognition and applause that came from the marketplace and we read of children sitting there, idle people just lounging around and the sick being brought in case there was someone who could give them healing.

If the good news was going to be preached, this is where it needed to happen. Where else would people from all walks of life, all sectors of society hear the message? When I was pastor of suburban church in a reasonably affluent suburb I would spend hours each day in my office alone. Most people in the community worked and the streets were almost deserted during the day. I found I needed to go and sit in a nearby shopping center just to connect with ordinary people and hope for an opportunity to connect with somebody. The church and its message were not at the intersection of life; they were hidden away in a back street that seldom attracted passing interest. 

The marketplace as it was understood in the New Testament is largely absent from today’s society. It has been replaced with mass media and suburban life. However there are still some remnants, there are communities where a market day is a significant part of life, others where the coffee shop strip is a feature and yet others where a significant cultural event provides opportunity for interaction and discussion. The modern shopping mall or retail center has become for many the new marketplace. Young people often go there just to ‘hang out’, sometimes they will go to a movie or have something to eat, but often they will just lounge around talking, enjoying each other’s company and sometimes getting themselves into trouble. Another place where news is discussed and relationships formed is the hotel. The public bar becomes a safe environment in which to share the latest gossip and even personal needs under the liberating influence of alcohol.

Where are the marketplaces of modern life? Where do you go to connect with the people in your community? Are there safe havens you can go to, places where you can be yourself without the need for a mask to hide behind? The disciples knew what they needed to do to get the news of the gospel out: they went to the marketplace. This was where they would find people to speak to. If these men had stayed in the synagogue or even the upper room and discussed among themselves the church would not have been born and it would not have grown. It was good news, people needed to hear it and best way for this to happen was if they went where the people were and told them.

1.    What do you understand by the term ‘marketplace’?

2.    What are the marketplaces in today’s society?

3.    What is the modern equivalent to the ‘upper room’?

 

 

3. But What About the Workplace?
Colossians 3:22-4:6

For some people the marketplace is their place of work, but for most of us it isn’t. It is our place of recreation, conversation even buying and selling but it is not the place we go to earn our living. Like nearly everything else, the way we do work has changed significantly since the days of the New Testament. In those times computers, power tools, radios, calculators, ballpoint pens, automobiles, refrigerators and washing machines did not exist. Most businesses were conducted from home and even though some were employed as labourers and traveled to work, even domestic staff were usually considered as slaves and lived on the premises in which they worked. There were city officials, doctors, teachers of the law and so on but most people were employed in small craft type trades and carried out their business on their own doorstep. The working day was, according to Jewish literature, from ‘sun-rising to the appearing of the stars’ and a labourer was to paid at the end of each day on which he worked. All of this is a far cry from our modern industrial and technological workplaces.

However the principles that Paul expresses in his letter to the Colossians are just as relevant. In the first place servants are to work hard at what they do. In other words if you work for someone else you are to do your best in all you do. You should work as if your master is not merely some earthly employer but Jesus Christ himself. Our work should not be performed just to please others but because it is right to do well at whatever we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to be conscientious because of the nature of our work, or the attitude of our employer, but our service is a form of worship that is being offered to Almighty God. If we see our labour in this light it may change the way we conduct ourselves. The other side of this is that a responsibility is placed on Christian employers to show justice and fairness. I have known Christian employers who are careful to get the last ounce of flesh from their employees only giving to them what the law legally requires and resisting doing more at every step. While demanding more than what is reasonable from their employees they object to giving more than they absolutely have to. This is particularly so when there is a glut in the labour market and employers can have their pick of the best workers. Employers are reminded that they themselves have a master who is in heaven. This same master is the one we go to in order to seek grace when we fail and ask for favour rather than justice. 

The way we exercise faith at work is in the first place the way we conduct ourselves, it is recognizing that our work is worship and what we do is our offering to him. We are reminded in Scripture that our worship is to be offered with thanksgiving, indeed this is the only acceptable form of worship. It follows that if our work is worship and if our worship is to be offered with thankful hearts then we are to conduct ourselves at work with grateful hearts. Unfortunately there are many Christians who are so discontented with what they do that they make it clear to everybody. Their work is not characterized by joy, but suffering. Many employers or business owners speak of their businesses as if they would rather be doing something else, everybody is against them, the legal and tax systems are not fair and economic circumstances are all wrong. Employees want too much and business competitors are treating them unfairly. None of these attitudes reflect a heart of worship. If you are in business it should be because God has called you there, this is your opportunity to render to him acceptable worship, giving thanks with a grateful heart. The first obligation imposed on the Christian at work is, Paul says, ‘do everything without grumbling or complaining that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among you appear as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14-15).

1.    What should characterize the relationships we have with our employees?

2.    How should employers act toward their employees?

3.    How do we demonstrate our faith at work?

 

 

4. The Church at Motorola
Philemon 1-3

Some time ago I spoke with a businessman who lives and works in China. He explained that in his country there are no church buildings and therefore no denominations, rather the church exists wherever people gather to share their faith and experience of the Lord Jesus Christ. The most common place for these Christians to gather is the workplace, and so there is the church at Motorola, or the church at Mary K and so on. Wherever a number of Christians meet, this is the church.

We all know that denominations are man’s idea, not God’s. Over the years men and women have found a variety of reasons to form separate congregations and adopt new names. Often these new groups have started as ‘reform’ movements within an existing denomination with no intention of becoming a new corporate identity, but somehow or other with the passage of time constitutions are written, statements of belief formulated and practices and procedures adopted and a denomination is born. While it is understandable and even reasonable for people of like mind and belief to want to meet together it should never result in people identifying themselves by their denominational tag rather than their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I find it sad to hear people boast of ‘their’ church or denominations achievements as if they are somehow separate from others in the body of Christ. There is one faith, one Lord and we are one body, there is no room for the arrogant suggestion that somehow the denomination we belong to is better than another.

Isn’t it refreshing to think of the church at Motorola, or on the wharf, or in the university or maybe even in the shopping centre? A term that refers to Christians from all walks of life who come together to worship and express their faith in the places where they meet or work. When Paul wrote to the believers at Rome he was addressing all those Christians who lived and worshiped in that city. It seems that they met in a number of houses, but they were the church. The businessman I spoke of believes that in a sense the workplaces we engage in have become the new nations of the twenty first century, it is they that determine our culture and the language we speak. Our values are in part determined by our vocation or the places in which we work. It is only a logical extension then to suggest that the church will be formed in these places of business. Of course there are large holes in this analogy, and whether the church in the workplace can engage all of life including family and community is problematic. However in a real sense when you meet with fellow believers, wherever that is, there is the church. It isn’t necessary to have buildings, programmes, constitutions and budgets in order to be the church you just need to meet with one or two others and invite Jesus to join you.

The idea that there can be a church at Coles or Telstra is exciting. When believers meet together to take spiritual responsibility for their workplace and to pray for their fellow employees we can be confident that the Kingdom of God will advance. As the church in the workplace prays for the success of the business, the welfare of the staff, customers and suppliers the atmosphere will change and opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ will come up. As an added bonus, as God answers the prayers of his people, the profitability of the company will increase, the attitude of employers and employees will improve and all will benefit from the success God brings.

In China the church exists in the marketplace because it cannot meet elsewhere, perhaps God is using the hostile environment there to convince the church here of the need to get back to the basics. Church is about men and women meeting together to encourage each other in their faith and commitment and to pray for the community of which they are a part. For many of us the most significant community we have is the one where we spend of our waking hours – the workplace.

1.    What do you think about the idea of a church at work?
2.    Do you think that we derive our identity, culture and values from our workplaces?
3.    What do you need to do to establish a church in your workplace?

 

 

5. Two or More
Matthew 18

On the occasion in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus speaks of the church he declares that wherever two or three are gathered together, he is in their midst. Jesus had been speaking to his disciples about the need to maintain discipline, he gave instructions that if one of their number was to fall into sin then they had the responsibility to go to him in private and try to convince of the need to change his ways. In the event that they were unsuccessful they should then get one or two others and try again. If the fallen brother or sister would still not change their ways, the whole church should get involved. If a person persisted in deliberate sin they were to treated as if they were unbelievers. The passage of scripture does not say that these people were to be excluded as such but they could not expect to enjoy the level of fellowship that was possible among those that were walking in Christ’s light. At the same time Christians are encouraged to act considerately toward outsiders, behaving properly toward them so that they might come to faith. This responsibility remains on Christians in the way they conduct themselves toward those that have fallen away.

As Jesus expanded on his theme he assured his followers that whatever the church bound on earth would be bound in heaven and likewise whatever the church set free would be set free in heaven. In case these disciples felt that a large assembly was necessary for this to happen, Jesus went on to say that wherever two or three were gathered, that was enough. Indeed wherever two or three are, there he is. Jesus does not need a crowd before he will turn up, he doesn’t demand minimum numbers, he makes the simple promise that if you and a couple of others get together in his name he’ll be there. Not only that but whatever you agree on and ask him for, he will do it. I think if we realized the magnitude of this our lives and our communities would be revolutionized.

Even though most of us are familiar with the passage in Matthew and probably can and do quote the verse about Jesus being present whenever two or more are gathered, I don’t know if we really believe it. The communities in which we live are in urgent need of transformation; there are lost and hurting people wherever we turn. Many of the people we work with are struggling in many areas of life and long to be set free, and yet we have this promise – if two or more agree on something, God will do it. Some of our businesses are in need of a miracle, sales are down, expenses are up, machines break down and there are the inevitable staff problems, and yet when there are two or more Christians in those businesses do they think to meet together and pray about it? When our communities are facing particular needs, when the schools are encountering funding shortfalls and aged care is inadequate – do two or three get together and call on God? 

Despite our knowledge of the verse we have mentioned we live in a culture that says more is always better and we at least give the impression that God listens more to the big ‘churches’ and the large prayer gatherings than he does to the two and three, but this is not so. The prayers of the few are as vital as the prayers of the many. The church exists in the two’s and three’s wherever they meet, if you know of at least one other believer in your workplace and you agree together to call on God, then there is the church. You and that one or two other people are the church at the Commonwealth Bank, or at the High School, or the Shire Office or wherever you work and you have tremendous authority to act as God’s agents in that workplace to bring freedom to the captives and to bind the activities of Satan. If you haven’t done so already then seek out another believer in your place of work and agree to pray together, asking God to intervene miraculously in your business and in the lives of those that work there. If you can’t find someone in your immediate place of business then meet with others who work nearby over lunch or before work, remember wherever there are two or more, there’s the church.

1.    How important is it to exercise discipline in church?

2.    What does it mean to treat unrepentant Christians as tax-gatherers and sinners?

3.    Are there one or two others in your business, or nearby that you can meet with?

 

 

6. The Kingdom Within
Luke 17:21

The religious leaders of Jesus Day were anxious to know when the kingdom of God was going to come. They were expecting signs and wonders to herald the coming of the Messiah, not realizing that he was standing in their midst.  Jesus gave a startling reply, not only would there be no advertising of the kingdom, in fact it would be right there within or among them.

It would seem that many have fallen into the trap of wanting to advertise the Kingdom with signs and wonders as if we need to put on a show to attract a crowd. Jesus said plainly that the Kingdom was not going to come with signs to be observed and people would not point and say ‘Look, here it is!’ When Jesus entered a town he didn’t ask for advance announcement, the only time that it happened was prior to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and even that wasn’t organised beforehand! There is no evidence that the apostles sent out leaflets in advance of their arrival in the towns they visited, in fact if they did it would probably have only hastened their arrest. There is nothing wrong with letting people know that something is happening and there is an opportunity for them to hear good news, but it seems much of what we do in the name of the gospel is creating celebrity status for gifted men and women. In reading the gospel accounts the impression is gained that Jesus didn’t like a fuss, he avoided publicity and just went about his business in a fairly dogged and determined way. The kingdom that he announced was not going to be one of pomp and ceremony, no signs and wonders to accompany it, it would be among the people and they may not even know.

The Kingdom of God is one of those things that is not easy to get your head around. We know that it is a kingdom that is yet to come, but it is already here! Sometimes believers fall into the trap of living entirely for a future kingdom, paying no regard to the world in which they live, while others are so convinced that the kingdom is to be enjoyed here and now that they give no thought to eternal issues. The reality is that now we appreciate in part what we shall later enjoy fully. We can anticipate the blessings of union with God in Christ while we live here on earth, but at the same time, along with Paul, we can long to depart this life so that we can be with Christ in his eternal kingdom. The Kingdom of God is here and it is experienced not only in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ as he reigns as King, but as we meet with others who likewise give allegiance to the King of Kings.

One thing that is sure is that subjects of a Kingdom should demonstrate the values and aspirations of their King. They should serve him loyally and willingly and they will in return enjoy the benefits that are given to citizens. As we attend our workplaces we do so as subjects of God’s kingdom and our behaviour should reflect this, but as we enter those workplaces we take the authority of the Kingdom with us. The Kingdom of God is within us, as we meet together but also personally. As we go to work, or home or school the kingdom of God goes with us. So long as you are at work, so too is the kingdom of God. His presence goes with you wherever you go and because you are an ambassador of his kingdom you have the right to exercise his authority.

This week go to work with renewed confidence knowing that you represent the highest authority there is and that he is able to do far more than you can think or even dare to imagine according to the power of God that dwells within you.

1.    What did Jesus mean when he said the kingdom is within you?

2.    How is the kingdom made known if it isn’t by signs and wonders?

3.    What does it mean to suggest that we take the kingdom of God wherever we go?

 

 

7. The Place of Battle
Ephesians 6:10-19

It stands to reason that if God wants to bless and make us successful in the workplace Satan will be doing his best to upset these plans. We know that we can have victory in the places we go given that we are continually in the power and presence of God himself and that whenever two or more agree together to bind or loose something on earth, these same things are bound and loosed in heaven. But the reality is there is no victory without conflict. You can only win a fight that you have been in.

Most of us who are employed in some capacity in the business world will know that there are battles every day. For some reason normally rational adult employees seem to feel the need to act like children once they cross the threshold of work, competitors do their best to undercut your prices by the merest margin while suppliers take offence at the idea that you will reject their product in favour of a rival company. The first sign of rain, or hot weather, or symptom of flu is sufficient cause for a day off and critical machinery always seems to break down just as you enter peak demand times. How much of this is the normal ebb and flow of business and how much is spiritual warfare? Have you ever considered that your workplace is a place of spiritual battle, a battle by the way that God expects you to win?

Your workplace is potentially the greatest opportunity for you to make a significant contribution to the advance of the Kingdom of God. You will probably have far more opportunity to meet and talk to non-believers at work than at any other place. Certainly it is more likely you will meet them there than at church. If Satan is able to reduce your effectiveness at work, then he has had a victory. Clearly then this is a place where we can expect to be involved in spiritual warfare. Next time one of your co-workers or employees seems to say or do something that just manages to push you too far, or when you have to deal with that one worker who always seems to bring out your worst, consider whether or not those people may have become the unwitting tool of Satan to destroy your witness. When that critical machine breaks down for no apparent reason ask yourself whether Satan is involved.

If you are attempting to exalt Jesus Christ in your business make no mistake Satan will be active. He will not surrender this ground to the Lord Jesus Christ without a fight and you will be right in the middle of it. The good news is that as the apostle Paul writes we must put on the whole armour that God provides and then stand still in the battle knowing that it is not ours but his. The news gets better, the battle is already won – Jesus won it on Calvary and in the resurrection, but unfortunately there are still some skirmishes being fought as Satan is pushed further and further out of God’s Kingdom. If you have invited Jesus to join you at work then he has, not only that but now your business is legitimately part of God’s kingdom, sure maybe not everyone in it is a Christian yet, but probably not everyone that goes to the church you attend on Sunday’s is either. Satan will continue to harass and annoy you and from time to time circumstances will occur which are clearly demonically inspired. When this happens take hold of the authority that is yours, resist the devil and he is bound to flee from you. Proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come to your workplace; tell Satan he has no place there and then confidently and diligently do all that you need to do to accomplish his purposes as he strengthens you. Be bold in your approach to the battle you are in, don’t look for a demon in every failed sale, or attack of the flu but be alert to the reality of spiritual warfare. This is not something we need to be afraid of for as the Scripture says: greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world, but we do need to be alert for Satan is like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Be on your guard, stand firm and rejoice in the victory that is yours through Christ Jesus.

1.    Have you ever thought of your workplace as a spiritual battlefield?

2.    What sort of things does Satan use to harass you in your workplace?

3.    What measures can you take to ensure you will have victory in the battles you face?

 

 

 

Week 7

1.The Between Times

Jeremiah 29:4-7

There is a parallel between the times of the prophet Jeremiah and our own days. The people of his day were living in exile, because of their collective disobedience they were taken to Babylon where they were to remain until God re-established them in the city and land of their inheritance. In the meantime, they were to live in the place where God had sent them, in anticipation of a future when they would live under the rule and authority of the King of Kings. While we have not been taken into a physical exile, as the people of Israel were, we are living under the authority of an alien ruler whose desires are contrary to the plans of God, and we do live in anticipation of the time when Jesus will return and establish his reign.

The times we live in lie between Christ’s ascension into heaven and his return in glory, in the meantime our world is under the rule and authority of Satan, the one who stands in absolute opposition to God and his purposes for humankind. These times are appointed by God and will end when he decides they should. While there are things that we can and should be doing which God requires before the return of his Son, we cannot bring forward the day, it is an appointed time and part of God’s eternal purpose. When the disciples questioned Jesus about his return in Acts 1, he answered that it was not for them to know when and how this would happen but in the meantime, there was work for them to do. That work was to be witnesses to the things they had seen and heard, to be heralds of the good news by the power of the Holy Spirit that would indwell them. 

We live in anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ; we are living as aliens in a land under the authority of a ruler whose plans, purposes, values and intentions are in direct opposition to our king. This is not our land; we are strangers here. It is inevitable then that there will be a clash between our values, and those that belong to this world. One of the challenges this poses for us is how to succeed in the world of work, family and community while having different purposes and motivations from those among who we live. Is it possible to survive, let alone succeed, in the business world with out conforming to the standards and expectations of those around us? 

Paul’s answer to this dilemma was to instruct his readers to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. He went on to say that this was the most reasonable form of worship they could offer (Romans 12:1-3) The solution to successful Christian living in the midst of alien land is not to enforce a set of rules and regulations but to do those things that will serve to renew our minds. Once our minds have been renewed then there will be no problem in deciding between the various choices we are faced with. Rather than try to live under a set of prohibitions, most of which we will occasionally fail to keep, we should focus on filling our hearts and minds with those things that will serve to bring our lives into harmony with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Too often Christians put themselves under a tremendous burden of guilt by following self-imposed disciplines, assuming that this is what it means to live a righteous life. God puts the emphasis on the positive rather than the negative, instead of concentrating on what you should not do focus on those things that will renew your mind. Fill your thoughts with the word of God, communicate regularly with Him in prayer, seek out the fellowship of others whose desire is to grow in Christ, and commit yourself to doing his will in your home, community and place of work. In this way, your mind will be renewed and the details of life will look after themselves. Jesus said that we should seek first his kingdom, and then everything else would be provided out of his grace. 

1.    What are the ‘between times’?

2.    How are we to live in these times?

3.    What can we do to help us live the right way?

 

 

2. Be Involved
Jeremiah 29: 5,6

The people of Jeremiah’s day were told that they were going to be in exile for some time. Many of them didn’t want to believe this and there were prophets who were more than happy to tell them that it wouldn’t be long before they were returned to there rightful place in the sun. But God condemned those prophets and emphatically declared that the people would remain were they were, under the authority of a pagan ruler until he decided otherwise. There are those today that are so convinced of the nearness of the return of the lord Jesus Christ that they insist we should disengage from the world we are in and live in seclusion, uncontaminated by the world. God’s command to us is the same as it was for the people of Jeremiah’s day. Get involved in your world. 

There are specific areas of life that we are to be involved in including society, commerce and community. God commanded the people to build houses and to live in them, they were to plant crops and to eat their produce and they were to marry, have children and even grandchildren. They were expected to get involved at every level of life. In this time in which we wait for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the coming of his kingdom, we are to engage in everyday life and be part of the community in which we live.

While we are confident in the return of the Lord, and eagerly anticipate it, knowing that it could happen any time, we are to live as if we could be here for a while. We are to show our commitment to our community by building houses and living in them. Living is not just sleeping the night or having a holiday; it involves doing all those things that comprise normal life: conducting business, recreation, buying and selling and so on. A good member of the community takes responsibility for the place in which they live, they will probably be involved in Neighbourhood Watch, the school P&C, local sport, and will vote in local government elections. Building a house suggests permanency, we are not just passing through – we live here.

Anyone who plants a crop expecting to eat its produce knows that there is time involved. In order to succeed with our produce we will need to buy and sell with other producers. We will want to sell our excess, at a profit, in order to buy what we need and have a little left over. We will have to buy fertilizers, hire equipment and maybe employ labour. In short, we will be involved in commerce. While we live in our communities, buying and selling with those that live there, we will also engage in raising families. The fact that we are to expect to be here some time is reflected in that not only should we seek a husband or a wife for ourselves, but also for our children and their children. We are not only to live as families but we are to expect to grow. God told the people of Jeremiah’s day that they were to multiply, right where they were. To grow and not to decrease.

God does not want us to withdraw from our world; he wants us to live in it engaging fully in all its aspects. That includes the places we work and the communities we live in. His expectation is that we will be salt and light and salt is of little value if it remains in the saltshaker. We must be sprinkled throughout our world, having an effect wherever we are and in whatever we do. In the time we are here before the return of the lord Jesus Christ let us commit ourselves to be being valuable members of our community, contributing to their benefit and being a blessing to all those that live there. Look for ways that you can be used by God to bring his peace to your workplace, society and the community of which you are a part, and then expect God to use you for his glory.

1.    How are to be involved in our world?

2.    In what way can we be ‘salt’ in our community?

3.    What can we do to make sure we do not compromise our faith?

 

 

 

3. The Welfare of Your City
Jeremiah 29:7

The significant thing about God’s command to the people to seek the welfare of the city is that the city was part of Babylon – they were expected to seek the benefit of a city that belonged to a pagan nation and ruler! This was the city to which God was going to send his people, and they were going to be there for a while. In seeking the welfare of this city, the people would find welfare for themselves. God expects us to be a blessing to our city; our presence there should mean welfare for all who live in it. We are to be actively doing things that will bring a benefit and prosperity. 

God has placed you in a community, it may be a suburb, rural town or a larger city, but you are not there by accident. He has sent you there so that you can be a blessing to it. In the same way, you have been sent to a place of employment for the same reason. Apart from the fact that you will bring welfare to your workplace, there is a more selfish motivation, that is, in its welfare you will find welfare. In other words, as the business grows you will receive the benefit. There are many ways we should be working toward the welfare of our workplace, we should work hard, turn up on time, make sure we are honest all that we do, be polite and courteous to our workmates, employees, customers and suppliers and so on. Above all these things, we should pray.

Jeremiah told the people to pray to the lord on behalf of the city to which they were sent. This principle should be extended to your work place; you are to pray on its behalf. But for what should you pray and how do you go about it? The most obvious thing is to pray for the people that you work with or for, then of course there are your suppliers and customers. But we can also pray for the business decisions we face and the challenges that will occur in the course of normal operations. We can pray for ‘difficult’ employees and ‘challenging’ customers and when faced with machine breakdowns or supply problems we can pray about those things to. At the end of each day many people like to plan their agenda for the following day and write up a ‘to do’ list. I have found that using this list as a prayer list ensures that God is invited to participate in all of the business for that day.

In Revelation 3:20 God declares that he stands at the door of the church knocking, waiting for someone to open the door and invite him in. This is another principle that can be extended to the places in which we work. Jesus wants to gain admission to your workplace, but he needs you to invite him in. If there are other believers in your business that you can join with, then you have the assurance that wherever two or more of you meet together, then Jesus is in your midst. You also know that your father in heaven will accomplish whatever you ask. Do you pray specifically for the business and workplace issues that you face? Do you expect God to be interested in your success at work? God is in fact interested and he wants you to succeed. He has even promised to assist you in your endeavours, why not invite him into partnership.

Across the world there is a growing network of businessmen and women who have formed a 51% club. This club is merely a loose association of Christians who have determined to make Jesus the managing partner in their business; they give evidence of this by giving 51% of their profits to him, as the major shareholder. These funds are used to alleviate systemic poverty throughout their communities. In this way they not only seek the welfare of their company, but their city as well – and God is certainly adding his blessing! This is a conviction that these men and women have come to and is not a rule or obligation imposed on every believer; but there is an obligation for everybody to actively seek the welfare of their city and for most of us this will be best achieved by being successful and growing our businesses.

1.    Why should we seek the welfare of our cities?

2.    How do we do that?

3.    In what way can you invite Jesus into your marketplace or community?

 

 

 

4. Watching Over the Marketplace

Isaiah 62:6-7

On a number of occasions in the Old Testament God spoke to the people of the need to appoint watchmen. He used three different Hebrew words when describing their role. In Isaiah 62 God describes these watchmen as shamar; this is a word that suggests the need for the watchman to exercise great care over those in their charge. That care involved physical protection but also other aspects of a shepherd’s role including nurturing, feeding and nourishing. God claimed that he had appointed watchmen over Jerusalem and he gave them specific instructions. It is not too much of a leap to extend this role to the watchmen he appoints over our city and then perhaps to the marketplaces in which we are engaged. 

These watchmen are to never keep silent, not that they are to talk incessantly or to preach ceaselessly, but their responsibility was to pray continually. They were to constantly remind God of the need to re-establish his glory in the city. The watchman was to take no rest for himself and in turn to give God no rest until he did what was asked. The primary responsibility of the watchman is to intercede. The intercessor prevails in prayer, often taking no physical rest, but more accurately never giving up until his or her prayers are answered.

God has appointed watchmen over the communities in which we live, further than that he has appointed them over the market and workplaces in which we are engaged. We are those watchmen and women; we have a responsibility to intercede on behalf of the communities of which we are a part. God commands his watchmen to never give up, but to keep on nagging him, not allowing him rest until he establishes his glory in our cities, workplaces and communities. It is God’s desire that we pray, but this is costly prayer, it requires that we make it a priority, taking no rest until we have what we ask of him.

The watchman prays from a shepherd’s heart, he is concerned for the sheep over which he watches. Some of those sheep are in the fold, but many are not and the shepherd must care for them also. The fold represents all those who have come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; they are his sheep and he promises to care for and protect them. But there are many other sheep that are not in the fold, they are the lost sheep and the shepherd will leave those in the fold to go and find them. In your workplace and community there are many lost sheep, many who are outside of your congregation who are lost and in need of a shepherd. As the watchman or woman of your community or workplace it is your responsibility to care for them and bring them into the fold. The first part in fulfilling this responsibility is intercession. Pray continually; don’t give God any rest until he establishes his praise and glory in your marketplace, this is what he commands you to do. 

The watchman’s role is a pastoral one; he or she is to care for those in his or her charge as a shepherd would. In other words God has called you to be a pastor of your community, whether that be the place where you live or the marketplace in which you are engaged. Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus to be on the guard for themselves but also for flock over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). In this same way you are to shepherd the flock that God has given to you. You are a shepherd and you have a flock to care for. How well do you know the condition of your flocks? Are you able to intercede on their behalf, asking God to meet specific needs? Do you give yourself no rest, praying continually for God to establish his praise in your workplace or community? This is your responsibility, this is why God has put you where you are: so that you can remind him of his plans and purposes and lead those who are in need of a shepherd into the pasture he has provided for them. 

1.    What does it mean to watch over the city or marketplace?

2.    What is the difference between the flock and the fold?

3.    In what way are you a pastor to your workplace or community?

 

 

5. Watching Out for Our Marketplace
Ezekiel 3:17

God uses the word sāpâ to describe a watchman that makes him or herself so aware of all of their circumstances that they are able to gain an advantage over their enemy. It also suggests the ability to lie in wait or to ambush. In a negative way the wicked are said to watch the righteous in order to find an opportunity to slay him (Psalm 37:2), but on the other hand a wise woman looks to (or watches over) her household (Proverb 31:27). Watchmen were commonly employed by rulers of a city to warn against attack or to look out for something or someone (1 Samuel 14:16, 2 Samuel 18:24, 2 Kings 9:17-20) and Ezekiel was appointed as a watchman over the house of Israel so that he could convey God’s warnings to the people.

The role of the watchman is prophetic, he or she is appointed to warn against danger and to alert the inhabitants of a city to the threats they face. God has appointed you as a watchman or woman over your community and marketplace. If you are going to be effective in your task then you must be fully aware of the dangers and threats as well as the requirements God places on the people. What are the threats that face your community or marketplace today? Are there significant moral issues, perhaps hotspots of drug abuse or crime in your neighbourhood? Maybe there are business practices that are unethical or even illegal in your workplace. Are there people you care for whose lives are on a downward spiral due to alcohol, promiscuity, greed or dishonesty? The watchman is to warn against danger and alert the people to the consequences of their action. Ezekiel was told that if he failed to warn the people he was to watch over then he was liable for their lives, but if he faithfully proclaimed God’s message then he was free from any other responsibility toward them even if they refused to listen.

God has appointed you as a watchman or woman. The wise woman in Proverbs 31 diligently took care of her family’s every need; this is the first responsibility of every father or mother. This is how you exercise your role as a watchman. Then you are responsible for your part of the marketplace, the lives of those under your influence are your responsibility. If you don’t warn them of the danger they face, their lives will be held to your account. This is an awesome responsibility – it would be well to pause and think on this for a moment. God has placed you on the wall of your community or workplace to look out for the people and to tell them whatever He has to say. This is why you are there, you are his spokesperson, he is depending on you.

It is not popular to speak out against the moral, social and ethical ills of our community and workplaces, it is much easier to just pray about them. But there comes a time when the watchman does more than pray, he or she also speaks out. If you are to be God’s watchman or woman then you must be prepared to be more than just a quiet witness, certainly there are those who have been clearly given a prophetic gift or office, but all of us are called to watch out for those under our care. The good watchman makes himself aware of the dangers and takes action to warn those at risk, in this way he or she complements the intercessor who brings these needs to God in prayer, but at the same time he or she is urgent in making the threat known.

The battle we face is a spiritual one, it is fought in the heavenly places but its effect is felt right down here on earth. While the intercessor takes up the fight in the heavenlies the watchman prepares the troops for battle on the ground. He or she is informed about the enemy’s strategies and also the weaknesses in the community’s defence. If the watchman is doing his job, then not only will the people in the city be prepared for the attack when it comes, it will be delivered and the enemy defeated.

1.    What does it mean to watch out for our marketplace?

2.    What sort of dangers should you be warning the people about?

3.    In what way is this a prophetic role?

 

 

6. Protecting The Marketplace
Jeremiah 31:6

Another word used to describe the role of the watchman is nāsar, which means to safeguard and keep something in one’s care. God describes himself this way when he speaks of his role as the keeper or watchman over all men (Job 7:20, Isaiah 27:3) but the word is also used to guard material things, possessions or the fortifications of a city. In Jeremiah 4:16, 17 the watchman keeps guard around a besieged city stopping those inside from receiving help or deliverance. The watchman is to protect those in his or her care and take whatever action necessary to prevent any harm from coming to the city.

In earlier times a necessary part of the defence of any city was the city wall. This wall prevented invaders from gaining entrance unobserved, but also only allowed people to leave through its gates. It was essential that the wall be maintained properly and that the watchmen stay at their appointed places so that they could sound the alarm in the case of any attack or threat. If the wall was breached, the defence of the city was at risk. Our modern cities generally do not have walls, although some of the more affluent suburbs have ‘gated’ communities, which prevent undesirables from gaining access, but there are still cities around the world that have walls from an earlier time in their history. I worked for a time in a maximum security prison which was surrounded by a wall on which were located watchtowers were armed guards were stationed to both keep prisoners from leaving, but also to prevent unwanted visitors from gaining access. The wall was an essential part of the prison’s security, regular checks were made on its condition, and the guards were often subjected to surprise visits to make sure they were alert. There are spiritual walls around our communities and workplaces on which watchmen have been placed, but which must also be kept in good repair. The enemy is always looking for a breach in the wall through which he can gain entrance, and our responsibility is to ensure that such an opportunity does not exist.

In describing the role of the prophet is Isaiah 58, God reminds them of their responsibility to speak on his behalf, warning the people about the consequences of their sin. He goes on the say that if the people were to listen to his message and change their ways, doing as he asked them then they would be called repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets where people live (Isaiah 58:12). This passage gives us a clue about how we are to act if we are to protect our communities against the attacks of the enemies. Essentially what God was telling the people to do was to look out for the poor, the needy and the afflicted. Perhaps the greatest opportunity we give to the devil to do mischief in our communities is through the areas of poverty, affliction and misery; if we are to deny these opportunities then we must repair the breaches in our walls. 

Sadly many Christians live almost entirely unaware of the social needs of their communities, they don’t know any poor people, they are ignorant of the misery and affliction suffered by many and fail to see the need around them. There are Christian employers who deny decent working conditions to their employees and while they live luxuriously complain bitterly about having to pay even an award wage or provide mandated benefits. The watchman will repair these breaches, not only will he or she speak out against injustice they will also work to bring it to an end. As a watchman you will work hard to build up the fortifications around your city, community, workplace. You will identify areas of weakness in your defences and strengthen them. You will also warn the members of your community of the approaching danger and remind them that God will hold them responsible for the way that they live. What is the condition of the wall where you have been stationed? Is it in need of repair – then now is the time to go to it!

1.    How can you protect the marketplace?

2.    What are the walls of your marketplace or community?

3.    Where are the breaches in the wall?

 

 

7. Building the Wall 

Ezekiel 22:30 

 Our cities are in danger of being overrun with evil. It seems that violent crimes are on the increase; incidence of drug abuse is soaring; childbirth outside of marriage is accepted as normal; abortion is seen as a woman’s right and should be exercised if a career is threatened or a financial burden produced; smoking, obesity and alcohol pose huge costs to the health budget; interest in the occult is increasing and schools are routinely guarded by armed police. In this climate of social dis-ease God looks for someone to stand in the gap, to rebuild the defences of society and is amazed that he can find no one. 

 The consequence of someone not standing in the gap of their community’s walls is to have that community destroyed. God has placed you in the place you are in for a purpose, so that you can watch out for those under your care. He wants you to pray for them, fight for them, act on their behalf and to protect them against the enemy. God says through Isaiah the prophet that he looked for someone to intercede on behalf of the people but he could find no one. When he looks out at your community, workplace or city what does he find? Does God see watchmen and women at the gate crying out day and night so that God’s praise will fill the city, does he see others warning the people of the danger to come and urgently calling the people to change their ways? Is he able to find those who cry out against social injustice and who do their best to change the circumstances of the poor and the oppressed? Or when he looks at the Christian community does he find complacent Christians enjoying a season of praise and worship as they congratulate each other on how well their ‘church’ is going and how good the music program is? 

 We live in a between time, the time between the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ and his return in glory. We eagerly anticipate that return, but until he comes God has given us a ministry to fulfil. He has placed you in the family, marketplace and the city you are in so that you can watch over them. He has called you to be watchmen and women who will take seriously the responsibility to care for his people. We live in desperate times, the people need a saviour and they need someone to lead them. God has given this responsibility to you. The task is urgent, no one knows how long it will be before the return of the Lord but right now, the enemy is camped at the gate looking for an opportunity to force his way in and loot, rape and pillage the people of God’s possession. How well do you know your enemy, are you are aware of his strategies and devices for leading people astray? Have you identified the weaknesses in your community’s defences that he will exploit and have you recruited others to work side by side with you on the wall so that your defence is secure? 

 When Nehemiah organized the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem he made sure that everybody knew their place on the wall. They all had a job to do and there were others who guarded them while they worked. Each of us has a role in building the walls of God’s kingdom and it is essential we know what part of the wall we are supposed to be building. If there is someone missing from the wall, or if they have not done their part then the defences may be breached. It is not up to the unsaved of our cities to build the walls against Satan, it is up to you and me. We need to identify the places of corruption and bring them before God in intercession. We need to speak prophetically against the injustice and moral sickness that permeates our society and we need to warn our children of the dangers they face. We must watch over our cities, we must watch out for our cities and we must protect our cities and pray for their welfare. For those engaged in the marketplace, apply this principle to the place where you work. God is looking for someone who will stand in the gap and build up the wall – will that be you? 

 
How can you make sure the walls are secure? 

 What is your place on the wall? 

 What others are helping you in the task? 

 

 

 

Week 8

1.    The Chasm
Ephesians 2:1-3

Sometimes it seems there is a yawning chasm between you and the person you want to reach with the good news about Jesus. There is a gulf that appears to make communication or understanding almost impossible. Is this chasm real or imagined? And if it is what causes it and how do we get across from our side to the other?

The fact is there is a gulf between the worldview of Christians and those who do not share their faith. This gulf does not discriminate between Christians and other religious people but separates those with a religious understanding of the world and those who profess to be secular in their understanding. At the time the New Testament was written most, if not all, had a view of their world in which the supernatural was obviously present. Gods were everywhere and so were the statues and idols that represented them. But since that time and particularly over the last couple of hundred years there has been a shift in the thinking of men and women everywhere. The advent of scientific thought caused questions to arise about the origins of life. Acceptance of a creator God as the originator of the world and all that it contained was challenged by the notion of evolution and other theories of science or pseudo-science. As a result a gulf began to appear between those who saw God as the source of all life and those who didn’t.

Once people began to question the origin of the life, they then asked about its purpose. If there is no God, then why am I here? Am I just some sort of cosmic accident or perhaps a higher animal? Do I have any other purpose other than the survival of the species?  With these questions the gulf deepened and widened. As people became less certain of their place in the world or their purpose they then asked ‘how then should I live?’ If there is no God, and I have no purpose in life, then does it matter how I live. Shouldn’t I be able to make whatever moral decisions I want to as long as they don’t hurt anyone else? Why not just eat drink and be merry, because tomorrow I might die! The gulf is now a chasm!

While this is only a simplified overview of the changes in philosophy and thinking over the years it does represent the fact that there is a widening chasm that is growing between those that are convinced in the existence of God and those who are either equally convinced there is none or who are at least unsure. While most don’t philosophize about life and decide to act on the basis of their worldview, these views are promoted through our teaching institutions, the media and marketing industries to the degree that they become accepted as right and normal.

There is a gap between you and those you work with; live amongst and perhaps even some in your own home. You will not communicate your message effectively by simply standing on your side of the chasm and shouting across to the other side, no matter how effective your p.a. system is! Over the years the Christian community has used methods to get across this chasm including letter box drops, leaflets, gospel film and other media, music, event evangelism and so on, and while these methods have had some success the reality is that the chasm is getting bigger, at least in the so-called first world in which we live. There are now more people adopting a secular world view in which there is no place for God than there are responding in faith to peace and purpose that God makes available through Jesus Christ.

The task before us is to find a way to cross the chasm so that we are can share the good news of Jesus Christ to our fiends and workmates in a manner in which they will not only understand what we are saying but will respond in faith to God’s promise of life to them.

1.    Why do you think the gap is getting bigger?
2.    What can you do to build across the chasm?
3.    How do you react to people who have a different world view to you?

 

 

2. Our Side Of The Chasm
2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Jesus’ final commission to his followers before he ascended to be with his father was that they were to go into their world with his good news and make disciples. He promised them that he would send the Holy Spirit to empower them for the task and that they had his authority wherever they went. But something went wrong. Despite the power and ability necessary for the job and the authority to carry it out, after 2000 years the world is not yet discipled. Christians finds themselves hindered by a number of barriers that reduce their effectiveness. These barriers include having wrong priorities, wrong attitudes, wrong motives and the wrong perspective! If we are going to do our part in the great commission Jesus has given to us then we must deal with these personal barriers. We cannot begin to find a way to cross the chasm that separates us from those we wish to reach unless we first of all deal with our own hindrances.

Almost everybody you speak to these days says they are busy, or tired or both. They are caught in a time bind. There are never enough hours in the day to do all that they want to do, and that of course includes sharing the good news. Urgent things often get in the way of the important, the fact is that what is urgent is usually urgent for someone else, not for you. It is critical that you take control of your own timetable, remembering to ‘make the most of your time, because the days are evil’. We all have the same number of hours in the week, you can’t find time or make it, all that you can do is take the time you give to one activity and devote it to another. If sharing the good news is a priority for you, then you will need to take the time for it. Escape the time bind – set yourself free, learn to be productive not just busy!

Another barrier to our effectiveness is the Holy Huddle. While it is essential to have fellowship with believers, some people never leave the holy huddle, preferring to sit and soak up the blessings of God they never think to take the good news they have received and share it with others. I call these people ‘wheat bix Christians’ they just sit in the bowl and soak up all the milk. Conference and spiritual retreat junkies who go from  ‘ministry time’ to prayer and Bible studies but seldom if ever venture out of their blessed huddle to reach their neighbours. Of course sometimes we stay in our huddles because of fear. We fear rejection by those we want to reach, believing that our message will somehow reveal some weakness or problem that will be offensive to others so we remain separate from them. We may also fear failure, unsure of how to tell them and so scared that we won’t succeed we don’t try. Or else we might be afraid of being contaminated by those unchristian people with all of their immoral behaviour! Of course all these fears are irrational and are tools in the hands of the devil to prevent is from doing what Jesus has asked us to do.

Another barrier we might face is that of motive, we want to tell people the gospel so that we can add another notch to the spine of our Bible, chalk up another success, and prove our spiritual worth or stature. Or we might simply lack skill, maybe our approach involves Bible-bashing, or dropping tracts in letterboxes and then running away, maybe engaging in debate that promotes argument and division rather than opportunities for the good news.

There are many barriers on our side of the chasm and unless we face and overcome them we will never be in a position to find a way across. What are the things that stop you from fulfilling the commission of Jesus in your workplace, community or home? Are there barriers you need to overcome? Identifying them is the first step in finding the solution!

1.    What sort of beliefs and attitudes keep us on our side of the chasm?

2.    What do you think of the ‘holy huddle’?

3.    What ways can you think of to start moving to the other side?

 

3. Their Side of the Chasm
2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Communication is a two way process and while there are barriers to the way we share the good news, there are also barriers in the way of those that we want to share it with. These barriers are intellectual, cultural and spiritual. 

Our education system and broader society insist that we find scientific explanations for all of life. If you can’t prove God then he doesn’t exist, there must be scientific explanations for miracles, conversion is a psychological phenomena and so on. There is a suggestion that to believe in God requires that you say goodbye to your intellect. Our culture is based on the idea that every individual has the right to determine what is right for him or her without any interference from a higher authority, certainly not God. Moral views are relative and will change according to the circumstances we find ourselves in, but we clearly do not want someone limiting our personal freedom to make choices that suit us. The idea of a God who has absolute authority and who does not need to explain his actions to our satisfaction flies in the face of all that we grow up learning, this is a huge barrier that needs to be overcome.

All of the barriers faced by those who are yet to respond in faith to the good news have a spiritual origin. In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul writes that the god of this world has blinded the unbelieving so that they cannot see the light of the gospel. He goes on to say that the light which has been given to illuminate the world has been given to us to shine through our hearts, but as Deniece Williams sings, ‘If we are the light, why is the world so dark?’

Another barrier thrown up by the devil is powerlessness. According to Ephesians 2:1-3, before we received the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we were dead in our sins. We had no power we were under the control and influence of the prince of the power of the air. No matter how good our intentions we were powerless to escape his snare. The gospel came to set the captives free and until we receive Jesus Christ by faith we are held captive by the enemy to do his will. As Joe Aldrich has written we need to remember that the people we are trying to reach are not the enemy, they are victims of the enemy.

Those that are without sight and without power are also without hope. How can they expect to escape the snare of the devil? They are prisoners, they cannot just escape, they have no power to resist there is no future, no hope, they are held captive. Of course not every non-believer knows this or would be prepared to accept it. Many believe that they are doing very well and have no need of anything or anyone. They can manage on their own, and in any event there is no eternity, this life is all there is so why not get the most you can out of it? When we try to tell them that they need Jesus they cannot se why, the god of this world has blinded them.

Just like the barriers we have that we need to identify and overcome before we can be effective communicators, so too we need to find a way to get over the barriers that stop our friends and workmates from receiving the message. We can’t simply blast through their objections; we must act wisely toward them, treating them with respect. What is your strategy for overcoming the barriers that hinder your message? How are you working toward being a better, more effective communicator? How has the light in your life overcome the darkness in the world in which you live?

1.    What are the obstacles that keep people on the other side?

2.    What is the origin of these obstacles?

3.    What can we do to reduce or remove them?

 

4. Crossing the Chasm
Mark 4:1-20

There are many metaphors used for describing the process or method of getting from one side of the chasm to the other. Most if not all involve building a bridge of some sort, usually a bridge of friendship or relationship. Of course some methods or suggestions just involve shouting louder, or providing some attraction that might encourage those on the other side to build their own bridge! The metaphor I like is that developed by Christian Businessman’s Committees Intl. Which, while recognizing that a bridge needs to be built across the chasm suggests we do this using an analogy drawn from farming.

As we develop a relationship with the person we are trying to reach we start to build a bridge across the chasm of their objections. We speak to their heart by showing that we care for them, as Aldrich writes, we cannot share good news until we are good news. We want to overcome the barrier of isolation that unsaved people often face demonstrating to them that they are not alone in the world, we care for them and so does God. Using the farming analogy, we start to cultivate the soil that is the human heart. Producing a crop involves three distinct phases, in the first place we must cultivate the soil, removing rocks and stones, tilling the soil and adding those nutrients that will enrich the soil. Once this is done we will plant the seed. We must use good seed and plant it properly if we expect a good crop. Cultivation takes much longer than sowing but if done properly will make the task of sowing much easier. Once these phases are complete we wait for the harvest. Harvesting is a comparatively speedy process, if the soil is well cultivated, the seed is good and is sown properly, then provided the climate is right and there are no adverse conditions, we can expect a harvest.

This metaphor relates to the process of evangelism, we cultivate the soil that is the human heart by prayer, good works, social activity, acceptance and understanding. Once the heart is prepared we are ready to sow the seed of the gospel through personal testimony and the application of the word of God. Then at the right time the harvest is reaped as our friend responds to the claims of the gospel on him or her. As we cultivate the heart of our friend we are building a bridge across the barriers that separate us, once that bridge is built it is our responsibility to cross to the other side and share the good news about Jesus. Once this is done we can assist our friend to cross the bridge with us to the other side of the chasm. Tragically many Christians and the organizations to which they belong believe that once a bridge is established to the unconverted in their community it is their responsibility to cross it and come to ‘church’ where they will hear a gospel presentation. This is not what Jesus meant when he said ‘go!’

We must build the bridge and then cross it, as we spend time with our friends we will overcome the barrier of ignorance. As the Holy Spirit opens their mind with revelation of the truth, they gain an understanding that was previously hidden from them. Once they have this understanding we will seek to overcome the barrier of indecision by drawing from them a response. Evangelism is a process not an event. It takes time – and effort. Much of that time will be spent in building our bridge, or at the cost of mixing metaphors, cultivating the soil. If we are to reach our neighbours, workmates and friends with the good news about Jesus we must build a bridge. How is your bridge coming along? Have you started with the foundations of prayer and good works, and are you building with the planks of service, social activity, understanding and acceptance? Now is the time to get building!

1.    How do we go about crossing the chasm?

2.    How does the metaphor of farming relate to building bridges?

3.    What are three phases of farming and how do they apply to crossing the Chasm?

 

 

5. Cultivation
1 Corinthians 9

The process of cultivation involves developing a ‘redemptive’ relationship with your neighbour or friend. Jesus commanded that we are to love our neighbour and when he was questioned about who that neighbour was he used the parable of the Good Samaritan. Neighbours are not just people that we live close to; they include anyone that we have the capacity to draw near to, no matter what our circumstances or where we are located geographically. But to suggest that we need to draw near implies that there is a distance that has to be overcome.

The distance that exists between us and the people we want to reach is often not physical but the result of perceptions, values, beliefs and attitudes. Sometimes there are prejudices that need to be overcome and at other times there is the fear of rejection, criticism or failure. We need to overcome these barriers if we are to become neighbours. Joe Aldrich suggests that there are four steps we need to take if we are going to become a redemptive neighbour. In the first place we must make it a top priority. The apostle Paul said that he was under compulsion to preach the gospel, but that he was also eager to do so. Building relationships seldom happens by accident, there needs to be some effort put in. The second step is to develop a capacity to draw near. This may mean that we have to re-evaluate our personal likes and dislikes, to examine our prejudices and be willing to put them aside in order to get to know, or draw near to someone. It is amazing how our opinions of people change, as we grow closer to them. Thirdly we must develop the capacity ‘to become’. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22 that he was willing to become all things to all people so that he was able to reach some. It might be that you need to develop an interest in football, or gardening to strike up a conversation. You might need to extend the repertoire of your music collection so that you can share an interest with someone you have just met. The final step is to develop a ‘caring-sharing’ heart. We hear a lot about individual rights these days, but Paul suggested that we have to bring those rights under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in order to reach people with the gospel. We must be willing to become a servant to those we want to win.

Cultivating a relationship with others starts with cultivating your own relationship with God. As we do this we will seek responsive people through the social relationships we enjoy and as we meet with them we will be able to build a reservoir of shared experiences. As we build our relationships we need to look for opportunities to serve and at the same time plant ‘spiritual seeds’ as we talk about what God means to us and how our relationship with him helps us to cope with the rigours of life. Building relationships is a long-term proposition; we don’t become someone’s friend just so we can preach to them, but because we value them as a person and enjoy their company.

As we develop in our relationship we should make the most of events like Easter and Christmas and use them as opportunities to gently introduce our new friends to the basis of the gospel. At the same time we should strive to eliminate the caricatures that many unbelievers have of the church and its people. The conviction that Christians are either wowsers or hypocrites can best be dispelled in the context of a caring relationship. As we develop the relationships we have we should expect that at some point you would have the opportunity to share the gospel, so you must be prepared. It is important to have a strategy prepared for the time when your neighbour asks you about the hope that you have and then you will be able to gently lead them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, at this point your neighbour who has become your friend is now a brother or sister in Christ and you have experienced the joy of bringing them into the family of God.

1.    What does cultivation involve?

2.    What do you think is the best way to start cultivating a redemptive relationship?

3.    What are some of the caricatures that non believers have of Christians?

 

6. Worldly, or Weird?
Romans 14

In our desire to build relationships with our neighbours we will be confronted with the need to maintain a balance between being radically different from the world in which we live, in order that we will have a message and radically identifying with those we want to listen to our message. Jesus told us that we are to be salt and light in the world in which we live, their must always be a combination of truth and love held in the right balance. This is the tension we face and the challenge we have.

One extreme of behaviour is characterized in the spiritual porcupine, the person who is bound up in legalism and seldom ventures from his or her holy huddle. They believe that since they are Christians that they are not of this world and to associate with the lost may result in them being contaminated in some way. They must ‘come out from amongst them and touch no unclean thing’. This is of course an extreme religious worldview and the result is that the audience is lost and they can no longer be salt or light. 

The other extreme is the spiritual chameleon that has so assimilated with his or her audience that they become indistinguishable from it. Not only do they go to the pub with their neighbours, but they get roaring drunk as well! They have accepted the moral values of their world and have lost their message. These people can often be heard to say things like ‘it’s just business, it’s not really dishonest’ or ‘it’s OK to cheat on your taxes, everybody does it’. Using the guise of loving their neighbour they have neglected the truth of the gospel. 

The Christian who seeks to cross the chasm from the Christian worldview to the secular runs the risk of being labeled worldly by the religious conservatives or weird by their secular neighbour. The tension of being not of this world but needing to live in it is tricky to negotiate so there are some principles that should be observed. In the first place, familiarize yourself with what the Word of God has to say. Read passages like Luke 7:33-35, Acts 24:16, I Corinthians 9 and Romans 14. Once you have become familiar with the word, watch your balance, maintain a good conscience with God and man, remember it was written about Jesus that he grew up with favour of God and man, strive to do the same. Be prepared to challenge your comfort zone. How many things do you do or not do because its always been that way? Howard Hendricks made the point that the problem with most Christian convictions is that they were the convictions of Christians but not biblical principles. Challenge your beliefs, make sure that you can support your likes and dislikes Biblically and don’t condemn people for behaviour simply because you don’t like it. However once you have studied the word and challenged your comfort zone, establish some boundaries and stay within them. It is important to recognize that in some cases your boundaries may differ from someone else’s, they may feel free to visit a hotel and drink alcohol, but you may not. You may like formal worship every Sunday, but they may not. Make sure the boundaries you set line up with Scripture and that they are appropriate for you, but do not condemn others for the views and values they hold.

The key element in building relationships is finding common ground. What are those activities that you and your neighbour find in common? What experiences do you share? It is in this context that you will get to know one another, but it is also here that your boundaries will be tested, don’t be afraid of that, rather welcome it. Seek to maintain a radical identification with your neighbour, but at the same time be radically different so that you will have the opportunity to be both salt and light.

1.    What are the two extremes we must extreme when building relationships?

2.    What safeguards must we take?

3.    What common ground do you think you can find with your neighbours?

 

 

7. Ready For The Harvest
1 Peter 3:8-16

Every farmer knows that there is a right time for harvest. There is no point in trying to get the crop in too early, and if it is left too late the crop will spoil, it is essential to harvest at just the right time. It is also important to have a plan or a strategy in place for when that time comes. No farmer would wait until the crop is right and then start to think about what they need to do, what machinery they need or where they will put the crop when it is harvested. All these things are planned in advance. Of course the crop is never going to ripen if it is not sown in the first place, and the farmer will have a strategy for this as well.

In the same way we must have a strategy for both sowing good seed into the hearts that have been cultivated and then for harvest at the right time. There are a number of ways that we can sow seed into the hearts of those whose hearts have been cultivated through friendship, prayer, care and understanding, but perhaps the most effective of these is personal testimony. Peter tells his readers to always be ready with an answer for the hope that is within them and the apostle Paul used his own testimony when he appeared before King Agrippa in Acts 26. Are you ready with your testimony? If you were called upon would you be able to provide a convincing explanation for your faith right off the cuff?

There are a number of key principles that should be included in your testimony. You could start with a brief description of your life before you became a Christian, identify a key factor or problem that characterized your life – it may be that you were a workaholic, or lacked peace or a sense of purpose or maybe you were extremely ambitious. Illustrate how this factor affected you in your day-to-day life. Don’t dwell on the negatives however, most people you relate to won’t identify with you if you only talk about how evil you were or what problems you faced – include some of your achievements, the good things you have done. The second principle of your testimony is a description of how you came to Christ. Avoid using jargon and explain exactly what you mean, remember that to say ‘I went forward’ or that you ‘received Jesus’ will probably mean nothing to a person from a secular worldview. There is no need to exaggerate either the events of your life before you became a Christian or your encounter with Jesus. You don’t have to be exciting – just real. Remember to include in your description of how you became a Christian enough of the gospel message for your neighbour to understand what Jesus has done for them. You might like to include a couple of verses of Scripture at this point. After you have explained your conversion experience then go on to describe your life since you became a Christian. Once again don’t exaggerate, just tell it as it is, don’t imply that all your problems have been eliminated but explain how being a Christian helps you get them into perspective.

As you conclude your testimony you will have the opportunity to make a personal appeal. Don’t fall short of the mark ‘close the deal’. Your desire is that the person you are sharing with will come to the same experience of faith you have, your testimony is the tool you will use to bring them to the point of decision. Of course you will need to give them sufficient information on which to base their decision. You will want to be able to share the basics of the gospel with your neighbour in such a way that they will be able to make a decision to commit themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In other words you need to have a harvesting strategy. What is your strategy? Do you have a plan for the time when you will introduce your neighbour to faith in Jesus Christ, if not now would be the time to put one together- in anticipation of the harvest when it is ready.

1.    Why should you have a sowing and harvesting strategy?

2.    What is the benefit of a personal testimony?

3.    What things do non believers need

 

 

 

 

 

Week 9

1.    Equal Standing
2 Peter 1:1

This is the second letter that Peter the apostle wrote to communities of Christians in the area we now call Turkey. It is possible that some of those believers had been in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and returned to their homes with fresh faith and hope in Jesus Christ. Peter probably wrote this letter from Rome where we he was in prison following the persecution of believers by Nero in around 66AD. He is following up his first letter to encourage the believers to stand firm even though it was likely that they would face some hard times.

Peter begins his letter by describing himself firstly as an apostle but also as being equal to those he was writing. Peter could have made a big deal of the fact that he was a leader, probably the most well known and significant leader of this new movement. It was he that preached that Pentecostal sermon that changed so many people’s lives and began the church. It was Peter that Jesus singled out to build the church and along with John he was always at the front of the action around Jesus. He was pivotal in all the significant events in the growth of the early church. But Peter made no mention of those things, he was just a servant who had equal standing with those who would receive his letter.

Peter was given a commission by Jesus to build the church, he was to explain the teachings of Jesus to the new believers so that they could be established in their faith and grow into the family of God’s people they were intended to be. But he never lost sight of the fact that he was who he had become only by the grace and mercy of God. Peter was the headstrong disciple who was always keen to take action. It was he that stepped out of the boat to walk on water, that offered to build tents on the Mount of Transfiguration, that ran to the tomb to look for Jesus after the crucifixion and was first to swim to the shore to see Jesus after the resurrection. But he was also the man who denied  Jesus in the courtyard as he was ridiculed, spat upon and abused, who didn’t believe the testimony of the women after they had seen Jesus and with the other disciples had gone into hiding after Jesus was executed. He was impulsive, self confident but prone to failure. His early courage deserted him when he needed it the most, but Pentecost changed that. On that day Peter along with the others gathered together was overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and with courage restored Peter went into the midst of the crowd and preached the first gospel sermon. That day 3000 people believed and were baptized and the church was born.

When Peter wrote to the scattered church he called them his equals. They had received the same grace as he and like him were now considered righteous. He didn’t write as someone who was more spiritual or superior but as an equal. Peter was aware of his failings and his stumbles along the way and so he wants to write to these fellow believers and encourage them. They were going to face some tests and challenges, they may also be tempted to deny Jesus as Peter had done, how could they protect themselves? And what about the story that Jesus was coming back, when was that going to happen and how could they be sure they would be ready?

We may think that others are more spiritual than we are, especially if they are Christian leaders, and that somehow they will be able to stand when we cannot. We are weak and there are others who are better than us, better educated, pray more, have been Christians for longer, better gifted. But Peter reminds us that we are all the same. We are righteous because of what Jesus has done, not because of our efforts or history. If others can walk without stumbling then so can we and Peter intends to show us the way.

1.    Do you think that there are different levels of spirituality and some are better than others?
2.    Do we sometimes give more attention to those who have a track record of ministry success than the less well known?
3.    Have you stumbled and felt that you can’t recover your balance?

 

 

2. Grace and Peace multiplied
2 Peter 1:2

As Peter begins his letter he offers a prayer on behalf of his readers in the form of a blessing. He asks that they have grace and peace multiplied to them and then adds that this can only be achieved through a greater knowledge of God and of Jesus. This is the same prayer that he offered in his first letter.

We cannot begin our Christian life without grace. It is the lovingkindness and mercy that God gives to people purely because he chooses to, it is not earned nor is it a reward for effort. We are only able to come into the presence of God because of his grace, and not because of anything we have done. No matter how good we think we are, we will never be good enough to meet God’s standard of righteousness – we will always come short, and because we come short we find ourselves in the place of judgment. But grace doesn’t stop when we confess our faith in Jesus, we need a continual supply in order to grow and walk without stumbling. The readers of Peter’s letter were going to face difficult times and many may have already done so, they needed grace to deliver them.

Along with an abundant supply of grace these scattered believers needed an inner peace that can only come from the certain knowledge that God is in control. Peter is not asking that his readers be spared from persecution or harm, in fact he warns them that they will almost certainly experience both these things. It is not an external threat that they needed to face but anxiety and distress of their soul. When the apostle Paul wrote that we should not be anxious about anything, but instead in everything by prayer and with thanksgiving we should let our requests be made known to God, then he says, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-7). We can do this because as he says, “The lord is near” We have the assurance that he is in control – always and in everything. This is the peace that Peter seeks for his readers.

Peter asks that both grace and peace be multiplied. It is not as though we can receive a greater amount, because as Paul says God had assured him that His grace was always more than sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), but we must access or apply God’s sufficiency more. Peter explains that this happens thorough our knowledge of God and of Jesus. Throughout this letter the word  ‘know’ or a form of it is used  14 times, it is an important theme for Peter. We are to know God and Jesus and to grow in that knowledge, our faith does not depend on how we feel but on what we know. The word Peter uses in verse 2 is slightly different than that in verse 5 and elsewhere. The difference is made by adding a few letters to the beginning of the word to extend its meaning. In Verse 5 Peter uses the Greek word gnosis while in verse 2 it is epignosis, why is this important? Epignosis implies a full and complete knowledge that is achieved by a personal relationship with whatever is known while gnosis may be incomplete and gained secondhand, or through another person or source. Peter is stressing that his readers must get to know God and Jesus personally and not just hear about them from someone else. It is only as they develop their own relationship with God that they can grow in their knowledge of him. Reading books and listening to sermons is great but they are insufficient and inadequate. We must know God and Jesus better by developing our relationship with them. When we do, the abundance of his grace and peace become more obvious to us and we discover how we can take a hold of these things as we face the challenges that confront us.

1.    Do you feel that God’s grace is sufficient for your needs?
2.    Do you experience God’s perfect peace?
3.    Are you growing in your knowledge of God and Jesus

 

 

3. Everything you need
2 Peter 1:3-4

Do you ever find yourself thinking that life would be so much better, you would be much more successful, if only things were different. If you had better opportunities, different parents, more money, better education, were a different shape or colour or race, gender or some other aspect to your life? Do you live in an “if only” world? Perhaps you would be less likely to fail or fall into sin, you wouldn’t stumble quite so much and you would be a better parent, son or daughter or employee – if only. Peter writes to tell his hearers that they have all they need, there are no excuses, if they stumble they can’t blame the past or the present, it is not reasonable to believe they would be changed if only things were different.

The power of God which was demonstrated by bringing back Jesus from the dead is made available to all those who believe and has given us all we need  for life and for godliness. When Peter says all things, or everything, he means everything, there is nothing lacking. He does not just mean learning to be content with what we have, although that is certainly something we must do, but understanding that wherever we are in life, whatever challenges we face, we have all we need to face them and emerge victorious. This is a constant theme of both Paul and Peter, that Christians must understand that they are not victims of their circumstances or the past or any other thing. They are not slaves to sin and unable to resist temptation, they are victors. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in them. Paul adds that all believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). Once again these assurances are given about something that has already happened in the believer’s life: they have been blessed with every spiritual blessing; they have been given everything necessary for life and godliness.

The ordinary details of everyday life are included in God’s promise. He is not just talking about ‘spiritual issues’ but the stuff of normal daily life: what do we eat, where do we live, how do I manage my family and so on. God has given us all we need to face the challenges of these and other things as well. Jesus tells us that because he cares for us we have no need to worry about what we will wear or eat because he will provide; we do not have to be anxious because he cares for us, and when we are concerned or anxious all we need to do is tell him and he will give his peace. He may tell us our lifestyle and our spending habits have to change and if we have a health problem we may have alter our diet and exercise. If we want a better job we may need to work harder or get more education and so on. I hear many people say that they struggle with bills but still manage a daily trip to the coffee shop, top of the range phone and internet plan, and insist and brand label clothing, they might even be planning their next holiday. While God has promised to give us everything we need, that may not satisfy our wants!

In respect to godliness, he has also provided the power to overcome. ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you’ James says, Paul adds that there is no temptation for which God has not provided a way of escape. We are no longer slaves to sin, held captive by the devil to do his will, we have been set free. To protect ourselves he has given us spiritual armour, but it is not much use in the wardrobe – be need to put it on. We don’t need to stumble, but when we do he grabs us by the hand and puts us back on our feet (Psalms 37:23-24). In the rest of this chapter Peter provides some positive things we can do so that we can grow in our knowledge of God and better understand all that God has provided for us so that we will never stumble!

1.    What “if onlys” do you think about or use to explain your current situation?
2.    Do you know you are blessed with every spiritual blessing?
3.    Do you fee powerful enough to claim victory in life and godliness?

 

 

  1. Precious and Great Promises
    2 Peter 1:3-4Having written that God has given those who are his children everything they need for life and godliness, Peter goes on to add that he has also granted precious and great promises. The tense is the same, that is they have already been granted and to be sure that we can know what they are God has written them in a book which he calls the Bible. It is as we become familiar with his book that we also become familiar with the promises he has made.How well do we know the promises of God? John Piper writes: “The promises of God liberate us from corruption and give us a share in the divine nature…And God teaches here what we so desperately need to know: that this liberation from sin and likeness to God come by knowing and trusting his precious and very great promises. Very practically, I think this means we must day-by-day go to the Word of God and search for great promises” John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim’s Progress said: “The pathway of life is strewn so thickly with the promises of God that it is impossible to take one step without treading upon one of them.” But why should we know these promises?In the first place God’s promises are described as precious which is a word that describes something which is valuable, highly prized, and desirable. We may think of a precious stone, or a possession or even a relationship that is so important and valuable to us that we safeguard it and do whatever we need to make sure it is not damaged or lost. Among the promises of God are those which guarantee eternal life in his kingdom, removal of judgment and the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. Added to that is the promise of answered prayer, freedom from fear and rest for our souls. But there are many others besides. Charles Spurgeon produces a daily devotional called “Faith’s Checkbook” (which is available for a few dollars or can be downloaded from a number of sites online at no cost) which offers a promise to meditate on an accept every day.The promises are also described as great, or in some translations very great or magnificent. The word that is used is a form of the word ‘mega’ and only occurs in this way once in the bible. Mega means ‘great’ but when used in the form it is here (called a superlative) it is the highest form of great, exceedingly great, beyond expectation or imagining. These precious and magnificent promises have been granted to you and to me. They are not held back waiting for us to earn them or as some reward for good behaviour. However, they may be waiting to be discovered!

    As we read God’s word and ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit he will reveal his promises to us and by faith we can live with the confidence that they are ours to enjoy. You probably already know many of the promises God has made, but there are no doubt many others that lie hidden in the pages of the Bible. It is said that D.L. Moody wrote the letters T and P, meaning “Tried and Proved” in the margin of his Bible. He had put into practice many of the promises he read, proving that they “work”. We too can take and prove God’s miracle working, supernatural, precious and magnificent promises that provide everything we need for life and godliness and in this way live a victorious Christian life.

  1. Do you have favourite promises that you depend on?
  2. Do you always go back to the same promises or are you discovering new ones?
  3. Is there something in your life that you would like a promise of God to meet?

 

  1. Partakers of the Divine Nature
    2 Peter 1:3-5As those who have an equal standing with Peter, we have been given everything we need for life and godliness and God’s precious and magnificent promises so that we can share in the Divine Nature! In saying this Peter uses a term that was common to the philosophies of the day, thinkers like Plato and Plotinus believed that there was a divine spark in the soul, an image of God or God’s consciousness, and that this spark includes knowledge of every principle, form or relationship. It was the task of all mankind to leave behind the lower levels of desires and intellect and ascend to the divine. This is not what Peter was talking about!Before referring to the Divine Nature it is important to reflect on the fact that we are partakers together. The word that is used by Peter means to have something in common and elsewhere it can be translated as fellowship or common  participation. He is taking his readers back to his opening statement that they were of equal standing to him. They had something in common, they had all received the great gifts of God so that they could share in the Divine Nature. This is the character of the church, God’s family or community, we all share the same nature.

    Peter is not saying we will become or have become or could even become gods ourselves. This was the desire that caused the Devil to be thrown out of God’s presence, it was also the cause of the fall of Adam and Eve when they thought that they could become like God. When God created man and woman he made them in his image, but this was corrupted when they, through Adam and Eve and everyone of us since, rebelled against him and fell short of his desire for us. But through faith in Jesus Christ we are reborn, or born from above, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17: ‘’ if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” And Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” As believers we have received a new nature, we participate in the Divine nature through God’s precious and magnificent promises.

    To participate in the nature of God means to participate in those things that are his. We might call them his characteristics. God’s character is described in two parts, that is, those things that can be communicated to those who share his nature and others which only he can possess. They are referred to as his communicable and incommunicable characteristics. We know God is all knowing, all powerful, that he is in every place at one time and he never changes. They are some of the things we cannot possess, but he is also good, just, loving, merciful, truthful, wise and reliable and these are all characteristics we can share. As the community of Christ followers who participate in the Divine Nature we should be identified by these virtues.

    We may also see the fruit of the Spirit as further evidence of the Divine Nature, these are named by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. God has given us everything we need so that individually and together we can reflect his nature in the world by demonstrating his true nature in our relationships with one another and our wider communities and workplaces. True fellowship is a common participation in the Divine Nature, this is God’s gift to you and to the community of faith.

  1. How do you feel about participating in the Divine Nature?
  2. How can the church, or community of faith to which you belong, reflect this?
  3. Do you think your life at work and at home demonstrates the character of God?

 

  1. Having escaped corruption
    2 Peter 1:3-4We become partakers of the Divine Nature because we have escaped the corruption of the world. Does this mean we no longer sin, or that we can only claim to participate in this new nature if we don’t sin? No, it doesn’t mean that, but since Peter states that the corruption comes through sinful desire, or as other translations put it, ‘through lust’ what does it mean?

    Colossians 1:13 claims: ‘He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.’ The word ‘rescued’ can also be translated ‘delivered’ or ‘freed’. The sense of being rescued suggests an escape as for example Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13: ‘No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.’ While Peter writes that we have escaped or set free, and the grammar he uses means a once for only experience, he goes on to give instructions on how to ensure we stay free.

    When we put our faith In Jesus as the son of God who rose from the dead we are set free both from the penalty of sin and its ongoing power. The penalty of sin is eternal separation from God and his mercy, but in giving his life Jesus paid the debt that was owed and we have been set free from its obligations. Paul makes clear in Romans chapter 8 that there is no longer any threat of condemnation and indeed having ben adopted by God as his children there is nothing that can separate us from his love. The power of sin that held us captive to do the will of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26) has been broken by the resurrection of Jesus. He has destroyed the power of death and set us free. Paul writes in Romans 6:5-6: ‘For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin’. We have escaped or been rescued, set free from the corruption that sin has brought to the world.

    Sadly though, all of us can testify to the fact that we continue to give in to temptation, or in other words sin. Paul speaks of a similar experience in Romans 7 where he agonizes over his own inability to do what he knows he should, and instead does what he knows he should not do. The human nature with which we were born still holds influence in our lives and we do struggle with temptation. We have already seen though that no temptation that we suffer is so great that we cannot resist it as we depend on God. James assures us that of we resist the devil he will flee from us, and Paul insists that ‘For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.’ (Romans 6:14). The power of sin may be broken but its influence is very real. James says: ‘each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.’ (James 1:14). We know this to be true so we must be ion our guard to resist and seek Gods way of escape’. God knowing our weakness provides grace and when we fail, mercy. Form this mercy the apostle John tells us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

    You and I will struggle daily with temptation and from time to time we will fail (more often than we would like) but we should never fear that we are powerless or captive to sin of any sort. Jesus paid the price and broke the chains to set us free. We can maintain our freedom by daily coming to God and receiving his mercy and grace and the assurance that nothing can separate us from his love.

  1. Do you believe you have been set free?
  2. Satan will tell you that you cannot avoid sin or that the past will continue to hurt you, is this true?
  3. How can you be sure that you remain free?

 

  1. Make every effort
    2 Peter 1:3-5

    “For this reason,” Peter writes, because you have received everything from God and have escaped the corruption that exists in the world because of sin, and because you have a faith of an equal standing to his own, you should make every effort to supplement your faith. It is true that we rest in faith but as someone has written “Faith doesn’t stand around with its hands in its pockets”.

    Peter calls us to act in response to the magnificent and precious promises of God. We are to be diligent, or to make every effort to increase our faith. Foundations for Farming is an organization in Zimbabwe that set about improving the fortunes of the local people by improving their farming practices with God’s guidance and help. They operate on four principles: To be on time; to produce work of a high standard;  to have no waste; and to do everything with joy. In commenting on this last principle it insists: “If you do these first three things faithfully without self pity, complaining, blaming others, making excuses, but with thankfulness, there will be no need for fear and hopelessness and you will have hope and joy which gives you strength.” (http://www.foundationsforfarming.com/?page_id=56). These are good principles to base our faith journey on and like he has with those  the Foundation works with, God will bless and add to your efforts.

    Now we have received so much from God we need to use what we have been given to grow in our knowledge and relationship with him. Peter uses an unusual word which is translated in a number of ways, including ‘add’, ‘supplement’, ‘supply’, and ‘develop’ when he says “make every effort to supplement your faith”. It is a word that is used a few times in the bible and it is drawn from Greek culture. The basis of the word is choreo from which we get words like choreography and chorus and it has the prefix epi added to it which suggests an abundance or lavishness. What is not intended is to imagine that the list of characteristics that Peter is about to introduce are like steps on a ladder that we climb as we seek to grow, as we achieve one we move on to the next and so on. Rather each characteristic is developed in relation to the others and in harmony with them.

    When used in Greek social life this word was applied to a person who was given the task of providing, out of his own resources, all that was needed to support a visiting chorus or travelling band of performers. No expense would be spared, and the provision would be abundantly more than was needed. The word therefore means to supply extravagantly, to provide beyond the need, to supply more than generously. It is the kind of generosity believers must have in giving their own effort in cooperation with God in developing the characteristics Peter will go on to identify.

    Peter adds a sense of urgency or immediacy about his instruction. He says to supply and he means to do it now. Waste no effort, don’t stand around, hands in pockets congratulating yourself on your faith and all that it provides. Instead roll up your sleeves and get to work. This is the right time, be diligent to produce work of the highest standard, don’t waste a moment or opportunity and above all do it with thankfulness and great joy. The rewards are great and they are certain. God has done his part – he has given you all you need, now we must do ours.

  1. Can you apply the four principles mentioned above to your own life and work?
  2. Which of the four presents the greatest challenge?
  3. Are you growing in your faith and knowledge of God?

 

 

Week 10

  1. Virtue

2 Peter 1:3-7

Virtue is one of those words that we hear fairly often and assume that we understand what it means without being able to define it. Schools adopt virtues programs and people may be described as being virtuous. Some aspects of character may be called virtues such as honesty, integrity or courage, but what is a virtue? One dictionary describes it as ‘behaviour showing high moral standards’ (Oxford) while another (Collins) suggests: ‘moral excellence; goodness; righteousness’. The problem with these definitions is that we then need to decide what we mean by moral or even righteousness, and if morality means: ‘the belief that some behaviour is right and acceptable and that other behaviour is wrong’ (Collins), who decides what is right and wrong and how is that decision made?

The various translations of the bible offer: goodness, virtue, excellence, moral excellence, integrity, worthiness and even, noble character, it is obviously a difficult word to translate from the original Greek. The original word is arete and as it was used in Greek culture of the time to refer to a virtue which was used to enrich the lives of others. It implies ultimate excellence or merit within social relationships. When anything fulfilled the purpose for which it existed it would be considered to be virtuous or excellent. A knife that cuts properly would be excellent because it does what a knife is supposed to do.  A believer is virtuous or morally excellent when he or she lives the way they are created to and are able to, through all that God has provided.

A virtuous worker is excellent in what he or she is employed to do. A virtuous student performs excellently, as does a house wife or a pastor preparing his message. This is the outworking of virtue, it has as its goal the desire to do exactly what God requires and to benefit those who are affected by it. In Philippians 4:8 Paul uses the same word when he speaks about the things we should think about: ‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’. The word is translated as ‘excellence’ here and we are instructed to be virtuous in our thinking. Of course what we think is often converted to speech or action and so these should also always be morally excellent!

How do we determine what is morally excellent? We live in a world where it accepted that morality should be decided by the majority view. We recently had a vote to decide whether homosexual marriage should be permitted, the ‘morally correct’ view would be determined by the biggest number of votes. Those that pointed to religious or traditional views were outnumbered and so as a nation it was decided that it was morally ‘right’ for same sex couples to marry. This is only one example among others but as believers we believe that what is morally right, or righteous is determined by God alone and he has given us his word to direct our thinking and our behaviour. Morality or ethics does not change with circumstances or the situation we find ourselves in. We have been given absolutes to live by and as we commit to doing so we live  a virtuous life. God has given us everything we need for godliness and life, by the power of his Spirit we are able add moral excellence in and through our faith and grow in our knowledge of God.

  1. Are you an excellent worker, or student or neighbour?
  2. How about your thinking, do you meet the standard of Philippians 4:6-8?
  3. Do you think morality or ethics should depend on circumstances (eg. it is Ok to lie sometimes)?

 

  1. Knowledge
    2 Peter 1:3-7The next characteristic that Peter insists we develop is that of knowledge. This is not the accumulation of facts or information, even if they are about God. He is not suggesting we enrol in academic courses even though they might be of benefit or sit at the feet of scholars filling our minds with new knowledge. He is speaking of understanding, correct insight, truth properly absorbed and applied, it is functional knowledge gained from firsthand, personal experience.Paul writes in Ephesians 3:17-20: “you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” This is what Peter is talking about. A distinction is drawn between comprehension and knowledge. We can comprehend facts and details about a person without ever knowing them. Some of you reading this may have discovered information about me, who I am, what I do even how old I am and what I look like, but you may you may not know me. If we were to meet or have personal contact, we could then say that we know each other, and as contact grows and communication increases we can know each other more and more.Many Christ followers can recite Bible verses and sing songs about God from memory, but never really know him. Peter is calling each of us to apply excellence in supplying knowledge. He wants us to be diligent in developing our relationship with him. How do we do that? God has given us access to himself through grace. We can come to him in prayer and thanksgiving, we can read the letters he wrote to his church and the stories about his plan for men and women. We can meet with other believers to worship, sing songs of praise and give to him tokens of our gratitude. We can invite him daily to share our lives and guide our steps as we carry out our day to day activities. We can write to him, perhaps in a journal or diary, just as he has written to us and we can talk to each other about him and with him when we are together.There are many ways we can grow in our knowledge of God and it as we do this that we become more familiar with him. We will learn what pleases him, but also what upsets or offends him. As in any relationship, if we want it grow stronger we will try always to do what pleases the other person and avoid those things which threaten to damage our relationship. God has made the task of discovering these things easier by giving us his word, the Bible. It contains a record of all those things that he wants us to do and as we commit to reading and understanding it we lean more and more about him. Peter has already written that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness and this of course includes not just his written word, but the living word which is his son and the Holy Spirit to make it clear to us.In the passage quoted above from Ephesians Paul encourages his readers to get to know the love of God ‘together with all the saints’. The life of faith is not meant to be lived in isolation, we are called into a community of faith and it is in this community that we can get to know God more fully. Our life of moral excellence must embrace the pursuit of the knowledge of God personally and in relationship with those of equal standing in faith.
  1. How well do you know God?
  2. What do you do to develop your relationship with him?
  3. Do you meet with your community of faith to get to know God better or just to discover more information?

 

3. Self Control

2 Peter 1:3-8
 
The person who masters his or her desires and passions exercises self control. The connection between self control and moral excellence is fairly clear – we can only live excellent lives if we are able to exercise self-control. And it is as we increase in our knowledge of God that we learn the areas of life in which we need to exercise self-control.
 
While self-control is a discipline that we are to practice it is also listed as one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22. This means that it is an attribute that is produced in the Christian when their life is under the control of the Holy Spirit. We are told to supply self-control in the developing of our knowledge and in turn it is knowledge that produces self-control. It is God’s Divine power that has given us everything we need to live lives of godliness and of course this power is the personal presence of the Holy Spirit. This power is realised as we grow in our knowledge of God.
 
To try to achieve self-control by harsh discipline is a work of the flesh, not an activity of the Holy Spirit. While discipline is worthwhile and encouraged by the apostle Paul and others it is not a substitute for a life lived under the control of the Holy Spirit. Of course discipline works toward the eradication of sin and those habits that damage our relationship with God and enable the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to have complete control of our lives. But the self-control that is being spoken of here is that which is applied to the supply of knowledge in living out excellent lives. Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day for diligently searching the Scriptures while at the same time refusing to believe in him, we are not just to grow in knowledge, but to grow in that knowledge which produces moral excellence. And it is in acquiring this knowledge that we are to exercise self-control.
 
Self-control is submission to the indwelling Christ; it is being willing to sacrifice our own desires and passions for the sake of growing in the true knowledge of God. According to Acts 5:32 the Holy Spirit is given to all those who obey God, it is as we commit to living obedient lives that the Spirit takes control and provides the power for us to escape those things that would damage our relationship. The Spirit produces the fruit of self-control that gives us the desire to say yes to God while saying no to sin (Romans 6:17), as we exercise this self-control we grow in intimacy with God and that intimate knowledge in turn enables us to live excellent lives.
 
We are to be controlled in our knowledge; we don’t learn in order to impress others or even to satisfy some base desire of our own. We increase in knowledge so that we can be better able to please the one who calls us to live with virtue. In this way we apply self-control, increasing in the knowledge of those things that bring pleasure to God. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 the apostle Paul writes that he does not run aimlessly in his training as a spiritual athlete, but he has a purpose, that is to prove himself qualified as a preacher of the gospel. Every athlete competes in order to win a prize, but the prize is one that is temporary, the prize that we compete for, however, lasts for eternity. This is why we exercise self-control, so that we can win an imperishable prize. Like Paul we should bring our desires under control so that we are not disqualified from the race, but we should be certain about the race that we are in. Many people are able to live highly disciplined lives in order to compete at sport, succeed in business or excel academically, but are less willing to impose those same disciplines in order to excel in their Christian lives.
 
Let us apply self-control in the acquisition of knowledge so that we can live excellent lives, lived out in fullness of purpose, certain that what we are doing is pleasing to God.
 

  1. How does self-control that is a fruit of the Spirit differ from self-discipline?
  2. Is self-discipline wrong?
  3. How do we exercise self-discipline in supplying knowledge?

 

4. Keep on Keeping On
2 Peter 1:3-8

It is easy to be self-controlled for a day, or a week but the longer it gets the harder it is. There are habits in our life we think we have under control because we have kept them at bay for a while, but out of the blue, back they come. Some of us have difficulty managing our time, or our money. Others can’t seem to control the T.V. they watch or the magazines they read. Still others just can’t seem to stop gossiping. While the exercise of discipline gets these under control for a while, they always seem to come back. 

Probably like many people, I go through times when I make a commitment to get fit. I apply discipline to my diet and an exercise routine and this may last for a while, but inevitably I let the disciplines drop and go back to my old ways. If I want to get fit I must exercise control of things in my life, I must persevere. In a similar way I might decide to get spiritually fit. I start on a routine of bible readings, regular prayer and worship, but before long the discipline drops and the old habits return. I do exercise self-control, but I don’t persevere.

To persevere means to stand up under trial. It means to keep on doing the things you should even under adversity. When spoken of in terms of the Christian life Thayer writes that ‘’perseverance is the characteristic of a person who is unswerved from his or her deliberate purpose and loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings’’. Luke 21:19 promises that the crown of righteousness is given to those who persevere under trial and Romans 5:3-4 assures us that perseverance under trial produces character and hope.

Self-control is good; in fact it is essential to living excellent lives but we must persevere in our self-control, keeping on in the commitments we make even when the going gets tough. It is perseverance that brings the promises of God (Hebrews 6:12) and it is perseverance that makes us perfect and complete (James 1:3-4). Jesus told his followers the parable that no one who had put their hand to the plough and then turned back was fit for the kingdom of God. It is not enough to start a race; we must finish it. We can’t just lay a foundation; we must finish the building. There are many that start their Christian life with a flourish, only to fade when the heat comes on. Perseverance is the ability to keep on going, no matter what, no matter how difficult, no matter how adverse the circumstances. This is the quality we are to supply in our exercise of self-control.

If we want to live excellent lives at work, or a home, or at school then we need to persevere in doing the things that help us to grow in our knowledge of God. As our knowledge increases by doing the things we know that are pleasing to him then we will fulfill his purposes for us. In other words we will live lives of moral excellence. The workplace is crying out for Christians who will strive to be excellent in their daily activities. As we persevere in being self-controlled in the way we learn and grow, always being careful to live as God would have us live we will bring glory to the Father. We will announce by our very behaviour that the kingdom of God has come to the workplace. As we live excellently, our businesses will prosper, lives will be changed and God will be made known. It will not happen by short-term bursts of commitment but when we persevere in doing those things that we know will help us to grow in our relationship to God that in turn will allow us to live lives free from the corruption that is rife in the marketplace through the presence of sin.

The world is crying out for men and women who will commit themselves to persevere in supplying self control to their knowledge of God, so that they can live excellent lives bringing glory and praise to their Father in heave. Will you be one of these?

1.    Why is it important to persevere in self-control?

2.    Can you think of times when you have committed to doing something, but failed to persevere? What happened to make you give up?

3.    What things can help you to persevere in growing in your knowledge of God?

 

 

5. Godliness

2 Peter 1:1-11

Godliness is the practical awareness of God in every day life. It is not an attitude or behaviour that is reserved for church on Sunday’s, it is to be the characteristic of every Christian, every moment of every day. In his book ‘Practicing the Presence of God’, Brother Lawrence wrote how he had discovered the joy of the presence of God in the business of washing pots and pans. He didn’t need to wait for the customary worship times to encounter God, he could experience his presence in the most mundane of activities. Godliness is this ability to bring the presence of God into every aspect of life.

How does this relate to perseverance? How do we supply godliness in the way that we persevere? It is possible to persevere in a course of action to the point of stubbornness or even pig-headedness. Sometimes we can become so certain of the rightness of our actions and beliefs that we persevere in them no matter what harm they do or disunity they cause. We must persevere in those things that bring about a true knowledge of God but we are to resist those things that would lead people away from him. A godly life is one that corresponds to a true and accurate knowledge of God. In Pauls first letter to Timothy he frequently exhorts him to pursue godliness, and to do so by avoiding those who had a contrary spirit (1 Timothy 2:2,3; 3:16; 4:7-8; 6:3,5,6,11). The false teachers that were prevalent in Timothy’s time, as in ours, were characterised by lives that were far from godly. They promoted themselves, clamoured after financial rewards and caused disunity. They are described in 2 Timothy 3:5 as having all the form of religion but none of its power. In his letter to Titus, Paul is scathing of these false teachers and demands that they must be silenced.

We must persevere in supplying that knowledge which produces godliness, but godliness conforms to the nature and character of God. Can your life be described as godly? This seems to be an old fashioned term, from a time when men and women who were regular church attenders would be referred to as godly or pious. It does not seem that this is an adjective that is used very much anymore. In fact it seems that the difference between professing Christians and non-believers is so slight that the term godly is more likely to be an insult than a compliment. 

Romans 12 instructs us not to be conformed to this world , having been squeezed into it’s mold but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, because this is our acceptable worship. Our acceptable worship is to live godly lives in the crucible of everyday life. It is in your family, your school, your workplace and your community that you are to be godly. It is not enough to be godly on Sunday’s but just one of the crowd  the rest of the week. God is not pleased when you raise your hands in worship on Sunday but ignore him from Monday to Saturday. He is not fooled by hypocrisy and expects that you persevere in your godliness, exercising self-control as you grow in the true knowledge of him so that you can live excellent lives.

Revival will come when Christians live godly lives, every day, in every circumstance that they are found in. When the presence of God is brought into every business transaction, every intimate moment between man and wife, every trip through the supermarket checkout and every journey on the freeway, then we can truly say that the kingdom of God is amongst us. When ordinary people remark on the godliness of the Christians in the midst, when they are overwhelmed by their diligence, honesty and acts of compassion and mercy, then they will know that the kingdom of God has come, and then they will start forcing their way into his presence.

In your perseverance supply godliness and expect to see the glory of God made known.

1.    What is a ‘godly’ life?

2.    Would you describe your life as godly?

3.    How can you be godly in the way you persevere?

 

 

6. Brotherly (and sisterly) Kindness
2 Peter 1:1-11

One of the characteristics of the first church, when it came together, was fellowship. It was the rich enjoyment of each other’s company as they committed themselves to growing together in the knowledge of God. This fellowship resulted in acts of compassion and generosity toward the needy in their midst.

Not long before his betrayal Jesus announced to his disciples a new commandment. He declared that they must love one another, not only that but this love would be the demonstration that they were indeed his disciples. The whole world would know the disciples followed Jesus because they loved one another. In Psalm 133 we are assured that when brothers (and sisters) dwell in unity, there God commands a blessing. There is something special about the relationship that joins Christians together. We are called brothers and sisters; we share the same heavenly father. We know that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters and we are co-heirs with him of the inheritance of the riches of his glory. But not only do we share this type of familial relationship, but there is potentially at least, the capacity to experience a level of affection that we did not otherwise know.

This type of affection is not something we can generate ourselves. In fact some of those we are drawn toward are not naturally attractive. In another time and place we might find them objectionable, even distasteful. But when we are united in Christ there is something that draws us together. This something is the Holy Spirit. It is his power and presence that makes it possible to develop affection toward one another. It is this affection that we are to develop and supply in our godly behaviour, as we persevere in self-control and grow in our knowledge of God. 

Lack of godliness is a barrier to fellowship. 1 John 1 tells us that if we walk in the light, then we will have fellowship with one another and Jesus will cleanse us from all sin. The contrary is obviously true, if we walk in darkness, our fellowship will be broken. We are to supply brotherly affection in the way we grow, but it is as we grow that brotherly affection develops. True fellowship is only possible when God is in the centre of a relationship, and that only happens when all the parties in the relationship are walking in the light.

Fellowship and unity between Christians is not always obvious. Paul found it necessary to write to the Philippian Christians that if they had any encouragement in Christ, any participation in the Spirit, then they should be of one mind. They were to stop squabbling and learn to get on with one another. The Corinthian Christians allowed jealousy over Spiritual gifts to divide them and others competed over issues of race and religious background. One of Satan’s greatest ambitions is to destroy the unity of Christ’s body. He knows that the love and fellowship that the Holy Spirit makes possible is Christ’s greatest witness to the world and he will do all that he can to destroy it. We, therefore, need to be all the more vigilant to preserve the bonds of love that join us. We must be conscious that division in the body is a spiritual issue and is a battle that must be fought in a spiritual way. It is not a battle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in the heavenly places. The good news is that the battle has already been won! We are not told to achieve unity, but to walk in it. Jesus has made us one by the victory of his death and resurrection, we do not need to try to accomplish something he has already got for us, but we do need to walk in it.

We are to supply brotherly affection as we live godly lives. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to so fill our hearts that we cannot help to reach out in love toward those to whom Christ has joined us. And we are able to do this, as we daily make sure that we walk in the light, living morally excellent lives before him and the world.

1.    How would you describe fellowship?

2.    How does this differ from normal friendships?

3.    What was the result of the fellowship discovered by the early church?

 

 

7. And in All Things, Love
2 Peter 1:11

The Christian is expected to love as God loves. This love involves taking pleasure in something, to prize it above all else and to be unwilling to live without those things in order to gain it. It is the deliberate desire and determination to achieve the highest good for the one being loved, which then shows itself in sacrificial action for that persons good (Thayer). This type of love exceeds any other form of affection that we may experience. The love that God has for his children and which he expects of his children has a character so different from anything in the secular world that the Greeks had to find anew name for it when they included it in the Scripture. They chose the word agaph (pronounced agape¢). This is the type of love that exists because it is in the nature of the lover to love, not because of anything in the one being loved that makes this reasonable, but because the one loving can do nothing else.

God loves us because he is love and he can do nothing else. Peter writes that he has given us his magnificent and precious promises so that we can participate in his Divine nature. It is this nature to love, whether or not the one we love returns our affection. Paul instructs husbands that they are to love their wives with this same type of love. In fact just like Jesus loved the church and died for it, so too are husbands to die to themselves for the sake of their wives. The union that God desires in relationships finds its clearest expression in the union between husband and wife, and this can only exist when the husband dies to himself for the sake of his wife. It is God’s intention that a husband and wife become an indissoluble union and the responsibility for this rests firmly with the husband. The reason that church can be and in fact is an undivided body, is because Christ died for it and even though in human history we do great damage to this union, it remains one because God has made it so. Likewise God expects that the marriage union remain one, because Christ died to make it so.

We are to supply this love in the way we relate to one another, and the best place for this to start is in the home. If we say we love our brothers and sisters but do not love our husbands and wives as we are expected to then we are deluding ourselves. The self-denying love demanded in marriage results in a warmth of affection to others that we would not otherwise know. It is as we are obedient to God in the way we relate to one another that godliness is made perfect in our lives and we are able to keep on exercising self-control, growing in knowledge and living excellent lives. 

The qualities that Peter outlines in this passage of Scripture are to develop as we grow in Christ. Peter adds that if these qualities are ours and are increasing then we will not only bear fruit in our lives, but we will be useful and never stumble. Unfortunately if they are not ours, or they are not increasing then we may even find that we have forgotten the grace of God’s forgiveness, cease to bear fruit and continually stumble on our journey. Note that Peter does not suggest that we should just possess these qualities, in fact every believer has them to some extent, but they are to increase. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been a believer for 2 weeks or twenty years, whether you are an elder or pastor or a new believer, these qualities are to daily increase. We are to be diligent in supplying each quality in the development of the others, building our character by the grace God supplies.

It is God’s divine power that has supplied to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and excellence. It is this power, the Holy Spirit, that makes it possible for us to grow and develop in character so that we are useful and fruitful, confident of our step as we follow his lead. Let us give the Holy Spirit the chance to supply to us and in us the grace to grow so that we become mature in Christ.

1.    How does ‘love’ differ from brotherly affection?

2.    Why is that God uses the principle of love to reveal himself to the world?

3.    How can the church demonstrate God’s love to its community?

 

 

 

Week 11

1.    Increasing in quality
2 Peter 1:8

The characteristics that Peter has identified in verses 3-7 are called qualities in verse 8 in many translations of the bible. A quality can be defined as ‘the degree of excellence that belongs to something’, and a good quality could be “a predictable degree of uniformity and dependability”. We may hear people refer to the benefit of something being of quality rather than quantity or be prepared to pay more for good quality when making a purchase. Whenever we evaluate something or make a comparison between alternatives, we will usually refer to its qualities. Those things that make it superior to its rivals. Peter has identified those characteristics which will demonstrate the quality of faith that believers share.

Because God has granted us everything we need for life and godliness, and because by his magnificent and precious promises we have escaped the corruption that is in the world then each of these qualities is already present in the life of every believer. Their presence doesn’t depend on how we feel but on the promises of God. However it is not enough for them just to be present, Peter says that they must be increasing. The word he uses means to produce an abundance or to be more than necessary. The list that Peter has provided is not a checklist that can be ticked off or a flight of stairs that we climb one at a time. Each of the qualities exist through faith in the work of Christ but they must increase until we achieve the standard displayed by Him (Ephesians 4:13).

The gifts that God has given are designed to continue to produce a character that is conformed to his image by the operation of the Holy Spirt. Peter is reminding all believers, no matter how long they have been believers that they are to grow in character. None of us ‘have arrived’ at a place where we don’t need to grow, we all must diligently and wholeheartedly work hard to supplement our faith with each of the qualities presented. In Galatians 5:22 the apostle Paul provides a similar list which he describes as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, it is as we surrender to the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives that fruit is produced. Fruit will always conform to the nature of the tree which produces it; an apple tree will not produce lemons, because it has a different nature. The fruit that our life produces will conform to our nature, we are born of the Spirit and so will produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Fruit trees will bear more or better fruit if they are cared for. They need water and fertilizer, good soil and pruning. The neglect of these things can result in disease and barrenness. While we have within us the capacity to produce not only good fruit, but abundant fruit, we too must work to ensure that we are healthy and well nourished. The food that will feed our soul is fairly obvious: It includes prayer and reading God’s word, spending time with fellow believers, giving thanks and praise – usually in song, but in other ways such as sharing testimony of what God has done and giving financially. We must also be pruned! This can be a painful exercise and involves cutting of those things which are unhealthy and unfruitful. The good tree and its fruit will also need to be protected from birds and insects that will damage it and we too must protect ourselves from those influences that will cause harm. 

Peter reminds us that we have the seed of good fruit within us but we need to supply all that is necessary to make the harvest an abundant one. We need to keep growing, keep applying the right nutrients, cut off the dead and diseased wood of bad habits and wrong motives and keep away the pests that threaten to ruin th crop. The qualities you have because of faith must continue to grow.

1.    Are those qualities increasing in your life?
2.    Do you need to add some nutrients so you will bear more fruit – which ones? 
3.    What about pruning and pest control?

 

 

  1. Fruitful and effective
    2 Peter 1:8,9Have you ever wondered how you could be more effective or fruitful in the work you do, especially when you see that work as your ministry? I expect all of us have wrestled with that. There are plenty of resources out there promising simple solutions to more effective ministry, a quick google search resulted in 311,000,000 responses! Many suggest that there are either five or seven or even ten steps to master. Of course many of these resources offer their expertise at a price and subscription to a newsletter or website. A search of Amazon produces 3241 responses offering keys to success across various aspects of ministry. I didn’t try ‘how to be fruitful’ but suspect I might get a similar result.These resources are provided in response to a need expressed by would be customers. People genuinely concerned with improving their capacity to achieve success and get results in the ministry they are called to. Sometimes the solution to a question is staring us in the face but is so obvious or straightforward we look past it for a more complicated answer. In verse 8 of chapter 1 of Peter’s second letter he gives his readers a promise that if they do certain things, they will not be either unfruitful or ineffective. The opposite will be true, they will be effective, and they will bear fruit.The answer is in the verse, if we are growing in our Christian character paying particular attention to the qualities he has mentioned then our fruitfulness and effectiveness is guaranteed. There are no disciplines suggested or special strategies, just a commitment to growing into the fulness of Christ. Fruitfulness depends on being spiritually healthy and effectiveness is measured by how much of the character of Jesus is seen in us. When the apostle Paul wrote his final letter, the second letter to Timothy he was in gaol awaiting execution. He writes toward then end of that letter that most of his followers had left and that: ‘’at my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:16). By the standards of today his ministry could be seen as ineffective. When Jesus hung on the cross in his final hours all but a few women and John had run off, if then effectiveness of his ministry was measured by numbers of followers he too would not have been considered a success. The prophet Elijah ran into the desert in a fit of depression after faithfully serving God and there he bitterly complained, asking that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life” (1 Kings 19:4). He felt alone and a failure. He, Jesus and Paul were both fruitful and effective in their life and ministry, even though by the standards of the world and popular opinion they may have been seen differently. Their fruitfulness was seen in the legacy they left and the deposit they made in the lives of many others.God promises that if we grow in his grace and character we will be both fruitful and effective, the mistake we can make is to try to measure those things by the standard of the world. We can look at those considered to be the great heroes of the faith or well known business and Christian leaders and feel insignificant by comparison, but God doesn’t see us that way. He promises the same Holy Spirit, the same magnificent and precious promises, the same incomparable riches of his grace to every one of us freely and not according to our external performance. He does though expect us grow in our character, to be transformed more and more into his image as we spend time with him, recognizing that whatever God puts before us to do for him will bear fruit and be effective. If you feel you are ineffective, don’t look for a strategy or set steps to success, ask rather whether you possess the qualities God has placed in you and whether they are growing. God will do the rest.
  1. Do you feel effective in life and ministry?
  2. Do you try to become more successful by adopting different habits or disciplines?
  3. Do you want to bear fruit? What should you do?

 

  1. Spiritually shortsighted
    2 Peter 1:9Having explained to his readers the benefits of growing in character by increasing their faith with the supply of a number of virtues, Peter now warns them what will happen if they do not do that. They will go blind, or at the very least they will become so shortsighted they will not see clearly. These days we have the benefit of aids to improve our sight, for most of us as we get older there will be some deterioration and for many others there are conditions that can cause restrictions that affect the ability to see. Giordano da Pisa wrote in a sermon he preached in 1306: “It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses, which make for good vision”. Before that fading or failing eyesight was something to be accepted and endured. Peter of course is not speaking of our ability to see with our eyes but to see or perceive spiritually.A shortsighted person cannot see things that are far away, they can only focus on what is right in front of them. As this image is applied spiritually it suggests that the focus of the shortsighted person is on the cares and needs of this world and their immediate circumstances, they cannot see beyond and to what God has planned and intends for them. If the spiritual sight deteriorates to blindness then they cannot see God’s hand at all, they stumble as if in the dark, tripping over every obstacle. God wants us to have clear vision, which includes the ability to see what is immediately in front of us but also into the future. Too often we can focus on short term answers or gains and fail to see how God’s larger plans look. We live in a world where short term gains are often pursued at the expense of long term benefit. The use of credit cards, pay day loans and other means of gaining what we want now without having to pay for it demonstrates how addicted we are to immediate satisfaction. Further evidence could be found in the increase in ‘quick and easy’ microwave meals and fast foods. All of these things can give us short term relief or pleasure but can have a detrimental effect on the future.In our Christian life we too can become focused on an immediate solution to a problem without being willing or able to see the longer term implications of the decisions we make. Peter says that spiritual shortsightedness exists because we are not growing our faith and it causes us to forget what it means to have been forgiven of our sins. He doesn’t mean we should remind ourselves of our sins, in fact the opposite is true. God has promised never to bring our sins to mind (Hebrews 10:17) and neither should we. But we should never loses sight of the fact that we have been forgiven, we no longer face condemnation but have been set free to eternal life. John Piper wrote: “The problem with the person who does not strive toward all the fruit of faith is that he is blind in two directions. When he looks to the future it’s all a haze and the promises of God are swallowed up in a blur of worldly longings. I think that is what it means by shortsighted. And when he looks to the past the forgiveness that made him so excited at first is well-nigh forgotten… “. The word that is translated having forgotten is lethe in Greek mythology it was a river in Hades that caused forgetfulness to those who drank from it. The word means to forget, to fail to remember, lose sight of, or even to ignore or not recall information and therefore losing sight of its significance.

    We do not need to struggle to remind ourselves of past failures and continually beat ourselves up over them. We must always be aware though that we are forgiven and cleansed from those things that caused a separation between us and God. Our focus is to be on God and building up our faith in the manner that Peter has suggested. As we grow we will have clarity of vision, never losing sight of the grace in which we stand and the purpose God has for our lives. I am reminded of the line of the song, “Turn your eyes up Jesus”, which are ‘Then the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace’

  1. How is your eyesight?
  2. Is your view of the future sometimes obscured by focusing on the worries and cares of everyday life?
  3. Do you need to remind your self of God’s forgiveness?

 

  1. Never stumble
    1 Peter 1:10I have found that as I get older I stumble more often. It may be that I don’t look where I am going or that I don’t lift my feet enough, but I seem to trip over things much more easily than I used to. It would be great to know that whatever happens in life I would never stumble. Of course in other areas of life I would like the assurance that I would never stumble too. Peter offers this assurance to his readers.If these Christ followers were growing in their Christian character they would have perfect eyesight and would walk in step with the Spirit and so would not stumble. And if they did because they had lost focus they would not stumble so far that they actually fell. Jesus is always there with hand outstretched to support us until we recover our balance. But Peter tells his readers that they should do something else, they were to make extra effort, or be more diligent to confirm their calling. The word ‘’call’’ in its usual use, as it is here, means to invite in the same way a person may be invited to attend a wedding or some other event. Peter is not saying there is any doubt about his readers salvation but they may have doubts and need assurance. If God has extended an invitation and you have responded, then he has chosen you to become a part of his family through the adoption of the Holy Spirit. Once you have been chosen it is certain, there is no doubt, and the invitation will never be taken back. But sometimes we might feel that we have not done enough, we don’t feel saved or righteous and we need assurance.

    Peter is telling his readers to make sure that they know that have been called and they are chosen by God and they can do this by building in the faith in which they sand and which is the basis of their salvation. As we supply the characteristics Peter describes we are making sure  that we haven’t forgotten that we have been forgiven our sins and we remind ourselves of the certainty of God’s grace. As we remain focused on the things of God our sight remains good and we will never stumble. We never have to feel the pressure of doubt about our salvation, it is not based on our work or ability but on his grace and justice. Too many Christians live with uncertainty: are they good enough, have they sinned once too often, have they done something which is unforgiveable, should they have a different feeling or some ecstatic experience. Of course we know we are not good enough and we have all sinned too many times but they do not mean we forfeit that which God has done for us and the grace he gives to us.

    As we commit to growing in the character of God, supplying these excellent virtues to our faith so that it grows strong, we also grow in our knowledge of God. We become more aware that he has called us through his glory and excellence and has given us everything we need for life and godliness. We have become partakers of his divine nature and while we are still a work in progress, we have escaped the corruption that exists through sin because of his great and magnificent promises. We may know these things to be true intellectually, but it is only as grow in our knowledge of God that they become so ingrained that we live in the certainty of them every day.

    This is the great hope that we have in Christ. He has done all that is necessary to secure our salvation and he has given all we need to walk in that reality with heads high, clear vision and without stumbling. He calls us to grow into his likeness so that we will fully be assured of his mercy and of his calling and choosing of us to join him in eternity.

  1. Are you sure of your salvation?
  2. Do you ever doubt?
  3. What do you need to be do to make sure of his invitation to you?

 

  1. A Glorious welcome
    2 Peter 1:11Peter adds another benefit to growth in Christian character. He insists that by continuing to strengthen our faith in the way he has indicated we can be certain that in the future we will receive a glorious or abundantly rich welcome into God’s kingdom. So far he has spoken about the immediate benefit we receive from growing in faith and now he looks to a future reward. As we often notice in the Bible we live in a time between the now and the not yet. We are blessed, equipped and empowered to live a victorious and fruitful life here and now but our eyes are on the future, the eternal kingdom. Peter now directs his readers attention in that direction.Jesus told his disciples that they should seek as their first priority the kingdom of God. They were to store up for themselves treasure there and not here on earth. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that they needed to be careful how they lived on earth because their work would be tested. If what they built stood the test they would be rewarded, but if it failed the test, they would still be saved but only just and there would be no reward. Peter now tells his readers that they could be sure of a great reward if they continued to grow in their Christian character.

    Peter uses the same word when says an “abundant entrance will be supplied” (or ‘glorious welcome’, ‘lavish reception’ or some similar expression) as he did when he instructed his readers to abundantly supply virtue to their faith. There is no coincidence here, it is an unusual word; just as we have been encouraged to richly supply the virtues of excellence to our faith now God promises to richly supply an entrance into his kingdom. He doesn’t expect us to just scrape in, embarrassed at his presence, but to march in, head up and confident before him.

    The idea of an abundant entrance is probably a reference to the custom in Greek culture of a city honouring the Olympic champion on his return from the games. Instead of opening the gates of the city, a new entrance would be made by knocking a hole in the wall and a lavish ceremony would be held in welcome. Peter is telling his readers and through them you and me that if we continue to grow in the character of God then this will be the welcome we can expect. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews uses a similar analogy when he describes the crowd of witnesses welcoming the believer like a marathon runner entering the stadium (Hebrew 12:1). Paul also refers to the crowns that are set before him and those who finish the race well (2 Timothy 4:8).

    The welcome we receive is into an eternal kingdom, one that is not limited by time or space. It is everlasting but it is more than that. The kingdom of God is beyond our imagination, it is outside of anything we have experienced. It has no limitations, is not subject to decay and is not corrupted in any way by sin or its effects. This is the inheritance to all those who place their faith in Jesus. The Bible does teach that there will be rewards in heaven given on the basis of how we have built on the foundation that God has provided in Jesus. But there will be no judgement for the believer. Judgment has been delivered, the verdict given and paid in full by the son of God. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There is though the opportunity to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven according to how we have built and how we have lived. Continue to grow strong in faith and God will supply to you an Abundant entrance.

  1. Do you make decisions on how you use your time and money on how you will be received in heaven?
  2. Do you expect your work to endure or be burnt up?
  3. Do you see yourself as a champion heading for the finish line and a gold medal?

 

  1. A reminder
    2 Peter 1:12-15In his first letter to the churches Peter described his ministry as that of a shepherd (chapter 5). This is the same ministry as that of a pastor – a word which occurs only once (Ephesians 4:11) and is the Latin translation of shepherd. As a pastor or shepherd his task was to care for the sheep, to protect them from danger and lead them into good pasture. This was the ministry Jesus entrusted to him in John’s gospel (chapter 21) when he told him to feed his sheep. A major responsibility of a pastor is to remind the believers of things that they had been taught but perhaps have allowed to fade from the memory or lapse through lack of practice. So as he concludes the first part of his letter he says to his readers that he is writing to remind them and it is right that he do so.

    The church had possibly been in existence for nearly 30 years, if some of its members had been present at that first sermon at Pentecost. There would no doubt have been new believers added in the years that followed, but many of them were mature believers who should by now have been able to teach others. Peter feels it necessary though to remind them of what they had already been told and then he will go on to explain a danger they are facing and how they should deal with it. He is determined that the focus of these believers should be on growing in the faith and character, this is what would give them the strength and protection to face the challenges ahead.

    Peter is confident of the churches he is writing to. He knows they have been well established and have received teaching from others including the apostle Paul (2 Peter 3:15,16) but now there were threats of false teaching and those who would try to lead them astray. So he reminds them of who they are in Christ and the certainty of their salvation. He gives them encouragement to keep growing and not lose their confidence, reminding themselves continually of the grace and forgiveness they have received and the future inheritance waiting for them.

    The time for Peter’s execution was not far off. While it is not stated it is probable that this letter was written while he was in prison in Rome. History tells us that both he and Paul were held in the Mamertine Prison (though not at the same time) which was basically a cistern for holding water beneath the floor of a larger building. Prisoners were let down through a hole in the floor of the upper building. Romans did not use imprisonment as a punishment but only to hold offenders until it was time for their execution, once taken to this place it was not expected that they would be released. Peter knew he was to be executed and expected it be in a brutal way, legend suggests that he was crucified upside down because he did not consider himself worthy enough to suffer the same death as Jesus. While he was in this dungeon in the cold, damp and dark his desire was to build up the church so that they would have confidence to face the threat ahead. Like Jesus Peter was prepared to lay own his life for the sheep that had been entrusted to him.

    Peter describes his death as the laying aside of his body in the same way as a runner may lay aside his clothes before beginning the race. He did not see death as the end but the beginning of something new, there would be suffering and pain, besides the loss of leaving behind those he loved and had served, but Peter knew that an abundant entrance was waiting for him, and he wanted his readers to have that same assurance.

  1. What do we need to be reminded of as we face the future?
  2. Jesus and the Bible writers tell us that in the last days there will be difficult times and we must stand up under trial, what do we need to know that will help us to do that?
  3. Peter was prepared to give his life, even his last breath for the sheep that he cared for. Is this an example you could follow?

 

  1. Making every effort
    2 Peter 1:15

    Peter is careful to follow Jesus’ direction to him during his last days on earth. He was to feed or care for His sheep. Peter had assured Jesus he would do that even though he was disappointed that Jesus asked him three times whether or not he loved him (John 21:15-19). After giving Peter his instructions Jesus went on to tell him that he would lose his freedom and be taken away to be executed because of doing as Jesus had asked. This is not the type of encouragement we would usually seek if we are being invited to participate in some ministry or work for God! Peter was now waiting in a prison cell for the time when he would be taken to that place of execution and his thoughts were on how he could best care for Jesus’ sheep. He was faithful to the call on his life, he knew how it would end but he did not back away and in last days he was anxious to do what ever he could to serve the sheep God had entrusted to him.

    He knew he was soon to die and so it was essential that he make every effort, to tell his hearers what they most needed to know. It was an urgent task, it couldn’t be put off, he would be diligent, eager and even desperate to remind these fellow believers to make certain of God’s invitation to them and grow in their faith. When his time was up he wanted his brothers and sisters to bring back to mind the guidance he had given them about how to be sure of their salvation, never to forget what God had saved them from and how to be fruitful and effective in life and godliness. He was making every effort to make sure that they had the ability to bring these things back to mind. As a pastor and a teacher, Peter was not content to deliver some new information or truth, he wanted to make sure that what he had said had sunk in, taken root in their hearts and could be depended on. Peter was prepared to repeat his message, he didn’t try to find some new or novel ideas or impress with deep theological understanding, he wanted them to have what they needed to keep secure in their knowledge of God and his protection and deliverance.

    When Peter spoke of his death he used an unusual expression only found in two other places in the New Testament although it was common in the Old Testament. He spoke of his departure and used the word exodus. That word, for people familiar with the Bible, speaks of the deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. It was a release into freedom. Peter knew he would face a violent death and I am sure he would not have been looking forward to that. He was also leaving those who he had committed his life and service to and that would bring its own sorrow. The apostle Paul, while in prison facing an uncertain future wrote to the believers in Philippi: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” (Philippians 1:21-24). Neither Peter nor Paul had any reservations about leaving this world except that they would be denied the opportunity to serve the church in way they had been called. They both looked forward to a future of hope as they would be set free from the sin and limitations of life on earth. For them it would be an exodus into the promised land, and abundant entrance was prepared for them.

    This is the same confidence that we can have as we face the future. We face trials and difficulties and sadly some will be challenged by health and other issues, but at God’s appointed time we will be set free into the freedom of his inheritance. In the meantime God has called each of us to serve him faithfully, as did Peter and Paul, and grow in our faith and character so that will never be short sighted and stumble in the dark, but will walk with clear sight right up to and through the entrance that he prepared for us.

  1. Have you remained faithful to God’s call on your life, or have you become tired and given up?
  2. What would be your biggest regret if you knew you only had a short time to live?
  3. What is the most important message you want leave to those are going to be separated from either by geography or end of life issues?

 

 

Week 12

  1. This is not a fairy tale.
    2 Peter 1:16-21In the days that Peter was writing his letter Greek and Roman life was dominated by stories of gods and mystical beings, we refer to them now as myths and legends. Yet many mythical gods are remembered in our time as days of the week or months. The Roman names were adopted by Scandinavians and changed to correspond to their god’s such as Woden and Thor while the months carry the names of Mars the Roman God of war and the goddess Juno as well as the names of the sun and moon, names of emperors and even just numbers. While Jewish and Babylonian history recorded weeks of seven days, the Romans had an extra day called a market day in each week, making eight days. It wasn’t until 321A.D. that Constantine adopted the seven day week. The point is that the readers of Peter’s letter lived in a culture were myths and fables were common and provided explanations for everything from harvest to times of war and of course the afterlife. Peter is forcefully reminding his readers that what they had learned about Jesus was not a myth or a fable.In recent times, at least in this country, there has been a resurgence of myths as being a foundation for cultural belief. Among the indigenous people in this country myth is critical to their understanding of their place and significance. This is true in other countries as well and inevitably it puts an obstacle between the good news of the gospel and mythical explanations for matters of life and eternity. In their desire to be accepting of cultural difference many people have chosen to acknowledge myth uncritically when interacting with those of differing cultures. Interestingly those that seem most insistent of accepting these myths are the same people who tear down the teachings of Christianity because in their opinion they are based on fairytales or myths.Peter refers to the occasion that he, James and John stood on the Mountain with Jesus when Elijah and Moses appeared to them. As they stood together startled and probably afraid they heard God speak from heaven saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. Peter claims this as evidence, they were eye witnesses to God calling Jesus his son, there were three of them there and they all heard the same words and saw the same things. The words of God had then been confirmed in other ways. Jesus had risen from the dead and was seen alive many times, he had ascended to the father and then the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost just as he had said it would. Since then the disciples had been empowered to do miracles and preach the good news with power and great effect. This was no myth, this was evidence of the truth of the gospel.The followers of Christ that Peter was writing to may have been challenged by their opponents and accused of following a made up story, Peter wanted to assure them that the gospel was true. There were dark days ahead, the readers may already have started to experience them, certainly Peter had, he was locked in prison awaiting execution, many Christians had suffered under the Roman emperors and now Nero was in charge and things were going to get worse. The good news of Jesus was the light they needed to pay attention to in these dark times. There were false teachers who would come to try to shake their faith but Peter says they should not listen to new and creative ideas but to trust in their growing knowledge of God and to listen only to those who words and teaching were supported by the word of God. He had given them the means by which they would always be confident of their calling and that was to grow in the qualities he had given to them. This way they would never doubt and would not stumble in their faith.
  1. How do you think the church respond to those who hold on to myths?
  2. If someone told you that the gospel was a fairytale, how would you respond?
  3. What is the first item of spiritual armour you are to put on and why is it important?

 

  1. Watch out for false teachers
    2 Peter 2:1-3Just as there were men led by the Holy Spirit that God used to bring his message of redemption , there were also false teachers and prophets who did their best to change and even destroy the message. Peter warns his readers that just like they were a threat to God’s people in the past, so they would be in their time and in the future. These men had suggested alternative explanations for the things God had made plain, what they said had the sound of being true but was not, in fact they were destructive to the confidence and faith of His people.In the very beginning Satan challenged what the first man and woman understood God to have told them. When they were warned that desiring the fruit of the tree of knowledge would lead to their own death, Satan said to them “surely God didn’t say that, in fact if you eat the fruit you will be gods and can make your own decisions” (Genesis 3:4). This is the essence of false teaching, to question God and suggest an alternative to what he has said to be true.Peter describes the false teachers that would come into the community of faith as those that followed their own sensuality and because of it the Christian faith would be mocked and ridiculed. The word that is translated ‘sensuality’ means to have a lack of restraint or to be immoral, usually it refers to sexual behaviour but it can relate to other areas of excess such as gluttony or greed. John MacArthur writes: ‘Such a person cares nothing about what other people think—not to mention about what God thinks—but only about what gratifies the cravings of his (or her) own warped mind.’ There is abundant evidence of these characteristics in our world and sadly in the church. In recent times there have been many headlines describing the sexual and moral behaviour of Christian leaders and the criticism that is directed to the church because of it has done significant damage. Moral failure is not a new thing, it was evident in the kings of Israel and ever since, but now more than ever the failings of God’s people are exposed to the world through media and instant communication. Many of these people have been seduced by power, celebrity status, wealth and influence and have damaged the testimony of the church.In many ways what is offered by some of these false teachers is attractive, some emphasise a prosperity gospel that guarantees financial success or healing as long as you have enough faith. An evidence of faith is of course to give more financially. In the days of Jeremiah false prophets told the people they would have peace because that is what the people wanted to hear, even though God said they would be kept in exile. Now there are those that say we should pray that there will be no trial or tribulation, even though Jesus clearly said there would be. Others suggest that your salvation is not complete unless you have had certain spiritual experiences, while God says all that is needed to believe and confess that Jesus is Lord. Yet others insist that if you give a certain amount or pray in a particular way or to an icon you will have a better chance of having your payer answered. The bible not only does not endorse that but teaches against it.The result of false teaching is to undermine genuine faith. It convinces men and women that they can question what God has said and if they don’t like God’s word they can find a more suitable alternative. People pick and choose what they believe and evaluate God’s claims to truth by their own experience and what feels right to them. It is sad to see religious figures living lavish lifestyles, being unfaithful in marriage and owning the latest aircraft while around about them there are those living in poverty and desperate need seeking some hope. God will bring them to account, he has not overlooked them.
  1. How much evidence of false teachers do you see?
  2. Can you tell who is a false teacher and what should you do about them?
  3. Is it wrong for Christians to be rich?

 

  1. No escape
    2 Peter 2:4-10Peter has warned his readers to look out for false teachers. These were those who would try to convince the believers that they were misguided, that they had put their faith in something which couldn’t save them. They were not just incorrect in their understanding, but they were deliberately trying to turn people away from God. God was going to judge them and deal with them according to their actions.Having told the churches about the danger of these false teachers, Peter describes the fate that they would face. He uses examples from God’s dealing with those that rejected and opposed him in the past and shows that despite the position they held they did not escape judgement. He begins by referring to angels and states that when they sinned they were sent to a place called Tartarus which is translated as hell. The sin of the angels is described in Genesis 6:1-4 and Jude 6 and demonstrates that they willingly rebelled against God and sought to interrupt God’s plan of redemption. Tartarus is a word that only appears once in the New Testament but was familiar in Greek Mythology. It referred to a place of torment, lower even than Hades, the dwelling place of the dead. It was understood as a temporary place where the worst criminals were held while they waited for final judgement.The second example used by Peter is that of the flood which destroyed the inhabited world in the time of Noah. Only he and his family were saved while all the ungodly were condemned. They had refused to listen to Noah’s warnings but turned from God and rejected his offer of deliverance. Thirdly Peter speaks about Sodom and Gommorah, cities that were judged because of their sinfulness. Once again even though they were given opportunities to turn to God and receive his mercy they rejected him and those he sent to warn them. Similarly to the fate of Noah, only Lot and his family escaped condemnation by fleeing the city. Even then Lot’s wife couldn’t separate herself from Sodom and died as she turned back toward it.These three examples are use by Peter to demonstrate that if God would bring about judgement in this way there was no reason to believe he will not do it again. Angels were held in high regard by the Jewish people, they were special messengers of God given great privileges but they could not escape judgment when they turned against him. The people in Noah’s day were warned that they should change their ways but chose not to. Rather than listen to Noah they ridiculed him, and when the time and opportunity for deliverance came they rejected it. Sodom and Gomorrah had witnessed God’s deliverance and enjoyed his protection but they too rejected him and chose a lifestyle that was evil in God’s eyes. God sent angels to warn them but they were more intent of satisfying their appetites and threatened to kill Lot and his family and so they were wiped away.

    If God did not spare these rebels, those that tried to turn people away from worshipping the one true God, then why would he spare the false teachers who had the same goal? We live in a time in which there are many false teachers, those that deny the existence of God and try to convince others as well, there is no reason to believe that God will not deal with them in the same manner as he did with those of the past. Nations come and go, leaders rise and fall, but none are exempt from God’s righteousness. Nations that reject God cannot expect to enjoy his unconditional protection, and neither can their leaders. The examples of Peter do remind us that God preserves and protects the godly, even in the midst of corruption. False teachers and those that follow them will face God’s judgment but those that have put their faith in him will be preserved. Peter warns that there will be difficult times ahead, and we may well face them, but we know that God rescues the godly and to keep them until he returns to establish his kingdom.

  1. Do you see evidence of false teachers today?
  2. How do you respond when people reject what you say and believe?
  3. Is God fair when he condemns whole cities and nations?

 

  1. Righteous Lot
    2 Peter 2:7-9In the midst of God’s judgement and condemnation of corrupt and unrighteous people and nations, Peter specifically mentions that God delivered two men and their families. The first of these is Noah, which would not surprise us as he is described in the account of the flood as a righteous man and was the agent through whom God provided deliverance to the remnant that would carry on his plan of redemption. Lot, however was very different.After separating from his uncle Abraham, Lot chose the best land he could which was near the city of Sodom and he settled near there. Not long afterward he moved into the city and eventually was recognized as a leader or judge in the city who sat in the gate with the other city leaders to pass the time but also to decide issues between the citizens. Sodom was known to be a particularly corrupt and evil city and God decided to destroy it completely. The story of the angels who God sent to destroy Sodom is found in Genesis 19, we read that the men of the city intended to rape these two angels, who they thought to be men, and Lot interceded for them. He even offered to give the intending rapists his two daughters in their place. That in itself is almost impossible to imagine, but Lot had settled in the evil place and raised a family there knowing what it was and even participated in its life, he was seen as a judge among them.The angels escaped the men of the city by causing them to go blind but had to forcibly drag Lot and his family away and send them into safety before wiping out the city. From what we see in the Genesis story Lot was completely compromised, he had become part of the culture of Sodom, so much so that when he tried to warn his family they thought he was joking and would not listen. He had moved into Sodom, but it seemed that Sodom had also moved into him. Yet Peter now insists that Lot was a righteous man – in fact he repeats this three times in two verses. How is it possible to describe Lot as righteous and how could he be delivered while all others perished?

    In the first place we know little else about how Lot conducted his life or lived out his faith In God. It is certain that the account in Genesis points out gross failure on his part but there is no record of any other aspect of his beliefs. Additionally many other men and women of the bible, notably Abraham, David and Rahab committed offences that we find unacceptable and almost inexcusable but nevertheless were considered righteous. We are also told that Lot was worn down or oppressed by the sins of Sodom and because he evidently challenged the people he was accused of acting as judge (Genesis 19:9). Lot no doubt suffered moral failure, so much so that after the families escape his two daughters caused him to become drunk and had sex with him in order to become pregnant. His wife had turned back on the road to escape and died on the way. The lack of godly moral leadership shown by Lot most probably contributed to the actions of his daughters and his wife. Still Lot is considered righteous and God delivered him.

    Lot was declared righteous in the same way that you and I are. We are righteous because God says we are. In Romans 8:1 he says through the apostle Paul that there is no condemnation to those who believe in Christ Jesus. He goes on to say in chapter 8 that it doesn’t matter who accuses us, or who condemns us because it is Jesus that has declared us innocent, or justified. More than that he ends the chapter by insisting that there is nothing in heaven or in hell, in the past, present or future or in any part of creation that can separate us from God’s love. Indeed rather than being overcome or defeated by these things we are overwhelmingly victorious – more than conquerors.

    The righteousness of Lot was not determined by his ability to live a perfect, sinless life, but by putting his faith in the only one who could save him, and he found deliverance through him.

  1. What do you think about Lot being called righteous?
  2. If our righteousness doesn’t depend on what we do, what does it depend on?
  3. Is any sin too great to result in God changing his opinion about us and no longer call us righteous?

 

5.Like irrational animals
2 Peter 2:10-14

Peter doesn’t hold back when he describes the false teachers who will try to deceive the followers of Christ and turn them from following him. He uses strong language and does not try to be inoffensive. These teachers and prophets were intentionally encouraging people of faith to reject what they believed and by doing so build their own influence and ego. In the second half of verse 10 Peter begins by saying that they are consumed by lust and improper passion, that they despise authority, are arrogant and stubborn and insist on following their own desires without regard to others. Besides that they not only reject spiritual beings but insult and ridicule them.

Peter could easily have been describing those in today’s media who insult the church, make abusive comments about its leaders, deny the existence of God and ridicule any who believe in him. In doing so they give themselves the right to pursue their own selfish desires, denying any moral framework that is based on the authority of God. For them, their own pleasure is their god and everything is subject to satisfying their desires.
The description continues by Peter stating they are like irrational animals! They don’t reason but simply act on instinct to satisfy their needs. Like wild animals that threaten the safety of others they need to be caught and killed! Peter continues his colourful language claiming that false teachers are like blots and blemishes, ugly spots on the beauty of God’s creation. Even while they are trying to befriend the believers they were scheming about how to deceive them. They were continually looking for new opportunities to satisfy their sexual appetite, but they could never have enough. Always looking for people who were uncertain or new in the faith and easy prey to their schemes and deceit, they fed their greed and their lust and grew in their sin. Peter announces that these people will face God’s judgement and receive the curse that is due to them.

The people Peter is speaking of are not Christians who are wrong in their beliefs although they too would pose a threat to the communities of faith. These were those who were outside of the church but who sought to destroy it. If they were people of faith, even though misguided then we know that they will not face judgment and have been set free from the curse due to sin, but these people would face the justice and wrath of God because they tried to destroy his bride, the church.

While Peter’s language is robust and would be unlikely to win his opponents over to him, that is not his intention. Elsewhere he has said that is the responsibility of all believers to answer those that question them gently and with reverence and respect (1 Peter 3:15). None of those things are present in the way he has spoken here. Peter is making clear that these false teachers stood under the condemnation of God and the community of faith, which is the church, needed to recognize them and separate from them. They could not politely indulge those who wanted to destroy the church, they must stand firm and forcefully, even brutally reject them. Peter is not encouraging his readers to insult and judge those who do not share their or our beliefs, but he is pointing out that God will not excuse them who have rejected him, and we should not refrain from calling out deliberate sin because we do not want to offend the sinner. The church is called to stand firm against the forces of evil and not to lie down in their path as they seek to trample over it.

  1. What do you think of Peter’s language?
  2. Are you as passionate about false teachers as Peter was?
  3. How can you respond to those who want to actively destroy the bride of Christ, the church?

 

  1. Promising everything, delivering nothing
    2 Peter 2:15-19Having declared that the false teachers that the followers of Jesus would encounter would in turn face judgement and be condemned, Peter goes on to denounce them even further. He focuses on the motivation of these frauds and the emptiness of their promises.

    Peter relates a story that was well known to his Jewish readers and it is found in numbers chapters 22-24. Balaam was a prophet of Israel and he was offered a sum of money by an opposing king, Balak to curse the Israelite army. Balaam at first refused though whether he was sincere or was trying to drive up the amount offered isn’t clear. Eventually he agreed and offered advice to the king and suggested a houseful of silver and gold may not be enough, but there was always the possibility that agreement could be reached. As Balaam and a couple of servants went on his way, perhaps to continue his negotiations God took the extraordinary step of sending an angel to go and confront him. The angel stood in the path of the donkey on which Balaam was travelling, but Ballam didn’t see him, but the donkey did. The donkey turned away from the angel which angered Balaam, as he forced the donkey to turn back it jammed Balaam’s foot against a wall which angered him still more so that he struck the donkey three times and cursed it. At this point God enabled the donkey to speak and Balaam saw the angel, with drawn sword standing in front of him and he fell down and worshipped God. Balaam altered his plans because God had opposed him and gave him the opportunity to repent.

    Peter is making the point that Balaam was motivated by financial gain. He was willing to turn against God’s people and his plans for them so that he could benefit. God could easily have just removed him as he had with other false prophets, but his plan was that Israel learn from this experience and trust him completely. He also shows that on occasion he will use extraordinary measures to prevent his people making disastrous decisions.

    Taking the example of Balaam, Peter tells his readers that false prophets and teachers will make many promises that they cannot fulfil. In the days of Jeremiah God condemned the prophets for promising peace when he had said there would be no peace; they were giving the people false hope, suggesting that God was not displeased with them and everything would be fine, God was quite happy with his people and was going to bless them. While in fact he was going to send them into exile (Jeremiah 8:11). In more recent times false teachers have promised material prosperity or healing to all who believe, if only they have enough faith. And if they could demonstrate that faith by perhaps sending a financial contribution then they could be more certain and maybe God would work a little faster. Others suggest that even though God has said that in the last days there will be trials and tests that his people would have to face, and that believers would be persecuted, if they prayed hard enough and used the right words, then they would be spared these things.

    Promises of wealth and prosperity, freedom from test and tribulation have all been offered, but they cannot be delivered except by God’s sovereign grace. God cannot be manipulated by financial gifts or earning rewards though discipline or service. God is sovereign and he acts according to his word – always. The promises he makes find their final fulfillment in the age to come. We may experience them in part in this life but they won’t be fully realized on earth. The promise we have is that we have been spared judgement, there is no condemnation. He will keep us secure until he returns and at which time he will provide a glorious entrance into his kingdom. And if we keep growing in character we will be fruitful, effective and will never stumble.

  1. What false promises do you hear today?
  2. How can you test whether a promise is from God or not?
  3. What are the promises of God that you can trust?

 

  1. Held captive
    2 Peter 2:19-22

    False prophets and teachers come offering freedom and success but they cannot give what they do not possess. These dangerous sellers of false hope are themselves captive and yet they want to tell others how they can be free. Peter points out that if we are under the control of somebody or something we are captive to it and that person or thing becomes master over us. False teachers were captive to their appetite and their lust , Paul writes in Philippians 3:19 that ‘their god is their belly’; everything in life is subject to the satisfaction of their desires and they are captive to them.

    Peter is speaking of false teachers who were once part of the community of faith, they had enjoyed the fellowship of true believers and had been taught the way to obtain salvation. Having heard the good news that forgiveness was through the sacrifice of the son of God they had later rejected it. Sadly there are many people who spend their formative years in the church, hearing the gospel preached many times, they may have attended rally’s and events and been part of study and life groups. Sunday by Sunday they have sat among believers singing the same songs and hearing the same prayers and yet they did not escape their appetites and remained captive to them. Research says that a significant number of young people leave the church by the time they turn 18 and do not return. There are many reasons given for this and not all of these people  have rejected Christianity, but many do. These are the people that are included in Peter’s description of false prophets.

    Peter writes that these people have become entangled in the defilements of the world. The lure of wealth and popularity as well as the ability to seek pleasure without the constraints that Christian faith might apply, prove too great a temptation to resist. In a world where the pursuit of happiness is the highest ideal and where nothing should limit personal choice and freedom a faith that required commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is too big a cost to bear. Jesus told his disciples: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). While we should grieve for those that turn back from following we should not be surprised by it. It must be emphasised that the peddlers of false hope that Peter is speaking about are not genuine believers who have committed themselves to the Lordship of Jesus, but those that have been part of the community but have never surrendered to Jesus.

    Peter describes many of these people in very unflattering ways, he calls them dogs and pigs! The metaphor he uses is that when a dog vomits, it returns and licks it up – it is disgusting to us, but the dog finds pleasure in it. The sins that entangle some of the false teachers may seem equally repulsive but they are so entangled that the momentary pleasure they gain draws them back over and over again. A pig can be washed clean but its natural habitat is in the mud and as soon as it can it will return. The person caught in sin will want to return to those things that have become habitual and have taken control of their lives.

    While Peter is speaking of unbelievers it is possible that people of faith can become entangled in sin. While their salvation is not at risk, their peace and fruitfulness is. If there is a habit, appetite or desire that overwhelms us so that they control the decisions we make about how we use our time, talent and resources then we must enlist the help of the Holy Spirit to cut the net that holds us captive. We would not want to be counted among those  who offer freedom to others while we are not yet free.

  1. What do you think of the comments that many people leave the church before they leave school and never return (it is true for both Christian and secular schools)?
  2. Do you see evidence of people who having left the church that are worse than they were before they first started attending?
  3. Are there habits or attitudes that hold you captive?

 

 

Week 13

  1. Remember this
    2 Peter 3:1-3Peter tells his readers that this is the second time he has written to them reminding them of things that were about to happen and the threats they would face. Most people logically assume that the previous letter is 1 Peter. This is probable although it is possible that another letter was written and has been subsequently lost. The chapter titles and number we use were not in the original writings but were added later to make it easier for readers to follow, but whatever the case the subject he wants to address is so important that he writes to them twice about it.The subject is the return of Jesus Christ which we refer to as the second coming. There is much debate about how and when that will occur, and particularly whether it will be in two stages or in one. Those that believe in a two stage return claim that there will be a rapture, or the removal of true believers in Christ before a time of severe testing or tribulation. At the end of that time Jesus will come back to judge the world and introduce the New Heavens and the New Earth for those that have persevered through the tribulation and those that have gone before them.The main alternative view is that Jesus will return at an unknown time but after a period of testing during which the church will go through increasing persecution and trial. Judgement will then take place and the New Heavens and New Earth will be introduced. This is an issue that has been vigorously debated for many years and spirit led, Godly and well read people sit on either side of the fence. Peter does not speak about a rapture in these verses but refers only to the return of Jesus in power whether it be before or after a time of tribulation.Perhaps because of the debate and doubt over the way in which Jesus will return it is a subject that is not spoken of as often as it once was. Peter is insisting here that we should be mindful of the fact of Jesus’ return even though there will be scoffers and critics. He refers to the prophets of the Old Testament who did not speak of a rapture but did often refer to the coming of the messiah in judgement and glory. Both the Old prophets and New Testament apostles made clear statements regarding the certainty of Christ’s return. 25 of the New Testament books refer to the Second Coming in some way and someone (not sure who!) has noted that about one in every 25 New Testament verses speaks in some way of the Second Coming. Peter wants to make sure that the communities of faith to which he was writing never forgot the promise of Christ’s return.When the disciples questioned Jesus about the timing of his return on the day that he ascended to heaven, he told them not to be concerned about how and when it would happen. It would happen in God’s time and it was important that the disciples be prepared for it, but in the meantime they had the job of being his witnesses wherever they went. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church warning them that even though the return of Jesus was certain they needed to continue working and worshipping because they did not know when it would be and when Jesus returned he wanted to find them ready.The manner of Christ’s return may not be settled in everyone’s mind, but the fact of it should be. You may have the view that the church will be spared the tribulation, or alternatively that it won’t, whichever the case it will be sudden and unexpected and he wants to find you prepared and doing his will, looking forward to a glorious entrance into his kingdom. So in the meantime keep building his character in your life and you will be certain of his welcome.
  1. Are you convinced that Jesus will return?
  2. Are you ready?
  3. If you knew that he was going to come back tomorrow, what would you do differently today?

 

  1. Where is he?
    2 Peter 3:3-4Peter’s letter has already dealt with false teachers and prophets, now he highlights those who make a joke of the promised second coming. Their argument is that since it has been many years since the promise was made and he hasn’t shown up, then obviously he isn’t going to, it is all make belief. Peter earlier addressed the need to discriminate between false teachers and prophets who were led by the Spirit of God and the revealed word of God, but these scoffers didn’t care about that, they knew better.The motivation of these scoffers came from their sensual appetite. If Jesus was not coming back then there would be no judgement and they were free to live as they please. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, if there is no God we might as well eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we might die. (I should note that when the writer of Ecclesiastes says ’under the sun’ he means without God). Dostoevsky wrote that without God everything is permissible, there are no barriers to satisfying our lust and desires apart from the opposition of others. There is no moral absolute, no consistent right or wrong. Everything depends on our own happiness and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We see this in our world in matters such as abortion, euthanasia, drug use, sexuality and social behaviour.
    Belief in God and his word becomes subject to our own inclinations, our rights are higher than His standards and our freedom will not be limited by belief in some supreme being. If we can disprove God then we are free to make our own choices. The same temptation that confronted Adam and Eve, eat this fruit and you will be like gods, able to choose for yourself. Belief in the return of Jesus Christ is essential to our faith, if he is unable or unwilling to fulfil this promise, then how can we trust him in other promises?The scoffers drew from a common philosophy that ‘there will not be a great cataclysmic judgmental event at the end of history, because that is not how the universe works. There never has been such a judgment, so why should we expect one in the future? Instead, everything in the universe is stable, closed, fixed and governed by never varying patterns and principles of evolution. Nothing catastrophic has ever happened in the past, so nothing catastrophic ever will happen in the future. There will be no divine invasion, no supernatural judgment on mankind’ this is belief continues in what is called ‘Uniformitarianism’. According to them, if God exists at all he is limited by science and cannot act outside of it.The God of our faith though is not limited by science or any other thing. He is the author of creation and all the laws that define and control it, nothing happens except by his will and the same creative act that brought the world into being can be used to change it or even destroy it. Our desire to find scientific explanations for all things ultimately comes from the need to limit God to the level of our understanding. It robs him of his transcendence and inscrutability (impossible to understand or interpret), God ceases to be a mystery and can be narrowly defined according to our own understanding, culture and desires. This is not the God we worship, our God is beyond our understanding and remains a mystery; When speaking of him older literature and hymns use the word ineffable which means: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words. This is a word seldom found in modern songs or literature but reflects the almighty, all knowing, all powerful God we serve, the one who keeps his word and has promised that he will return, just as he said he would.
  1. How would you describe God?
  2. Do you limit him to your own understanding?
  3. Do you try to press God into someone that would act according to what you think is right or wrong?

 

  1. The same word
    2 Peter 3:5-7Like the scoffers that Peter spoke of, the critics of today practice wilful ignorance. They are not honestly mistaken but choose what to believe so that it supports the decisions they make and the behaviour that comes from them. Peter writes that the then scoffers he referred to ‘deliberately overlook’ facts that were unfavourable to them.Peter emphasises God’s creative act as a fact that is conveniently ignored. He states that not only did God create the world out of water but that he used water to destroy it through the flood. Peter’s reference to creating out of and though water relates to the stages of creation in which are described in Genesis 1:1-9. Before the world was formed, God hovered over the waters, (verse 2), on the second day of creation he caused an expanse or canopy to separate the water over the new formed earth from that which remained on the earth (verse 6,7). Then on the third day he gathered the water that was on earth together to form seas so that dry land appeared. Water is essential to God’s creative story, but then in the days of Noah he used this same water to overwhelm the earth and destroy all that was on it, apart from Noah, his family and the animals that were preserved through the flood.Businessman Andrew Grove the inventor of Intel said that, “Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction.” While clearly not referring to the flood the saying holds true. What brought and was essential to life became the agency through which God destroyed it. The scoffers of Peter’s day wilfully chose to overlook this cataclysmic event when they argued that the world had gone on just at is always had and therefore who would continue in the same way. Peter deliberately says that God created through his word, at every step of creation we read that things happened in response to God speaking them into being – God said, and it was so. It was his word that created the heaven and the earth and it was his word that brought the flood. It is the same word that will bring the fire that will consume it to make way for the new Heaven and the New Earth.Charles Spurgeon wrote: “Admire the power of God’s Word., It was by the Word of God that the heavens were made, by the Word of God that the earth was drowned, by the Word of God that it has been preserved ever since, and will be preserved until, by that same Word, fire shall come to devour all the works of men. As surely as Noah’s flood came, so surely shall there be a burning up at the appointed season: “The heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire?”

    God’s word is the basis of our faith. When things seem impossible or beyond our imagination we need to turn to see what he says about them. When we feel that our faith is too little, God tells us that the faith as small as a mustard seed can produce miracles. When we think our sins are too great, his word says there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. If we think that the world is out of control, God’s word says he is in control and nothing happens without his agreement. When we argue that we cannot resist temptation, his word says that no temptation is so great that we cannot escape it. If we say we can’t do what he calls us to do, his word says that we can do all things through him who strengthens us. When we feel weak or insignificant, his word tells us we are who he says we are – valuable, precious in his sight, chosen, holy, redeemed – the sons and daughters of the king. Loved by him, saved by him and preserved by him – this is amazing grace.

  1. Do we practice wilful ignorance when we read things in God’s word we don’t like?
  2. Do we fear for the future even though God say has it under control?
  3. What should we do when we doubt ourselves, our faith and God’s forgiveness?

 

  1. He is patient
    2 Peter 3:8-10We are creatures who are limited by time and space. Everything has a beginning a middle and an end and exists somewhere. That is how we make sense of the world, anything that we can’t identify that way becomes a mystery and leads to our obsession to find scientific explanations for everything. But God is not limited in that way, he exists outside of time and in every place at all times. Christian philosophers refer to an infinite qualitative distinction between time and eternity, when we think of eternity we imagine everlasting which is only part of its meaning. The eternity God has planned for those who put the faith in him has a quality beyond anything we have experienced or can imagine and it does not end.When God speaks of time in the bible sometimes it relates to the way we understand it, but at others it doesn’t. Peter uses a metaphor here, that for God one day is as a 1000 years. He doesn’t mean literally 1000 years, but a number that is not limited. When I was young I was required to read a poem called the Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, the idea was to see examples of metaphors in English speech. In his poem Noyes writes: “The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees. The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor.” In it he uses the metaphors of a torrent, a galleon and a ribbon to describe the appearance of wind, moon and the road. Obviously he did not mean that the subjects became these things, but that is how they seemed and the impression they gave. When Peter uses his metaphor he says that what seems a long time for us is a speck of time for God.God is not slow, everything he does is on time even though we may think he should act more quickly for our sake. In terms of eternity any number years is insignificant but God is waiting to allow as many as wish, to change their ways and put their faith in him. Jesus says in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Once again this does not mean that as soon as every nation hears the gospel Jesus will immediately return, but every nation must have had the gospel preached to it before he will return and as we have noted this in our understanding could be some ‘time’ later. Another thing to note is that the nations that currently exist are not the same as those that existed in Jesus’ day, and if God should delay another hundred years they may be different again. Some hold the view that once every nation has had the gospel preached to it then the tribulation begins and it is not until after that he returns. What we do know is that God intentionally is waiting because he wants everyone to have the opportunity to come to faith in him.

    The word ‘repent’ means to change one’s mind or direction. To come to faith in Jesus a complete reversal is demanded. Paul writes in Romans 6:17-19 ‘’thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart and been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness…just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” God calls us to himself, to be his nation, his chosen people and he waits to give opportunity to as many as will accept it. But though his time is eternal he will set a date (as we understand it) when he will return and the opportunity to receive the grace that leads to salvation will cease. The need to repent is urgent, we do not know the time of his coming, but we do know it going to happen and it could be tomorrow!

  1. What do you think of the idea that we see everything in terms of time and space?
  2. How can we understand an infinite God with a finite mind?
  3. What does ‘repentance’ mean to you?

 

  1. What type of person are you?
    2 Peter 3:11-12If the world as we understand it is going to end, if God is going to wipe it away completely and create something new, and if at that time he is going to judge all those who have rejected him, then what sort of people should we be? This is the question Peter asks as he comes to the close of his letter. He has identified those who share the same faith as he has, who can be sure of their salvation and all that it brings by growing in the character that God is forming in them. He has also described those who are of a different nature, who are false teachers, people who have rejected the truth about Jesus Christ and tried to turn others away. To those of faith is the promise of an abundant entrance into the new Heaven and New earth while to those who have rejected him there is also a promise, but it is to an eternity without God and all the goodness that belongs to him.Peter wants his readers to reflect on what lies ahead for them, the promised inheritance they will receive, and to consider how they should live in response to that. This is the challenge for each one of us. Back in 1976 when the church was facing challenges in many areas, as it is today, Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled “How then shall we live?” In it he discussed the reasons for society’s state of affairs and insisted that the only reasonable alternative was to live as God intended by living with Biblical ethics, joyfully accepting God’s revelation of truth, and totally affirming the Bible’s morals, values, and meaning. Nearly 50 years have passed since then and not much has changed. The world has fallen further and further into moral decline, God has been rejected in society and in most western nations belief and teaching about Christianity is being excluded from schools except as an historical curiosity. The scene that Peter presents of false teachers and influencers criticizing and mocking God and his word are everywhere, while others insisting that attention be given to myths and fables that are inconsistent with Christian beliefs are given credibility in the public sphere. In the face of this how then should we live? Or as Peter puts it, what sort of people ought we be?

    The answer is not found in political activism, campaigning or protest rallies, though those things no doubt have their place. Some indeed are called to take stands against the ills of society and the names of Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Mueller, Gutierrez and many others come to mind. But for most of us this is not a calling God has put on our lives, we are, however all called to live holy lives, doing all we can to advance God’s timetable. When we think of the word holy we often imagine a state of sinlessness, if that is possible. While godliness does suggest a moral framework to our lives that is consistent with God’s word that we strive to live by, to be holy has a slightly different meaning. To be holy is to be set apart and to live in total commitment to the one for whom we are set apart. God sets us apart when we put our faith in the finished work of Jesus, and the moment we do that he sets us apart as his people , chosen by him to be a holy nation.

    We live in the midst of a corrupt world as those who belong somewhere else, like aliens in a foreign land. Our values are those of God’s kingdom, we live in accordance with what he expects of his citizens. We will promote the values of his kingdom, we will live to make sure that we never damage its reputation or that of its king. We will tell everyone that they must do whatever they can to be a part of it and that it is the only way that they can be sure of a certain future. Our lives will reflect the standards our king expects and in this way we will hasten his return.

  1. Do you see yourself as an alien in this world?
  2. What are the values of the kingdom to which you belong?
  3. How would you answer the question “How then should we live”?

 

  1. Without spot or blemish
    2 Peter 3:14-15Those that are confidently waiting for the return of Jesus are to clearly contrast those who Peter has warned against. Those false teachers were characterized by their unrestrained appetites, pursuing wealth, their own sexual desires and greed. They did not accept any constraints on the decisions they made but only wanted to make themselves happy. In many ways they reflect the age we now live in, which is not too different to the excesses of life under Roman rule. Many historians believe that the eventual fall of Rome came about as much because of its own moral and social decline as it did from attacks from outside. The western world is facing its own moral decline following the rejection of God which in turn destroys the fabric of society and leads to unrest and social dis-ease.
    Those that are waiting for the return of Jesus must be different. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:1,2 that we are not to confirm to the pattern or this world but must be transformed by having our minds renewed. This is the only acceptable form of our worship. Christians, as we have observed, are to be set apart, to stand out, not because they are weird, critical or objectionable but because they live by different values, place their hope in something greater than themselves and live accordingly. To love this way requires a commitment and effort.

    Peter tells his readers that they are to be diligent. This means whole hearted, intentional, energised and hard working. The prophet Hosea described the people of Ephraim as a half cooked cake because they had comprised with the nations around them (Hosea 7:8). He actually says they are half-turned; the image is like that of a pancake cooked on an open fire that once it is cooked on one side is turned over to cook the other. Until that happens it is inedible – good only to be thrown out. God doesn’t want half baked Christians, he wants those that are fully committed to him. Specifically Peter writes that they must be whole hearted in eliminating every spot or blemish from their character. Peter does not suggest that by hard work we can become sinless or spotless, we know that this can only happen by the work of Jesus on the cross. Paul writes: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27). But this does not take away our individual and corporate responsibility to bring our lives in to line with God’s expectation for us.

    As with most of the New Testament Peter is not writing to individuals, though they are not excluded, but to the church or the community of faith. He is reminding the church that it must by holy, blameless and spotless as it stands before the watching world. He insists that we must be without fault in the way we treat the broken, care for the hurting and love one another. We must be good and wise stewards of the blessings and resources he has entrusted to us; in the way we treat his creation and care for the poor and needy. We must be beyond criticism in how we act in our families and deal with our appetites inside and outside of marriage. We must be at peace and work for peace in our communities and beyond. We, the church are to be an example to the world of what life in God’s kingdom should be as we patiently wait for his coming.

  1. In what ways can Christians conform to the pattern of the world?
  2. Is the church, in you opinion, without spot or blemish?
  3. What sort of example does the church present to the outside world?

 

  1. Don’t get carried away
    2 Peter 3:15-18

    Peter has already spoken about God’s patience in verse 9 of this chapter and now he returns to this theme.  He describes the patience of God as salvation in the same way, he says, that the apostle Paul speaks about it. When we hear or use that word it is usually in relation to a decision to accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness by professing faith in him, and use it to refer to an action taken at some specific time. For Jewish people salvation had a much deeper meaning and applied to both personal and national deliverance.

    Salvation does not refer to a finished act but applies in the past, the present and in the future. Three different words are often used to explain how salvation is experienced in each of these phases of our life. In the past it produced justification, in the present, sanctification and then in the future, glorification. When we are justified we are saved from the penalty of sin; sanctification saves us from the power of sin, and glorification saves us from the presence of sin. To be justified means that we are declared righteous, we are innocent and are not subject to condemnation of judgement. This is a completed act achieved by the death of Jesus on the cross. Once we accept by faith the sacrifice offered on our behalf we are saved.

    Sanctification though, begins the moment we are justified but continues throughout our life on earth. It is a cooperative work between us and the Holy Spirit and is accomplished by obedience to God’s word, and as Peter has already explained by continued growth in character by building on the qualities outlined in chapter 1. While justification has the same effect in every believer, our sanctification, or the degree to which we are changed into Christ’s likeness differs from person to person. Glorification is achieved by the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and is our state once we leave this life and enter his presence.

    When we speak of salvation we are addressing these three things. Deliverance from the penalty, the power and presence of sin, Peter says that God’s patience is to allow those that believe to experience each of these aspects of God’s salvation from sin and its effects. Since we know this, says Peter, we must be careful not to get carried away by the error and false teaching of others. If we pay too much attention to that we will become unstable and start to doubt our salvation and the promises of God. Instead we are to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

    Peter began his letter by reminding his readers that they had everything they needed for life and godliness, that by God’s precious and magnificent promises they had been set free from the effect of sin and could participate in the Divine nature. All of this was made more certain as they grew in their knowledge of God. He then went on to speak about what they needed to do to make sure that they not only didn’t lose the confident faith, but how they could grow in it. As they added to their faith by increasing in godly character they could be sure of living useful and fruitful lives, not stumbling in the dark and being certain of an enthusiastic welcome as they entered the presence of God. The growth in Christian character is what we might call sanctification. The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that it is as we continually behold God’s glory that we will be continually transformed into his image. The song writer puts it this way “Tun your eyes upon Jesus, look full in wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace’’ while the writer to Hebrews says to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith as we run the race that is before us. (Hebrews 12:1,2)

  1. What do you understand when you hear the word ‘salvation’?
  2. According to the three phases of salvation, we are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. What do you understand by that?
  3. In what way can you ‘turn your eyes upon Jesus’?

 

 

Week 14

  1. One Body
    Ephesians 4:4-5There are many metaphors or word pictures used in the bible for the church. The word ‘’church’’ that we commonly use refers to a group of people who are called together for a particular purpose and is translated from the Greek word Ekklesia. It was not a specifically religious idea but could be a political assembly or one of any agreed purpose. In the English Bible the word Church that is used in places like Matthew 16:18 and 18:17 actually means belonging to the Lord and came to refer to buildings intended for people to worship together, but that is not the meaning intended in the Matthew passages and elsewhere. What was intended was a gathering of believers meeting together to worship wherever that might be, it is people rather than building and whenever the word ‘’church’’ appears in the Bible it has this meaning.When God speaks to his people as they meet and share life together he uses other pictures and words to illustrate how they should see themselves. The church is said to be made up of living stones, individual believers growing together and fitted in exactly the right place. They are called a temple, a place set apart specifically for the purpose of worship, and a household, the building block of all society in which its members care for one another as members of one family. The church is called a synagogue, a place of coming together and the bride of Christ. Christ is the husband to the bride and gave his life for her, the bride will spend her time waiting for the arrival of her husband by preparing herself in the best way she can for the wedding.The most common metaphor is probably that of a body. We may use that term in different ways, for example a school body relates to the students, staff and teachers of a school, a parent body is a group of parents and a sporting body maybe the organization that organizes and plays competitive sport. In this case the idea of a body relates to organization around a particular purpose. When it is used to refer to the church though it is in the biological or physical sense of a body. One with arms and legs and other characteristics. When Paul writes to the church in Ephesus he says to them: ‘’ There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’’ He is emphasising the unity that exists in the church which is a feature of our physical body. The church cannot be divided it shares the same life which comes from its head – Jesus Christ. There is one Holy Spirit, one faith that we all share, we are all baptised into Christ and there is only one Father that we all worship.Denominations as we call different parts of the church are not God’s idea, they are the result of differences of opinion about the bible’s teaching, styles of worship and even the choice of church furniture and the songs we sing. When God inspired the writers of the Bible to compose letters to the church, the only thing that divided them was their geographic location. Sadly over the 2000 years since the birth of the New Testament church there have been many differences that have caused division and fracture within the body. In Paul’s letter he insists that his readers make every effort ‘to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ He is not asking that we ask for unity because Jesus has already established that, but that we walk in it and maintain it because in this body he has equipped each part in a supernatural way to demonstrate his glory to the world in which it exists. You are one of those parts who has been equipped along with others for this task.
  1. What picture best describes the church for you?
  2. What do you think about denominations?
  3. In what way do you feel equipped to demonstrate God’s glory?

 

  1. Different parts
    1 Corinthians 12:7-27Paul explains his metaphor of the church being a body in the passage noted above. He has just informed the community of faith in Corinth that each of them was given a gift by the Holy Spirit to use to build up the church and also to make known the character of God. He told them that there are many different gifts but it was always the Holy Spirit who decided who would receive each gift. His choice was not based on the ability or worthiness of the recipient but was a matter for him to decide. Paul then said that even though each believer has been given a gift it was not up to them to choose whether and where to use it, that would be determined by the Lord Jesus Christ.It is often noted that the gifts and calling of God are permanent, the Bible calls them irrevocable – they can’t be revoked or taken back, but the place where they are used can and does change. What remains constant however is that it is God himself who determines how effective they will be (I Corinthians 12:4-6). There is no use by date on the gift or ministry that God has given you, but the place you exercise it will change from time to time. These gifts are given, as Paul says for the common good and as each of us use them then the body will grow and become healthy.Retirement as we understand it is not a biblical concept. There were no superannuation plans and no aged pensions, neither were there aged care homes or retirement villages. The world we live in is very different from what it was in both the Old Testament and the New Testament times. But as I head toward the time when I face the prospect of retirement it becomes increasingly evident that while God’s call on my life may not have been revoked my ability to do the things I once took for granted certainly has! This means that God has other places of ministry in mind which he will make known in his time. The idea that as a member of the community of faith we can spend the last 20 years of our life allowing others to fulfill the ministry to which he has called us would be unimaginable. God however ‘’ knows what we are made of; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103 GNT) and that as the years take their toll allowances have to be made for declining ability. As we age, and for some of us that is more obvious than for others, we may move at a slower pace, physically and mentally. We may lack the agility and flexibility we once enjoyed, but we have increased experience and wisdom that comes from living longer and participating more in life. The body which is the church is made up of every generation, of both male and female, grandparents and grandchildren, the married and the single, of every race and ethnic group and language. It contains everything that is needed to make known the invisible nature of God to the world in which it lives.The church is God’s chosen means of taking the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. It is the body of Christ, he is the head of the body and is from him that the church receives life and direction. The Bible does not give a plan of what local communities of faith should like, whether they should meet in cathedrals or sheds or even under a tree. How many people there should be or whether there ought to be Sunday Schools and youth groups. It doesn’t tell us we must meet at 10:00am on Sunday and sit in rows, or that we must sing a certain number of songs and what key they should be in. The church is the community of faith wherever, whenever and however they meet and each member has been given the privilege of being equipped to build up every other person and together transform the world in which they live.
  1. Do you feel that you are part of a body where all parts work together?
  2. What do you think about retirement?
  3. Do you know what God has equipped you to do in the community into which he has placed you?

 

  1. Different but still the same
    1 Corinthians 12:20-27Our physical bodies are remarkable things, the masterpiece of design and ingenuity. We come in different shapes and sizes, different shades of colour and with a variety of features. We may be tall or short, slim or more robust in shape, some have straight hair, others curly, we might have a fair complexion or a dark one. Despite our differences we all share the same nature, that which makes us human. In Genesis 1 we are told that God created man and woman in his image, and because of the tendency to relate what we know to what we experience men and women have imagined God with similar characteristics to their own. They have visualized gods with arms and legs and of course a head. Sometimes there are additional limbs or appendages but almost always they reflect human bodies. Even the language we use when we say God is sitting on his throne, standing in the midst of a battle or striding on the mountains we imagine him in human form and so at least in this sense we have created gods in our image!The bible tells us that in the resurrection, when we go to be with our father in heaven, we will have physical bodies – but what will they look like? Paul addresses that subject in 1 Corinthians 15 and explains that we will be recognizable and exhibit the same identity we do now, we will be transformed. We will no longer be subject to sickness or death, the usual appetites of life will not exist, we will be different from one another and in some ways we will be similar to the angels. He doesn’t tell us what we will actually look like, probably because it was a mystery to him as it will remain a mystery to us until we are changed. Often people are challenged by questions about what age will we be when we get to God’s kingdom, the age at which we died, or that of full maturity? Will there be babies and old people for example. We are not told and we can speculate but still be unable to be sure! These questions reflect our preoccupation with human life that is subject to the limits of time and space and neither of these things will exist as we know them in the New Heaven and new Earth.What does this have to do with the church as a body? Firstly the body is a living thing, one that grows and adapts to its environment. It is not a body because of physical characteristics, it has a nature given to it by God which separates it from other forms of life. In Genesis 2:7 we read that God breathed life into the man and woman he created (Genesis 1:26,27). In the same way the church becomes a living body when God breathes life into it. This first happened at the Jewish festival of Pentecost which was celebrated as Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks, 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus which took place at the Passover.  On that day the Holy Spirit descended to earth as promised by Jesus and breathed life into those that were obediently waiting as they had been told. Before that momentous occasion these disciples were a group of anxious and confused men and women who were uncertain but hopeful about their future. They had some organization and a recognized leadership but otherwise they were a powerless group of religious people who were rejected by the Jews and while they still believed had lost their confidence.The miraculous happened on that day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit not only descended to earth but came into the lives of everyone who was waiting in hope for him to come. As Peter and the rest of the group ran through the marketplace excitedly telling everyone who would listen about what had happened to them the group of hopeful believers and those that heard and also believed became a living body, brought to life by the breath of God. Not an organization or a club but now a body – alive and energized by the Spirit of God within them. It is that same Spirit that lives within the church 2000 years later.
  1. When you imagine God do you see him in human form?
  2. If we are created in God’s image, what does that mean if it doesn’t relate to physical characteristics.
  3. The church is not an organization but a living body, what does that mean?

 

  1. Called to be one body
    Colossians 3:15-16As we noted as far as we are concerned no two bodies are the same. They have similar features and parts but they are different from one another. Paul tells us in the passage noted above that we are called to be one body. By this he means the church, which is the people of God who are called together as his people and are one, there ought to be no division within it. Over the years the church family or body has divided so that it now consists of many denominations or separate groups which have chosen to separate from others because of different understanding about beliefs, or style of worship, in fact for a whole lot of reasons, many of which are trivial. Sadly, the differences between the separate parts of the body have sometime led to conflict so that Jesus’ encouragement to the disciples that they should be united because that would prove to the world that he, Jesus had been sent by God the father (John 17:23), has been ignored.As Jesus and also Paul have reminded us, we are one body and we must learn to walk together in unity. The church though does exist in communities of faith that may meet at different times and in different places. They may have formed because of the distance between them, or language differences or because they have become too large to fit in one location. While these are all part of the one body which is the church, each will develop as a separate body, indwelt by the Holy Spirit and equipped by him to proclaim the kingdom of God to its community. We see this illustrated in the letters that Jesus wrote to seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 and in the letters written by Peter and Paul as well as those by other early church leaders.The local church to which you belong is part of the body of Christ and you are an essential part of it. Just as with our physical bodies they all share the same nature, but they differ from one another. Some congregations, as we could call them, are large while others quite small. Some are young and others have been around a long time even reproducing by creating new congregations and so are like parents, even grandparents. There are those who are conservative and like to do things quietly and always in an orderly manner, while others may act like rowdy teenagers and prefer to affect different styles and music. Some churches have big budgets and lots of staff and others may have no staff at all and financially exist from week to week. There are congregations that exist where the government of the day allows persecution and makes it difficult for them to operate and in other countries the church is free to act and worship as it likes.

    Every church is part of the body of Christ and he has placed you somewhere in that body. The question is sometimes asked whether it is possible to be a Christian without going to church. That is really a misunderstanding of what church is. As we have noted, church is not a place we go to or a building but is a community of people that are united by their common faith. Those that have chosen to believe in Jesus and accept his Lordship are the church whether they meet in the same location and at the same time as others or not. So that the answer to the question is no, if you are a true believer in Jesus, you are part of the church which is his body and because you are an important of that body you will want to be, in fact need to be connected to the rest of the body if you want to the share in the life that comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit within it.

  1. Do feel like you are part of the body of Christ?
  2. The church is sometimes identified as a family – in families we may not live in the same house, like the same music or food and may even speak different languages, but we are one. How does this relate to the church?
  3. What do you think when people say they don’t need to go to church because they have YouTube and Christian radio?

 

5. Placed in the body
1 Corinthians 12:18

In the NIV translation of the Bible this verse reads: ‘But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.’ In the original language the word translated here as ‘placed’ is etheto and means to put in place or lay down, some translations put it as ‘arranged’. This means that where you fit in the body of Christ is no accident, you have been placed there by God. He has equipped you, moulded you and prepared you for where you are.

This does not mean to say that you won’t move into other parts of the body that he has also prepared you for, but where you are now is his choice. Unless of course you have deliberately chosen to go your own way! There is something unique, so special about you that he has prepared a place for you to fit. Like a jigsaw you will fit into a place that connects to those around you and which is designed for you. Using the same metaphor a piece of jigsaw puzzle contains only part of the picture, unless it is put where it belongs it leaves a gap or makes a mess of the puzzle. 

God says through the Psalms that before we were born, while we were still in the womb, he had planned a purpose for us. (Psalm 139). He told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) and in Ephesians 2:10 the apostle Paul writes: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Not only does that mean that you are not a mistake, but that God understands you so well that he has prepared a place for you. Sometimes it may seem that where we are is not right and we don’t have the skills or abilities to do what is required of us. We may even feel inadequate or unprepared. This is not a bad place to be. God said to Paul that his (God’s) strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness, Paul went on the say that when he was weak, then he was strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). If we think we have everything we need, we don’t need help or strength then we do not leave room for God. We stop living and walking by faith and start trying to manage with our own limited and often inadequate resources.

We know though, that our place of ministry, while it is conducted as part of the body of Christ is not always conducted in the organisation we call the church. If ministry or serving God was only done in the church then most of us would have nothing to do. Your ministry is wherever God has placed you, that could be as a teacher, bank manager, politician, engineer or police officer. You may be a home maker with children to care for or even a child care worker or nurse. You might be engaged in pulling up weeds or washing dishes, wherever you are, God has placed you there and it is there that you represent the body of Christ. For a time I was employed watering plants and cleaning up rubbish in the city centre, sometimes in the early ours of the morning; at other times I did wash dishes, I have also been and am a pastor as well as a lecturer and businessman – none of these roles was more spiritual than another. In each case I depended on God to enable me so that I could represent him and serve those that I ministered to. 

God has placed you in the body and he has prepared good work for you to do. If you are restless and think you should be in another community of faith or a different work place, make sure that you seek his guidance and that you are not leaving a gap that no one else can fill.

1.    What do you think about the fact that God has deliberately placed you where you are?
2.    Can you see the steps in your life that God has used to bring you to where you are now?
3.    Is there any are of your life and ministry where you feel inadequate of lacking in strength, can God meet you there?

 

 

  1. Everybody matters
    1 Corinthians 12:25-27We live in a world that is sometimes obsessed with status and titles. We like to have a badge which explains how important we are, and the use of academic titles or qualifications are almost essential when expressing an opinion. Self esteem is highly valued and the need to achieve in order to feel good about oneself is the subject of many books and YouTube videos. In the body of Christ however no one is more important than anyone else. If a person has a title it reflects what he or she does and not how important they are. Throughout the New Testament Paul addresses himself as a fellow servant or brother to the believers. Peter stresses that he stands in the same faith as those to whom he writes while James the brother of Jesus and Jude both call themselves servants. All of these men could expect to be honoured as apostles and leaders, but they chose to identify as those who served and were no better than those to whom they wrote.

    While there is no question that there were those who are appointed as leaders and some were called to be apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers they knew that they were called to serve out of the calling that God had put on their lives. They weren’t chosen because of superior effort on their part, or greater training or education but because God had prepared them and placed them where he wanted them to be. While Paul was a trained theologian, the Jewish religious leaders were astonished that Peter and John ‘were uneducated, common men’ (Acts 4:13). Luke was a doctor but there were fishermen, tentmakers, tax collectors and businessmen and women who made up the leadership of the first church. But though they were significant in the roles they were given to perform they did not have higher status than any other member of the body. The authority they had was given to them by God and he could just as easily give it to someone else.

    Not only are all the members of the body equal in status they are all essential. You may have a prominent position in the body of Christ, you might enjoy a good reputation and have been blessed with opportunities that others did not have, or else you may be anonymous and known only to a few close friends. You may have the challenge of washing the cups and saucers or unlocking the doors, or you might be the one that leads the singing or preaches each week, whatever it is you do, you are just as valuable and important as every other part of the body. In the New Testament there are a number of words that are translated as worship, the two most important refer to different aspects of what we call worship (neither of them means singing!) One of them (proskuneo) has to do with our attitude when we come to God, one of humility and reverence. This in some cases is reflected in how we stand or sit or even kneel. The other (latreouo) is about the work that we do and comes from the Old Testament idea of preparing the temple for the sacrificial offerings that were acts of worship. This second word is very practical, it is what we do and includes things like singing, praising, giving, opening doors and washing dishes or even preaching sermons when they are done with a heart of humility and reverence.

    You have been placed in the body and you are important. The body would be incomplete without you and would suffer because of your absence. Whatever it is that God has called you do in that part of the body to which you belong it is worship, and an opportunity to offer to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Remember that without those to unlock the doors and clean the building, to prepare the morning tea and operate the audio and to make sure there is paper in the copier and the lights work there would be no one, or a lot less people to hear the message being preached!

  1. Why do you think people think job titles or labels are so important?
  2. What do you think worship is?
  3. Do you believe that everyone in the church is equal in every respect?

 

  1. All in it together
    1 Corinthians 12:26

    There is a lot of stress on the idea of community in recent times. It seems that after a period of individualization and the almost disintegration of the usual building blocks of society we are trying to recreate something that God intended from the beginning. Researchers David W. McMillan and David M. Chavis said that a: “Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together (McMillan, 1976). While Christian Psychiatrist Scott Peck asked: “If we are going to use the word meaningfully we must restrict it to a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to “rejoice together, mourn together,” and to “delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own.” But what, then, does such a rare group look like? How does it function? What is a true definition of community?”

    This type of community has been given to us and it is called the body of Christ, the church. In the beginning the group of Christ followers who became the church met together whenever the opportunity arose. It was in homes, in the Jewish synagogue and in the temple. Acts 2 tells us a little about what these gatherings looked like: they discussed and learned the teaching they had received; they enjoyed their time together by sharing meals and in prayer. They shared their possessions so that no one had a need and were always grateful for what they had and then they together thanked God. (Acts 2:42-47). They shared their lives and later as they became unpopular because their beliefs contradicted those of the rulers, both Jewish and Roman they depended on one another for support. These new believers looked and found somewhere to belong, to have their needs fulfilled and to have a shared emotional connection with others. In many ways these are the things that people seek when they move to a new community or country.

    The desire for community is ingrained in all of us and God intended it that way. Throughout the Old Testament he speaks to men and women as part of a community. People who were set apart as his people and had a common identity. The majority of the New Testament letters were written to communities of faith and Paul often exhorts the believers to do things as the church together. For example in Ephesians 3 he encourages his readers that they ‘may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ’ (verses 19,19). This was not something they should do alone, but together with all the saints. In the Psalms we read that there is a special blessing given to brothers and sisters who dwell, or live, in unity (Psalm 133).

    Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth that all members of the body should care for one another. Elsewhere he criticizes people who have a ‘party spirit’ (Philippians 1:15, 2:1-2). This means to choose groups that exclude others, or claim things that others cannot share. In the body of Christ we are one, just as in marriage husband and wife become an indivisible union where individual rights, responsibilities and ownership do not exist but everything in held in common. In this type of community pain felt by one member is felt by all, success achieved by another is also shared by all. The community rejoices together and also grieves together, it bears each others pain and delights in each others blessings. This is what God intends for you, to be his body in a loving, caring and supporting relationship with all the other members.

  1. Is this your of picture of the church?
  2. Do you want to be part of that sort of community?
  3. What are the barriers to such a community existing?

 

 

Week 15

  1. Where is my place?
    1 Corinthians 12:1-7We know that we belong in the body, that Jesus has prepared a place for us, but where is it? Like a jigsaw that we have mentioned before, all of us have a particular shape and features that mean we fit together with others. Some time ago one of my daughters gave me a jigsaw which contains 736 pieces which are all exactly the same colour – black. Then only difference between them is the shape and there is no huge variation there either! I began the puzzle, but confess have not yet finished it, and it has been some months. God does not intend that we are all the same, he offers unity, not uniformity. Unlike my puzzle we are clearly different from one another and when put together as God intends a beautiful picture emerges.Without wanting to push the metaphor of the jigsaw too far we all have a particular and unique shape that connects with the others in our community. The word SHAPE can be used as an acronym, that is each letter begins another word, this is a device that helps us to remember things and can be quite useful. Using this acronym as it applies to how we fit in the body the letters suggest: The Spiritual gift that we are given; The Heart or passion we have for certain things; Our Abilities, skills and talents are those things we have developed over time; We all have a different Personality which is formed from both our family and our own experience; and each of us have different Experiences. Together these make up we are and prove us to be unique.As we have seen each one of us is given a supernatural or spiritual gift that equips us to build up the body of Christ and also to show the nature of God to the watching world. There is a variety of gifts, some involve leading, some supporting and others may involve performing extraordinary acts, but each of us has a gift, chosen by the Holy Spirit. But it is not his wish that the gift he gives stays wrapped and undiscovered, it should be examined, explored and put to use as Jesus intends it to be. Not of all of us are passionate about the same things. Some are enthusiastic about speaking while others would rather remain in the background. We might be passionate about caring for the poor or more inclined towards digging deeper into the word of God. We may be drawn to acts of mercy, or teaching children, perhaps working with figures or numbers while preparing meals inspires someone else. All of us have a heart for something.Some people are good with their hands, they seem to be able to fix or make anything, while others of us have much greater ability to do administrative tasks. Not everyone is a great athlete but some are, one person may be a great teacher and another an artist – or both. We all have talents and abilities and they grow as we use them and better train or educate or ourselves. Our personality also separates us from one another, you might be outgoing and like to the centre of attention, or would rather be anonymous. You may want to take control, or prefer someone else to, you might want to be active all of the time, or be more relaxed and laid back – different but equally valuable. Our experience is also unique, there are some experiences you may have shared, like being an only child, or a migrant. You may have worked at the same job or had a similar education, but you will have experienced them differently. Your experiences have helped shape you into the person you are. Unique, indispensable, valuable, precious and chosen – exactly the right shape to fit into body where God has placed you.
  1. What do you think of your shape?
  2. Can you change your shape, and if so what and how would you change?
  3. Can you see where a person that is your shape can fit in the body of Christ?

 

2. Putting the puzzle together

Ephesians 4:15-16

Having reflected on our shape it remains for us to think about how we can connect with the other pieces of the puzzle. Of course when we do a jigsaw (for those that enjoy the challenge) we usually have a picture to guide us. We also know that if we can put a framework in place and identify the big parts of the puzzle that stand out it will make it easier to fill in the background later. While this is an imperfect metaphor it does have its benefit.

Do we have a picture of what the church should look like? Do we know what the framework looks like, can we identify those pieces first and then build around them? Thankfully God does give us some guidelines. The picture we are given is in the bible, we know from passage like Acts 2:42ff what the first church did together, and we are given other illustrations which may help. The church is compared to a building, a temple, a family and a body, it is growing and alive and also dynamic. Sometimes it gathered in homes at others in temples or even under trees and in courtyards so our jigsaw doesn’t need to be limited to any particular structure.

In Ephesians 4 Paul writes that Jesus established certain roles for people to fill: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God”, (verse 11-13). These may be the corners or edges of the picture you are painting. You may have been equipped to be one of those people, or you might support them, to walk alongside them or to fulfil another role. Not every congregation will have every one of these roles, but the church together will. We will explain them more fully later, but they establish the church and work together to build up the rest of the body so that they can all do their part.

The church gathered together to learn, to pray, to eat, to have fellowship, to share their possessions, to praise God and most of all to build one another up to share the good news with those who hadn’t yet heard it. These are the big pieces in the puzzle, the framework exists to support them. Your passion may lead you to one of these areas. You might find that prayer is something that really motivates you and you are always enthusiastic about, or looking out for the needy brings you the most pleasure and you will find yourself connecting with those who share your heart. Of course you cannot do the work without the support of those who pray and you will need to connect with them, and the men and women who are called to speak and act prophetically about compassion and mercy will challenge and encourage you to. As we see the gifts of God expressed in the other member of the body the puzzle will take shape and the picture of God’s grace will be made more evident.

It is as the gifts of God are used that the character of God becomes visible. Each gift reveals something of his nature and together they make his invisible nature visible. Our world desperately needs a revelation of God, but they have probably heard enough preaching and talking; hurting people need practical acts of compassion and mercy. They need to see God sitting where they sit, weeping as they weep, lifting them up when they are falling down. Yes, they also need to hear God’s words about justice and righteousness and they definitely need your prayers and your generosity and it as the who church does these things together that this becomes possible. What is you passion? That is most probably where you gift lies and the place where God is calling you to join with others to act together to make him known to the community of which you are a part.

  1. Are you part of the framework or do you find yourself drawn to something you are passionate about?
  2. Do you want to fade into the background, or would you rather stand out (be honest!)?
  3. What sort of gifts do you need to connect to fill your calling?

 

  1. What about spiritual gifts?
    1 Peter 4:10-11Everybody who joins the community of faith by believing in in the birth and resurrection of Jesus and confessing their desire to make him Lord of their life receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. He comes to take up residence within each believer and to enable them to grow each day into the fulness of Christ. He is the guarantee of our salvation and is the assurance we have a future inheritance. He also supernaturally equips us to serve one another and grow together by giving each of us a unique Spiritual gift. There are a number of these mentioned in the Bible going right back to Exodus 31:1-6 where Bezalel and Oholiab were given the supernatural ability to help in building the Tabernacle. There are lists provided in the New Testament but they are not exhaustive and it may be that the gift you have received is one of these or a combination of more than one, or perhaps something that is not listed. One writer suggested that the gifts are like the colours on an artist’s palette, he takes a little of one, adds another in order to make exactly the right shade for you.There are four passages in the New Testament that teach about Spiritual Gifts. In chapter 12 of his letter to the Roman Christians Paul connects what he is about to write with all that goes before by using the word “therefore”. In other words he says that because of our forgiveness, justification, righteousness, and ability to live each day led by the Holy Spirit, there are things we should do. We are not to conform to the standards of behaviour and lifestyle that the world accepts, but instead we are to see our lives transformed as our minds are renewed. It is as we present ourselves to God in an acceptable way that we serve him. And while each of us is given the same measure of faith we all have different functions or spheres of service within which to exercise it and we have a responsibility to be faithful and diligent in our service. In order to equip us for the service that God intends he enables us with a special gift made available by the Holy Spirit who lives within every believer.The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth to correct a difficulty that had arisen. It seems that the Corinthian Christians had started to believe that the Spiritual gifts they had received were more important for their own personal benefit than for the church, as a result there was competition between them about the value of their gifts. There are numerous gifts and they differ in nature and the way they are to be exercised. Some are more obvious than others and draw more attention, but no one gift is more important than another. It as each is exercised that the body is nourished and grows. No matter how valuable the gift is that we have received, it is never intended for us to enjoy alone, it is always to be used in the service of others and for their benefit.In Ephesians 4 Paul makes a connection between the giving of gifts to individual persons and God’s purpose for the Church. Some members of the church are given leadership gifts that are intended to build up every other member but it is only as we all use the gifts God has given to us, in the way that he intended that the church grows. God never intended that a select few church members be given all the gifts for service while the others watch on. We are all gifted to help the church grow, both numerically and in our relationship with God. The apostle Peter also writes about gifts in 1 Peter 4:7-11 and while he does not identify individual gifts or ministries here he does give instruction on how they should be exercised. We should use our gift in serving one another and at all times the result of these gifts is the glorification of Jesus Christ.

    Every believer is equipped by the Holy Spirit to serve God by building up his body, the church. If you have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal saviour then you too have a gift to use in the service of others and to make known the good news of Jesus to your community and beyond.

  1. Do you know what your supernatural gift is?
  2. How do you think you can find out, if you don’t already know?
  3. How can you start using your gift and in what place? Will it be in the church or somewhere else?

 

4. Those that lead
Ephesians 4:11-14

The five fold ministry has become a popular phrase to describe the leadership roles that God appointed in his church. These are identified in Ephesians 4:11-14. Some people argue that there are only four and the last two, those of shepherd, or pastor and teacher are combined and it depends on the placement of a comma between them. That is not particularly critical but it would be expected that pastors would usually also be teachers, although some teachers are not pastors!

The first of these designated leaders is that of the apostle. Apostleship is not really a spiritual gift, but the person who is an apostle is a gift to the church. In a similar way these other roles refer to offices in the church and may be filled by those with a combination of gifts that the Holy Spirit has determined is necessary. Apostleship refers to a special ability or capacity to exert influence over others in order to establish new churches or works so that the gospel may be spread. The word ‘apostle’ is taken from the Greek and means someone who has been sent with a message or commission.  The apostle is characterized by a strong sense of call to establish something new and that call would be confirmed by the community of faith. They usually have a forceful personality that can trust God to do what is necessary; are often multi-gifted and are confident in new situations. The apostle has a clear understanding of the nature of the church, a willingness to try and fail and are driven by the need to reach the lost.

While the apostle is given to the church, these same characteristics can be found in the business world. Entrepreneurs are passionate about finding and pursuing new opportunities. They are often restless and are quick to move on once something is established. They like a challenge and are willing to take reasonable risks in order to achieve them. Many Christian men and women have established businesses which have been used by God to build his kingdom and bring welfare to the community. It is common for church leaders and pastors to assume that the reason that people should be successful in business is so that they can give generously to the church and help it to grow. While this is often the result of successful business, this is not all God intends. God has prepared good works for us to walk in and that includes our business and working life. God has called Christian men and women to seize opportunities and establish God’s presence in the business world through their business ability. Good and successful businesses provide employment, add value to the community and bring welfare to its people. God instructed the people in Jeremiah’s day to do exactly this (Jeremiah 29), all the time while praying and working for the welfare of the city.

A local community of faith is usually begun by a person who has an apostolic role, but there may be those with that office in the church who are called to missionary activity, or to begin another community somewhere else. They may begin a ministry that works alongside the church, perhaps in a prison or within a migrant or refugee community. Apostles can get frustrated easily, they need something new, a challenge. To do the same thing over and over again will only make them restless and sadly sometimes that restlessness can lead others to think they are just dissatisfied and complaining. If you sense the strong desire to do something new, perhaps God is stirring you to take the apostolic role. Don’t fight it, but embrace it, whether it be in the church or in business or even in some social endeavour. Ask God to open the right doors for you and then as he said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9).

1.    Do you get frustrated when every day seems to be the same and there is nothing new happening?
2.    Apostles in the church were appointed by the faith community, should ‘’apostles’’ that are called to business be the same?
3.    How can you test whether the opportunity you think God has put before you is from him?

 

 

  1. The one who speaks
    1 Corinthians 12:27-31The second of the gifts that Jesus gave to the church is identified in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians as that of the prophet. That word often brings to mind a picture of a wild figure as we would imagine John the Baptist or Elijah to be calling down judgement on the people. Or we may think of it as someone who predicts the future, telling us what will happen in the years to come. In either case we would probably not expect to see a prophet active in our community of faith!The title ‘prophet’ was very familiar to the Jews, they revered both Moses and Elijah as prophets and Peter speaks about both legitimate and false prophets in his letters to the church. Agabus was recognized as one of a number of prophets who went from Jerusalem to Antioch to visit Paul; Phillip an evangelist and leader in the church had four daughters who prophesied and ‘’in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” (Acts 13:1-3). There are many other references to prophets being active in the early church as well. In the Old Testament the word we translate as prophet (which is a Greek word that has been brought into the English language), means to speak on behalf of someone. It may also mean to announce something before it happens.

    When a prophet spoke, it was on behalf of God, he was sent with a message. These were not his or her words, their responsibility was to deliver what  they had been told and interpret it is such a way that it could be understood. When Peter wrote to the church warning them about false prophets he said: “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God las they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 peter 1:20-21). In the early days of the church there was no written New Testament as we have it today, the new believers depended on gifted men and women speaking on behalf of God, announcing the messages they had received. This has led some people to believe that once the bible came together and was available to all believers then the gift of prophecy and the role of prophet was no longer necessary and therefore does not exist in the church anymore. There is no scriptural evidence for this point of view apart from an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:9,10 that says: “we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” Those that hold to the opinion that prophecy no longer exists believe the perfect that was to come was the completion of the New Testament. The alternative and these days more common view is that the perfect will come in the form of the return of Jesus Christ.

    The role of prophet in the church today is most probably seen in the gift of preaching. This is distinct from teaching in that teaching seeks to explain the message and the doctrines it contains while preaching declares what God has said and applies or interprets it in the context to which it is delivered. Preaching will contain warnings about judgement and calls to repentance and invitation to believe in Jesus. The New Testament uses the word “preach” from the Greek Kerusso which means: ‘to preach, proclaim, tell, often urging acceptance of the message, with warnings of consequences for not doing so’ (Mounce) and Paul instructs Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1 to ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching’’. This was especially important because the time was coming when ‘people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.’ It seems that this ministry is needed now more than ever.

  1. Do you feel the urge to stand in front of people and proclaim God’s message to them?
  2. Paul said that he was obligated, eager and not ashamed of the gospel he preached – how do you feel about it?
  3. Do you think there should be more preaching in the church?

 

  1. The Bringer of Good News
    Acts 21:8The third leadership role that Paul mentions to the church at Ephesus (Ephesians 4:11) is that of the evangelist. This is a Greek word that has been adopted into the English language and means a person who brings good news. While it is expected that everybody that has good news would be enthusiastic about sharing it, as a role that is given to a particular person the task of being an evangelist is only used three times in the Bible, and only one person, Phillip is called an evangelist. Apart from the reference to Phillip in Acts 21:8 and the inclusion in the list of leaders in Ephesians 4:11, the only other time is in 2 Timothy 4:5. In this passage Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist even though his primary calling was to be a pastor.

    All Christians are expected to share the good news of being set free from the penalty and power of sin and to offer hope to all those who would receive it. Jesus’ final words recorded in Matthew recall when he told all that were there to go back into the world and wherever they went to make disciples ( Matthew 28:18, 19). Luke records that Jesus told the disciples that when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit they were to go everywhere and be witnesses to all they had seen and heard from him. (Acts 1:8). Not only should we tell people because Jesus expects it of us, but if it is good news, why wouldn’t we want to share it?

    So while all of us are bringers of good news (or should be) there are some people that God has appointed to the church who are supernaturally able to convince others to listen and respond to the good news that is shared. It is unlikely that this is limited to people who remain in a local congregation and stand behind a pulpit or lectern every Sunday, though it may include them. Nor is it restricted to those like Billy Graham or D.L. Moody and others who spoke to large crowds and conducted ‘evangelistic campaigns’. Evangelists exist in all areas of life, some are called to the marketplace and work in business, others are engaged by church congregations or denominations, some are missionaries who don’t establish churches but travel from place to place working alongside other communities of faith. Some evangelists find their place in community groups or sporting clubs. In fact, wherever there are people who have not heard the good news, evangelists are needed.

    Evangelists have been granted a special gift of communicating the Gospel in relevant terms to those who are not yet Christians. Stedman writes: “The evangelist’s task is not to go about denouncing sin, but to point the way out of sin. The evangelist may call people’s attention to that which is creating so much misery and heartache in their lives, but his work is not to denounce and condemn sinners.” The evangelist works hand in hand with the local congregation and its pastor so that those who receive the good new and act on it can be encouraged and cared for by the community of faith. I have noticed that in developing countries evangelists will often arrive and there will be great response to the message thy bring, but once they leave town, those who responded are left to themselves and often fall away. This happens too in youth events, and large concert style gatherings. The evangelist may be able to teach and Phillip for example did that and was also able to perform miracles but this is not their primary calling. The church needs to work together so that each part does what it is called and equipped to do.

    You may have been given the gift of an evangelist, that might mean standing in front of large groups, but more likely it will be having persuasive conversations with those that God brings into your life. The power of persuasion lies in the gospel, all we need to do is make it known. (Romans 1:16).

  1. Do you find that people will listen to you when you share good news?
  2. Do you think the church recognizes those with the gift of evangelism that are in the congregation?
  3. Are you convinced that the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation and it is good news?

 

  1. Caring for the sheep
    Matthew 9: 35-36

    The fourth leadership role identified by Paul is that of the pastor. There are two complications that arise in this, the first being that more recent translations don’t use the word pastor and instead have ‘shepherd’. Pastor is not used elsewhere in the New Testament, at least not in English translations. It is a Latin word and when it appears elsewhere in the New Testament is translated as shepherd. For some reason early translators chose to use the Latin word in Ephesians but not anywhere else. It will become clear, I hope that what is in the mind of Paul is the task of caring for the flock in the same sense that Jesus did. The second complication is that some scholars combine the roles of pastor and teacher while others treat them as separate tasks. To avoid confusion, I will treat them separately although most pastor’s have a teaching role!

    The pastor or shepherd’s role is to care for those that God brings to them. The title is used nowhere else in the bible, but the shepherding role is expected of those who were appointed as elders as Peter suggests in his first letter: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;” (1 Peter 5:1) and as does Paul when speaking to the Elders at Ephesus: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28). In other words a pastor is an elder who is also called an overseer (Titus 1:5-7), and that word is sometimes translated as bishop. In his first letter Peter refers to Jesus as the shepherd (pastor) and overseer (bishop) of the souls of his readers (1 Peter 2:25).

    What is clear among the confusion is that pastors, by whatever name they are called, were to oversee or lead the church and to care for the people as a shepherd would care for his or her sheep. The qualifications that are required to be an elder that Paul gives to Timothy (1Timothy 3) and Titus (1:5-9) therefore apply to those who are called to be pastors. Their responsibilities are made even more explicit by the prophet Ezekiel when on God’s behalf he condemns them for what they had not done: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” (Ezekiel 34:4). Whatever else the pastor was asked to do, these things are what God requires.
    When Jesus was on a preaching tour with his disciples as described in Matthew 9:36 he had reason to stop and: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. As we walk through our community and our workplaces, if we stop and look we will see many people who are lost and in need of a shepherd to lead them to safety. One task of a pastor is to lead the community of faith, but the other is to seek our and care for the lost sheep. You may not feel called to the leadership role of a church congregation, but you may still have a pastoral heart. A heart that has compassion for the broken and hurting, that hurts for the hurting and wants to protect them. The church doesn’t need many leaders but it does need many shepherds, and so does the community outside of the congregation.

    Are you passionate, as Jesus was about the poor and the hungry, do you want to release those who are captive to sin and misery and lead them to freedom? Then God may have called you to be a pastor – you may never have the title, but you will have God’s favour as you commit to the needy. If you do aspire to being a pastor and overseer, then do not neglect the requirements God places on all of his shepherds – this is the more important part.

  1. Do you have a pastoral heart?
  2. Do you think that the pastor’s in today’s church model the role that God has called them to?
  3. Why is that pastor’s or shepherd have some many other tasks that take them away from God expects of them?

 

 

Week 16

  1. Those who
    James 3:1The last of the leadership roles mentioned in Ephesians 4 is that of a teacher. We would all be familiar with what a teacher does although how it is done has changed over the years and when I was a lecturer a few years ago we used the term ‘facilitator of learning’ rather than teacher! While teaching is the last mentioned in the short list of leaders it is no less important than the other three and it carries a burden that James mentions in chapter3:1 of his letter.For some reason James was able to say that we should be reluctant to become a teacher because if we are then we will be judged more strictly than those whom we teach. Who then would want to be a teacher? Many years ago when I was still working out what God was planning for me (now I am at a different stage of my life and I am still wondering!) I read a quote in a book I was reading. This book was not a Christian or religious book but one written by specialist in workplace motivation (a course I was teaching). The quote came from another book, by Robert Bolt about Sir Thomas More who courageously opposed King Henry VIII in his fight with the church. The quote is a conversation between More and a person named Richard: “Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one. Richard: If I was, who would know it? Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.” That quote had a profound influence on me and still does.James wanted his readers to know that while teaching God’s word is an enormous privilege it also brings great responsibility. The one who teaches is expected to know more than the one he or she teaches, and to be correct in what they teach. They need to commit much time to study and learning, to be continually learning themselves and testing what they believe to be certain of it. In the very early days of the church, the apostles and leaders were being overwhelmed by the responsibility to meet the needs of members of the community, especially widows, so they appointed a number of spirit filled men to take on that role so they could devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:4). They understood that this was the most important task that they had, and they must commit themselves fully to it.In Matthew 23:8 Jesus spoke to his followers about the use of titles, specifically he said they should not accept the title of Rabbi or teacher because God was their teacher. Jesus was called by both of those titles and Paul called himself a teacher, so it seems that Jesus was not prohibiting the use of descriptive titles. Instead he was warning against the habit of claiming extra status because of a function or role that they might have. He makes it clear that all are equal before God even though we may have different roles which may require authority to be exercised. Today there is a tendency for people to expect better treatment because they have a title or a few letters after their name, Jesus warns against this. Instead he reminds his followers of the responsibility they bear.If God has called you to teach, it is a great privilege. But you should always remember your audience is God and he will hold you accountable for what you teach. You can’t afford to be sloppy or be like those that God opposes in Jeremiah 23:30: ‘I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another.’ A teacher will spend much time in the word, less time in other books and conducting internet searches, they will teach with authority and confidence as ‘whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God’ (1 Peter 4:11). If he called you, he will supernaturally equip you, and supply you with an abundance of grace, but you must do your part.
  1. When James says teachers will be judged mor strictly what does he mean?
  2. Do you think you should teach others?
  3. If God is calling you to teach what should you do now?

 

  1. Those that hold things together
    1 Corinthians 12:28The four or five leadership gifts get a lot of attention in the church, especially the pastor and the teacher, but there are many other roles that need to be filled that are just as valuable. In the modern church it is likely that the pastor, or the person with that title will take on a number of roles, if not all of them! This may because of shortage of volunteers to fulfill their ministry or because the pastor likes to control things or the desire of the church leadership to adopt a different model to what is shown in the bible. There could of course be a host of other reasons.One gift that is often overlooked and like the others only appears as a gift once is in 1 Corinthians 12:28. It is usually translated as administration although older translations use government; it is from the Greek word kubernesis and appears in Revelation 18:17 as shipmaster or pilot, someone who is trusted to steer the boat and keep it on course. Some may prefer to classify this among the leadership gifts but it is grouped among those that support. The gift suggests the capacity to manage details of services and ministries. A person with the gift of administration has a passion for organising things and a desire to standardize methods. He or she has a commitment to helping others achieve their goals and a concern for the whole group. They demonstrate a willingness to put into practice things planned by others.This is a gift that is indispensable to the church. In Acts 6 the early church needed people with this ability to organise and manage the distribution of food so that the apostles could focus on teaching and preaching. Sadly it is not always recognized as a spiritual ministry and often it is just something the pastor does. He may want to be the organizer, to keep control and have his finger on the pulse, and while in small communities it is probably necessary, it is not what he is called to do. Of course The Holy Spirit may add that gift to that of teaching, or exhortation or whichever gifts the pastor has also been equipped with.An example of the value of an administrator or governor can be found in the Old Testament book of Haggai. Haggai and Zachariah were prophets who were commissioned by God to call the people of Israel to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. It had been in ruins for some time and the people had done nothing about it but instead spent their time and money on a lavish lifestyle. The prophets rebuked them and they responded. Joshua was the high priest at the time and he was responsible to intercede for the people and to present sacrifices on their behalf, but the person who was given the responsibility to oversee the work and make sure it was completed was the governor, Zerubbabel. It was not the prophet or the priest, but the governor who was given the task of making sure the work was done properly.Many pastors today take on the role of casting visions and preparing strategic plans, tasks for which most are not prepared or equipped. This not only means that there may be gaps in the plan or lack of resources to finish the job, but the pastor is not able to focus on what he is gifted and called to do – that is to be a shepherd to the flock and lead it in its spiritual mission. The role of administrator by whatever name it is called is essential, it is not his or her job to give spiritual leadership, but it is their responsibility to make sure that the resources the church has available to it are used appropriately. That the ship which is the church is on course and headed in the right direction. Of course some people with the title ‘pastor’ do have this capability and gifting, but they are not acting as a pastor and those responsibilities will need to be filled by others in the body.

    If you have a passion for organizing and attending to detail. If reading financial reports fills you with joy and you have a heart for God and his word, then you are desperately needed in the body of Christ. Pray that God will open the opportunity for you, maybe at church or perhaps in the marketplace.

  1. Do you see administration as a spiritual ministry?
  2. Is governance or administration something God has gifted you for?
  3. How do you help keep the pastor from being distracted?

 

 

  1. The Offsider
    1 Corinthians 12:28In Australia the word offsider is used in common speech to refer to an assistant or helper. It is said to have come from the days when bullocks were used to pull wagons on farms or in towns. The driver would walk on one side or sit behind the bullock while his partner would be on the offside. It has now found its way into many other areas of life. Mining companies advertise for offsiders and he or she is described as someone who helps to set up and operate drilling rigs, while Job search organization Seek has a job profile and recommended salary for the role. This is probably close to what is meant by someone who has the gift of ‘helps’ mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28.“Helps” as used in this passage only occurs there in the bible. It comes from a Greek word meaning to lay hold of or to help and stop someone from falling or failing. In other Greek literature it was used in reference to the timbers under the hull of a boat that kept it together and stopped it from falling apart. Often when I speak with people about Spiritual gifts and ask which of them they think they have, they will answer that they just like to help out where they can and understand this to mean the gift of helps. Often this is due to a false sense of humility because they think it would be arrogant to claim one of the more prominent gifts; sometimes it is because they don’t want to do anything else and at other times because they haven’t actually thought about it. ‘Helps’ as it is called though is far more than just filling in where necessary, opening the doors or putting the chairs out. It is a spiritual gift that is essential to the growth and health of the body.
    The bible scholar J.B. Lightfoot wrote: ‘these were the apostles’ helpers; persons who accompanied them, baptized those who were converted by them, and were sent by them to such places as they could not attend to, being otherwise employed.’ While Barnes adds: ‘They might have been those to whom was entrusted the care of the poor, and the sick, and strangers, widows, and orphans, etc.; that is, those who performed the office of deacons’. It is impossible to be certain but what is evident is that those with this gift had significant and important roles to play in building the church.The gift of helps is not given much prominence in the lists provided by Paul and is not an office in the same sense of an apostle or pastor, but those titles and positions are not emphasized either, but all of them are recognized as ministries that are only possible through the enabling of the Holy Spirit. When next you tell someone that you have the gift of helps you may be signing up for the role of assistant to an apostle, a pastoral assistant or to take charge of looking after the needy. Everybody in the church is looking for an offsider, someone to come alongside them and help ease the burden. To pick them up when they stumble and walk with them through the highs and lows of their ministry. There will always be the need for floors to be mopped, doors to be locked and chairs to be put out and this is worthwhile act of worship, but by itself it is not the ministry of helps!Are you comfortable being an offsider, being second to the team leader, always ready to help where you can? Are you passionate about helping the poor but need someone to take the lead, keen to begin a new ministry but want to be part of the team that makes sure things are done properly? Play a musical instrument but not lead the band? Then maybe you have the gift of helps. It is not a secondary gift, it is vitally important and just as necessary as any gift of leadership. The church everywhere struggles because there are not enough people who have recognized their gift and are willing to make it available to rest of the body, is this you?
  1. Have you ever said that you have the gift of helps? What did you mean?
  2. Why do you think people are reluctant to claim they have a spiritual gift?
  3. If you believe God has given you the gift of helps, in what area of life should you use it?

 

  1. Cheerfully merciful
    Romans 12:4-8Paul provides another list of gifts to the church at Rome and while much of what he speaks about in that passage relates to qualities or characteristics that every Christian should possess, he identifies them as gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of these is mercy.Mercy is an attribute that we should all display, we depend on God’s mercy so that we can receive his grace and escape his judgement. The prophet Micah wrote: ‘He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8). Luke records the words of Jesus in his gospel: ‘36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.’ In these verses Jesus links forgiveness to the giving of mercy it is a cornerstone of a righteous life and is expected of every believer.Some people though are given a supernatural gift of mercy. It extends beyond what is normal and demands a response which can only be given with the enabling of the Holy Spirit. The merciful person exhibits tears and marks of compassion when confronted with genuine hurt or need. They empathise easily, have a desire to help those in misery and are sensitive to the needs of others. They are not put off by the sight of miserable or needy people and those needy people like to have them around. There are those who are particularly gifted with the capacity to feel the pain of another person and to be able to show sympathy by action. Missionaries such as Amy Carmichael, George Mueller, Mother Theresa and Gladys Aylward are examples of this. So too Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce who fought to have children kept out of coal mines, and the slave trade stopped. There are many less high profile people who serve the needs of the poor and broken who work in homeless shelters and refuges and still more who just do what they are able by offering a meal or a cup of coffee to a needy person. One of the results of the gift of mercy is social concern and transformation.

    The ministry of mercy is costly. It may cost you financially and in the use of your time, but it will certainly cost you your tears. It may challenge your reputation and bring you into opposition from those in power, and your friends may abandon you or at least keep a distance. On the simplest level mercy is shown when we overlook the fault of failing of another person, when we forgive an offence when there is no evidence of remorse. It is when we are prepared to have ‘our rights’ trampled on by seemingly ungrateful people. This level of mercy is the responsibility of every believer and is what is expected of us by God. For those who have been given the supernatural gift of mercy it is at another level. Jesus exhibited the ultimate act of mercy when he gave everything he had for us, knowing that many for whom he died rejected him, and he did it anyway.

    But there is more! Paul tells his readers that if they are going to give mercy, then they must do it cheerfully! They cannot do so reluctantly and unwillingly, but freely and with a genuine smile. They see the ability to give mercy as a privilege, a blessing that they will receive. Their reward is not the response of the one who has received mercy, though we would all hope for that, but in the knowledge that God had given them the opportunity to show mercy when it was possibly not deserved. They, just like you and I, have received mercy though we neither earned nor deserved it and by giving that same mercy to others we express our gratitude to God.

  1. Do you find yourself becoming emotional when you see people in need?
  2. If you see someone in need, are you able to show them mercy cheerfully without judgement about their lifestyle?
  3. If God called you to a ministry of mercy, would you accept it?

 

  1. The comforter
    Romans 12:6-8In Paul’s short list of spiritual gifts and their use in Romans 12 he encourages those who have been given the ministry of exhortation to exhort! Seems reasonable, but what does that mean? Exhortation is a word seldom used in everyday language and is a translation of the Greek word parakletos. This in turn is a composition of two words: para, which means to come alongside, and kletos meaning to invite or call. So exhortation means to come alongside, but with a specific purpose. In the English language ‘para’ is often used, for example: a paramedic works alongside doctors and medical professionals, a paralegal assists lawyers and a parachurch organisation works alongside and supports the church.In John 14:16, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a paraclete, or comforter sent by Jesus to aid the disciples, and the word is also used of a person who represents someone who is before a judge, to speak on their behalf. The role of the one who exhorts is primarily to bring comfort or encouragement although that is not all it means. To exhort someone is to urge them to do something, but not from a distance. There are many people who are glad to shout advice from the sidelines of a sporting contest, to suggest they do better or try harder, this is not the biblical idea of exhortation. The picture we are given is that of a someone coming alongside, perhaps putting an arm around the shoulder of the other person and offering to walk with them giving support and encouragement along the way.

    When Paul says that in our exhortation we should exhort, he means that in our encouragement or urging of each other we should do so with the intention or providing comfort. There are times when the best exhortation is silence. When a person is suffering, experiencing grief or frustration words are usually useless and can even be destructive. To come alongside and sit quietly will often bring far more comfort than giving unasked for advice. When Job’s comforters came alongside him they were doing really well, until they started to speak! There are of course times when words are necessary and the one who has the gift of exhortation will know when and how to use them.

    Part of exhortation is motivation. There are countless books, authors and theories about motivation, writers like Herzberg, Maslow, Alterfer and many others have provided solutions about how to motivate employees to do better, sporting coaches study the latest ideas and trends and church leaders have grappled with how to get volunteers to commit to the programs of the church. Marketing and sales people look for ways to motivate or encourage people to buy their products and politicians urge us all to vote for them. There is no doubt some value in all of the approaches suggested, but Jesus’ model was different.

    There are external motivators that are given to us, peace with God, rewards in heaven, eternal life and so on and while we are grateful for these things and they may sustain us for a short period, there are other times when we need something else. Jesus said to his disciples ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). He calls us alongside, puts his arm around our shoulders and says ‘’come with me, let me share your load”. He urges us, but with comfort, and not with a shout from the sidelines. When the apostle Peter took his eyes off Jesus and started to sink, Jesus gave him his hand not advice. When the disciples came to him full of doubt and fear after the crucifixion he invited them to share a meal, not criticism.

    If you have the gift of exhortation this is how you will respond, it is supernatural, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in you. It is where you will find your joy and fulfillment and without it the body of Christ will be so much less healthy. In your exhortation bring comfort.

  1. Is this how you respond to someone in need, or would you rather solve their problem?
  2. What do you think of the ministry of just being present in times of need?
  3. What motivates you?

 

  1. Recognizing the truth
    1 Corinthians 12:10Both the apostles Paul and Peter wrote to the churches about the threat of false teachers in the last days. By last days they meant the period between the first and second comings of Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews states that in the last days God has spoken to us through his son (1:2) and Peter quotes the prophecy of Joel chapter 2 that in the last days God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, saying that it had been fulfilled at Pentecost. So, the last days are not used to refer just to the period immediately before he returns but include the time we are living in now. Paul writes to the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 5:20–21) and the apostle John writes in a similar way (1 John 4:1–3) of the need to test the messages the believers hear to see if they are true or from a false prophet. Peter warns of a similar thing in chapter 3 of his second letter. They needed to be able to exercise discernment, just as we do today.

    The gift of being able to distinguish or discern between the false and the true is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10. It is a word that only appears three times in the New Testament and each time has a slightly different meaning. In Romans 14:1 the church is told to accept those who are weak in faith but not so that they could judge them. The word judge is the same word translated as discern, distinguish or differentiate in 1 Corinthians 12:10; and then in Hebrews 5:14 the author writes about being trained to tell the difference between good and evil. When it is used in the passage in 1 Corinthians it sits in the middle of some miraculous gifts and prophecy. It is most probable that Paul is referring to being able to tell which messages that the church had received were from God and which were false teachings.

    False teachings are abundant in our world, in the last few years in particular and with the increasing use of social media and video messaging a platform for false beliefs has emerged. The message of Paul and others to test the messages, to hold on to what is good and throw out the rest is more needed now perhaps than ever before. The gift of discernment has been given to the church, but it is not a gift that can be used on its own and without accountability to the broader church. The one who discerns has the ability to recognize inconsistency, desires to work out what is wrong with something and the ability to think logically. They have a good grasp of Scripture, an ability to notice misinterpretations or wrong applications of Scripture and a sense of unease that will not go away when people are incorrectly applying the Scripture, teaching falsely, or asking others to act on half or un-truth.

    The Devil misused Scripture when he tempted Jesus, Jesus countered the temptation with Scripture, but used it correctly. It is likely that you will be tempted by the misuse of scripture as well and unless you have a good knowledge of God’s word and are dressed with the belt of truth then you have little protection. False teaching threatens the church in all sorts of moral and ethical matters. They include God’s teaching on marriage and the sacredness of all human life. When Adam and Eve were tempted at the beginning of creation, they were challenged by the Devil when he said in effect “God didn’t really say that”, today the same challenge is thrown at the church and it is essential that the challenge can be answered with God’s word. The gift of discernment will bring a sense of dis-ease which will send its recipient to God’s word and to the collective wisdom of the church. They will test what is being spoken to see what is good. When the early church was tested by some false teaching, its leaders gathered together in Jerusalem to pray and to seek God’s guidance. At the end of their deliberations they announced their decision by saying “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15). If you have the gift of discernment you may not be a teacher, a prophet or a pastor but you will be a diligent student of his word and experience a sense of unease when you hear something that has the appearance of truth but is in fact false.

  1. Do you have a real passion t learn God’s word but don’t believe you are a teacher of pastor?
  2. Do you get uncomfortable when you hear people teaching something that sounds true but you are not convinced?
  3. How do you think the church together should test the messages it hears?

 

  1. Wisdom and knowledge
    1 Corinthians 12:8

    These are the first two gifts mentioned by Paul in his list in 1 Corinthians but they are not mentioned as gifts or ministries elsewhere. That may be the reason there has been a lot of discussion or debate about what they are and how they should be used in the church. On one side they are considered to be those gifts which are the ‘spontaneous ability to discern the sins, thoughts, or details of someone’s life’ (Bedyck) or the ‘Holy Spirit speaking from one believer to another, giving revelation regarding a decision or situation’ (https://www.gotquestions.org/). The other side of the debate argues that these are the gifts that are employed by teachers and preachers when they communicate the word of God to the church (Schreiner and others).
    It is important to notice that Paul does not identify the gift of teaching in his list in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians though he does use it elsewhere, and while he notes the gifts of the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge in the passage, they do not appear in any other list or place in the bible. They are called ‘words of wisdom and of knowledge’ which indicates that they involve something which is spoken or communicated which would lend support to the idea that they relate to the ministries of preaching and teaching.

    The Bible is full of examples where wisdom is called upon to respond to specific situations, Don Stewart comments: ‘The Bible says that wisdom can be exercised through persecution, defending the faith, problem solving, dealing with unbelievers, everyday living, interpreting God’s truth, and imparting God’s truth’. Stephen was full of wisdom when he confronted his accusers, the same wisdom was promised by Jesus to his disciples in Luke 21:15. Being full of the Spirit and wisdom was a requirement of those appointed by the apostles in Acts 6, we all told to act wisely to those outside the church in Colossians 4:5 and Revelation 13:18 says that we can understand the number of the beast only through wisdom. There are many and various circumstances where supernatural wisdom is essential.

    In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul reminds Timothy that the Scripture is sufficient to make him complete and entirely adequate. There was no need to seek something outside of God’s word to meet his need, or ours. A danger that can exist when someone claims to have heard a ‘word from God’ for someone else is that it elevates the messenger above the word of God and provides no opportunity for what has been said to be tested other than our own or someone else’s experience. The word of God is our final authority in matters of life and faith and any claim to a revelation that cannot be supported by his word is moving or has moved into dangerous territory.

    There is no question that God gives special insight to people as they exhort, encourage and build one another up. Laura Davis writes: ‘To be clear, I am not saying that God doesn’t use people to help us when seeking His will, because He does. For it is often people, combined with circumstances and Scripture, who help us see the way we should go in a certain matter. The Holy Spirit will often cause someone to pray for or reach out to another.’ This is a ministry we can all share and as James assures us: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him’ (James 1:5). But to some are given a supernatural gifting of the Holy Spirit to communicate wisdom and understanding in such a way that God brings revelation through the proclamation and explanation of his word.

  1. Has someone ever said to you that God had given them a word for you, how did you feel about that?
  2. How can you test a message or word that someone claims to have received?
  3. Have you suddenly understood something in a new way when you have heard someone preaching or teaching, even when you have heard it before?

 

 

Week 17

  1. Faith
    1 Corinthians 12:7-11if not for being listed among the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 ‘’Faith” would probably not be considered as a specific  ministry. The bible tells us that faith is assurance or trust, particularly in God and His provisions. Hebrews 11 is often used to define faith and it illustrates it through the lives of well known Bible characters. When considered as a gift it must presume a supernatural quality that exceeds normal trust and assurance in the things of life. It is an unusual capacity to believe that God will bring something to pass and is most probably related to the ministry of prayer.The story of Abraham in Romans 4:20 and those others in Hebrews 11 are examples of extraordinary faith that had implications for God’s purpose and plans for the redemption of humanity. While we all are required to possess faith and to give evidence of it in trusting in Jesus, most of us will not be called to share the experiences of those men and women.  George Mueller didn’t believe in making his needs known in the manner we do now, he told God and expected Him to provide what was necessary. It is estimated that over $7,000,000 was given to the support of orphans entirely through the agency of prayer. Edwin Orr, an Irish evangelist embarked on missionary adventures without the necessary resources expecting God to provide as he went. In his writings he relates times when he would stand in a queue waiting to purchase a train ticket without any money, only for it to be provided as he stood waiting. Rees Howells was known for miracles that occurred in response to his prayers and Kathryn Kuhlmann began a foundation in four small rooms that established 22 mission stations around the world. There are many other examples of ordinary men and women accomplishing extraordinary things through faith combined with prayer.The gift of faith serves to meet needs in the life of the church and elsewhere, to exhort the church to pray but above all to bring glory to God. It has ability to accept God’s promises on face value despite circumstances. It may also include a vision of some future work of God and the ability to believe that He will bring it to pass or an intuitive understanding that prayer has been heard and that an answer is on the way. The person of faith has a desire to pray beyond the normal experience.
     
    It must be emphasized that the faith shown by these people both in the bible and throughout history was in relation to the promise of God. Sometimes people have taken verses like Luke 17:6: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’’, Matthew 21:21: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen,” and Mark 9:23: “And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” and assume that they can accomplish anything they want if they have enough faith, the message that Jesus was giving was that if God has called you to do something, no matter how impossible it seems, if he has promised it, he will do it. He may do it through you, or through someone else, he might even miraculously intervene without any human action – but he will do it. To expect God to do something just because you ask for it is not faith, it is presumption. To say that you will do this or that, go here or there and God will provide, without having heard his promise is not only foolhardy, it is severely risky.
     
    The spiritual gift of faith is inseparably linked to prayer and knowledge of God’s word. It means hearing God’s voice and acting on it. It requires trusting him when circumstances seem impossible. It sees what others don’t see and is not put off by their lack of vision. It sent men and women like Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Isobel Kuhn, Adoniram Judson and Jonathan Goforth into far off places with the gospel when others were opposed to them, and they had no resources but God. This same faith is available and needed today, and it might be in you!
     
  1. Do you feel drawn to prayer more than you see in others?
  2. Do you feel God challenging you to takes risks beyond your capability?
  3. Have you seen God respond to your obedience when everything seemed impossible?

 

  1. Generosity
    Romans 12:8Another of the gifts that seems to be hidden away is found when Paul writes: ‘the one who contributes, in generosity’ in Romans 12:8. If it wasn’t included in the lists of gifts provided by the Holy Spirit it would just be assumed to be the normal responsibility of all believers and as an act of gratitude for what God has done for us. Of course it is both of these things but Paul indicates that to some are given the capacity to contribute in a supernatural way.The Bible has a lot to say about giving in both the Old and the New Testaments. It includes the obligation to give to God the fist born of the flock or the first fruit of the harvest, various tithes or percentages of the produce and the income that came from it, and temple taxes and contributions to the building and furnishing of the tabernacle and temple. Then there were gifts and free will offerings on top of that. By the time of the early church there was no temple and the requirement for sacrifice had been satisfied by Jesus and so many of those obligations ceased to exist and the emphasis was giving from a glad and generous heart. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:7: ‘Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’Christians were encouraged to meet the costs of meeting the needs of the community and those that served them as apostles and pastors. They contributed to the care of widows, orphans and others in need and sent financial gifts to other churches and those that planted them. Obviously as the communities of faith established buildings of their own and there were increasing numbers of paid workers the demand for increased giving grew. Now churches pay for multiple staff, buildings, audio equipment, licensing and a host of other things and the budget grows. Sadly in many cases there is little left after the payment of bills to fulfil the commission God gave the church to make disciples of all nations.So while giving is the responsibility of all us, God has given some the gift of going beyond the ‘normal’ and contributing significantly out of the abundance he makes available to them  In some cases it is because he enables them to be successful in business or in some other way and they are reminded: ‘17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth’. John Wesley was reputed to be one of the wealthiest men of his day through the sale of books and gifts he received and yet he chose to live on only what a single man would need to live on. It is recorded that on a cold winter day he noticed that a maid had only a thin linen gown to wear to keep warm. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had only had little left. It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money which caused him to say: ‘Will your Master say “Well done, good and faithful stewards?” Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?” it was possibly this incident that changed Wesley’s attitude to money. He later pronounced three rules to follow: Gain all you can; Save all you can; Give all you can.Some people seem to have no more income than anyone else and yet are able to give far more generously, others like Roy Le Torneau, a builder, committed to give 90% of his income while others have decided that as Jesus is the managing partner in their business he should get 51%. Generosity is a gift given to the church that like all others is administered by those he has called and enabled. They do not and should expect special privileges or treatment because of what God has equipped them to do and often remain anonymous, but this gift when properly used is the means through which the kingdom is built and extended. Has God given you great success in acquiring money, or the capacity to give without seeming to run out? Then perhaps he has given you the gift of generosity.
  1. Do you take the responsibility to give to those in need seriously?
  2. Do you doubt that God can meet your financial need?
  3. How much is enough?

 

  1. Healing
    1 Corinthians 12:9, 28 and 30Among the supporting gifts are another group that might be called “miraculous gifts’. While all gifts are by their very nature “miraculous” there are some which are outside of our normal experience and because of it are often the cause of discussion and even controversy in the church.One of these miraculous gifts is the gift of healing, it is identified as a gift of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28 and 30. Other than here and the examples of healing taking place through the ministry of Jesus and the apostles in the Gospels and the Acts, there are three other references: Hebrews 12:13, James 5:16, 1 Peter 2:24 to healing or being healed. In Hebrews the readers are encouraged to take responsibility to make sure that they did what was necessary so that they would not stumble and become crippled, but instead would be healed. James tells those among the believers that were sick that they should ask the elders of the congregation to pray for them so that they might be healed and have their sin forgiven; while Peter writes that the death of Jesus had brought healing to those who believe in him. Each of those references have a different application to the idea of healing and yet each relate to restoring to health in some way.In 1 Corinthians, Paul refers to a gift given by the Holy Spirit to individuals within the community of faith to bring healing supernaturally. In each case he speaks of both the gift and the act of healing in the plural. So it is evident that he is speaking of different types of healing, which no doubt include physical recovery but may not be limited to that. When healing was miraculously given in the Bible it usually resulted in opportunities for further ministry, but at other times it was exercised for compassionate reasons alone. There do not seem to be any rules around how healing should take place and sometimes it seems healing needed to be accompanied by faith in the person being healed, but at other times it wasn’t. In the gospels the phrase “the power of the Lord was present for healing” (Luke 5:17) occurs, and it seems that there it was neither faith in the one being healed or faith in the one healing that determined the outcome. There is no question that Jesus had sufficient faith but even he needed to act in accord with the sovereign will of God. Peter and John healed a cripple with a word in Acts 3:6 and Peter’s shadow was thought to bring healing as it passed over the sick lying by the roadside (Acts 5:15), while Acts 19:12 records that the handkerchiefs and aprons belonging to Paul brought healing, even when he wasn’t present. At other times healing required prayer and sometimes some type of ceremony. In each and every case healing was a gift of mercy and grace and its effect was determined by God.As with some of the other gifts there are Bible scholars who believe healing no longer exists as a gift and once the word of God became available it was not necessary. There does not seem any persuasive argument from the Bible for this to be the case and it would ask the question of why passages such as these would be included in God’s word if he did not intend them to be believed and acted on. However a post such as this is not able to delve into that and other contentious issues and so we will proceed on the basis that then gift does indeed exist and is in operation in the church. The reference in James to the church praying for healing seems to be connected in some way to some sin in the person who was sick and that was the primary purpose of the healing prayer, but that could not be said of the references in 1 Corinthians.

    The person called to this type of ministry has a desire to alleviate physical or emotional suffering and is willing to be used by God for this purpose, he or she has unusual ability to sense the presence of the power of God for healing and the desire to be with others who practice this gift. It seems that healing is significant in providing opportunities for evangelism. There is no suggestion or evidence that ‘healing events’ should take place or that anyone could presume upon God to insist that he heals on demand. If you believe that God may have gifted you in this way, then by faith in him, and not in the gift, ask him to lead you to those he wants to heal – and of course always remember it will not be everybody.

  1. Have you had any experience of seeing healing occur, or of being healed in this way personally?
  2. What would prevent you from praying for opportunities to bring healing?
  3. Do you sense God leaning you this way?

 

  1. Miracles
    1 Corinthians 12:10As with the gift of healing, that of miracles occurs three times 1 Corinthians 12. Jesus conducted many miracles which included healing but many others beside that and he told the disciples that they too would have that capacity in Mark 16:17 and John 14:12. The book of Acts records a number of miracles that were performed by the early disciples including the casting out of demons (Acts 16), the striking of Elymas blind (Acts 13), and the raising of Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9). Paul said in Romans 15:19 and Galatians 3:5 that performing miracles or producing signs and wonders showed that he was a true apostle. While miracles by their nature are extraordinary, they were familiar to the church and to non-believers and they were not surprised when they occurred.Miracles convey the idea of powerful workings usually in connection with authenticating a message or a ministry that is claimed to be from God. The usual purpose seems to be to give greater opportunity to the preaching of the gospel. Although those miracles of healing and expelling demons brought obvious relief to the person affected. While there are claims of the miraculous occurring today this far more prevalent in the developing world that in countries like Australia. As with other gifts some insist that this gift was necessary in the time of the apostles to verify their message but is no longer required and so does not exist anymore. There are many reports of God doing things in supernatural ways however and defy any other explanation than it being a miraculous act of God. This is particularly the case in those places where a revival is occurring. There are many historical accounts of the miraculous occurring, in those times. Whether these gifts produced the revival or were simply part of it is not always clear, however. The connection between gifts of healing, faith and miracles is fairly obvious as is the co-operative nature of these gifts with those of preaching, evangelism and that of the apostle.Signs, wonders and miracles are evidence of the kingdom of God and are intended to turn people’s attention to him. We probably all experience ‘small miracles’, especially in answer to our prayer. An unexpected financial gift may arrive at just the right time, somebody you have been praying for makes contact, the job offer that seemed out of reach comes your way or a debilitating headache suddenly leaves you. We accept these things as answers to prayer and yet they are evidence of God acting outside of what we expect. People like Mueller believed in the miraculous provision of money to feed thousands of orphans and missionaries write about deliverance form enemies in supernatural ways.

    God is the God of the miraculous, nothing is beyond his ability. He spoke through Paul that “he is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). He told to us to believe and act on the promises he has made and so we must. But there will be occasions when a bigger than usual miracle is called for! Something which exceeds our usual prayer requests because it is seemingly too difficult and yet Jeremiah says: “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17). The one who has been given the gift of miracles has been granted faith to believe in the impossible. They are not discouraged by the enormity of the challenge, when they find themselves in situations where their message and person needs to be vindicated by a miraculous work of God and have a sense of the power of God in those situations together with a willingness to risk being God’s channel to accomplish great things then they have the gift of miracles. William Carey wrote: ‘’Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” He was a man of great faith who believed that God was the God of miracles. And God didn’t let him down.

  1. Do you believe in miracles?
  2. Do you pray for and expect them?
  3. What barriers do you let stop you from doing what you believe God wants you to do?

 

5. Other languages

1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 14:26-28

The ability to speak in other languages is usually referred to as the gift of tongues and two different words are used in the New Testament. One word refers to the ability to speak and understand dialects or unlearned languages from other nations or peoples, while the other is identified by Paul as the tongues of angels. The word used in the bible for the gift of tongues refers to sounds made with the mouth which Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:14 doesn’t engage the mind, while the word we use for known languages is dialektos, and is different. This was the gift that the apostles exercised on the day of Pentecost so that ‘each one heard their own language being spoken’ (Acts 2:6).

At the beginning of his instruction on Spiritual gifts, Paul emphasised three things: firstly that the purpose of the gift was to build up the body and was for the common good; secondly it was for the manifestation of God; and third that the Holy Spirit determined who would get which gift and they differed form person to person. These rules equally apply to the gift of tongues.

The gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues are considered together because of their clear connection to each other. No other gift, or gifts have caused as much debate and division in the church as these. Their use caused problems even in the early church, especially at Corinth. It would seem that chapters 12-14 of first Corinthians was written in response to the abuse of these gifts. In the references in Acts 2 it seems that the use of tongues was to authenticate the work of the Holy Spirit and therefore the inclusion of non-Jews into the church. According to 1 Corinthians 14:22 the gift is used as a sign to unbelievers, but in verse 26,27 it also serves to edify the church. The rules given for the use of tongues is however, unambiguous. Some suggest that it is necessary to differentiate between the gift that is given for the building up of the body and that which is given for personal edification. I Corinthians 14:18,19 is used to support this view along with some other verses of more doubtful application (cf Romans 8:26) but this poses some questions.

If gifts are given for the common good or benefit, is tongues therefore a ministry gift or part of normal Christian experience? If it is part of normal experience, should all have this enabling? If not, why not? Nowhere in the bible are believers told to seek the gift of tongues, in fact in 1 Corinthians 14:39 Paul states: ‘earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.’ So while tongues was not to be forbidden it was not to be insisted on either.

Paul indicates that unless the use of tongues is intelligible to others that it was unfruitful and of no value to the church when they met together. If someone wanted to express themselves that way, then an interpreter must be available so that everybody could understand. The use of tongues in private is not prohibited and according to Paul served to edify him rather than the church unless an interpreter was available (1 Corinthians 14:4). Some people claim that when they pray in tongues they are able to pray longer and more effectively than when they pray in their own language. This is an argument from experience rather that the word of God. For his part Paul wrote that he would rather pray with his mind as well as in tongues so that he could engage in what he was praying.

Should the use of these enablings exist in meetings of the church body? There is an injunction in 1 Corinthians 14:40 to make sure that everything is done properly and in an orderly manner and this together with the question of whether it serves to build up the body remains the test of any authentic use of a spiritual gift. There are clear guidelines laid down by Paul so that when tongues are used it is to being a word of encouragement that builds up the church. Private use of tongues is intended to be private. (1 Corinthians 14:1-4).

  1. What do you understand to be the purpose of speaking in tongues?
  2. If a message is given in tongues and interpreted, how can you be sure the interpretation is accurate?
  3. How can you make sure that everything is done in an orderly manner?

 

  1. The greatest gift
    1 Corinthians 13In the middle of his discussion about gifts Paul interrupts his flow to introduce a new topic. It is as if he has realized that what he is sharing might give some people the idea that spiritual gifts and especially the miraculous ones are the most important things to have. If you had one of the more spectacular gifts then maybe you had achieved a higher level of spirituality and could pat yourself on the back because of it. So before getting back on track he makes sure that his readers know that there is something far more important than any gift.

    Chapter 13 begins with Paul saying that if he had any or all of the gifts he had described they would be absolutely worthless unless he had love. In fact he says that without it he would be nothing and would gain nothing. He goes on to describe love: ‘ Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’ This is a passage that is often quoted in wedding ceremonies and sometimes it is suggested that we could replace the word love with our own name to see how well we compare with this ideal.

    Love is often thought of as an emotion, something we should feel. When we say we love someone we expect to feel a certain way, but love is an action word. We demonstrate love for another, not by how we feel but how we act. So men, when you read that as a husband you should love your wives, God means that you should be living out the actions demanded of love. This is how we are expected to be in the body of Christ as well and Paul is making the point that this is how Spiritual gifts should be used.

    He carries on to say that gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge will all pass away. So even if they are highly regarded now, they are only temporary and one day they will cease. Some scholars take this to mean that when the bible became available to everybody then these gifts would no longer exist, but it more likely that these will continue until he who is perfect returns. Then of course they will be no longer necessary or important. Our knowledge of God is imperfect and incomplete, everything is a bit hazy, like when we look in a steamed up mirror that needs to wiped clear. We can see outlines but the detail is hidden. So it is with our knowledge of God, but one day everything will become clear. Things we struggle to understand when we are children become obvious to us as we mature. It doesn’t suddenly happen, but over time we become better able to reason and think logically and critically and we understand what was once a mystery. It is the same with our knowledge of God, as we grow and mature, we become more able to understand what was hidden from us.

    Paul concludes this detour from his description of gifts by saying that when everything else disappears what will remain is faith, hope and love. It is our faith that is realised in the coming of Christ, our hope is fulfilled as he welcomes us into his presence, and his love is made perfect in the presence of God and the absence of sin. Unlike the spiritual gifts which were distributed throughout the body of Christ The love of God which is both a gift available through grace, but also an obligation expected of us is the privilege and responsibility of every believer. Gifts are important, but not without love: ‘Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.’ (1 John 4:11).

  1. Have you tried exchanging your name for ‘love’ in the description in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7? How did you go?
  2. Can you love someone without liking them?
  3. Is your picture of God becoming clearer?

 

  1. Putting it all together
    Ephesians 4:15-16

    Somebody once described a soccer match as 22 men desperately in need of a rest being watched by 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise. Sometimes the church could fit this characterization. For too long the myth that ministry of the church should be undertaken by trained and educated specialists that we call pastors or evangelists while everybody else sits back and observes has been accepted. God never intended that only a select few undertake the ministry of the church. As we have seen, every believer is equipped with a supernatural gift intended to be used to build up the church, both spiritually and numerically. But how do we use our gift, where do we fit in?

    As we read the Scripture it is evident that Jesus performed very few miracles in the synagogue, in fact he seemed reluctant to do so. When Jesus healed people they were usually in the marketplace, when he performed miracles, it was in the marketplace – weddings, at a graveside, on the roadside, in a fishing boat and so on. Jesus taught in public spaces, on the hillside, in the back of a boat, over a meal. This example was followed by the disciples. Peter’s Pentecostal sermon was preached in the marketplace, Paul evangelized as he made tents, he taught from prison and from house to house. The early evangelists met people on the road, in the market square, in prisons and in passing chariots! In other words the spiritual gifts that were most often used in public places. There seems to be no reason to assume things should be different today. Why do we hold evangelistic or healing services in churches? Wouldn’t it be better to go where the people are?

    What has this got to do with your ministry you may ask? Well the fact is that God has equipped you for service and that service is your place of work. The gifts that God has given to you are intended to be used in the place of your ministry and when they are used they build up the kingdom of God. Is the business you are in need of a miracle? Are there workmates who need healing? Is someone struggling and calling out for some expression of mercy or compassion? Then this is the place of your calling. If you are confronted with a need in your workplace then it is likely that God has given you what you need to meet it. Declining sales are an opportunity for divine intervention; marital problems are opportunities for counsel and encouragement; financial difficulties give you chance to exercise mercy and compassion.

    Too often when we consider our gifts we look for ways that we can serve in the church, but most of our service is in the marketplace! Of course this isn’t helped when our pastors are under pressure to provide programs that demand the involvement of the congregation. And there is probably nothing as hard as trying to motivate yourself to give your best to a ‘ministry’ after spending a long day or week at work. Never mind trying to balance the competing demands of family life, recreation and being a good neighbour. At the risk of being repetitive, we must accept that our work is our ministry, and if it isn’t then we are either in the wrong job, or we have the wrong attitude. God wants to use you to bring the Kingdom of God into your workplace and he has given you the spiritual gifts to make it happen.

    As you consider the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, consider how they apply to you. What is your passion? What are your opportunities? What are the steps that have led you to where you are today –how have you been trained, what are the influences that have shaped you? Whose example do you most want to follow? As you answer these questions you will see a pattern emerge that will clarify the ministry that God has for you, then all you need do is step up to the opportunities that present themselves and watch the kingdom grow!

  1. What is your shape?
  2. How do you plan to start pursuing your passion with the gift God has provided?
  3. How can the church help you to find and encourage you in your calling?

 

 

Week 18

1.Created for a Purpose

Jeremiah 29:11, Galatians 1:15-17
 
In his letter to the Galatian Christians, the apostle Paul explains the basis for his calling as an apostle. In Chapter1:15 he states that he was set apart in his mothers womb, called to be a preacher. Some 600 years earlier, Jeremiah is told by God that he had been consecrated and set apart as a prophet even before he was born. God knew him intimately and had formed him with this purpose in mind. Psalm 139:13-16 reminds us that the way we are put together in the womb, and even the fact of our conception was not a random act of chance but was according to the design and intention of Almighty God.
 
Like these mighty men of God, you too were planned for a purpose. God put you together in such a way that you would be entirely suited to fulfill the purposes he has for you. More than that, the events of your life, your history and all that it contains continues to mould and shape you according to his master design.
 
We may think we are inadequate or unsuited to our God given task – Jeremiah complained he was too young, Moses thought he couldn’t speak, even Amos said that he was neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet – just a herder of sheep who also looked after sycamore trees (Amos 7:14)! Gideon was too scared, Elizabeth was too old and Mary too young, but not for God! Time and again God uses the most ordinary people to do extraordinary things. God has a purpose for each one of us and he prepares us, putting us together exactly as he wishes so that we are able to do his will.
 
Sometimes the events of life seem unfair and even painful. Things happen to us that we don’t understand and we may even suffer personal harm or loss. It is never God’s desire to cause us suffering and yet it is often these very sufferings that build our character. While God doesn’t initiate this hurt or suffering he does allow it and then turns it around to build us up and prepare us for the greater purposes he has planned for us. All the events of your life, your parentage, schooling, career, relationships and so on combine together to make you the person you are today. Each step of your journey is a building block that God is using to make you into a temple he chooses to dwell in and which he intends to use for his glory. Too often we hear, and perhaps even say, “if only I was like so-and-so, then I could do that”, or “If only I had done this or that”, or “I wish I were somebody else”, “when this or that happens, then I’ll serve God”. God knows you, and chooses you – as you are- to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t want you to be like someone else or to wait for some unfinished work to be completed before you embark on the journey he has planned for you. He wants you as you are, with him as your constant companion, ready to do his will.
 
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to lead you along the journey God has set ahead of you. While his leading is very much related to the conduct of your every day life, it has the significance of directing the course of your life, first preparing then leading you into an adventure with him that will see you accomplishing things you never thought were possible. Like Moses, Jeremiah and many others beside expect to hear the voice of God telling you that he has plans for you. It is said that the young D.L. Moody, before he embarked on the road that lead him to being one of the worlds most effective evangelists heard a preacher say “the world has yet to see what God can do with one man who is totally committed to doing what God has planned for him”, Moody responded “Let me be that man”, and the rest as they say, is history.
 
Determine today, that when you hear his voice you won’t resist him or make excuses about why you cannot do what he asks, instead embark on the great adventure of life he has prepared for you from before you were even born and which he has been equipping you for ever since.
 
1.         What do you think about the idea that God created you for a purpose?
2.         How do you think the circumstances of your life have prepared you for the work God has for you to do?
3.         What excuses do you use not to take on new challenges?

 

 

2. His  Leading

Romans 8:14
 
Romans 8:14 tells us that if we are God’s children then we will be led by the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? How do we know where the Spirit is leading? There are some things that are quite straightforward, the Scripture is full of advice, encouragement and instruction as to the direction God wants to lead us in. But what about areas of life where the Bible is not clear? Especially when it comes to areas of ministry.
 
In Acts 10 God led Cornelius to send messengers to Peter and then led Peter to go to the home of Cornelius. An angel of the Lord sent Philip to the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza (Acts 8:25), Ananias was led by the Spirit to visit and minister to Saul (Acts 9:10-13). Throughout the pages of the Bible we read of men and women being specifically led by the Holy Spirit to go to places or to do various things.
 
But how was it that these people actually discerned God’s leading? Sometimes God used dreams and visions to speak to people  – but this was not always the case. In Acts 16 we read that Paul intended to go to Bithynia but the Holy Spirit forbade him from going. Shortly afterwards he was told to go to Macedonia. At other times God used the prophetic words of others to give direction (Acts 21:4,11). Many times we read of the early church going from place to place without any record of specific leading and sometimes unusual circumstances led to changes in plans. It seems that God uses a variety of means to direct us. The word of God is the primary source for guidance. Psalm 119 is devoted almost exclusively to the value of the word of God in finding direction for life. But he uses other means as well. Perhaps the most common method of discerning God’s leading, if not the most undervalued from a ‘spiritual’ perspective is circumstances. God uses the events of life to move us along the pathway he has chosen for us. How many times can we think back through seemingly unconnected events that have almost mysteriously led us to the places we arrive? At other times God uses other people to bring specific messages. These may be what are sometimes called ‘prophetic messages’ or ‘words of knowledge’, but they may also come in general counsel and conversation.
 
However we receive guidance, whether by specific words, dreams, and circumstances or in some other way, it is important that it be tested. In the first place it needs to be tested by the word of God – he will never lead you in a direction that is contrary to his word. We should sometimes seek confirmation by the community of believers and also seek the confirmation of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Ordinarily we would want all these things to align: the message we receive, the witness of the Holy Spirit within, confirmation by others, the word of God and circumstances. However this will not always be so and sometimes God will expect us to follow his lead even when circumstance and the counsel of others seems to be against it.
 
God gives counsel to us in Psalm 1:1-3:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does he prospers.
 
As we delight in his word and meditate in it daily we can be sure that he will always direct our footsteps.
 

  1. How would you define the Spirit’s leading? How willing are you to be led?
  2. The main focus of the Spirit’s leadership is into ministry. How is this illustrated in Peter’s encounter with Cornelius? (Acts 10:17-4)
  3. What prejudices do you have that may hinder the Holy Spirit’s leading?

 

3. His Enabling

Isaiah 40:28-31
 
Knowing where God wants us to go or what he wants us to do is one thing – actually doing it is another! The people of Israel knew that God was leading them into the Promised Land but they doubted that they had the ability to get there. Moses knew God was sending him to Pharaoh but he thought he lacked the strength. Have you ever had the conviction and even the opportunities to engage in some task or project, believing it is of God, but were reluctant to take it on because of lack of strength or resource? Have you ever walked to the edge of the river, as did the people of Israel, looked over at the other side but then gone back to the wilderness because you lacked the courage or strength to go across?
 
As we go through life we are continually confronted with opportunities to move with God. He tells us in Jeremiah 29 that he knows the plans he has for us, plans for welfare, a future and hope, but the responsibility is still ours to implement these plans. They won’t ‘just happen’. Where do we get the necessary resources and strength? In Isaiah 40:28-31 God gives us our first clue – our strength comes from waiting on him. Isaiah 31:15 tell us that it is in repentance and rest that that we will be saved and in quietness and trust is our strength. But he adds ‘but you were not willing’.
 
Before we wait on God for strength and courage, we must first be willing to do whatever it is he leads us to. As the people of Israel prepared themselves to finally go into the Promised Land, they waited on God for three days. They were ready and willing and now they waited in the presence of God. It is in the waiting and depending on him that God provides the strength. They didn’t run ahead of God – they had tried that before and failed. They listened to him, and they waited.
 
Sometimes waiting is the most difficult part. It is easier to do something, anything, than it is to wait. And yet this is God’s way. After his anointing by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led into the wilderness to wait. After the resurrection the disciples were told to stay in Jerusalem and wait. Having heard from God we need to wait.
 
After the people of Israel had waited before the Lord they consecrated themselves. Not only did they need to wait on God but they needed to prepare themselves to do God’s business God’s way. The act of consecration is the setting apart of the whole life – not just part of it. They needed to be completely set apart before they took on the Lord’s mission – then they went. They had heard from God, they had waited for his timing and they had prepared themselves – now they needed to obey. It was not until they showed their faith by obedience that God prepared the way. When their feet were in the river, he made a path for them to cross. They didn’t wait for circumstances to change they acted believing that they would.
 
If God has called you to ministry, and he has, you need to know where he is calling you to – but when he tells you to move, then move. Once over the river the people were told to set up a stone monument as a reminder of where God had brought them from and where he was taking them. This was a step of commitment; there was no going back. God wants to know that we are committed to the task he calls us to before he will make available his limitless supply of resources.
 
Wait before the Lord until he shows you his plans and his timing. Consecrate yourselves to him and take the first step of obedience. Then commit yourselves to continuing in his will no matter what the circumstances being certain that he that began a good work in you can and will bring it to completion. (Philippians 1:6).
 

  1. According to Is.40:28-31, what is the source of our strength?
  2. What about Is. 30:15?
  3. Is there anything God is asking you to do that you are unwilling to accept?

 

4. No Limits!

Mathew 10:6-8
 
Immediately after the resurrection, as the disciples were gathered, together Jesus came and stood in their midst. After assuring them of his peace he said to them that, just as the Father had sent him into the world so he, Jesus was sending them (John 20:21). Matthew records that Jesus’ final commission to the disciples was to go into all the world making disciples. They had the assurance that all authority in both heaven and earth was given to Jesus and that he would be with them as they carried out their mission.
 
Just as those early disciples were sent into their world so we are sent into ours. We have the delegated authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit with which to fulfill this commission. As Jesus was preparing the disciples for his departure he told them that they would receive the Holy Spirit and that they would do the same works that he did and in fact do even greater deeds (John 14:12). We are sent with his authority and power, the certainty of his presence and the assurance of answered prayer. When we consider these facts along with the knowledge that it is not God’s will for any to perish, but rather all to come to eternal life (1 Peter 3:9) and that the harvest is ready and plentiful (Luke 10:2), we should approach the mission God has for us with confidence and expectation.
 
Perhaps the greatest tool that Satan uses against us in our service for God is the false belief that we are powerless and ineffective in the task of preaching the good news. There seems to be an assumption that people not only do not want to believe but that are in fact openly hostile to the things of God. In fact Jesus tells us that the problem is not with the readiness of the harvest, but in the lack of labourers. Even for those whose mind needs to be opened to the illumination of the Holy Spirit, God gives to us his miracle working power.
 
The apostle Paul claims in Galatians 3:7 that his ministry was a gift of grace that was according to the working of his power. In Romans 15:19 we read that the preaching of the gospel was accomplished in the power of signs and wonders. Throughout the pages of the New Testament God often used signs and wonders, or miracles to open the eyes of the blind
 
In modern days too, in places of revival we hear of God doing miraculous things through his people. Another tool of Satan is the denial of these acts of God as being legitimate or even possible today. Yet God clearly does use them in different places and at different times. His word to the disciples was that they would have the same miracle working power as Jesus. The source of this power is the Holy Spirit and this same Spirit dwells in every believer.
 
God wants to do miraculous things through you; he has given you the power and the authority. He simply wants you to act in faith and obedience to him. This power of God is not given to you so that you can bring yourself a great reputation, but so that men and women, and boys and girls can come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and escape the consequences of eternal separation from God. The greatest miracle of all is eternal life, but God is still in the business of bringing healing and wholeness to the people he loves. You should expect God to use you as a channel of his mercy to the people you meet and do not be surprised if he chooses to use you to bring about a miracle in the lives of others.
 
Let us go with the authority of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit into the harvest field that God has prepared.
 

  1. Of all the miracles that Jesus performed through the Holy Spirit, which are most important to humanity now? (Luke 4:18,19).
  2. Jesus’ claim to fulfill prophecy by performing miracles led the people of his town to try and kill him. If you offered to pray for a miracle in your place of work or community what would the reaction be?
  3. Given Jesus’ tremendous miracle working power (Luke 7:21,22), what is your reaction to his promise that his followers will do the same and even greater works? (John 14:12)

 

5.Dry Times

Psalm 63:1-3

O God you are my God, I shall seek you earnestly
My soul thirsts for you, my flesh yearns for you
In a dry and weary land where there is no water
Thus I have seen you in your sanctuary
To see your power and your glory
Because your lovingkindness is better than life

My lips will praise you
Psalm 63:1-3

 
Have you ever felt like David when he wrote these words? Have you felt like you are in a dry and weary land where there is no water? Perhaps you have tried desperately to follow God’s leading but wound up in the desert? No matter what you do, what you read or where you go, you still come up dry and empty. Jesus understood the desert experience. After he was baptized the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness. Moses spent 40 years in the desert. Elijah experienced dry times, as did Joseph, Daniel, the apostle Paul and many others of the great men of God. The fact is God leads us into dry times. But why?
 
James Ryle suggests five reasons why this might be so. In the first place the desert is a place of testing. The people of Israel were taken through the desert for 40 years to see what was in their hearts and if they would obey the Lord’s command (Deuteronomy 8:2). God takes us through times of dryness to test us, to see where our motivation really lies. Will we still love and serve him without the recognition or results we seek?
 
God also leads us into and through the desert to help us to grow. John the Baptist remained in the desert, where he grew and became strong in the Spirit so that he would be prepared when he appeared in public (Luke 1:80). We often do our best growing in the desert, the place where we have to deal with the harshness and severity of circumstances. The place where our character is formed and we grow to maturity.
 
A third reason why God may lead us in to the desert is to give us rest. Sometimes the only way we will rest is if we are forced to it! Jesus told his disciples ‘come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ (Mark 6:31). Many of us feel that we are so indispensable to God that if we don’t keep active then somehow his purposes will fail. On occasion God takes us aside so that we will rest – he knows our limits better than we do and if we don’t take time out, his Spirit may well lead us into the desert where we have no choice.
 
God also uses the desert to restore to us something we have lost. Serving God should always be vibrant and exciting, however for many of us it can become mundane and routine. God will use dry times to bring us back into the joy of his presence. He will also use them to restore our ability to hear his voice and to give us fruitfulness in ministry, to get things into proper perspective, to restore our praise and to give back to us freedom in serving him. Our ministry is not the drudgery of self imposed service but a joyful experience of co-labouring with Jesus. The fifth purpose, of the desert is preparation; God uses our dry times to get us ready for what is to come. This was Jesus’ experience in Luke chapter 4, also that of Moses and Paul. It is a place where our desire is heightened and where we develop a thirst for the streams of God.
 
Unless your desert experience is the result of some act of disobedience or other sin, God has led you there. It is his desire to prepare you for the wide open places he will set before you. Thank God for your desert, allow him to show you the purposes he intends it to accomplish in your life and ministry. And then get ready for the day you emerge from those dry places full of the power of the Holy Spirit ready to do great and mighty things. Remember God led you in, and he will lead you out!
 

  1. What do you think about the ‘dry times’ that you sometimes experience in your Christian life?
  2. Does God need to lead you into a ‘dry time’ to restore to you something you have lost?
  3. Do you find time to take yourself apart and rest?