Mark 7:1-23 – Rules and Regulations

In this passage, Jesus clashes with the Pharisees. That’s not a surprise. However, the subject of the clash probably is: hand washing. The disciples had not washed their hands before eating. Now, to us (especially in COVID days), that perhaps sounds a bit gross. We perhaps imagine that the reason that there was an issue was because the disciple’s hands were obviously dirty, especially as the word “defiled” is used. This is probably not the case. Let’s be honest, how many of us give our hands anything more than a cursory rinse before eating if they look clean?

The disciples hands, if they hadn’t washed them, were probably mostly clean. So, the Pharisees were not questioning the disciple’s hygiene. The Pharisees were questioning the disciples adherence to ritual practices. Before Jews ate, they performed a ceremonial washing of the hands. The worry was that the disciples had come into contact with something that was ritually impure (for example, they could have come into contact with someone that had contact with blood, like a butcher). So, their hands may have been ritually defiled, not literally defiled. This is what they were meant to wash off, the “impurity” of day-to-day life.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. It is not what they have come into contact with that makes them unclean. It is what is in their heart and the outpouring from that which makes them unclean. It is not the purity rituals but their morality that decides what type of person they are. This is why only God can truly judge us; only he can weigh the contents of a person’s heart.

Of course, the church has been so much better at this in recent times, hasn’t it? (We’ve only got to think of the appalling treatment of those on the outside of society by some of the church to realise this is not the case. A particularly harrowing example is the treatment of those born out of wedlock in Ireland, for example.) And although we perhaps don’t have such strong concepts of ritual purity, we’ve perhaps replaced this with social niceties today. These, too, are about the outward but superficial signs of goodness. You can still be malicious but say your please and thank yous.

Here’s a short and interesting video about how the UK church is too middle class. A lot of what we do, without realising, alienates those who don’t know our rules and regulations, our rituals and ways of doing things.

I wonder how then, we go about caring about what Jesus cared about. How do we see people as he saw them and focus on issues of the heart rather than outward and superficial signs of goodness. Truly, I don’t think we can. At least, not without the help of the Holy Spirit in us.

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.

1 John 2: being without sin

This chapter picks up where the previous one picks up: in the tension of being a sinful but also redeemed. Here it reminds us that we should not sin but that we also have Jesus to rely on. It reminds me a bit of when Peter writes about how God provided everything but invites us to have a role. We often try too hard to rely on our own strength to reach purity, but the fact is we can only have it because God redeemed us through his son Jesus Christ. Our human efforts do nothing; it’s only through the cross and the good work Jesus is doing in us that we can achieve anything.

Verses 3 to 6 expand on us further. We are to keep Jesus’ commands out of love for him. Therefore, it’s so important to daily focus on him and what he did for us to motivate us. In times of trouble or temptation we look not to ourselves or our own strength but we look to the cross. Then we can love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The next part of John looks at another way the love for our Lord is express: our love for others. It’s not coincidence that Jesus responded to the question about the greatest commandment with a twofold answer. We are to love our God, which is expressed here in how we love others. These verses also remind us of how Jesus said in Matthew 5. You can’t offer worship if you know a brother has something against you. Jesus came to redeem us with God and each other. Therefore, if there are relational issues within the church, we aren’t living in the fullness of Christ’s redemption.

Verses 12-14 are interesting, exciting and encouraging. The fact that we are told that we have overcome the evil one is an interesting concept in the fight against sin. As we battle against evil desires, we must remember: the victory is won! That’s another good reason to look toward the cross.

The last sections talk about not loving the world because it is temporary and to love what God has given you. We are also warned not to deny Christ. We are to remain in him and remain confident in his promises. In that way we can be pure when he comes again.

2 Peter 3: remember Jesus

The last part of 2 Peter reminds us to think wholesomely, remember the words of the prophets and to anticipate the last days. It then goes on to describe the end of days. They seem awesome and terrifying at the same time, but Peter reminds us that our gaze will be on the arrival of God’s promises: the new heaven and the new earth.

We are to remember the prophet’s commands and the words of Jesus. This means, I expect, that we need to know them well and probably try to remember them. This will help us be blameless and spotless on the day of judgement. It may be that the day of judgement does not come in my time, but I need to remember that patience equals salvation. There’s a lovely verse: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (v. 9) Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone goes to heaven and it’s like the handouts at the Oprah Winfrey Show. It just means that God’s heart is leans toward salvation not toward condemnation.

Peter warns that we need to be on our guard so that we don’t fall away. This probably is in the context of the previous chapter. And how do we go about doing this? We grow in grace and our knowledge of Jesus Christ. I think this takes us back to the very beginning of the letter, remembering that God has given all that we need. We need to be living according to the promises of God’s salvation and learn more about Jesus. This is also linked to the statement to remember the words of Jesus. By doing this, and daily reminding ourselves of them, we are able to know Jesus more and more.

We need to be reading our Bible and just seeking a deeper knowledge of Jesus in everything we learn.

James 4

James 4 deals with a few issues: quarrelling and fighting; not receiving what you want from God; not following the world’s pattern; life with the Spirit; humility; true repentance; slander; and finally, arrogance. It quickly moves from one topic to the other, but James manages to link them all.

The quarrelling and fighting is caused by our sinful nature, envy and desires. These desires are a result of not receiving what we want from God, such as wisdom. Of course, it is proper to ask God for things, but James points out that his readers ask these things for selfish reasons: self-indulgence or for superiority. Therefore, God does not grant these things. Rather we should be asking, in prayer, in humility and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

He then goes to rebuke people for following the world’s pattern. That is one of selfishness, egocentric behaviour and a sense of entitlement. It does make me think about modern Western society. (Especially when we consider the response of simple things such as having to wear masks in the face of COVID-19. ) It seems that personal rights, freedoms, liberties, comforts take a higher importance than obeying Scripture. This, of course, means careful consideration about appropriate responses to oppression. (I do not think there’s a Biblical argument to not fight against injustices. I’m just not yet sure how.)

James then reminds us, that we are to embrace the way of God and the indwelling of the Spirit within us. This is where we humbly acknowledge our sinful nature, and with a grief and burden from sin, cry out to God. James, here, does not ask us to be miserable but instead recognise the gravity and repugnance of our sin. The joy comes in knowing that we are given grace and that God lifts us out of our sinful state.

This humility makes us realise that we cannot slander others, because we don’t have a leg to stand on. Who are we to condemn others when we know the full state of sin within our own hearts? We perhaps only know a few of the sins of our neighbours; but if we were honest about ourselves, we truly know how terrible and sinful we truly are.

The humility also has another response: that we are aware our lives and times are God’s and not our own. Of course, 2020 has been a huge lesson in this. We are to know that we are living within God’s will, so therefore must be humble and not boastful. We cannot say that are plans are certain and not make huge boasts about business ventures or mighty schemes. Because, we simply do not know what tomorrow brings.

Reflection questions

  1. What are my motives when I ask for something in prayer?
  2. How do we put obedience, submission and scripture over person desires, wants and ambitions?
  3. How do we acknowledge God’s will in what we do?

James 2

James 2 starts off with ideas of justice and fairness, looking at the idea of favouritism. In the Roman period, rich people were given a higher legal status and generally treated better. This behaviour was not, however, Biblical, so James was condemning it.

Furthermore, James explores the idea that God gives the poor a rich faith and they also will inherit the kingdom. This reminds us of the famous words of Jesus that it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God. It makes me wonder how many church goers activity associate with the poor (I don’t mean soup kitchens)? Why is the church always seen as a place where you dress your best and make sure your face is clean and scrubbed? I feel like we have perhaps lost sight of the idea that churches are meant to be messy, difficult and inclusive. I wonder whether the desire for propriety has robbed us of something far richer.

Verses 12-13 are somewhat reassuring to me. As a teacher I always struggled with the conflict between judgement and mercy. My bent is always to be merciful, but others can be a bit more exact in their application of the rules. The idea that mercy triumphs over judgement is helpful. Also, that is definitely seen in the cross of Jesus Christ: God’s mercy triumphed over judgement; Jesus had to endure an agonising death to ensure it would happen.

James’ statement about needing deeds may seem on a surface level to contradict Paul’s teaching of faith leading to grace rather than our deeds leading to grace. However, they are all a part of the same process. Our faith causes us to receive an underserved grace. This grace is transformative and powerful, resulting in a passionate, fruitful outworking of the Holy Spirit’s activities in us. This is the deeds aspect. Therefore, our faith needs to have deeds too.

Reflection Questions

  1. How does the church integrate and welcome people from all walks of life?
  2. How do we prevent the “Sunday best” culture in our churches?
  3. How do I get the balance between judgement and mercy right?
  4. What deeds are there in my life that show the fruit of grace?

Titus 3

Again, this chapter discusses the behaviour of those in Crete. But it also tells you the reason: because they have put their trust in Jesus. Our faith means there are implications in how we live. We should be obedient to authority and should live peaceably with one another.

It tells us how before we were enslaved by our passions, hatred and pleasures. But now, in our new life, we are free to be obedient to God. This idea is definitely counter cultural (at least in the west). You have curly calligraphy signs or t-shirts that tell us to follow our passions, listen to our hearts. But, when these are not in line with the will of God, they are foolish and they result in slavery.

Verses four to seven explain the mechanism of grace:

  • It is not through our deeds;
  • God our Saviour showed his love and kindness;
  • By the Holy Spirit with are given rebirth and renewal;
  • This power of the Holy Spirit is received generously through Jesus Christ;
  • We are justified by grace;
  • We become God’s heirs;
  • We have hope of eternal life.

The reason Paul reiterates this is so that they know why they seek to do good: because we are recipients of rebirth, renewal, love, kindness, grace and eternal life. When we devote ourselves to good, they profit not only ourselves but everyone. It ensures our lives are productive and that we are able to live according to the gifts we received. This is the witness we have available to us.

Verses nine to eleven talk about divisive, argumentative people. The fact that this is mentioned throughout Paul’s letters suggests it is not an isolated problem. In fact, it pretty much warns us it’s a problem we need to be prepared for. Churches will not be full of perfect harmony, it turns out, so we need to be on our guard against divisiveness.

So, I pray that I can be focused on doing good, promoting unity and having a productive life.

1 Timothy 2

Well, it was bound to happen at some point. I’ve reached a controversial part of the Bible. This is probably a good time to address some things. First, I’d like to point out that this blog is really just for myself. I enjoy blogging and if you stumble across this blog then great. If you stumble across this blog, disagree, then you can walk away quietly. It wasn’t meant for you anyway. Why blog, then? I think I need a sense that there is an audience, whether fictive or not, to help me articulate my thoughts.

However, in this post, there’s not going to be much to disagree with, bringing me to my second point. I’m not going to engage too much with these sections, mainly because I don’t think I have the authority or the knowledge to do so. You could argue that it’s typical white male privilege or intellectual sloppiness, but it is one of the issues (one of the many topics of the Bible) that I’d like to research a bit more before giving my two cents on. What I have to say isn’t really worth much and it’s probably better to read and listen first.

So, this might be a bit of a post that talks more about how to address these types of issues rather than addressing the issues.

So, this chapter starts with encouraging prayers and petitions – for all people, which is interesting. Then it narrows its focus to those in authority. Luckily, I’m a day ahead on this one. Just as I process the Bible by writing (on this here blog), and have a book where I write out my prayers. I did pray for Donald Trump and for Boris Johnson. Whether you agree with them or voted (or would have voted) for them or not, you should still pray for them. I’m not sure Paul was a fan of the Roman rules (especially as they imprisoned and killed him), but he still said we should pray.

We should especially be praying, in the light of verse 4, for their faith and salvation. Trump says he’s a believer, although others argue his read the wrong book, and I don’t know about Johnson. Hun Sen (the leader of my adopted home) is Buddhist. But I should be praying for them and their salvation. For God is a kind God “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” What a wonderful saviour we have! A lot of politicians wouldn’t be on my priority list, but God still wants them.

I think it’s easy for us to think of them as different and somehow lofty and unreal. But they are humans, and God still sees them as people made in his image that have been corrupted by sin. God still sent his son to die for them, from dictators to incompetent leaders and everyone in between. God humbles rulers and exalts servants, so to him, we are all one and the same. And we should try to see our leaders with the same compassion and love as he does. I know I fail and get angry. But, it’s also worth praying that God softens our hearts too. Verse 8 tells us to pray, with raised arms, without anger or disputing. It’s a somewhat strange and alien concept in the age of twitter witch hunts and petty politic-fuelled squabbles. So, I think I should try to be better at this. So, I shall try (and probably fail quite often) to respond in prayer at the next frustrating twitter or facebook post than ranting and arguing.

1 Timothy 1

In these two letters, Paul writes to his prodigy Timothy who has shown great faith and obedience despite his youth. Timothy is someone who I always related too, but I might have to accept that I’m now getting too old to do this. But, still there is a lot to learn from these letters, I am sure.

Timothy is being trusted to keep the church in Ephesus on the straight and narrow, because they’ve fallen into silly controversies and meaningless talk. Instead, the Ephesians should be doing God’s work, which is produced by faith, which in turn comes from love.

Again, it’s interesting to read about Paul’s attitude toward the Law. Paul says that the Law is good. Those who go against it are in need for it as they defy the gospel. We often view the Law as something totally separate and perhaps even against the gospel, but here it is good. It’s something worth thinking about when reading the Old Testament, especially, and how the rules link and even promote the gospel message. (Again, another area of study for another time perhaps.)

Paul then thanks that God has given him strength and saw him as worthy for service. This was despite of Paul’s “achievements”, not because of it. Paul was, in himself, unworthy of service but God showed him mercy. Lord, I thank you also, for that you have seen me worthy of service despite not deserving it! Thank you for your mercy.

Then comes a passage that will be familiar to a lot of Anglicans (especially the first part).

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:15-17

This is the testimony of all who believe. May the King eternal have honour and glory for every and ever.

That would be a very lovely note to end the post on, but there is something else in this chapter that caught my attention. It’s the last verse, verse 20: “Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” As an act of pastoral love, two people who have been shipwrecked in faith, have been turned over to Satan. That sound like a very cruel act, but it is to teach them and to hopefully restore them. Again, this is something that I don’t really understand and don’t know much about the practical outworking. How exactly do you hand someone over to Satan so they may be restored? Once again, reading this chapter has revealed so much I don’t actually know.

2 Thessalonians 2

This chapter is about what will happen before Jesus comes again and gathers us to him. This is about a subject called eschatology or the study of end times. This is not a subject I’m very knowledgeable about. But according to this passage the following things will happen before Jesus comes again.

  • There will be a rebellion.
  • The man of lawlessness will be revealed.
  • He will defy every god and tear down every place of worship; he will set up an altar for himself.
  • This will be in accordance with Satan’s ways.
  • It will be accompanied by signs and wonders.
  • People will perish as they refuse to believe the truth.
  • Those believing in the deception will revel in their sin and wickedness.
  • God will turn them over to their sin and the judgment of their sin.

Then when Jesus returns he will destroy this man of lawlessness.

This sounds all a bit scary and makes us wonder when this will happen, how and whether we will be caught up in the great deception. However, there are words of reassurance to come.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

We need to remember our security does not come from ourselves but from being chosen by God. We have been called and we have been saved, not through our works but by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are sanctified and being sanctified by these works and because of this we have confidence in the truth. We will share in the glory of our saviour, Jesus Christ.

Because of this confidence, we can stand firm. We need to hold fast to the teachings given to us: not just listening but in full obedience.

The chapter ends with a final pray that God may encourage us:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Amen