Mark 9: 30-37: childlike foolishness

This passage is only seven verses long. However, it holds a message that has really been shaping my faith recently, as well as holding a lot of other lessons on how (not) to behave. In it, Jesus tells his disciples that he will be handed over to men and he will die. How do they respond? They bicker about who is the best out of them.

Now, imagine this. You have just been given a terminal diagnosis. You know soon you are going to die and it is probably a terrifying, daunting, sad prospect. So, of course, you tell your close family and friends. But rather than supporting you and consoling you, a fight breaks out. They start telling each other that they are better than the rest. Imagine how that would make you feel? This is pretty much what is happening to Jesus right now.

Jesus, knowing them pretty well, knows what the argument was about. He tells them that they need to stop worry about who is the greatest but who is the least. In fact, they need to be like children: utterly dependent on their father and having no status away from their family. I wrote about this in a blog post about 2 Peter 1. We often kid ourselves that God wants us to join in his work because we’ve got something important to contribute. Imagine the thought process in that. “Oh, I have been called to this work because God needs me.” I know I often fall for this trap. God does not need me whatsoever. He is wholly able to solve any problem or do any task infinitely better than I am. So, if I start thinking God needs me to do this, I am clearly missing the point.

However, God choose me. He chooses me despite my lack of qualifications, my inability, my sin. It’s like a really bizarre job interview process. My CV is scant and lacking. My references are appalling (God knows all my sin and failings) Yet he gives me the job because I am his son. It is the biggest case of nepotism I can think of.

So, I need to learn to live each day reminding myself, “I am just a foolish, dependent, needy child who is in the care of his heavenly Father.” I need to put aside all thoughts that God chose me because of my abilities and I need to really humble and submit myself into the hands of the Lord.

This may seem like I’m unnecessarily destroying my self-esteem for no reason. But have you ever seen a child play? When they make tea for their dolls or race their cars, they don’t care whether they are good enough to do that. They don’t worry, “Am I adequate enough to stack blocks?” It’s not stifling; it’s freeing! You are not good enough to do God’s work but you still get to do it anyway! It’s through God’s power and help that you accomplish great things. It’s such a privilege that God would use a loser like me.

Mark 8:22-38 – Are you for Jesus or Satan?

In this passage, we continue to see how we can still be ignorant of Jesus’ plans in our lives. We see the motif of blindness and it seems to echo what is happening in Peter.

Jesus heals a blind man, but the revelation of sight is a gradual process. The man can see the figures before him, but can’t truly recognise them for what they really are. Later, we see Peter confess that Jesus is the messiah. He can see the figure before him. He knows who Jesus is. But he cannot really recognise who the Messiah is. Peter’s understanding of who is before him is very limited.

Peter has grown up with this preconceived idea of what a Messiah would do. You couldn’t really blame him; it is based on Scripture. However, as we saw in yesterday’s passage, the disciples (and much of society around them) have an extremely worldly perspective. Their concerns before were bread and hunger. The concerns that shaped the interpretation of Scripture that Peter obviously believes are very human too. They deal with human kingdoms and politics and power. Jesus cam to deal with the cosmic and spiritual realms. Compared to what Jesus was here to do, Peter’s vision is tiny.

Yet, Peter is completely set on this idea. He is so set in fact, that when Jesus suggests that the plan is different, Peter tells Jesus off. Imagine that conversation: in one breath Peter says that Jesus was sent by God and in the next tells Jesus he can’t do what he wants to do. If Peter was right in the first instance, he is definitely overstepping the mark. As a result, Jesus actually says Peter is Satan.

Here, Peter is being used by Satan to get in Jesus’ way. Peter’s perspective actually doesn’t forward God’s plan, but instead promotes Satan’s agenda. The question is, when do we behave like Peter? When do we get in Jesus’s way and when do we act, by accident, on behalf of Satan? Peter loved and followed Jesus, even believed he was the Messiah. And yet, he could still get it so wrong that Jesus would tell him he was doing Satan’s work. We can love and follow Jesus and still do Satan’s work.

The next passage tells us how to avoid this pit fall. We need to be completely submissive to Jesus’s plan in our lives. We need to crucify ourselves and deny ourselves. Now often we turn that into something frankly pathetic. We turn this submission into giving a small sum to charity while we still live in the highest comfort compared to most the world’s population. We turn it into petty sacrifices, like opening our home to a Bible group once a week. We think we deny ourselves when we stand in the rain for street ministry. But the we go back to our flat screen TVs, plush couches, play on our state-of-the-art phones, and live our lives in abundance and comfort. We pursue our dreams and our desires. We plan our lives out according to our or our society’s values.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am no better. Often people will paint my life as one of difficulty and hardship. It is not. It is quite different to the one I was previously used to and the life of those back home. But it is no less comfortable and filled with the trapping of materialism. It is no less determined by my own desires and plans and dreams. I have simply replaced one set of distractions and dreams for another.

Norman Grubb, a famous missionary, would pray each morning, “Good morning, God. What are you up to today? I want to be part of it. May I? Thank you.” He would want to put his own desires and dreams for the day aside each day, and do his will.

“Good morning, God. What are you up to today? I want to be a part of it. May I? Thank you”

Norman Grubb

So let’s live each day by submitting our desires and will to our heavenly Father so that Jesus may work in us and through us. Let’s do Jesus’s work today. Amen.

1 John 5: the Holy Spirit’s testimony

This chapter repeats a lot of the same ideas of the whole book but also introduces some new ones. A few of these I do not fully understand and might have some symbolic significance I’m not that familiar with.

The first statement is that we need to believe that Jesus is the Messiah: the one that was sent to save us and God’s people. This means that we know God. Another aspect of loving God is our obedience to God. I love what verse 2 and 4 tells us about God’s commands. They tell us that they are not burdensome but help us to overcome the world. Through following the Lord’s commands we get to be free as we are released from the burdens of this life in the world. If you are wondering why we need to overcome the world the chapter answers this for us. Verse 19, a little bit further down warns us the whole world is under the rule of the evil one. But through the victory of Jesus, we can have victory too.

This chapter also tells us about how we come to believe. It is never through hearing a person explain the gospel that we come to believe. It is in fact through the testimony of the Holy Spirit. (There’s also the testimony of water and blood, which confuses me. I assume the blood is the death on the cross, as remembered in communion. The water part stumps me and could me baptism or refer to a particular moment after Jesus died. That’s one for research.) The Holy Spirit, being one person in the triune God prepares our hearts and ears to hear and receive the truth. Without the Holy Spirit’s testimony no one can believe. Often people think they are under pressure to convert non-believers, but in reality there is nothing of the sort. Instead, we just have to be obedient to God’s life giving commands.

Once we have accepted the Holy Spirit’s testimony about Jesus, we are one with Christ. This means that we are given eternal life (verses 11-13). We are also able to pray for things, in accordance with God’s will, and know that God hears our prayers. We are also protected by God who prevents us from sinning. There is also the role of the body of the church in helping lead us to repentance when we sin. But once again, only God can transform the heart of humans.

1 Timothy 5

This chapter looks at how to look after others within the church. First, it tells us to be gentle when dealing with older men within the church – treating them with the same respect as we are to treat our fathers. Then older women are to be treated as mothers, and younger men and women as brother and sisters. Of course, the church is to be a family of Christ, so we need to actually act that way.

While the majority of the section is focused on the treatment of widows, and how they should behave, there are wider applications from it. First, that the serving of the Lord and doing good deeds is important; these good deeds include the raising of a family. Also, you need to look after your households, or those that have been put in your care by the Lord. This, of course, includes family members (parents, grandparents, etc.), but can also, I think, be extended to other people you share your lives with. In verse 16, it talks about when women have widows in their care. This could be widowed relatives (mother-in-law, etc.) but it sounds like something distinct from verse 8, as this type of relationship has already been mentioned.

We are also to treat church elders with a double honour, because of the work that they do. If they do something wrong, we are to rebuke them, but there is also a public element to this. I think this is to be done in the context of the church family you are in, rather than publicly. We need to take rebuking people serious, but also thoughtfully. I think twitter has led us to be quick to anger and slow to praise, which is the opposite of God’s character.

Verse 22 is somewhat confusing: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” This is probably one for further study. (Another one on my list of “Biblical things I don’t understand.”)

Verse 23 seems exciting, and seems to tell us to drink wine. Of course, that’s because wine was more sterile than water in those days, and was also often weaker.

The final two verses are a warning and an encouragement: your deeds will be noticed – good and bad; so you need to choose which type of deed you want to be seen for!

1 Thessalonians 4 and 5

Both chapters 4 and 5 of 1 Thessalonians are relatively short, so I decided to combine them. Also, I need to make up for lost time, as I slid off the wagon for a week or so. Many people’s lives have been turned upside. My change in routine has been minimal, which has been enough to sideline my Bible-reading habits. But I will press on.

Verse 1 and 2 of chapter 4 asks the Thessalonians to do more of the same. They’re doing the right things, so Paul simply tells them to do it more and more. I pray that I can do the right things more and more as well. Hopefully, as I do the right things more, it’ll crowd out the opportunities to get it wrong.

Verse 3 says that it is God’s will that we are sanctified. One (correct) reading of this is that we should be obedient to this. However, it also reminds me that God is on my side with this – he wants it to happen and will make it happen if I cooperate and submit myself to him. Therefore, let God’s will be done!

Our purity is rather significant, because we should pursue it and “anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” This is somewhat trouble and a good reminder of what disobedience to his word actually is. It is an unwillingness to accept God and a desire to reject him.

Verse 11 is somewhat interesting too, especially in the light of megachurch pastors and Christian “celebrities”. God calls us to have a quiet life. Not an outrageous and a loud life. That’s something interesting to think about. It is this that wins the respect of outsiders, not the loud trumpet call and the soap-box evangelism. There is (probably) a place for this and a Biblical reasoning. I’ve yet to wrestle with this idea further. (This is something I love about reading the Bible: when you don’t actually know what it fully entails or means. It just fires up my curiosity.)

The last section of chapter 4 is about believers that have died. These words were meant to be an encouragement to those in Thessalonica. However, they can be an encouragement to us now, especially with the global tragedy of coronavirus.

Chapter 5, again, is relevant to today, but perhaps less encouraging. It talks about how suddenly destruction can come. Christians, however, are to be sober, thoughtful and proactive, even during times of suffering and even on the Day of the Lord.

The final instructions are helpful reminders of what to do, especially during the coronavirus outbreak as well:

  • warn the idle and disruptive,
  • encourage others,
  • help the weak,
  • be patient with everyone,
  • strive to do what is good for everyone,
  • rejoice always,
  • pray continuously,
  • give thanks in all circumstances.

And as we do this, may the grace of God be with us.

Stay safe.

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.

Philippians 2

This chapter begins with how we should respond to being united in Christ: with humility, by being like-minded, putting others before yourselves. We are to consider Christ and his mindset, which Paul tells us in what is perhaps one of the earliest hymns in the church’s history.

who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

verses 6-8

The hymn goes on to tell us how God raised Christ, and how every knee will bow and every tongue will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The next passage is interesting in terms of the idea of salvation. We are clearly saved by faith and grace and not by works. However, verse 12 tells us to “continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.” This still puts the authority at God’s feet, but it’s not passive and we’re not to just kick our feet up and relax. We are to be willing and active participants in the work the God is doing and we should be actively obedient to his will and purpose.

Paul tells the Philippians the way they can be blameless and pure, and it probably surprising what he write. He tells them to not grumble or bicker. I know I’m definitely guilty of grumbling, and if I don’t actually bicker, I know I want to!

The last part of the passage is about Timothy and Epaphroditus. Both are willing, faithful and sacrificial servants to God and both submit themselves to Paul. The testimony here of their faith is an encouragement to us, especially when hearing about their struggles. You get the sense that they are joyful and committed despite everything that happened to them. It definitely reminds us to persevere in unity and love for one another despite what happens.

Philippians 1

First, does anyone else have trouble spelling Philippians? Is it two ls, two ps? Oh, you do? Great.

Philippians is a letter to former Roman soldiers who are now believers in the city of Philippi. They have been very supportive of Paul during his time in prison, which perhaps is why he writes so warmly towards them. I love how Paul says “I thank my God every time I remember you” and that when he prays for the he “always prays with joy”. What a lovely thing to say.

Paul also talks about God’s transforming work in believers:

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

verse 6

Paul again speaks of how we are currently redeemed and transformed, and will continue to be transformed until we are with Jesus in heaven. It’s such a hope-filled statement and reassuring to us as we struggle with our sinful natures.

Again, Paul writes a beautiful prayer for his readers:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.

verses 9-11

I pray this prayer for myself as well, and hope that it becomes a reality in my life.

After this, Paul encourages those in Philippi by telling how his hardships have served to advance the gospel. It seems passive at first, that it just sort of happened that way, but it was an intentional choice of Paul. It challenges us today to use our struggles and difficulties to advance the gospel and to proclaim Christ. It’s often the case that during struggles and hardships we become inclined to be self-serving, introspective and somewhat self-absorbed. However, during Paul’s time of immense difficulty, he still considered how this could be used to see Jesus proclaimed.

Such was his desire to see Christ proclaimed, he didn’t care that people were doing it to cause him trouble. He only cared that Christ was being glorified. Often, we question the motives of pastors or preachers. However, rather than focusing on that, perhaps we should pray that Christ is seen regardless.

Paul does not care whether he live or die. In fact, he would rather die because it would mean being with Christ. However, he feels that Christ still has a job for him to do here so that Christ’s glory may be further known. Paul wants to remain so “that through my being with you again your boasting Christ Jesus will abound on account of me” (verse 26). Isn’t it amazing that this is Paul’s first and foremost concern: Christ’s glory.

Because Paul is passionate about this, he extols his readers to live in a way that brings honour to Christ:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…

Verse 27

The “whatever happens” is a bit of challenge. On my bad days, on the days where the whatevers are unpleasant or exhausting or frustrating, I’m not sure my conduct is always worthy of the gospel of Christ. In fact, I’m sure the opposite is true. So, again, I pray that whatever happens, I live a pure and blameless life worth of the gospel of 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 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.