Just a child: Mark 10: 13 – 16

One of the hardest aspects of coming to a new country, especially one which is so different to where you grew up, is how you are suddenly stripped of your competency. You suddenly need to relearn pretty much everything: how to talk, how to get around, even in some cases how to walk. (I had to learn to walk slower because of the heat, and not to flick my feet up, especially in the rain otherwise your trousers get really dirty). I had to learn how to ride a motorbike, how to cut up a mango, how to recognise fruit and vegetables, how to speak, my way around the city.

I had gone from being relatively competent in my life and being regarded as so by others, to then suddenly not being able to do anything. Khmer people recognised this; I was often guided or even prevented from doing somethings (like trying certain food, or helping out in a situation), lest my incompetency or weak stomach got the better of me. Suddenly, I had to learn to be vulnerable and unknowledgeable and weak again. There are still days and weeks, four years on, where Cambodia totally floors me. (In fact, that was pretty much the month of October.) I am once again reminded of my frailty and weakness.

This is what I think is the privilege of being a missionary. Being powerless and vulnerable in so many situations is perhaps the most important lesson we learn. It doesn’t feel like privilege at the time though. People don’t like feeling weak and powerless. In fact, we try anything to avoid it. We assert ourselves, become demanding, throw our weight around, become manipulative or passive aggressive. However, Jesus calls us constantly in to a posture of humility, weakness and vulnerability. Without that, we cannot recognise our huge need for him. Without realising our sinful, fallen, weak, even pathetic, nature, we have no need to run to the arms of a loving God.

Here in Mark 10:13-16, the disciples are once again reminded of this. (This has been a recurring theme in Mark.) They try to through their weight around again; this time they are using their power over children. They are preventing the children, who are, especially in this society but the same today, without status or influence, from getting to Jesus. The gospels are full of people obsessed with asserting authority and control (the disciples are no better than the Pharisees in this). However, Jesus clearly says that this is not the way of the kingdom.

The kingdom is for the weak, powerless and vulnerable. The kingdom is for the children, the blindman and destitute. The kingdom is for those who recognise their need of a good, powerful saviour. The more you try to assert your own power, the more you think your self as having authority, the more you care about status and influence, the less of the kingdom you will see. But humble yourself, and Jesus himself will welcome you in.

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1 John 3: child of God

Sometimes when I read a passage, I just want to copy and paste everything here. The words are so encouraging, striking or beautiful. The first two verses are just great. They remind us of our status as children of God, because of his great love. Then it speaks to what we will become when Jesus returns; we will become like him.

John then goes on to remind us that we are not to continue sinning because we are in Christ. Sin is of the devil, for he is the original sinner. (Not Adam and Eve!) But we are born of God, being his children, so we no longer have sin in us. Again, this holds in tension the now and not-yet aspect of the Gospel. However, transformative change is possible and God does work in our hearts.

We are also to love our brothers and sisters. This is not because of how we are treated or because those around it deserve it. In fact, we should expect to be hated. We love despite this and because of God’s great love.

Loving others is a command from Christ and is in obedience to God. Again, it brings together the two-fold aspect of the greatest commandment: love the Lord your God and love your neighbour. You cannot do one without the other.

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.

(The rest of) Ephesians 5

Yesterday, I started writing about Ephesians 5, but didn’t even reach past the first two verses. It got me bouncing around the books of John and 1 John as well as to the prayers in previous chapters of Ephesians. To summarise, it was this: we are loved, and in this knowledge we should be obedient.

This chapter then reiterates what is acceptable and what isn’t in a life of light:

  • no sexual immorality;
  • no impurity;
  • no greed;
  • no obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking;
  • no drunkenness and debauchery;
  • lots of thanksgiving;
  • being filled with the Spirit;
  • speaking with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit;
  • singing and music in our heart.

We are told we need to be careful.

Be careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16

We are also told this in verses 8 to 10.

For you were once in darkness, but now you are children of the light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

I really like the last part of this passage, about finding out what pleases the Lord. It does conjure the image of a child making breakfast in bed or picking out a present for a parent of out love and affection for them. Also, to think that we can do things to please the God that made the universe. That’s like saying an ant could do something to please us. It’s baffling, but it’s true. Although we are tiny and insignificant in comparison, God delights in us and treats us with a significance that we don’t actually warrant. That’s just incredible.

The end of this chapter is the somewhat controversial passage about marriage. I say somewhat because I don’t have a problem with it. (Of course you don’t you privileged white male!) This passage talks about how both wife and husband devote themselves to each other in a compassionate, sacrificial way. It tells us that a man “must love his wife as he loves himself” and must be willing to give himself up as Christ did for his church. This is a fantastic command designed for the man to honour his wife. So, I think this passage is great.

What does make me sad is that it seems historically society were so bent on enforcing the instructions to wives in verses 22-24, that the men were too exhausted it seems to follow the instructions given to them in verses 25-33. I’m sad that because of this legacy of misogyny and misaligned patriarchal focus, that passages such as these are dismissed without looking more deeply into the design for marriage that God had.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Again, Ephesians 5 exhorts us to live carefully and wisely. Here, we follow God’s example because we are dearly loved children. That’s a really beautiful image. We are loved by God, and that love compels us to look to God and obey him and follow him. This very much reminds me of John 14.

In this chapter of John, the idea that obedience and love for Jesus and love for and from the Father are interconnected. Jesus’ words reminds us that we need to love him and that love is shown in keeping his commands.

“If you love me, keep my commands … Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them … Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

John 14:15-24

This passage in John also talks about how Jesus will send the Spirit to be with us. These ideas are also repeated in 1 John 4:

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:13-19

When we reread the first part of Ephesians in light of these verses, it’s easy to be encouraged.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore, it shows the importance of Paul’s prayer in chapter 3 for the Ephesians. So, again I pray that we can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Yes, I pray that day by day I know more and more the love of Jesus and the love of the Father. And because of this knowledge of this love, I can follow God’s example and live a life of love. I pray that, through the power of the Spirit, I know the Father more deeply and completely. May my life be given up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

For the glory of Jesus’ holy name,

Amen.