1 Peter 2

The second chapter of 1 Peter begins with a continuation of the theme of holiness and living an obedient life to which we were called. It tells us to remove anything that hinders this holiness. It’s interesting that in Peter’s list in 1 Peter 2:1, the priority is the relationships we have with one another. Malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander are all about how we view or interact with others. Therefore, our holiness is not an individual thing that we obtain through distancing ourselves from others, but it is actually obtained in communion with others.

This idea is further expanded upon in verses 4-10. Each believer is a spiritual stone, that is being formed to create a temple. The foundation stone of that temple is Jesus. What is also interesting is how a temple is where God’s presence that dwells on earth. We have often been told about how God dwells within us. But often we consider it an individual idea, but there seems to be quite a few verses that explore the idea of a community believers being his dwelling place. I imagine that it is a bit of both: we are individually chosen as stones for a wider body which creates a dwelling place for the manifest presence of God in the world. Verses 9 and 10 use a variety of images that have a group and community aspect to it.

Peter then tells us to live under the authority and rule of unkind masters. First, he discusses the emperor, who would have been Nero. Nero oppressed and killed Christians, so it was not something that was easy. Then, again the topic of slavery comes up. This is because slavery was widespread during the writing of the New Testament, in the context of the Roman Empire. Here, Peter acknowledges the injustice of it, but also asks the slaves to patiently endure. We are to take our model from Jesus, who suffered the greatest injustice of history without retaliation. The key is to trust God as the one who his just. Therefore, it is through remembering Christ’s sufferings that we too are able to endure sufferings.

Philemon 1

Philemon 1 is an interesting letter in many ways. First, it’s short but actually it’s the length of the average letter during the Roman times. Second, the subject matter is fascinating, and answers some of the difficulties we have with other passages written by Paul. In Titus, for example, Paul writes that slaves should obey their masters. However, here we see the same issue but from a different standpoint.

It seems that Philemon is a slave owner (which was exceptionally common in the Roman period), and Paul is writing on the behalf of one of his slaves. Onesimus appears to be Philemon’s slave, that has probably escaped and sought Paul out. Paul, from his imprisonment, has written to Philemon petitioning him to show clemency towards Onesimus and even to secure his release from slavery.

Philemon is a church leader, his wife is probably Apphia and Archippus is possibly a fellow leader in the church. Here we have a short insight into a house church set-up in the Roman Empire.

I think that this letter is particularly helpful in looking at relationships between believers and how to address issues effectively. I think it’s also interesting in how it treats the issue of slavery. He calls a slave his brother. Furthermore, it’s how Paul asks for obedience, which is definitely against our culture, despite the fact that Philemon was probably of a higher social status than Paul. So, it really makes me consider how well we respond to requests from leaders in church today.

1 Thessalonians 2

Yesterday, I did read my Bible but was so exhausted I went to bed at 8pm. So, here’s yesterday’s reading.

Paul faced opposition for the Gospel. I’m very lucky in that I have not faced major opposition in spreading the gospel at any point in my life (so far). And yet, often I’m anxious when I do it. It seems ridiculous. I know those who have faced opposition but are bold and fearless.

Verses 3-6 are interesting in terms of discussing motives, especially as some pastors have been jailed for fraudulent money making schemes. Paul says his aim was not to trick others, or to gain money or praise. He said he didn’t use flattery or hypocrisy or asserted their authority recklessly. This is also interesting in light of stories about controlling church leaders, even to the point of being called abusive. Paul’s method was like parents tending young children. It was done with delight, love and openness. It was also done with encouragement, comfort and appeals the Thessalonians to live in a righteous way. Paul is also so thankful for those God had put in his care.

Reading about how leadership and discipleship can be done does somewhat condemn how others have chosen to do it as well. However, they are as much under grace as we are.

Paul then writes about the opposition the gospel message has received. The Thessalonians received it as God’s Word and have suffered for it. That still happens across the world today. Even in Cambodia, Christians are sometimes rejected by their families.

But the overwhelming tone of this chapter is joyful and full of love, as summed up by the last two verses:

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Colossians 3

Like in his other letters Paul lets us know what living as a follower of Christ should look like and what it doesn’t look like.

First, he tells us to focus both our hearts and minds on heavenly things. Our desires and our perspectives should be based on higher things than the earth.

Then he tells us what the markers of Christian life are:

  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Forgiving others
  • Love
  • Unity
  • Peace of Christ ruling our hearts
  • Thankfulness
  • The message of Christ dwelling among us
  • Wisdom
  • Psalms, verses, songs to God in our conversation and in our hearts
  • Wives submitting to their husbands
  • Husbands loving their wives
  • Children obeying parents
  • Servants obeying their masters
  • Working as if for God not man

Christian living does not involve these things:

  • Sexual impurity
  • Lust
  • Evil desires
  • Greed (which is idolatry)
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Malice
  • Slander
  • Filthy language
  • Lying
  • Fathers embittering their children

Again, these are quite a list.

But if we do it with our focus upon Jesus in his throne, then we will desire to love and serve him.

Colossians 2

This one will have to be short as my internet is being too slow to write a longer post.

Colossians 2 is much along the same vein of the previous chapter, which is discussing the character of Christ. This is what it tells us:

  • He is the mystery of God;
  • All of God’s treasures are hidden in Christ;
  • The fullness of Deity lives in bodily form in him;
  • He is head over every power and authority;
  • God makes us alive through Christ;
  • All reality is found in Christ.

It also tells us, once again, how we’ve been saved through Christ. Because of Christ’s death, the debt of sin was paid and the powers and authorities over us were disarmed. We died in baptism with Christ.

So, what should we do in response to this amazing news of Christ? Well, Colossians 2 tells us this as well.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭2:6-7‬

Also, because of Christ we can be free from human religious tradition. We should test what appears to have spiritual wisdom, to see whether or not it is truly of God. If it serves to build our lives in Christ, then it is helpful. If however, like circumcision, it detracts or puts undue power in works of the flesh, then it is not helpful.

Colossians 1:13-29

This part of scripture is just amazing. Just read it yourself a few times. Really take it in.

Verses 13-14 tells us of a rescue story. One where people were in the kingdom of darkness but were bought into another kingdom. This is our rescue story!

Then the next section tells us all about Jesus, who he is and what he has done. This is what it tells us

  • He created everything
  • He sustains everything
  • He is eternal
  • He is the fullness of God
  • He rules over every authority
  • He is the head of the church
  • He reconciled everything—that’s everything— to God.
  • He shed his blood
  • He made peace

Then it reiterates how we were saved in verses 21-22:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…”

How amazing is Jesus and the work he has done!

Now Paul tells us his response to this, which is one we should all follow. Paul becomes a servant to this message and proclaims Christ.

Ephesians 6

The start of Ephesians 6 follows the idea of family relationships that chapter 5 ends with. However, this time it is the relationship between children and their parents. It begins with what is stated in the Ten Commandments, that children are to obey their parents.

Now, when we think of this commandment, we probably think mainly of Sunday school children learning to listen to and obey their parents as little kids ought to. However, when we have grown up, it seems we feel that as if that commandment is obsolete and we don’t have to fulfil it anymore. This isn’t the case. In Mark 7, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for the way their practices fail to honour their mother and father. Those Pharisees were adults being rebuked. This commandment is for adults too.

Maybe in society, we think that it’s automatic and if you did a good job when they were little, they will do it when they are older. But then the command should be “teach children to honour your father and mother”. Also, there aren’t commands in the Bible for things that are genuinely automatic, such as “Breathe.” The Bible, authored by God, speaks into the hearts of humans. Our bent is to be independent, stubborn and self-serving and honouring others often gets in the way of that. Honouring our parents requires consideration, thoughtfulness and care. I know I often fail to do it; it isn’t as habitual as it ought to be.

The next part also balances the relationship. Parents need to be good to their kids too.

The next part of Ephesians 6 feels a little off for our times. It’s about slaves serving masters well. However, in the Romans Empire, slaves made up a huge percentage of the population. Paul is simply speaking into the genuine reality of his day. He’s not turning a blind eye to it.

Paul also reminds slave owners that both they and the slaves are actually under the ultimate authority of God and it would be wise to remember that.

In all the relationships mentioned from the end of chapter 5 to chapter 6, Paul shows how there is a balance. Wives, honour your husbands; husbands, lay down your life for your wife. Children, honour your parents; parents, be patient and kind to your children. Slaves, obey your masters; masters, be kind to your slaves. In relationships that are often imbalanced and hierarchical (especially historically), Paul reminds us that God rules over us all and that his love, grace, mercy but also his power, might and wrath is the ultimate equaliser in all this.

Lastly, Ephesians has the famous Sunday school favourite, the armour of God. It makes a nice visual metaphor. However, sometimes this section can be delivered in a way that makes us seem like we are at the helpless mercy of the devil’s schemes and we need to hide and cower away. This isn’t the whole truth. Of course, on our own, we are helpless. But we’re not on our own. For the passage tells us this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Ephesians 6:10.

We have nothing to fear because we have God and his mighty power on our side. However, we need to make the most of it and not forget to use it!

So, I pray that I continue to go on in the Lord’s prayer.

Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1 is packed with so much. It’s pretty full on and it really emphasises the blessing it is to know Christ. It tells us that our identity is in Jesus, and this was the plan before we even came to believe.

God has blessed us with everything we need. This is some of the things that Ephesians 1 tells us we have received from God:

  • adoption into sonship
  • glorious grace
  • redemption
  • forgiveness of sins
  • the knowledge of the mystery of his will
  • the message of his truth
  • the gospel of salvation
  • an inheritance
  • great power

So verse 3 is not wrong when it says God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing” (emphasis mine). God has truly given us so much through His Son Jesus Christ.

It also tells us of our identity in Him, having been chosen even as creation was happening. I really like the way The Message puts it:

Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planing this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

I think it’s amazing to think that He took pleasure in planning our adoption and redemption. Of course, the pain and suffering Jesus experienced as a result was terrible and unfathomable. But to think that the love the Father had for us was so great that He took pleasure in redeeming us and knowing that we would be His. What a wonderful thought.

This chapter also talks about our identity as members of the church. Despite the fact that it often seems that the church is sidelined and ignored, it isn’t. Verse 22 and 23 tell us that Jesus is the head over everything, as as the church is his body, that is higher than anything else on earth to. The Message version again puts it nicely:

The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body. in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

This reminds us that as citizens of God’s kingdom and members of Christ’s body we have way more authority and power than we often remember. It also reminds us that we have a very high calling and should take this role seriously indeed.

So I will end with an adapted version of verses 18-19, which is a prayer.

I pray that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened in order that I may know the hope to which he has called me, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Amen.

Bible in One Year: Day 10

I managed the first day of a 5 am alarm clock (I did hit snooze twice). Let’s see how long I can keep it going!

The end of Psalm 7 ends in reinforcing the idea of God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness is linked to is wrath, which is a troubling idea for snowflake millennial like myself. The psalm tells us God shows his wrath everyday. The psalm goes on to praise God for his righteousness in response to this. However, we must remember that a just God abhors evil. This all seems a bit strange and difficult to swallow. But it should not be a surprise to us. We cannot expect God to be holy and good and to be the god of justice if he is indifferent to suffering and sin. The psalm recognises that sin and evil have consequences. Sometimes, from an earthly perspective, it’s easy to think that those that cause evil get away with it. However, God does not turn a blind eye.

Matthew again repeats the idea of Jesus’ authority. In yesterday’s reading we saw Jesus’ authority in his words and his authority to heal. Today we see Jesus’ authority over the physical world, his authority over the spiritual world and then finally his authority over sin. Jesus calms the storm, showing his power over the physical world. I have to admit, Jesus does seem a bit nonchalant and indifferent to the fears and worries of his disciples here. However, we learn that Jesus doesn’t want us to fear or worry. That’s not his plan for us. Jesus wants us to know his power and have comfort in that.

Jesus is also able to drive out evil spirits. Sometimes Christians seem to fall into two camps when it comes to the spiritual world: we either fail to believe or acknowledge its existence or we become fearfully obsessed with it. Either way, Jesus has authority over it and we should respond accordingly. (Note: not like the townspeople in the passage!)

It seems that this assurance of Jesus’ authority is leading to the pinnacle of his power: his ability to forgive sin. Although people marvelled at Jesus’ teaching, healings and miracles, no one called it out as blasphemy. Those things are, it turns out, not godlike. What is godlike is the power to forgive sin. It perhaps gives an indication of how powerful and serious sin actual is. I think today we often forget that.

Genesis 21-23 are somewhat disturbing once again. Sarah’s joy is quickly diminished and turns to jealousy. This results in Abraham abandoning his son and concubine Hagar. However, God is still in the situation and again picks up the pieces.

I’ve always had trouble with God’s request to Abraham that he sacrifice his son Isaac. Nicky Gumbel in the devotion that accompanies the reading states that God hates child sacrifice, so would never actually allow it. Abraham just needed to have his priorities put to the test. I wonder how God tests or would test my priorities. Am I willing to lay down all my dreams and what I believe God has planned for me like Abraham is?

Lord Jesus,

We praise you for your power and authority. You have power to heal and over spirits, but most of all, you have power over sin. You have power over my sin and you have forgiven it. Jesus, forgive me now, once again and make me clean. Keep me from evil; protect me from the evil powers of this world. Thank you that you were the perfect sacrificial lamb.

Amen